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Assertiveness is a vital ability in dealing with others and it is not to be confused with aggression. Aggression is an attempt to win, to get your own way even at the expense of others, whereas assertiveness is a way to find balance and a good solution for all concerned. To be assertive, you need to confidently express your own preferences at the same time as  respecting those of others.


The benefits of an assertive attitude include improved teamwork and leadership (because people work together), and better interpersonal skills as you learn to listen and take account of other points of view. In turn, this can lead to improved confidence and reduced anxiety, and better problem solving skills.

Factors in assertiveness
  
David Rock, CEO of Results Coaching International, designed the SCARF model to define five concerns which affect all people:
  • STATUS (how important we feel we are to those around us)
  • CERTAINTY (how confident we can be about what will happen)
  • AUTONOMY (how much control we feel we have over our circumstances)
  • RELATEDNESS (personal factors like trust, empathy, and safety around others)
  • FAIRNESS (whether we feel we experience appropriate and balanced exchanges)
When we think these things are threatened, we are likely to respond with aggression or fear.
 
Developing your assertiveness skills
 
Work out which of the areas above are most important to you by looking out for situations where you feel defensive or threatened; this is where you need to practice responding calmly and assertively instead of having a 'knee jerk' reaction.
 
Observe how colleagues and family members respond to each concern as well, especially if you get into conflict with that person a lot. Assertiveness skills will help you defuse those situations in future.
 
In short, understanding the needs and desires of yourself and those around you is the first step to getting those needs and desires fulfilled.
 
The differences between assertiveness and aggression
 
The Centre for Creative Leadership has found that women are twice as likely as men to be described as “bossy” by colleagues [1] , and women receive critical feedback about aggressive behaviour in 75.5% of their performance reviews versus 2.5% of men’s [2] .
 
Persons of colour, especially black people, can also suffer from being perceived and stereotyped as aggressive, especially when they respond negatively to offensive comments or actions, or do not conform to white social standards (for example, a black woman who straightens her hair will be perceived more favourably) [3] .
 
In these circumstances, assertiveness can be really helpful, especially if it’s used with care. Stanford University’s study found that women received three times as many promotions when they were able to 'self-monitor' and vary their behaviour depending on circumstances, learning when it is 'safe' to express traditionally masculine levels of assertiveness [4] .
 
Assertiveness techniques and exercises
 
1. Ask questions instead of making statements - it lets you to express your views but is less likely to be seen as an attack on the other person. Try questions like 'That’s an interesting idea, but have you considered that it would have the following effect?' or 'That might work, but do you think doing it this way would also solve this other problem?'

2. Letting the other person speak before expressing your views may help to put them in a good frame of mind for listening to you, and finding as many points as possible to agree on will also help. The goals are to express your view and find common ground wherever possible, without either being overbearing or allowing yourself to be ignored.

3. Don’t confuse assertiveness with passive-aggression either. Avoid behaviours like sarcasm, avoidance, rudeness through body language, and agreeing with someone now but disagreeing later (especially behind their back). This will result in people not trusting you or wanting to ask for your input in anything, and will make it less likely that you will get what you want.
 
4. A good method to practice assertiveness is the LADDER method. Follow these steps:
  • LOOK at the situation; consider the needs of those involved and the possible outcomes
  • ARRANGE a meeting between those involved – choose a good time, resolve stress factors
  • DEFINE the problem clearly and exactly
  • DESCRIBE your feelings, but ensure you ...
  • EXPRESS them clearly and politely
  • REINFORCE your ideas; discuss the potential positive results
5. To increase the chances of success, set a positive mood; make sure nobody involved is hungry or sleepy or otherwise likely to be irritable, make sure your discussion is at a convenient time and no one is too busy with other stuff, and ensure everyone has had time to prepare. It is easier to remain calm when you are managing your stress well; see elsewhere on this site for tips about that.
 
