Your mind is constantly full of anxious, negative thoughts. You are sleeping much
worse than you used to. You find it hard to concentrate and you make silly mistakes.
You feel scratchy and irritable most of the time. You feel exhausted. You’ve started
drinking more than usual in an attempt to lift your mood. Sounds like you?
If it does, the probability is that you are suffering from stress. And you are not alone.
Health and Safety Executive figures show that 40% of all sickness absence today is
caused by mental health issues – the bulk of it due to stress. Research by the Mental
Health Foundation last year found that 47% of us feels stressed every day or every
few days. To put it simply, stress is reaching epidemic levels.
The good news is that there is a great deal that you can do to make yourself more
resilient. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT as it is usually known) suggests that
if you can get three things right you are much less likely to suffer from stress and
Number one is getting your thinking right. When people suffer from stress two
things normally happen in their minds. They think constantly, almost obsessively,
about the things that worry them. And they do what pyschologists call
‘catastrophising’, plunging into excessively negative thoughts that aren’t realistic.
CBT therapists show you how to block off the obsessive thoughts so they are far less
powerful. And they teach their clients techniques for making their thinking realistic,
not catastrophic. It is a basic rule in psychology that thoughts drive feelings. Change
the negative thoughts and you change the stress.
The second area to look at is the physical. When we get stressed things happen in
our bodies that make our stress levels higher. We are awash with adrenaline,
so sleep gets messed up. Digestion and the immune system suffer. Worse still, in
some people stress and anxiety actually shuts down parts of the brain leading to silly
mistakes and difficulty thinking clearly. In other words, stress makes us stupid. The
CBT approach with the body is to focus on powerful relaxation strategies in order to
switch off these physical reactions. Calm the body and you also calm the mind.
The final part of the puzzle is to look at what we do. Stressed people often do things
that make the problem worse. They become workaholic. They drink too much. They
get angry with people they care about. They also stop doing things that are helpful.
They stop taking exercise, they stop seeing their friends and abandon hobbies that
recharge them mentally. This part of the solution is simply about looking at how
what you do affects how you feel, and building helpful, stress-busting activities into
Thinking, relaxing the body and your behaviour. Get them right and you can beat
stress. Get them wrong and you risk joining a growing and unhappy statistic.