If you're facing tough decisions, take the time to conquer stress first

| Share

By psychologist Jane Dodding

The downturn in the mining industry is putting many families under financial stress, with some struggling to honour debts. Sadly, some are facing the threat of losing their family home and we hear more and more are seeking financial advice to get them through the tough times.

Without a doubt, this is not a good spot to be in, it’s not what any of us would want and would understandably get stressed and struggle emotionally in this situation.

We all struggle when life isn’t as we want it to be, and our minds start to work overtime to try and fix the problem. Problem solving is a great approach, but when we are stressed, our way of thinking can get in the way of being able to effectively problem solve, to finding a solution or a way forward.

Stress is stress regardless of its source. Managing your stress often leads to better decision making, you can take in more information and are more considered and broad minded when formulating solutions and making decisions.

Where possible, it's best not to make any big decisions when you are stressed and in a heightened emotional state. So it’s worth making the effort to take the focus off the issue and onto yourself initially, to reduce your stress levels before tackling the problem.

To do this you can:

Slow down your breathing

I know, it sounds ridiculously simple and absurd but it actually works, and for good reason. I have seen some incredible results from people who have retrained themselves to breath more deeply and slowly. Basically, when we feel threatened by anything, we have an automatic physiological responses, one of which is altered breathing – it becomes shallow and rapid or we hold our breath. Some people are very aware of this change and others aren’t. Breathing is one physiological response we can consciously control which can trick our body into turning off this automatic response as our more relaxed calmer breathing indicates that the threat is over. Try taking in a deep breath until your stomach expands if you can and hold it for three seconds and exhale all the air from your lungs (exhaling is important). Then try taking a few deep, slow belly breaths in a three-second cycle – breathe in, 2, 3 and then out, 2, 3.

Regularly take time out from thinking about the problem

Shift your attention on to what you are doing right now. Bring your full attention to the present, and be curious about what you are experiencing at this moment. Notice your senses. What can you hear, see, smell, feel, taste in that moment? Don’t just think about it, experience it without judgement, it is what it is. For example, when outside, feel the warmth of the sun on your back and the breeze on your face. When you are eating, what can you hear and what is your tongue doing?

Make time to relax regularly

Remind yourself about what makes you relax and do something relaxing at least once a day. This seems to be one of the first things to go when we are stressed. "I have too much to do to relax, I don’t have time." There is good evidence to suggest you will make up any time you use to meditate or relax as your thinking is much clearer, memory is improved and you become more focussed and efficient. By getting your stress levels down, you can also reset your usual stress level set-point and reduce your general stress.

Focus objectively on the problem

Once you have your stress levels down and you are calmer, with clearer thinking it is time to put 100 per cent focus on the problem. Now is the time to focus on what you can do, rather than on the things that are out of your control. Unfortunately not all problems can be fixed exactly the way we want them to be and sometimes there’s very little you can do. But putting thought and effort into solving them can improve your emotional wellbeing and happiness. If nothing else, it is satisfying to know you have done everything you can, which helps you feel in control.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, there is no solution or we have to adapt to changes which we would prefer not to, which can lead to us struggle emotionally. This is the time to use your coping strategies.

Build a balanced view of the situation

During these times, it is easy to pay attention only to the negatives or what we will lose and our thinking can become biased. Consciously work towards building a more balanced view to gain perspective and feel better. Think about what advantage, gains or opportunities may arise from these changes. For example, if you need to downsize your home, I’m sure we can all think of many losses, but what about gains? Will you have more time to spend with the family with less maintenance/cleaning to do? Will you be able to explore other interest or careers? A cliché, I know, but every cloud does have a silver lining. We need to be willing to look for it. This might be something you can do with your kids too, to help them cope with the changes.

Challenge your self-esteem or self-concept

None of us would like to be pressured to downsize or feel we are going backwards. It can be easy to take this personally, to blame and/or be hard on ourselves. Write down what thoughts you are having about yourself and evaluate them. Look for evidence which supports the thought and evidence that does not support it. What evidence is there that you are to blame? What evidence is there that you are NOT to blame? Looking at all the evidence, what's a realistic way to think about yourself? Be fair to yourself, none of us are perfect. How do you feel now?

Use the opportunity to re-invent yourself

A new start provides a great opportunity to make desired changes about ourselves. Especially for kids, moving somewhere new or changing schools is a chance to think about how they would like to be perceived. Do they want to be the smart/funny/helpful kid? Talk to your children about this and explain that it's an opportunity to reinvent themselves if they like. Help them to use their imagination to gain a clear picture of how this would look. What would they be doing? How are they interacting with others? This is something we can all do.

Learn the lesson 

When we have little control over an unwanted situation, it can be very beneficial to focus our attention on what we can learn from the situation. This helps us to let it go and accept the situation as it is. What can you learn from this situation?

Remind yourself everything changes

Our minds, at times, have a way of convincing us that our current situation or emotion is permanent. Again, is this right? Is there a difference between your current thoughts and your past experience? Have you lived through rough times and did they change or stay the same? Have you had good times and then they changed? Remind yourself, one thing you can rely on is change. 

To read other columns written by our psychologists, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career.

All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.

Jane Dodding is a psychologist and director with MindsPlus, a group of psychologists and other mental health workers who came together in 2007 to provide support to people living and working in rural and remote regions of Australia. For further information about MindsPlus, contact 1300 312 202 or visit www.mindsplus.com.au