6. Take the initiative in arranging a discussion and don't rely on mind-reading - the other person may not know you think there's a problem or have a clear grasp of what the problem is (even if it's really obvious to you). However, as said above, it might be wise to let them speak first once the discussion is under way. Try this:
 
You: 'Thank you for meeting with me. I feel we need to talk about ...' (State the topic briefly.) 'What do you think?'
Them: 'I don’t think it’s a problem, because of ...' (Let them explain their side.)
You: 'You have a point, but I do think it could become a problem because ...' (Explain your side.)
 
7. When explaining something, provide sufficient detail for them to understand the issue, but not too much. Be straightforward and do not go off on tangents or bring in past arguments on other issues. 
 
8. Don’t sugar-coat the situation or apologise for your own thoughts to spare someone's feelings. This (of course) doesn't mean you should deliberately hurt or upset them, or turn the discussion into a personal attack. Using 'I' statements is a good way to do this, for example 'When you say that, I feel undervalued' instead of 'you never show me any respect'.
 
9. Stay aware of your body language; keep eye contact without glaring, keep your tone firm and even, and do not raise your voice. Assertive posture is smooth movements, relaxed but upright body, firm stance, and appropriate and not exaggerated gestures. Hold an open posture; arms at your sides or held out rather than folded, palms out rather than in fists. Remember to smile!
 
10. Keep up the assertive attitude even if the other person doesn’t! If they get angry or passive-aggressive, don’t let them draw you into a fight. Do not insult, yell at, or threaten the other person, avoid foul language, and keep your temper.
 
11. Criticise actions, not the person; for example, 'I was very hurt when you called me that', not 'You are horribly rude'. Don’t try to push the other person into doing things your way; remember that their reasons are valid to them.
 
12. If you can't get everything you want out of the discussion (and you probably won't) look for ways to negotiate a compromise. If they really won’t or can’t move on the issue, walk away rather than getting angry. Consider enlisting the help of a third party who can mediate between you.
 
13. If you need a response to aggression, try a technique called fogging. Acknowledge the attacking statement without promising to change the attacked behaviour unless you actually intend to change it. For example, 'I can see you don’t like it when I do that'.
 
14. A possible response to complete dismissal, on the other hand, is the 'stuck record' technique; simply repeat your needs calmly and politely until the person gets the message.
 
15. Practice polite refusals to demands that are unreasonable or that you cannot fulfil for other reasons, and suggest ways to compromise, for example, 'Sorry, I already have something booked in on that morning, is the afternoon okay?' (Ask for my free handout on ways to say no - and mean it)
 
16. Remember to express appreciation for the other party! Acknowledge and thank them for even small positive responses, and accept that their needs and desires are important too.
 
Try practicing these tips before you need them next; ask a friend to join you for a fake debate to hone your skills. Be patient and keep practicing, and soon you’ll get the results you want!

And if you need help in developing these skills, please get in touch.
 
[1] https://www.ccl.org/articles/white-papers/bossy-whats-gender-got-to-do-with-it/
 
 
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Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbookboth of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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Most of us think negatively from time to time. For many of us these thoughts are pretty transitory, they don’t last long and only have a short term impact on our thinking. For others, though, those negative thoughts become much more intrusive and overpowering. When this happens things have gone beyond worrying, and we can worry that we're losing control of our thoughts altogether. Well, the good news is that there are steps you can take to oust these unwelcome thought-visitors, and here are a few of the most effective.


Firstly, refuse to fight with the thoughts. This sounds like a really bad idea but think of it this way. If someone had grabbed your hand and you pulled away, chances are they would just hold on tighter. Negative thoughts do the same with your mind; the more you pull away, the tighter they grip.

Plus, of course, 'try not to worry' is about as helpful as 'try not to think of a pink elephant'. The more you try, the more you think about it.

Secondly find some ways to help you deal with the thoughts now you are facing up to them. There are a few ways you can do this, experiment and see what works for you.

1. Have a worry half hour every day, when you HAVE to worry. This will be really easy at first, but after a while you'll get used to thinking those worried thoughts and realise they are not so scary after all. Thinking of them will worry you less and your anxiety levels will drop. If you start to worry outside the time you have set, just calmly tell the thoughts to come back later.

2. Write the thoughts down in a letter or diary. Look for places where you have control over at least some elements of the situation, or can do something practical to help reduce the worry. For example,  if you are worrying about money, could you keep better track of your spending, or see a debt advisor?

