An inspiring way to reduce everyday stress

Finding the balance

Finding the balance

It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”~Hans Selye

The word ‘stress’ derives from the Latin stringere (to draw tight), and can be defined as “A situation where demands on a person exceed that person’s resources or ability to cope.” (Stress Management Society)

It’s not possible to avoid ‘being’ stressed, however it is possible to change the way we deal with it, and therefore the emotions we ‘feel’ in response.

What ways have you discovered that work for you?

There’s a myriad of self-help possibilities out there to choose from, I’m not going to list them all or provide a panacea for all possibilities!

What I hope to provide is one inspiring strategy you can easily use to form an automatic response, reducing the adverse affects of hormones produced.

It’s a tool I share with coaching clients and they find it enormously beneficial – when used regularly.

What is stress?

There’s three main types of stress.  Routine (happens most days at work and general life), sudden (usually negative and unexpected) change, and traumatic stress (accidents, death of a loved one for example).

Our bodies are programmed to respond to them all in similar ways, though people react and cope differently, depending on their individual life experience and knowledge of helpful ways of dealing with the situations they face.

The flight or fight response is the body’s way of ensuring we’re alerted to potential threats to our safety. Facing a perceived dangerous situation, your heart rate and breathing quicken, muscles tense, your brain uses more oxygen and increases activity.

All functions aimed at survival, and in the short term the body’s automatic response can even boost the immune system. The surge in adrenaline production provides us with the energy to react promptly, which can be life saving.

However, if this state is encountered too frequently, or for prolonged periods of time, it results in an imbalance contributing to ill-health.

Work-related stress

It’s encouraging that the Health and Safety Executive’s latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey (UK) show the total number of cases of stress in 2010/11 were significantly lower than in 2001/02 – 400,000 out of a total of 1,152,000 for all work-related illnesses. They also found the number of new cases of work-related stress had reduced to 211,000 from 233,000 in 2009/10, though that change isn’t statistically significant.

The industries reporting the highest rates of work-related stress were health, social work, education and public administration, whilst the occupations reporting the highest rates of work-related stress were health and social service managers, teachers and social welfare associate professionals.

Findings from the ninth annual NHS staff survey (2012) revealed 30% of NHS staff reported they’d experienced job-related stress in 2011 – a rise from 29% in 2010 –  while among ambulance staff, the figure hit 34%.

Breath is Life

Cheerleading pushing

Cheerleading pushing
(photo from Natural Mama NZ)

One of my bug-bears from quarter of a century as a midwife, was ‘directed (I call it ‘cheerleading’) pushing’ in the second stage of labour. You’ll have seen it on the TV many times.

The midwife or doctor gets the woman (who’s usually lying on her back or in a semi-sitting position) to bring up her legs, put her chin on her chest, breath in deeply and then push with all her might until her face is beetroot red and she is exhausted.

More likely than not, during each expulsive contraction, she’ll be coerced into repeating this process as many times as possible. It’s called the ‘Valsalva Maneuver‘.

The knock-on effects of this have been widely documented and shown to cause maternal and fetal distress – and in my case midwife distress whenever I had the misfortune to witness it (memories of the birth of my first child spring to mind – maybe I have a form of post traumatic stress disorder?) It also increases the risk of the tissues around the birth canal tearing.

I read a book shortly after I qualified in November 1988, called ‘episiotomy and the second stage of labour‘, by Sheila Kitzinger, that transformed my practice. She promoted a much calmer approach, whereby the birthing woman allowed her body to lead her, to avoid forcing the baby to descend until it was in the right place, and for the breath to be used to welcome life rather than to force it out and increase the stress.

An inspiring way to reduce everyday stress

Our normal reaction to a stressful event is to hold our breath.

Notice this happening next time something happens you deem as stressful. Then our breath quickens, and in reaction so does our heart-rate. If we need to run away from that tiger (!), or more likely the car beeping it’s horn because we’re texting while we’re walking across the road – then great. Good response!

But if we don’t need that surge of adrenaline and the associated increase of breathing and pulse – STOP IT!

If you can, walk away from the situation causing the challenge.


Not quickly, but consciously, deeply and slowly.

Dr Libby, author of ‘The Rushing Woman’s Syndrome‘, shares in great detail the potential adverse effects on our bodies of adrenaline, and promotes breathing in whilst saying inwardly “I calm my body“, breathing out “I smile“.

Go further than this and breathe in through your nose for a count of seven, hold the breath for a count of one, breathe out through your mouth for a count of seven, and hold it for a count of one. When you breathe in, use all of your lungs. Begin with your abdomen, not your chest, and feel it expanding. If it’s appropriate (depending on where you are at the time), place your hand on your stomach to feel it rise, the chest will be the last to fill and empty. Repeat this breathing a number of times until you feel your self relaxing.

How inspiring

There’s two definitions of ‘Inspire’.

One is to ‘fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative’; the other is ‘to breathe in (air); inhale’.

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” ~Etty Hillesum

Oh, and something that inspired me when researching this post is that studies have shown dark chocolate reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and other fight-flight hormones, and cocoa is rich in antioxidants! Hurrah! I can continue with my 75% cocoa or above chocolate fix each day.

Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.”  ~John De Paola

Find a fact sheet on ways to deal with stress from National Institute for Mental Health here.

What ways have you discovered to help you manage stressful situations?

What’s your belief of ‘normal’, and how is it affecting your life in the twenty-first century?



Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine.”~ Whoopi Goldberg

What’s your definition of normal?

Mine’s been changing, and will continue to, in the light of differing perceptions and realities.

I recently commented on a fellow coaches facebook page that I’d left my ‘normal’ life in Gisborne, New Zealand, to live on a narrowboat on the waterways of England. She, quite rightly, challenged me as to what I classed as a ‘normal life’, and that she’d imagine many live-aboard narrowboaters would consider their lives to be ‘normal’.

As humans we can be quick to judge others and the way they live their lives, especially if it’s far removed from our reality.

This got me thinking once again about that six-letter supposedly innocuous word that we often bandy about thoughtlessly …

‘Normal’ birth

For 26 years of my life I had the privilege of working as a midwife, supporting and empowering women to grow, birth and nurture their babies.

Midwives are known as ‘wise women’ in France (Sage Femme), and are considered in most western countries as the ‘experts’ in normal birth. I’m not good with the word ‘expert’ – a colleague once suggested that an ‘ex’ is a has been, and a ‘(s)pert’ is a drip under pressure! I’ve also changed my perspective on what a ‘normal birth’ is many times. If the surgical birth rate (aka Caesarean section) is an astounding 50 to 80% in some countries, then that inevitably becomes their ‘normal’ birth. Of course there’s lots of evidence to suggest that this will in turn cause other complications, but this isn’t the place to debate that.

During my midwifery training, we were told ‘normal’ birth should theoretically encompass around 75% of all deliveries.  This was described as one where there are no interventions, where the woman spontaneously begins labour (prompted we believe by the baby in some way), her womb contracts and relaxes periodically and the baby slowly descends the birth canal until she/he puts so much pressure on the bag of fluid cushioning her/him that it breaks, washes the passage and emerges into the world through it’s mother’s spontaneous pushing. The only pain relief is the woman’s natural endorphins which work magically. The lights are dim; noise and any interaction with the woman is kept to an essential minimum.

In reality (sadly I feel), this scenario is a rare event – and I challenge anyone who watches the TV programme ‘One born every minute’ to inform me when they ever saw this miracle, or anything similar, portrayed.

We’ve had to invent a new word for this rare occurrence – ‘physiological’ or ‘natural’ birth. The new ‘normal’, is whatever occurs most frequently, as a dictionary definition of normal is ‘usual and typical, what you would expect, the normal state or condition.’

‘Normal’ children

Continuing on the theme of birth and babies, what do you believe is a ‘normal’ child? Due to the increasing availability of termination of pregnancy for anything not within the parameters of ‘normal’, many people, possibly under the pressure of society and their peers and family, opt to have every test available to check whether there is any ‘risk’ of their baby not being ‘normal’. Even if this in itself risks miscarrying a ‘normal’ baby.

Having Down syndrome is like being born normal. I am just like you and you are just like me. We are all born in different ways, that is the way I can describe it. I have a normal life.”~ Chris Burke

‘Normal’ life

Changing the subject (which I’m aware can be emotive), whilst continuing with the theme (!), I recently had the opportunity to view and appreciate the artwork of L.S.Lowry in Salford Quays, Manchester.

His ‘normal’ life was different to most people in the twentieth century. He lived at home with his parents until they respectively died, then spent the remainder of his 88 years living alone. He’d never been abroad, hardly travelled from his home town, spent all his working life in the same job as a rent collector – pursuing his passion for painting only in the evenings – and it’s believed he never had a relationship with a woman (or a man I hasten to add!).

He craved feedback about his artwork from his mother, but it was never forthcoming. Before he died, he questioned what his life had been about and whether ‘he’ had brought any value to the world. His collection of around 4,000 works showcase his indescribable talent and has brought pleasure to millions of people – yet he questioned whether his life had any purpose.

I wonder what changes he would’ve made to his ‘normal’ life, had there been a life coach around to support and inspire him; encouraging him to believe he was amazing and didn’t need anyone else to tell him so?

In the two years I’ve been coaching clients, I’ve been in awe at times of the changes people have made to their personal beliefs around what they can and can’t do with their lives.  They’ve been (mostly) strong enough and ready to take the time to look inside, reflect on where they’ve been, what unhelpful patterns they’ve been repeating, what’s been stopping them from changing and stepping out of their comfort zone – even when it’s been anything BUT comfortable – and taking action towards where they want to be. Their future ‘normal’.

Thoughts on ‘normal’ to consider

  1. What’s normal to one person isn’t necessarily what’s normal for someone else.
  2. It’s okay, and probably empowering, to change your perception of normal from time-to-time.
  3. If you try and hold on to what you believe is normal, you may be limiting the opportunities available to you.

I’d be interested to hear what your ‘normal’ is, and how often you’re open to this changing – or if you resist moving out of your comfort zone at all costs to retain your ‘usual’ life.

Consider what the reasons could be for wanting to remain ‘the same’.

What fears does change bring up for you and why?