How you can reduce your stress levels
You could argue that stress is a personal problem rather than a medical one. Most doctors simply don’t have enough time to talk through emotional or psychological problems, particularly if it’s all a bit complicated.
They may hand out prescriptions for tranquillizers, which are are effective and fast acting, but don’t remove the source of the stress. Rather like drinking alcohol to relax, taking a tranquillizer may lead to addiction or dependency as your body adapts to their action and becomes less responsive.
At best, tranquillizers are a means of reducing the physical or mental pain that severe stress can produce during a life crisis. Beyond that, you can reduce the effects of stress on yourself by changing your beliefs about your environment, your relationship to it and yourself, so that you no longer perceive situations as threatening, or by lessening the effects of stress through deep relaxation.
Changing Your Stress Producing Beliefs
Ultimately, a lot of harmful stress is caused by a perception of threat based on your unchallenged beliefs. For example: a man stressed in his job believes he has no option but to continue in that employment.
A housewife living a life of drudgery believes she has no choice but to go on doing so. A university student believes that exam failure would be a personal disaster.
A man unable to socialize freely believes that other people are likely to reject him. A less able schoolboy believes that he is the most stupid child ever born. A teenage girl believes she is unattractive. A man frightened to ask a woman for a date believes she may not like him and that rejection would be a catastrophe. And so on.
Beliefs like this lead to perception of threat and so cause emotional arousal. But the thing is that these beliefs are often faulty or mistaken because they are based on wrong information or negative past experiences. Unfortunately, we usually accept them as fact or reality without any questioning!
Changing these beliefs, or at least re-examining them, can alter our perceptions and so reduce stress. It’s a process we can extend over every aspect of our lives. In this section, we’ll examine beliefs about relationships, work, and life in general with specific attention on how they may be challenged and, when appropriate, changed for the better.
Beliefs about yourself come later, when we look at social anxiety, because the beliefs you hold about yourself are closely linked to things like self-image and self-confidence. These are aspects of the Sovereign archetype – if you know about archetypal theory. (If you don’t know about the Sovereign, you can find out more here.)
A lot of people are severely stressed and unhappy. Yet, if you ask them why they don’t do something about the situation, they say something like: ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly change my job/move home/leave my wife.’
This type of response may be a fear of the unknown which keeps many people stuck where they are. It often seems better to avoid the immediate pain of change, even though the long term pleasure from a changed lifestyle would be much greater.
On the other hand, such remarks can also be genuine but mistaken beliefs about oneself and the position you’re in. ‘I can’t possibly change my job.’
Well, maybe, but why not?
If you sit down and examine the accuracy of each assumption which contributes to that overall belief, you may find there are aspects to the situation you never even thought about. However, you may not. Many such beliefs are held in shadow. (A definition of the human shadow can be found here.)
Shadow work is a way of accessing these deeply held (and mostly incorrect beliefs and changing them. It is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful systems for personal growth and development. To start your own exploration, read about the shadow here.
The therapy which emerges form the principle of the shadow is called shadow work. (Read about that here.) Shadow work is a process is designed to assist a person to question the beliefs they hold, so that eventually they gain enough insight to allow them to establish new, autonomous views about life.
As an example, consider a man who is stressed by his job. He’s overworked and underpaid, never gets a word of thanks from his employers and has poor relationships with his colleagues because they abuse his willingness to take on extra work. When he wakes up each morning, his first thought is: ‘I wish I didn’t have to go today!’
He works hard all day, meeting deadlines, working on several projects at once, perhaps even working over his lunch hour and taking work home. All his working life is pressured and stressed, which makes him unhappy and unfulfilled. He wants to leave the job but never does so – simply because he does not question whether he can leave the job.
Shadow work would rely on a process of representing, or “getting out” the various parts of the man – that is, the different elements of his thinking. This kind of therapy is also called IFS or Parts Work.
For example, the man may have different internal parts which have beliefs such as:
I have no skills for anything else
This is a time of high unemployment, there are no other jobs
I wouldn’t be able to retrain
I shall be short of money, and what about my family?
Each of these parts can be represented and invited to speak about their beliefs. A person can generally step readily into such parts, and speak freely from them. A skilled therapist will be able to find a way of working with those parts to change their beliefs, and in turn, that will massively impact the man’s behaviour and way of being in the world. To find out more about parts work, see Marianne Hill’s website.
That’s a simple example, but it illustrates the point.
Rational Emotive Therapy
Sometimes it’s the conflict between your beliefs and what you do that causes you stress. Peter is a friend of ours who worked for many years with a company which sold pharmaceuticals and artificial baby foods to the Third World.
Although the job was very well paid, he found it highly stressful, and he eventually developed an ulcer. This caused him to stop and question what he was doing for the first time in many years. He realized that he’d been ignoring the fact that he had serious doubts about the ethics and morality of the profit oriented business he was involved with.
He told us how this insight had sparked off a session of self-analysis. ‘First of all,’ he recalled, ‘I had to find out whether my doubts were objectively valid. I researched the opinions and statements of doctors, both in the West and in our sale areas. I spent some time looking at the comments of government ministers in the Asian and African countries to which we sold these high tech products.
‘I soon understood that poor people were spending a large proportion of their income on drugs and baby foods which were unnecessary and highly priced. Uncontrolled by doctors, they were probably suffering rather than benefiting. There was no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t just prejudiced. This was no irrational attitude; I couldn’t go on ignoring my conscience any longer.” This is the power of rational emotive therapy.