3. Think of ways to challenge your negative thoughts by adding the word but and a more positive thought. For example if you think 'my partner's late home, maybe they’re having an affair' the challenge could be 'my partner's late home, maybe they’re having an affair, BUT it’s more likely they’re caught in traffic'. But cancels out everything you thought before it and leaves you with the  positive interpretation. You need to work at this one at first, but it soon becomes automatic.

4. Practice affirmations. These are positive thoughts that help you disconnect from the negative ones. Choose a positive phrase or sentence (just a few words is best) that contradicts some of your most worrying thoughts, such as 'I'm a good and worthwhile person'. Find a mirror, look your reflection in the eyes and say it out loud, as if you mean it, five times every morning and five times every night. If you want to think it inside your head every time you see your own reflection during the day as well - in mirrors, shop windows etc. This isn’t an instant fix, most people say you have to persevere for two or three weeks before noticing much difference, but the more you repeat it, the quicker you'll start to believe it.

5. Put an elastic band around your wrist and snap it each time you recognise a negative thought sneaking into your mind. (Not too hard - it shouldn’t leave bruises!) This interrupts your thoughts so you can focus on creating positive responses to the situation you’re in. You can use your affirmations or the BUT technique mentioned above to create those positive responses.

6. If you are in a place where you can do so discreetly, change your position when the thoughts start: stand up if you are sitting, move around if you are standing. Focus your mind on what is happening right in that moment, instead of what might happen.

7. Make an effort to notice the good stuff that happens as well as the problems. At the end of each day think of at least one thing that went well, or that you were pleased with: it doesn’t have to be huge, simple things will do like finishing a job on time, getting a parking space, a compliment or a thank you, helping someone else, or having someone show you an act of kindness.

Let me know in the comments box which of these helps you most. And if you need a hand to put them in place, have a word with your GP, or feel free to contact me for further advice.

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Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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As this is written in January when many of us are tightening our belts after the holidays, getting back into 'real life', and putting up with the bad weather until Spring arrives, I thought I would look at how to get help with your stress for free.
There are lots of articles on stress and how to reduce or manage it but I was looking for sites which offered a bit more - downloadable fact sheets, audios, quizzes and so on. There don't seem to be many but I have scoured the Net and come up with these recommendations.

If you know of others which are particularly good and free, (your own or other people's) do feel free to add them in the comments underneath this article and say what you like about them.

The sites in this article are not in any particular order, other than my own is last to avoid cries of favouritism! And please remember that some free offers may go out of date. The article was published at the beginning of 2016.

Stress Management for busy womenThis first site says it's for women but I suspect the information and freebies will be just as good for men. I particularly like the emergency kit poster about half way down the page. It's definitely an 'if all else fails' approach but made me smile anyway.



The Stress Management SocietyThere are plenty of mind maps, audios and factsheets here. They are free in the sense that you don't pay for them. You do have to sign up for their newsletter, which you don't pay for either, in order to access the resources though.



Stressed-less LivingThis site comes from a Christian perspective but has quite a few good resources and many of them are helpful and practical whatever your faith or spiritual outlook.






 You tubeYou might think of you-tube as a place where ducks ride skateboards, people make fools of themselves and gamers post their virtual successes but many hypnotherapists, yoga teachers and stress management coaches use it as a place for offering free audios and videos. There were far too many for me to choose just one (and music/audios come down to personal choice anyway) but it's definitely worth looking at.



Yorkshire Stress ManagementAnd finally, please visit my own site, where you can get leaflets, flyers, a stress test and a five minute audio, all for free. You don't even have to part with your email address!







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Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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It's not easy to move your career forward if you find it difficult to promote yourself. Although I write about stress management on this blog, I'm also an Advanced level hypnotherapist, and I'm going to look at how including hypnotherapy in your stress management programme could help you achieve more in your career.

Improving your career is not easy if you don't have the basic tools. Without life skills to provide you with the push you need, in all likelihood you won't be able to move ahead as you want, no matter how good your academic accomplishments, experience or contacts are.

