Duncan Elliot is a life coach working out of Basingstoke in England. He particularly works with people who feel that there must be more to life and are willing to work at it, so that they can feel happier and more in control of their life. He offers life coaching in person, on the phone or via audio or video across the Internet. Click here to contact him.

Sources of stress

Real threats
As a pedestrian, you're vulnerable. If you're crossing the road and suddenly see a vehicle approaching you at high speed, your stress level WILL increase. Your brain has seen something happening that is likely to injure you and it almost instantly readies you to deal with it. That is a real threat. Similarly if you're an aid worker in a war-torn country, the sounds of gunfire and shells landing nearby are going to cause your stress levels to shoot up.

This will also happen if you're in an abusive relationship – whether it be with a partner, a parent, a child, a colleague or whoever. They cause you pain – physical or emotional – and your stress levels will increase whenever you are around that person. If you spot the signs that they're about to hurt you, they'll shoot up even more.

These threats are normal and instinctive. If the threats are the random, one-off situations of normal life, such as crossing the road, then that's fine. Your stress level will rise and then drop again once the danger has passed. The issue is when these are repeated, such as in abusive or bullying relationships. These can be hugely damaging to you in all sorts of ways.

If you're in a situation where you have such repeated spikes of stress then I'd like to work with you to determine the way forward. I know that it's not always easy. If it was, you'd have dealt with it. But I can work with you so that you understand the issues and the choices that you have, and I will support you in the decisions that you make.

Say the pedestrian was hit by a car one day. Once they've recovered from their injuries they take the same route again. As they get close to the pedestrian crossing their heart beat increases, their mouth feels dry and they start to feel shaky. They are feeling stress. The road may be completely clear, yet their brain is still flooding their body with cortisol.

This is stress by association. The human brain works pretty much by pattern matching. It will look at situations, people and places and check in its memory banks to see if it has encountered or has information about them, or similar ones already. Having found a match, it will look for what information is associated with it. Say you encounter a little, grey-haired old lady. It's quite likely that your brain will associate that with your grandmother. For most of us, our associations with our grandmothers are pretty positive, so we are likely to be open and trusting with this lady.

If the association is with someone or somewhere scary then the brain will immediately trigger you to high alert. Say you were bullied as a child by a boy who wore a yellow jumper. Twenty years later you see a boy wearing a similar jumper and your stress levels go shooting through the roof. That's stress through association.

That can be a major problem to people who have suffered traumatic experiences in the past. All sorts of things can trigger them and it can take a lot of work to deal with that. Unfortunately that's outside my experience and if that describes you, I'd recommend that you approach a counsellor or psychologist. For counselling in the Basingstoke area, I'd recommend
Harmony Counselling or Talking Journeys.

Humans are pack animals. We're used to living in groups. To make the most of that, we have a sensitivity to other people. If all those around us are calm, then we catch calmness off them. If people are stressed, though, we will pick up on that and our stress levels will rise. If you were out gathering food in a group and one of the others spotted a predator, they'd react with stress. It behoves you to notice that and respond in the same way. Fred is stressed so he's obviously seen a threat: I need to be ready for it, too. That happens very quickly. After all, your survival doesn't depend on outrunning the predator: it depends on you reacting quicker than someone else in the group.

If you spend time around someone who has high stress levels, your stress levels will respond to that. Again, that's an automatic reaction, but you can deal with it. I can work with you to clarify the situation and come up with a way forward. I can then support you in that.

Contact me for details of how I can work with you on any of these sources of stress.

Click here for the main stress management page.

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