Dr Hugh Koch is a practicing clinical psychologist in the midlands. He is the author of six books, the most recent one of which is ‘Active Steps to Reducing Stress’. His work can be found on www.reducingstress.co.uk.
Stress and anxiety affects us all either on a day-to-day basis dealing with everyday hassles and problems or when something big happens to us like an accident, bereavement or redundancy. We all have different ways of coping with stressful feelings, some help, some don’t. Much of our ‘coping’ is done by ourselves by thinking about something differently, more logically or positively, or by doing something active about our situation. We also get the help of those around us for support, ideas and encouragement. The key to most ‘stress management’ is to have some positive or active steps to take now, today, which begin to change our stressful circumstance. These steps might involve our thinking(T), lifestyle(L), communication style(C) or our behaviour(B).
“I had a car accident one year ago. Since then I am now a very nervous passenger and driver. I avoid any journey I can get out of but some journeys, of course, are necessary, like taking my two children to/from school. I am really worried that my 10 year old daughter may ‘catch’ my anxiety about going in cars. She has already said no to going in cars with other children’s parents and my husband says she ‘sounds like me’ when she sits next to him in the car telling him to slow down. What can I do to stop my daughter being as nervous as me?”
I’m sorry to hear you have been in a nasty accident. I hope you weren’t badly injured. It is very common after a bad traffic accident to feel nervous in the car both as a passenger and a driver. I’m sure that once you feel better, your daughter will pick up your confidence and feel better herself. So what can you do? Please reassure yourself that your nervousness will get better. The keys to this are: Every time you go in the car tell yourself ‘I’m safe’ and ‘this will be OK’. It is extremely unlikely that you will have another accident. Next, you need to have regular practice going out in the car both as a passenger and as a driver. Try going on very short trips around where you live – put your kettle on, and go out for a 5 minute journey. If you are driving, remember to relax every 5 minutes – let your shoulders drop, don’t grip the steering wheel to tightly, and take a deep breath. If any particular situation, like passing a junction, makes you tense, apply the ‘relax’ technique then.
When you are a passenger be aware of your ‘feet, hands and mouth’, try not to ‘brake’ or hang on, and try not to point things out to the driver! As these nervous passenger behaviours stop, you will relax more and find it easier to cope with the journey.
As you feel better, you will transmit this to your daughter. You can also explain to her that travelling is safe; play games in the car to distract her and make the journey more fun.
Please don’t worry, this nervousness is understandable and gradually goes.
Discuss this with your partner and decide what active steps you can take this week to feel calmer in the car.
“I’m 40 and work in a very stressful job. Because our business has been badly hit by the recession, we are short staffed and I am doing, I think, too much for one person. I work long hours and I’m not enjoying being at work. This spills over into my home life and my wife and son have both commented on my irritability and grumpiness. My wife is also concerned that my aches and pains maybe something more serious. I don’t think I can leave my job but I feel really stuck. What can I do?”
I’m sure, these days, many readers will be in your situation and feel like you – dissatisfied and stressed at work, anxious about job security with a spill-over of stress into their home. I would like to suggest a number of practical active steps, which you could try, some at work, some at home. With regards to work, do you have a line manager or supervisor who can discuss your work load with and plan what the best approach is. I’m suggesting this as a way of getting support for achieving what is positive and helping them to recognise what is not.
Feel confident that you are good hard worker and can achieve a lot during your day. Job lists help you to feel this and also can be ‘ticked off’ to show how much you’ve done. Try to have positive thoughts about what you do despite the pressures and stresses. Try and build in to your work day, 2-3 breaks when you can sit and relax, either alone or with colleagues.
Try not to bring the stresses home if you can. When you get home, talk about what you have done rather than the problems. Manage your family and social time so that you relax and do enjoyable things, either alone or with family or friends – if you find yourself getting irritable or stressed, stop and relax, taking a few deep breath. Chronic stress makes the body react and your ’aches and pains’ may be related to how tense your body muscles get (but see a doctor if still confirmed). Have positive and worthwhile chats with friends or relatives by phone, text or email – try not to repeat work dissatisfactions to them as this won’t make you feel good. Remember, above all, you work hard and, I’m sure, are a valued member of your firm.
“For the past 2 years I have not been sleeping well. No matter what I try, I end up having a bad night and feeling like ‘death warmed up in the morning’. As a result, I tend to go to bed at 12.30am and I’m often walking the kitchen floor at 3am eating a bowl of cereal. My family life is OK but I know my not sleeping makes it difficult for my partner who has a very busy job and needs his sleep. Should I see my doctor?”
I’m sorry to hear your sleeping is giving you problems. It’s never pleasant to have sleeping difficulties, although this is common – it’s one of the most frequent reasons why people go to their GP. Sleep is a natural and usually automatic event – however our thoughts and night time behaviour can get in the way of a well–earned good nights sleep. Here are a number of practical ideas to experiment with to help you sleep better. Give as many a go as possible and see which ones work best for you.
Have a regular sleeping routine where you go to bed at the same time eg., 10.30/11.00pm. Relax and wind-down at least one hour before bed with a hot bath, a warm non-caffeinated drink and perhaps a nice chat on the phone or with your partner. Make a list of outstanding jobs for the next day and try to clear you head of these. Maybe read something ‘easy’ in bed for 10-15 minutes before you turn the lights off.
When the light goes off, all you need is to think of something or someone nice or focus on relaxed breathing and you will go to sleep! If you wake up at night (which most of us do) and need a loo-break, try and go straight back to bed, cuddle up and again think of nice things. Try not to go downstairs for a drink and a snack. We all have occasional bad nights when despite our efforts, sleep doesn’t come for an hour or two. Don’t worry, you will catch up the next night. Above all, feel positive about yourself and sleep will follow.