Hypnotherapy could help you put your best self forward.
Can you identify with any of the following problems?
  • You end up avoiding interviews because you feel certain you will fail. 
  • You get exceedingly anxious before and during interviews, and feel reticent or  embarrassed about revealing your life skills and accomplishments. 
  • You avoid talking with management wherever possible in your current job because you feel that it's only a matter of time before they determine that you're not worthy of your current job position. 
  • You dodge networking events because you feel unable to communicate effectively with other people. 
  • You avoid putting yourself forward for promotion as you feel that you won't represent yourself well, or that you're not suitable for the promotion. 
  • You judge yourself more harshly than other people judge you.
If any of these problems ring true with you, hypnotherapy might help you to achieve that promotion.

What holds you back in your career?When your own thoughts stand in the way of you and your next career step, there are ways to change your thoughts for the better. Hypnotherapy could help you discover why you feel the way you do, and most importantly, help you to move forward.

Hypnotherapy is different from other 'talking therapies' because it helps you to get into the unconscious beliefs that drive your negative thoughts, so you can make the changes you need to make. It is not just about thinking positively, it's about creating automatic and better responses to events like interviews, that in the past would have made you feel anxious.

Hypnotherapy could help you:
  • Rely upon yourself, your capacities and your talents so you feel more confident. 
  • Communicate effortlessly, confidently and calmly in all of life's situations, not just interviews. 
  • Gain understanding into why you used to get anxious, and redirect those old responses into more advantageous behaviours.
Of course, we are talking here about confidence and not competence! Training and career development are probably what you need if you lack the practical knowledge or qualifications that  employers are looking for (though hypnotherapy could help motivate you to get them).
 
However, if your skills and abilities on paper are just what you need and you’re still not achieving all you are capable of, then think about whether it’s your thought processes that are preventing you from moving forward. If so, it might be the perfect time to consider some hypnotherapy to help you build a new mental skill set and become the best you that you can be.

Contact me if you want to know more.

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Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from Amazon.co.uk.
Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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  1. To misquote Abraham Lincoln, you cannot please all of the people all of the time. Don't try to achieve the impossible, but aim to have something for each individual (or age group if you have a very social Christmas) over the holiday period.
       
  2. Plan ahead. Wrap presents as you buy them, pre-prepare and store food which will keep in the cupboard or freezer.
      
  3. It's said we eat up around 6000 calories on Christmas Day, but we don’t need to. Abandon the starter and/or canapés, cut back on the most time-consuming items on the menu and save everyone's waist line too. They'll thank you in the New Year!
     
  4. If you are catering for large numbers, ask everyone to prepare and bring one item from the menu. (Check who's bringing what so you don’t end up with ten bags of peeled sprouts and no Christmas pud!)
     
  5. Delegate, delegate, delegate. We know too many cooks can spoil the turkey but other people can hand around drinks and snacks, wash up, decorate the tree, tidy the house or walk the dog.
     
  6. Have some activities planned to break up the day; especially if they get people out into the fresh air to let off a bit of steam. Go for a walk, take the kids to the park or play football in the garden.
     
  7. If finances are a worry agree a price limit for pressies, or just buy for the kids this year.
     
  8. Is there one job that drives you crazy every year? Be inventive. Give it to someone else, change the way you do it or find a replacement that's less annoying.
     
  9. Be selective with your partying. You don’t have to go to them all. If you have trouble saying 'no' ask for our free advice sheet.
       
  10. Make sure you have plenty of batteries. So many toys need them but come without.
     
  11. The other side of that may be to agree a time limit in advance on the use of noisy toys! Plan a distraction for when it comes time to actually part with them for a while.
     
  12. Find a way to lighten the more repetitive tasks, like putting on your favourite video whilst wrapping gifts or writing cards.
     
  13. Schedule a break for yourself. Make time for things you normally do to relax - reading, watching TV, going for a run, knitting. They are even more important when you are busy.
     
  14. Unless you enjoy the crowds and queues, do at least part of your gift shopping on line. Books and videos are particularly good for this.
     
  15. Take advantage of shops and websites that will gift wrap for you.
     
  16. Put together presents that need assembly before Christmas Day if possible. It avoids disappointment by making sure you have all the pieces.
     
