Counselling and Stress – A Sussex Solution
Stress is often cited as one of the big challenges of life today. It is regarded as a modern plague adversely impacting on many of us and something to be avoided at all costs.
We are constantly reminded of key life events which apparently expose us to excessive stress. We are told that loss in many different guises such as redundancy, bereavement and betrayal will leave us stressed out and reeling. We are warned that emotionally demanding changes in relationships, location or employment will result in levels of stress which will diminish our ability to cope with life.
But is this really is so. Is stress really such an all-pervading enemy to be so deeply feared? Could it be that there is a fear factor at work here that has allowed stress to appear as a malevolent force out of all proportion to the realities of life?
One of the life changes which has been cited as a cause of much stress is moving house and that currently resonates with me. I have recently relocated to West Sussex. On both a professional and personal level, I am now coming to terms with living and working in a new location.
My new counselling and therapy practice is based in Chichester, a city with a rich and varied history. There are attractive nearby towns including Bognor Regis, Littlehampton and Arundel. I am also mindful of an important historical figure associated with the pretty West Sussex coastal town of Bosham.
Bosham is linked with King Canute. If you reach back into the distant memory of those history lessons you may recall Canute as a highly successful ruler but one most often remembered for a specific episode. His much publicised failure to make the tide recede at his command was a dramatic way of reminding sycophantic courtiers that some forces cannot be stopped even by regal power and that some events should be accepted as inevitable.
Rather than continuing to insist that the tide go back, Canute did what the holidaymakers along the West Sussex coast will do this summer over one thousand years or so later. He just moved his chair. That pragmatic approach to dealing with powerful forces in life has influenced my thoughts about life and how we may want to react to stress.
When we lose a loved one we can anticipate a period of mourning. If we move away from places that are familiar to us we can expect to feel uncertainty. When a love affair ends there will be sadness. And when a job ends abruptly we will feel rejected.
All these emotions can be seen as negative and stressful. They are certainly not likely to help us feel good about life or to help us to sleep soundly. Yet each has a natural feel. The emotions are appropriate to what has occurred to us.
Rather than suggesting emotional fragility, stress is a fitting reaction to these difficult life events. Indeed as a therapist I would be more concerned if my client who had suffered a grievous loss, was insisting that she or he were cool about what had happened, that all was well and that she or he was completely unconcerned. If that was the message being given out I would then be apprehensive for his or her emotional well-being.
So if we can accept that life is stressful what can we do about these difficult feelings? Instead of denying actuality we can start by acknowledging the appropriateness of the feeling and then begin to look at ways of containing and defusing that stress.
Rather than using up emotional resources trying to turn back the tide of stress by berating ourselves to ‘get a grip’, we can instead decide to accept the reality and the enormity of what has happened in our personal life. We can then begin to move forward and work with the prevailing emotion rather than trying to wish it away.
Of course there will be times when that may be very difficult to do. There can be times when the negative feelings are simply overwhelming. If the pendulum of grief, of loss or of rejection swings too far, too fast and too hard then it is right to be concerned. Stress, which beyond a reasonable time period, continues to adversely impact on our sleeping habits, our physical well-being and our social interactions needs to be faced and not ignored.
It may be then that specific stress management techniques will be required. That can include talking with friends and family. If after using this and other stress management techniques, overwhelming feelings of desolation, acute anxiety and stress persist, then it may be time for further remedial action.
That may include talking with a counsellor or therapist. Whichever approach is followed the starting point will be the same. Life is by its nature stressful. The challenge is how to deal with that stress rather than trying to run from it or turn back the tide.
At some time in our lives we will encounter stress. It may be uncomfortable but it need not be unmanageable. If we can allow ourselves to acknowledge that then we can start to deal with stress. We can learn to work through our stress and to come out the other side stronger, more resilient and ready to face the next set of challenges.
Stress is a natural part of life. Once we choose to accept that we will have started to regain the ability to live our life to the full.