Two clients contacted me recently with different challenges. One felt that she was unable to remember, recall or sometimes really understand the things she read. The other was not making the most of his spare time, so months flew by without having achieved the things he set out to do. One worried about their retention and understanding, the other about his lack of progress round the house.
On the surface, they sound very different issues.
Dig a bit deeper, and I wonder whether they are very connected?
It’s often helpful, when something doesn’t feel right, to ask the question ‘why’ or ‘what’s getting in the way?’ What’s getting in the way of you retaining or understanding the things you read? Why do you think you are you putting off the things you want to do?
The answer to both challenges might be similar. Underneath the initial “I don’t know” response, the root cause might be stress.
Stress can have many negative impacts, such as reduction in the ability to focus, lowered IQ and memory problems. It can also result in tiredness, lack of motivation, health issues and poor sleep. All this means that we are less efficient, less productive, and less inclined to take on new things or absorb new information.
So the root of many of our problems can be stress. Reduce your stress and you may find many of your challenges subside and your ability to cope with them increases.
How do I reduce my stress?
Well, it’s unlikely we can get rid of stress completely. Some of our stressors are beyond our control. And in any case, it wouldn’t help to rid ourselves of all our stress. We can benefit from some level of challenge, just to keep us on our toes and performing at our best.
The good news is, we can do many things to help reduce and manage our stress.
- Work out what causes your stress and take any action within your power to remove those stressors. If your stress is work overload, learn new ways to work smarter, start saying ‘no’ to unrealistic targets, or speak with your line-manager to agree new priorities or deadlines. If your stress is the clutter in your house or in your inbox, set yourself bite-sized pieces of time to clear it step by step. If the stressor is completely outside your power to change, then either leave or choose to mentally ‘let go’.
- Recognise the things you do that add to your stress and begin to turn this around. If you have a ‘what if’ approach to life, constantly fearing the worst, start to notice when you do this. Then choose to take responsibility for your thinking by laughing off your unhelpful habit, or thinking about the best that could happen rather than the worst.
- Introduce some mindfulness or meditation into your daily life. This has been found to be highly effective at reducing stress and enables you to increase your powers of concentration, recall, optimism and effectiveness. Start by closing your eyes and simply noticing your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Any time that your attention lapses from your breathing just notice and gently bring your focus bak to your breath. Once that gets easier, you may wish to have a go at my 10-minute body scan mindfulness technique.
- Bring some fun back into your life. Set time to see friends, go for a walk, join a dance (or pottery, singing etc) class, so you have regular time to enjoy yourself.
- Find a regular way to relax. This might be allowing yourself 20 minutes in the garden, reading a good book, or using a relaxation technique. Or have a go at my Ultimate Relaxation mp3 which clients have found highly effective at helping them relax within 15 minutes. Relaxation allows your mind and body to calm and recharge. You may then find you sleep better and work better.
- Once you are really looking after yourself, set time to achieve the things you want to achieve. Set realistic boundaries so you are clear when you will work on these things, and ring-fence it so that nothing, short of an emergency, gets in the way. Then notice what you achieve, so the ongoing stress of getting these things done reduces.
- If this is too much of a challenge to undertake on your own, invest in a good coach. They will help you identify what your stressors are, how you can reduce them, and how you can better manage your stress, so you achieve the things you want to achieve.
When you are stressed, the last thing you feel like doing is taking on more challenges. Your whole body will help keep you safe by almost switching off your abilities – whether they are to read and learn, to perform well at work, or to take on the latest tasks round the house.
Deal with your stress, look after yourself, and your abilities will return.
If this sounds familiar and you’d like some help it turning it around, get in touch!