  17. Look for times when you are thinking words like 'must', 'have to' and 'should'. Are these things really that essential?
     
  18. Distraction and thinking ahead is often the best way to deal with warring or difficult relatives - http://www.counsellingpracticematters.com/how-to-deal-with-difficult-relatives-over-christmas/ has some good tips.
     
  19. If you worry about being lonely or alone over the holidays, plan some activity. Go out to Christmas lunch, volunteer at a shelter, residential home or hospital, pamper yourself a little.
     
  20. If you have experienced loss, or separation from loved ones this year, don't feel you have to be the life and soul of the party. It's OK to allow yourself (and others) time to be quiet or grieve.
     
  21. And finally, remember to think about yourself as much as you think about others.

     
     
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    Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.
    Debbie is has also written about helping people with IBS in the Hypnotherapy Handbook which is available from Amazon.co.uk.
    Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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    Do you remember the ice bucket challenge? The general idea was to let your friends tip a bucket of ice-cubes and cold water over your head - or you had to donate to charity as a forfeit. Look up the videos on you-tube, I'm sure they're still there. My own favourite was actor Patrick Stewart who sensibly put the ice in his drink whilst writing a cheque to his favourite good cause. So what has this got to do with stress thresholds - apart from being deluged with icy water being (I assume) a fairly stressful experience?

    Dictionary.com defines a threshold as 'the sill of a doorway', 'the entrance to a house or building' or 'any place or point of entering or beginning'. A stress threshold is about that last one, it's the point at which you leave a place where you are coping with stress and enter one where you are not. In other words, where the stress landing on you becomes, like the ice bucket, an unpleasant deluge.

    We all have different thresholds for stress, and sometimes we have different thresholds for different kinds of stress. You might thrive on the kind of stress you get at work, for example, but find it difficult to deal with the kind you get at home.

    For just that reason, I prefer the concept of a container, like a bucket, more than a line.
     
    How the stress bucket works
     
    Imagine it this way. You have a bucket which holds around 2 gallons of water. You also have a leak in your roof. You place the bucket under the leak to catch the drips. As long as the water in the bucket is less than 2 gallons, everything is fine.

    Once there is more than 2 gallons, you have a problem - water spills over the top and floods your home, causing a lot more damage than just the roof: carpets, electrical, walls.

    Stress is just the same. None of us can entirely escape stress, but while your coping strategies are up to the job, everything goes pretty well. Once the stress you face is more than you can cope with, it overflows into other areas of your life - health, emotions, relationships, work etc - and causes more problems.

    There are a few other things to note about this stress bucket.
    • it can be filled just as full by one large sploosh of water coming through a ginormous hole, or a constant drip from a much smaller one
    • however it fills, once full it will overflow
    • instead of a 2 gallon bucket, some of us have a 4 gallon bucket, or maybe only a thimble, so that the overflow comes for each of us at different times

    What can you do to improve things?
    Stretching the overflowing bucket metaphor just about as far as we can, you have three choices to save your carpets:
    • mend the roof
    • empty the bucket regularly so it never overflows
    • get a bigger bucket
    In stress management terms this translates as follows:
    • resolve the situation that is causing the stress
    • learn practical and effective strategies for dealing with the stressful situation
    • improve your overall resilience to stress in the long term
    I've discussed these approaches in detail before - find my practical tips to effective stress management HERE.
     
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    Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.
    Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbookboth of which are available from Amazon.
    Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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    You probably heard this word a thousand times but do you know what 'de-stress' really means? According to Oxford Dictionaries, de-stress means 'to relax after a period of work or tension'. So whether you’re stressed out or not after work and you take time just to relax, it’s already consider as de-stressing.

    Why is de-stressing important anyway?
    To begin with stress is the root of many illnesses. According to Lifescript, these 10 illnesses can be caused by stress:
    • Insomnia
    • Eating disorders
    • Depression
    • Anxiety and panic attacks
    • Cold and viruses
    • Circulatory problems
    • Systemic infections
    • Diabetes
    • Heart problems
    • Cancer
    Keep it in your routine to do something that would relax you after a long day at work. This may be a little thing but completely essential for our health. And speaking of taking the time to de-stress, Melissa Eisler and Visme created this infographic you’ll find helpful on the 10 ways to de-stress both your mind and body.
     
