Stepping Stones NECounselling in Morpeth, Northumberland

Let’s start a conversation about stress                              13/10/2023

Finally, western medicine has caught up with alternative medicine and recognised the link between stress and disease. Headaches, migraines, digestive problems, tight muscles and more seriously heart disease and hyper tension are just some of the ways our bodies react to unbearable pressure.


But what is stress? There are many definitions some of which very technical but I would say that stress is triggered every time we are faced with a physical or emotional situation we do not feel equipped to deal with. Stress is not an objective measurement of a challenge but represents a very individual perception for each of us: I may find public speaking very hard and anxiety provoking, while a friend may thrive and enjoy every opportunity they get to speak in front of a group.


Stress is a complex combination of physical and biochemical responses to strong emotional stimuli.  


First, we have an event, physical or emotional, which our brain interprets as a threat. We call this a stressor. Second, the brain interprets this event and finally, comes our stress response which can be expressed as behavioural or physiological reactions.


A typical physiological response to a stressor involves the release of stress hormones which include adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help us to kick start the “fight or flight” response, which is designed to help us survive immediate danger. In the modern western world, unfortunately, the fight or flight response is increasingly triggered inappropriately by a perceived threat which means we may find ourselves stressed over long periods of time. The biggest stressors for modern men tend to be of an emotional nature and it is even possible to be stressed without being aware of it.


Research has identified three areas which consistently lead to stress: uncertainty, lack of information and loss of control. Ongoing emotional stress is very likely to lead to chronic stress and this is where problems to our health lie.


A clear example of a physical manifestation of chronic stress is the effects of long term amounts of cortisol on the body: research shows that cortisol has an inhibiting effect on the immune system as well as ulcerating effect on the intestines (this is why people who are prescribed cortisol-type drugs are also required to take medication to protect the lining of the stomach!)


Modern life puts a lot of pressures on most of us: for example, financial, relationship-based, goal oriented. Emotional stress is also triggered whenever the gap between our expectations and our reality vary greatly and can lead to many stress-related emotional conditions (anxiety, depression, low self esteem to name a few).


Our ability to regulate our emotions plays a significant role in the impact stress can have on our quality of life. In order to do this, we need to be able to develop “emotional competence” which involves feeling our emotions rather than suppressing them as well as the ability to express them at the right time and appropriately.


If stress is affecting your life and you want to look at ways to address it, contact me for your free telephone consultation. It could be the first step towards emotional competence.


Why conflict is good for you…22/7/2022

Ask 10 people how they define conflict and most will be likely to view it negatively. Many of us will do anything to avoid it both at work and at home. In fact, conflict is an opportunity for growth if we deal with it correctly. Difficult conversations are a part of life and learning how to handle them will prove a valuable skill.
Blog. ConflictIf you address an issue as soon as it arises it will be more likely to be a self-contained conversation without resentment and assumptions building up.

Using “I messages” can be particularly helpful because our interlocutor is less likely to feel personally attacked. So, if you say “I feel upset when you say you will spend time with me and then you don’t” you are actually expressing your needs and emotions as opposed to blaming the other person.

Stick to the facts and check that you have understood the other person’s message correctly. Conflict can get out of hand when our reactions are based on our assumptions and the meaning we give to facts rather than to the events themselves.

Be specific and avoid words like “always” or “never”. Saying “You never do your share of the cleaning!” can be perceived as an attack and it’s likely that the other person will go in defence mode making it difficult to find a resolution to the argument.

Another way to look at conflict is by using the basic concepts of game theory, the study of how we make decisions in strategic situations. This applies equally to conflict within relationships. Working with fighting couples, I have noticed that when conflict gets out of hand normally people are locked into a “win-lose” situation where there can only be a winner. This scenario only offers a hollow victory as it results in more distance between the couple and the loser will be waiting for their chance to get their own back at the first opportunity.

Healthy conflict resolution involves the switch to a “win-win” scenario where people listen to each other’s needs and work on reaching a compromise where each feels they have achieved a positive resolution. In her book It’s not you, it’s the dishes, journalists Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson suggest that if game theory teaches us anything, it’s that relationships aren’t about having it all, they’re about having all you can under the circumstances.

Helpful strategies derived from game theory:

* Think before you speak. How is the other person going to react to what you are going to say?
* Learn from the past. What can you change to avoid the same outcome?
* Put yourself in their shoes. This means considering what they are likely to do based on your knowledge of that person.

Understanding our emotions 17/5/2022

Emotional Intelligence

We all take steps to keep our body fit and healthy: we look after our diet; we go to the gym or take up a sport to keep in shape (or at least this is one of our recurrent new year’s resolutions!); we go to the GP whenever we don’t feel well.

As we grow up we learn problem solving skills; in school we study various subjects, we learn to resolve practical problems. What do we do for our emotional well-being?

For the most part, our quality of life is determined by our ability to deal with our emotions and yet we sometimes struggle to manage them; we don’t always know how to express them appropriately and have little awareness about what triggers them. Our ability to deal with emotions can also affect our relationships.


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Emotions are at the core of most of the decisions we make every day and influence our behaviour. If we feel annoyed we are more likely to snap at the people around us or, whenever we feel low, we may avoid other people’s company as we may feel we do not have the energy for that.

It can be hard to deal with the many demands of life and it is easier to keep our focus on the world outside as opposed to what happens on the inside. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand how we feel and why and it can greatly improve our enjoyment of life. It also makes it easier to identify other people’s emotions and respond appropriately.

When we pay attention to how we are feeling, we learn to trust our emotions, and we become far more able to manage them.

A healthy emotional life allows us to live more fully, to build stronger and more satisfying relationships and to look at the world around us in a more balanced and realistic way.

There are many steps we can take to increase our emotional intelligence. Here are some for you to try:

* Stay with your emotions. If you experience uncomfortable feelings try not to distract yourself but rather try to identify them.
* Try to find connections between how you are feeling now and other times that you felt similarly in the past.
* Listen to your body. A knot in the stomach may mean you are in a situation which you find stressful.
* Finally, pay attention to your behaviour. Notice how you act when you experience a certain emotion and how this affects your life.


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