Thursday 23 November 2017

Coping with Stress

Erin shares how she copes with stress using a technique called "PAGE"
- Erin

Stress – it is a term that we use very lightly. But do we as individuals really know how to come to terms with stress, so that it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives?

Living with multiple mental illnesses, stress is something I have to continue to fight with on a daily basis. Not just stress from external environmental factors, but also the stress that I am faced with through my mind and thoughts.

Stress is an example of our body’s way of coping with “Fight, Flight or Freeze”. It is a survival mechanism that is embedded into our bodies to allow us to handle tough situations. However, when you are trying to overcome simple tasks, this stress can also inhibit you from thinking rationally. For me, If I don’t come to terms with my stress and use the tools I have learnt to relax my mind, my stress turns into anxiety and for me, this can very often turn into a downwards spiral.

When you are in a stressful situation, there is no point in overthinking the stress, although this can be easier said than done. You need to practise techniques that allow you to calm your thoughts. The more you overthink the thoughts of the stress, the less you will be able to face the problems head on and overcome them with reasoning.

One mechanism that I have learnt through continuous and deep therapy over the last couple of years, is “PAGE”. It is a simple strategy that you can use at any time and in any situation.

One simple way I use this exercise is during rush hour. Packed against people on the underground, squashed face-to-face in a confined space makes me very anxious. My mind starts to tell me that I can’t do it and to escape at the earliest moment. I feel myself struggle to breathe and I can feel my heart rate beginning into increase - this is body reacting to the “flight, fight or freeze” response, and eventually I will find myself in a panic.

However, (1) Pausing my mind, (2) Acknowledging my breathing, (3) Gathering my thoughts, and (4) noticing my Edges reminds me that I am okay and that I can cope with any situation I am faced with.

It seems so simple, but only with practice has my mind become in the routine of listening to this exercise and actually using it to it’s full potential.

Now, I am not a psychologist, nor a doctor. This is just something I have learnt from the many books I have read and the many therapists I have worked with. You can choose to use it or not, but for me it is very beneficial and allows me act in a collected manner when stressed.

The PAGE exercise;

To start with, when practising PAGE, I did it in a quiet environment, using it two or three times a day. However, once your mind gets into the routine of following the exercise you can then bring it into any day-to-day context, as frequently as you wish.

PAGE stands for: Pause, Acknowledge, Gather, and Edges.

First, pause, sit in a comfortable position and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. On your out-breath, say to yourself “PAUSE”. Fall into your body and feel the muscles become loose and relaxed. As you do this, focus your attention on the movement of your stomach, and ACKNOWLDEGE the breaths, in and out. Let the thoughts in your mind flow, do not engage with them and do not talk back to them. Just acknowledge that they are there and leave them to come and go. Continue paying attention to your body’s movements as you breathe in and out.

As you do this GATHER your thoughts. Rationalise them and let yourself know that you are fine. You are living, you are breathing and you are going to be okay. Now bring your attention to where you are sitting. Notice the EDGES of your hands on your legs, the edges of your legs against the chair, the soles of your feet on the ground (apply this to the position you are currently in) and breathe.

When you feel you are more collected and calm, you can go about your normal tasks that you need to carry out. Although, now you can do it in a calm and collected manner with your mind being more steady and your thoughts being more rational.

Hi, my name is Erin, I am currently in my final year studying Design Management at UAL in London. I have suffered from my mental health from the age of 10 years old. My diagnoses are still ongoing but suspected of; Depression, Anxiety, Autism, Bipolar and Borderline personality disorder. I began writing for Student Minds in order to share my own experiences of my journey with mental health. The aim is to increase awareness and to decrease the stigma attached to mental illnesses as a whole.

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