    Happy de-stressing!
    De-stressing Infographic
     
     
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
     
    P.S. In case you need to transform boring information into beautiful visual content, you can learn instantly from the Make Information Beautiful video series!
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    Many people have observed that their stress levels drop when they have a pet. Various organisations such as Pets As Therapy and Veterans With Dogs have used this knowledge for years, bringing pets to vulnerable people, and seeing excellent results in mood improvement. Those who own a dog are also far less likely to die within a year of having a heart attack than those who don't [1]. Peer-reviewed science is now backing these observations up.


    A variety of factors around pet ownership contribute to these results.

    ExerciseA dog or other pet that requires walking ensures that the owner regularly exercises, which is proven in itself to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Exercise helps by releasing endorphins; lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels; helping to control weight; and improving fitness, sleep pattern, and cognitive function. It also permits continued mobility in later years; studies of elderly dog owners have shown they have a better ability to move around the home than non-dog-owners.

    RoutineOwners usually prefer to exercise, feed, and groom pets at set times of the day, which can help to build a routine. A strong, predictable daily routine is a good source of personal stability, improves productivity, reduces worry about prioritising or procrastinating, and results in healthier sleeping patterns.

    Touch is good for usPhysical contact with a pet, especially a warm-blooded furry mammal, provides many benefits for both the owner and the pet. Touching or holding an animal (or another person) causes release of the hormone oxytocin (which makes you feel good) and suppresses its counterpart cortisol ( stress hormone). This results in relaxation, pleasure, and bonding between those in contact. Reducing cortisol levels also improves bone formation, amino acid uptake in muscle, wound healing, stomach and kidney function, memory retrieval, and sleep.

    Children in particular require physical contact for healthy emotional development, and can also develop empathy and motor control by learning to be gentle with a pet. Autistic people also benefit from physical contact, but many dislike or can’t handle the sensory input from touching a human; physical hypersensitivity means they may feel discomfort or even pain from the feel of other people’s skin or clothes, the smell of their cleansing products, the strength of a hug, etc. An animal feels different from a human, and the duration and type of contact is easier for the autistic person to control, especially with a small docile animal.

    MoodAll pets, including less cuddly ones, can cheer their owners up with their behaviour. Plenty of internet content is devoted to funny and cute things animals do, from learning tricks to sneezing. Happiness and laughter cause the release of numerous chemicals which improve health, such as endorphins and growth hormone.

    DistractionA benefit shared by all of the above is that the pet owner is distracted from ruminating on problems. While focusing on walking, feeding, or holding the pet, it is harder to focus on sources of worry. When coming back to a problem later with a clear head, it’s much easier to find a solution or process emotions about past difficulties, too. All of the health-improving benefits will also further decrease stress in themselves by reducing worry about becoming ill and by permitting increased activity and productivity.

    Love and acceptancePerhaps most important of all, an affectionate animal is a source of unconditional love. No matter what problems the owner suffers, the pet will always be there, and sociable species, especially dogs and horses, form strong bonds with humans. Cats are often assumed to be standoffish, but recent studies have shown this is mostly down to mutual misinterpretations of body language, though they do lack the separation anxiety that dogs might show. Birds will usually bond strongly with one specific human. Mice and rats, dismissed for centuries as self-interested vermin, will ignore treats in favour of releasing a restrained cage-mate and show affection for their human owners.

    Fish don’t seem to form the same bonds, but some have recently been shown to recognise their owners’ faces, and even pet snails can recognise a “safe” human’s scent. Even if the pet is not of a type which forms bonds, it is just as important for the human to be able to direct their own love towards it.

    In severe cases, pets have prevented suicides; knowing their pet will suffer if they are not there causes many to reconsider, especially in cases where a human support system is lacking.

    Is pet ownership really for you?This article is not intended to make you rush out and buy a pet on impulse just because you’re feeling stressed. Not for yourself, and especially not for anyone else.

