Smart ways to beat stress

By Cara Waudby Tolley | April 13, 2022

Hypnotherapist Hilary Norris-Evans looks at how mathematical formulas can help us live a calmer life.

Whether you are fond of logic, reason and maths or not, they can actually help you with those moments, hours, days, nights or even months of your life when you just feel stressed. Changing some of the ways you think (called ‘reframing’ in therapy) may help you become more resilient and realise that you can think differently.

Life needn’t be such an uphill struggle, but instead a joyful romp to the top to look at the gorgeous view and back down the other side of the hill. Leave your imaginary bag of troubles at the top of the hill or throw it off the cliff, so the rest of your life’s journey is that much lighter.

If you’ve always been keen on a logical, rational approach, yet sometimes feel quite frustrated when life is not so straightforward, try taking back control with a spot of mental arithmetic…

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Change your reaction to stress

An easy one, which decreases anxiety instantly: Event + Reaction = Your Outcome. Something happens, perhaps an event which is out of our control anyway and as this event has already happened you can’t change it. Then you react, you have an angry thought or a hurt feeling and you get the outcome: negativity. Realise what you can change. Change your reaction and you’ll change your outcome.

We waste time ruminating about the past: ‘If only I’d done this instead; or: ‘I should not have shouted at her’. Just ignore the word ‘should.’ It’s the road to Stressland.

Stress equations: Seven (plus or minus two)

A beautiful little sum. This is a theory by cognitive psychology pioneer George Miller, which states that we can only hold in our conscious mind (or short term/working memory) seven pieces of information (plus or minus two) at any time. So be a happy list maker, who doesn’t go around worrying about what they’ve forgotten to do.

Making a list gives you an instant burst of order in your life. Ticking items off gives you a sense of achievement.

Increase your stress choices

Stress = Negativity + Inability. You only need to change one part of the equation to alter the stress outcome. Have a positive attitude, rather than a negative one. See events as a challenge, or even better an opportunity.

It can be stressful if you are given a task you don’t have the skills to do. There is no need to get stuck in the bog of your inabilities. Rather, seize on the opportunity to request training that gives you the skills you need. Know what you are capable of. Having those extra skills gives you more control over the situation.

Be happy about being in control and the opportunity to learn more. Always focus on the positive aspects of the situation and what positive things you may achieve from it. And then there is the great power of your wonderful imagination. Picture yourself succeeding. It is called ‘forward pacing’ and helps you feel good.

Stress rules: The 100 percent rule

We all like 100 per cent. I often tell my clients when they ask whether I have a 100 per cent guarantee that therapy will work, that I have no idea because there are two of us in the room and thus an 80 per cent guarantee is the most they can expect, as there is one unknown variable for me: the client.

However, there is one 100 per cent guarantee I do give. I will do my best 100 per cent of the time and that is all I can do.

The other 100 per cent rule refers to listening. This makes life less stressful for you and for the person you are listening to. A win/win situation.

Do your best to pay undivided attention to people when they are talking to you. Be a supportive listener, striving to really understand what they are saying. Do not shift the conversation to yourself, saying: ‘Oh, yes, me too.’ Remember, you are the listener and sometimes it is harder to listen than to be thinking up a witty reply without truly listening.

Don’t say: ‘I hear what you say’ as that just means you are not really listening. By giving 100 per cent of your attention, you’ll truly understand and won’t be embarrassed by having to ask ‘What was that you said again?’

However, when you are working at 100 per cent capacity and your boss asks you to do one more thing (and hey, if you were only working at 80 per cent capacity this situation might not have arisen anyway, as you’d have a spare 20 per cent of time to give to the new task), calmly ask them which of the tasks they’d be happy for you to drop so you can do this new task.

If they say ‘none’, you’ll need to point out in a logical, assertive way that this is an impossibility, as you are already working at 100 per cent and that is the most they can expect of you.

About the author

Hilary Norris-Evans is trained in NLP, coaching and hypnotherapy, and now trains hypnotherapists internationally. She was previously a director at the National Council for Hypnotherapy.

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This article first appeared in issue 13 of Planet Mindful magazine. Find out more about how we can train our brains here.