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?

Introducing the ‘SLoW Coach’


“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
-~Eddie Cantor

When did you last stop to ‘smell the roses’, or allow yourself the time to ‘stand and stare’?

As far as any of us are aware, THIS LIFE IS IT! You can gamble on there being something else on ‘the other side’, but are you seriously going to leave living until a day that’s unlikely to even exist?

Can you subscribe to the belief that you can get more out of life, by ‘doing’ less?

Driven to succeed

If you’ve read my ‘About me‘ page, you’ll see I’ve spent a good proportion of my life as a driven woman.

Driven to do what you may ask?

A retroscope (a made-up word used by midwives!) is a wonderful tool, it means you can look back and see where you could have made different choices to have another outcome. Looking through my imaginary scope, I see someone who was trying to ‘prove’ something to herself and others, who, despite being a rather adventurous and naive teenager, could still ‘succeed’ in a career.

I’ve met, and continue to meet, people with similar aspirations.

Living in this fast-paced society, we feel (and IMHO are encouraged to believe) the only way to live is to cram it all in – our ever increasing workload and active social life – and sitting for any period of time in stillness and calm, is a selfish, fruitless and boring waste of time.

Being with my self

I had a bit of an epiphany when I made the brave move (alone) to live and work in New Zealand for nine months in 2001/2002.

I had a four-month contract as an agency midwife, at a small and friendly maternity unit in Gisborne, on the east coast of the North Island.  The remainder of the time, apart from five weeks with my amazing parents who came to visit and play, I was able to reflect on my life; my hopes and dreams.

I read Clarissa Pinkola Estes sensational book ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves‘, and had some incredible insights. I’d never had such a ‘self’ish time – I mostly adored it, but was also very challenged being with ME.

Returning to England in the summer of 2002, I soon resumed the speed-driven pace of life which appears to be inherent in British society, and allowed my ‘self ‘to be eaten up once more by my passion for changing the world of midwifery for the better.

I gained a prestigious post with the Department of Health, leading a midwifery recruitment and retention project, which basically entailed having almost no other life – but succeeded in raising the profile of midwifery and its R & R challenges – for a short time! But at what cost …

Slowing down

Fast forward (pun intended) three years from that period, and I was back in New Zealand, working part-time, though still in a senior post. I read ‘In Praise of Slow‘ by Carl Honore, and something ‘clicked’ inside me. Carl’s description of ‘the cult of speed’ rang so many bells for me.

I knew I’d succumbed to it so many times and on so many levels – and really wanted to get off the merry-go-round and have more life in my life.

By being busy all the time, we may be avoiding (consciously or not) being with our ‘selves’, and with those people who are important to us. One day we, and they, will no longer be here. And it’s highly unlikely that you’ll wish, on your death-bed, you’d gained another promotion, or saved (rather than spent on yourself) more money to leave for your family to squander.

The health risks of ‘busy’ness

This phenomenon of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, is creating health problems for women. Reading the fascinating book ‘Rushing Women’s Syndrome‘ by Dr Libby Weaver, I understood more fully how we affect our health by this culture of speed.

When we’re rushing around, our body interprets this as ‘stress’, and releases Adrenaline. The body thinks your life is in danger, and prepares itself for ‘fight or flight’.

But we rarely need to run away from a tiger, so we confuse our nervous system which burns sugar rather than fat.

How often do you reach for a sugary snack during the day? Dr Weaver alarmingly suggests that the cellulite on your thighs is caused by the mobilisation of glycogen out of the muscles – due to stress.

There’s so much more around this subject if you want to delve further, – check our ‘Dr Libby’ on Facebook

The SLoW Coach

As a fairly new Life Coach, I’m still defining my ‘niche’ market – who are the people I resonate the most with and can support?

One of my passions as a coach is obviously around looking at the balance of people’s lives, and working with them to see how they can ‘slow down’ a little (or a lot) to reflect and change what aspects aren’t working as well as they’d like.

I recall having a silver belt buckle designed (by one of my beautiful and talented sisters) and made when I was a nurse. My initials at that time were S.L.O., and they figured on the middle of the buckle which I still have and treasure.

I recently realised, that although I reverted to my maiden name over twenty years ago, my full name really does now spell out SLoW – Sandra Louise Walsh!

So maybe this is leading me towards where my expertise could be focussed in the future?

Shall I be ‘The Slow Coach? It’s certainly a new way of being for me, and it’s enriching my life in so many ways.

I challenge you to slow down a little whenever you can, get to know your self better, and make the magical moments of life last longer!

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

Living with uncertainty in a maybe world

Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.‘ ~John Allen Paulos

In April 2012 I left the security of a substantive contract as a midwife, to focus on completing my Diploma in Holistic Life Coaching topped up with some locum midwifery practice.  Prior to that, in November 2010, I’d resigned from a well-paid senior post to return to clinical practice.  I decided life was too short to take the pressure the post was having on me any longer, took a pay cut and returned to shift work – I wanted to keep my working life a little simpler and less stressed.

My husband and I have been planning a move back to my home country of England since we returned to New Zealand in November 2010, and that’s been the goal we’ve been focussing on.

That dream is almost coming to fruition now …

Being brave or stupid? Embracing uncertainty

In 2002, after a nine-month sabbatical to Gisborne, NZ, I was a week away from returning to UK.  I was consumed with fear for the future – I had little to go back for – no job, no home, no car, no money, but I did have my family.  A book caught my eye while shopping in Dunedin at a midwifery conference, called ‘Embracing Uncertainty’ by Susan Jeffers.  I recall it helped me enormously to let go of expectations and start to live in a ‘maybe’ world.

Maybe I would get a job when I returned, maybe I wouldn’t.

Maybe I’d have to live with my parents for months, maybe I wouldn’t.

When I went to NZ people said I was brave – I wondered if I’d just been plain stupid!  However, that first trip was a turning point in my life and I haven’t looked back.  In January 2005 I returned and gained my NZ residency, and in August that year I met my husband – he’d lived in Gisborne all of his life.

Now we’re both returning to UK to live ‘indefinitely, and Susan’s book has once again called to me.  As we plan our projects for work and home to the nth degree, I know it doesn’t mean it’ll always work out how we would like it to.

Contingency planning is vital, but it’s also empowering to just go with the flow and stop being attached to a certain outcome.  Now that’s a big challenge when the outcome we’ve been dreaming of for over two years is returning to UK, getting Barry’s UK residency visa, and buying another narrowboat to live aboard for ‘the foreseeable future’.

But I believe that we need to trust ‘life’, that what happens daily is for our highest good, and if we can keep an open mind and adjust our plans when things don’t work out quite as we’d imagined, then amazing opportunities for growth can occur.

I’d love to hear how life has given you opportunities for growth …