    A pet can be a huge source of stress if the new owner is not ready or equipped to take them on. Active pets like cats and dogs require training and attention, and may cause damage to your home before they learn the rules. Even small pets that live in cages need  daily attention, feeding and care. Some pets get you up at night and disrupt your sleep [2]. Planning and preparation are required before you take the plunge.

    Before acquiring a pet, spend a week caring for the pet in your imagination. 'Right now I would have to be feeding/walking my pet' - that kind of thing. See where the logistical problems might lie. Thoroughly research what kind of pet would best be suited to your environment and think about your ability to provide for it. A mouse or rat which costs £5 to buy can still end up costing you £40 or £50 - maybe even more - if it needs a vet.

    If it’s not practical for you to have a pet at home, you might be able to 'borrow' one and gain some of the same benefits. Other people's pets are like grandkids - you can have the fun without so much of the responsibility!  Offer to walk an older person's dog for them, visit friends with pets and 'have a cuddle', offer love to a pet in a rescue or shelter by volunteering there. Take your kids to a petting zoo.

    If you do decide to go ahead and become a full time pet owner, make sure you choose a healthy animal from a reputable breeder or shelter, and never give a surprise pet to anyone. When properly researched and chosen, the right pet and the right owner can be a source of joy to each other for years to come.


    [1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002914999803439
    [2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2758742/How-pets-make-MORE-stressed-More-half-cat-dog-owners-lose-sleep-animals-wake-early-survey-finds.html


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    Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbookboth of which are available from Amazon.
    Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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    I believe that there are three main approaches to dealing with stress. These are (i) resolving the issue that's causing the stress, (ii) learning new ways to cope with the situation so you perceive it as less stressful and (iii) improving your resilience so stress bothers you less generally. These are, of course, are pretty sweeping statements, so let’s have a look at them more closely now.


    Resolving the issue that's causing stress
    This is the hardest one to offer generalised advice, because what you should do, and even whether solving the problem is possible, will depend very much on what the situation is.

    But there are practical steps you can take to see how far you can go in this direction. I'll use the example of someone who is stressed by an unusually large workload, and if your problem is something else, you'll have to brainstorm similar ideas that are appropriate.
    • consider whether you have practical answers you are not yet using that might be helpful, in our example could you speak to your boss? set aside less important tasks until the crisis is over? delegate? bring in a union rep? even change jobs?
    • consider whether the situation is avoidable - by this I don’t mean ignore or run away from your problems, which is almost never helpful. I mean whether you might be able to manage the situation differently so the problem doesn’t occur again, for example, negotiating longer deadlines, reviewing your time management skills or way of working, limiting the number of new contracts you take on when you are already busy
    If you can't resolve the situation, or can only partly resolve it, then you need to think about how you can change what you're doing to make it easier to cope with.


    Learning specific coping strategies
    Again, to some extent what strategies are appropriate will depend on your situation.

    Say, for example, that you have money worries. In step one you might have decided that the best way to resolve the situation was to see a debt advisor and negotiate easier repayment plans for your debts. But although this leaves you with a plan, you might need specific strategies to help you carry it out. For example:
    • improving your negotiation or communication skills to help you stay calm and get the best deals from your creditors
    • learning new ways of money management to avoid the problem recurring
    • learning ways to stop the worry and anxiety getting you down so you can focus on solutions, not problems
    • learning not to over-react or slide back into high levels of stress if you hit setbacks in clearing your debts
    • developing more positivity and perhaps self esteem: realising that having debt problems doesn't make you a bad person
    • learning to appreciate the good things you have in life, and feeling that it’s OK to do so
    Again, if your problem isn't debt, you can brainstorm some ideas that fit for you. And once things are under control, you can move on to making sure you are more resilient to stressful situations in the future.


    Improving Resilience
    Resilience is the amount of 'bounce back' you have when life is challenging (in terms of my last blog, how big your bucket is). And the good news is that you can increase it if you are prepared to try. For ways to do this see my next blog.
     
    If you are having trouble following this advice:
    Stress can be enervating. It affects your ability to think clearly and plan, so get help if you need it. Your GP, friends and family may be able to support you but sometimes it helps to talk to someone who's not involved. Stress management coaching or therapy can help you see the best way out, both in practical and emotional terms. Please contact me if I can help.
     
     
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    Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.
    Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbookboth of which are available from Amazon.
    Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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    A lot is written at this time of year about helping children to beat exam stress, and very soon we'll start on the topic of how to ease your child into school for the first time. I've written about these topics myself (follow the links). But what about the teachers whose job it is to keep our children safe, learning and happy?

    Teaching is a remarkable job and most teachers are dedicated, hardworking and amazing people.

    Unfortunately, the job comes with built-in stressors. A study published in 2017 [1] reported that 45% of 778 teachers surveyed said their mental health was poor, or very poor. The year before, the charity Education Support Partnership (ESP) found that 84% of 2000 teachers surveyed had suffered from mental-health problems at some point over the previous two years [2].

    Why is teaching stressful?
    • Workload - 81% of responders in the ESP survey said this was their main stressor. The job is not simply standing in front of a class and teaching. Most teachers put in many hours of preparation, marking and assessment.
        
    • Management - like any other job, teachers have managers. Also like any other job, unhelpful management styles, or personality clashes, can cause a problem. The ESP study said that only a quarter of those suffering stress had discussed it with their line manager.
        
    • Children - some children may struggle to cope with the work or the social skills they need to thrive at school. Some are deliberately provoking. Some have difficult home lives, health issues, or put themselves under huge pressures to succeed. Ensuring that each child gets what they need from you is a multi-tasking challenge requiring large amounts of mental, emotional and physical stamina. 
        
    • Pressure from home - my Mum was a teacher and her class of 7 year olds would often come up to her and say 'Miss, why were you in the supermarket yesterday?' They seemed surprised that she needed to go shopping. Teachers don’t live in the stock cupboard or go into suspended animation when the kids go home; they have lives like anyone else. Sometimes those lives are difficult, or stressful.
        
    • Outside pressure - teachers are continuously assessed and scrutinised by their class, parents, school officials and the Department of Education. Their exam and test results are monitored and published for all to see. Although there are good reasons for this, it can make them feel that they are constantly being criticised and judged and that they are not valued by the communities they are serving.
        
    • Taking the job out of school - teachers (at least the good ones, which I believe is the majority) have a passion for teaching and worry about the welfare of the children in their care. They take those worries home. They also often take a lot of work, blurring the lines between their career and their personal lives.

    How can teachers reduce their stress?
    • Look at your work/life balance - ideally, do all your school stuff at school, to make a clear demarcation between home and work. If that's not possible, complete work tasks at specific times and in a specific place, in a home office for example. Consider these working hours and 'switch off' when you've finished. [more on work/life balance]
    • Learn time management skills - be realistic about the things you can achieve and prioritise if it’s not possible to do everything. [more on time management]
       
    • Take regular 'me' time - learn mindfulness or self hypnosis, do something fun. Switching off the stress response stops the production of stress hormones and helps you relax.
        
    • Get regular exercise - aerobic exercise helps you burn off stress hormones so you feel better.
    • Be aware of what makes you stressed - make a list of the triggers for your stress if you can. Work out which ones are within your control to change. A therapist like myself can help with this if you need it.
        
    • Learn and apply coping strategies - once you have a list of things you can change, go ahead and change them. Tackling one thing at a time is usually easier than making numerous changes all at once.
        
    • Learn to say 'no' and mean it - a very undervalued skill and an essential one if you are not going to end up overwhelmed.
        
    • Get a good night's sleep - if this is difficult there are some tips here.
        
    • Browse other pages on this blog - there are a few links to specific items in this article but you'll get lots more good ideas on developing resilience and managing stress by just looking around.
        
    • Talk to someone - your line manager, a friend or partner, a stress coach. It will help you put your worries in perspective.


     
     
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    Author: Debbie Waller is a professional stress management coach, specialising in working with individuals and smaller employers to minimise stress and maximise feeling in control.Debbie is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbookboth of which are available from Amazon.
    Find out more about Debbie's services on www.yorkshirestressmanagement.com  or phone 01977 678593
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