In acknowledgement of how stressful it can be to lead a highly mobile expat life, Expat Nest founder Vivian Chiona invited Ioulia Maimari, a clinical psychologist and cognitive behavioural therapist (MSc), to take a look at a few mind-body techniques to help us manage stress.
As expats we may not be able to avoid certain stressors in our lives, but we can learn self-monitoring techniques to reduce the negative impact of stress and anxiety on our daily lives.
Cognitive restructuring, a core component of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), is a technique used to control and change negative thoughts, which are sometimes linked with dysfunctional behaviours. This technique is also very effective in managing stress or any other kind of negative feeling.
To use cognitive restructuring, work through the following process:
- Calm yourself: spend some time alone in a peaceful spot; go for a walk or listen to music; take a few deep breaths… do whatever you need to create an environment that helps still your mind.
- Write down the situation that triggered your anxiety, stress or negative thoughts; e.g. “He rejected my suggestion in front of my co-workers.”
- Identify the mood(s) that you felt in the situation. You can usually describe moods in one word (“overwhelmed” or “down”), while thoughts are more complex.
- Write down the automatic thoughts you experienced when you felt the mood(s), paying particular attention to your most distressing thoughts; e.g. “Maybe my ideas and skills aren’t good enough” and “This undermines my future with this company.”
- Identify the evidence that supports these distressing thoughts. Your goal is to look objectively at what happened and then to write down specific events or comments that led to your automatic thoughts.
- Identify the evidence that contradicts the distressing thoughts; e.g. “This is the first time a suggestion of mine has been rejected.”
- Identify fair, realistic, balanced thoughts about the situation; e.g. “My co-workers respect my skills”; “As far as I know, my employer is satisfied”; and “He has rejected many other people’s suggestions in the past but has never fired anybody afterwards.”
- Finally, observe your current mood and decide on your next steps based on your realistic thoughts. By taking a balanced view in our example above, the situation may cease to be important, and you might decide that you don’t need to take action at all.
Go through this process whenever you experience a negative mood, or when you feel fear, apprehension, or anxiety about a person or event. If you would like help with this technique, it may be helpful to reach out to a (CBT) therapist.
In combatting stress, we also need to be sensitive to what our bodies are telling us. Muscle tension, shallow breathing, or “speedy” energy are signs of high pressure and anxiety. Here are some quick pointers to calm the body and mind:
- Exercise on a daily basis. All forms of exercise, from yoga and walking to jogging or cycling, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals (endorphins) and by giving your body a chance to practise dealing with stress.
- Listen to soothing music. This can lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety.
- Breathe deeply. Give yourself a five-minute break from whatever is stressing you and focus instead on your breathing. Subscribe to our newsletter or keep an eye on our upcoming blog about our favourite breathing exercise.
If you find yourself in a state of perpetual stress and anxiety, it can be helpful to seek out a professional counsellor or therapist. Online counselling service Expat Nest offers you 45-minute or 60-minute online or telephonic sessions at a time that suits you and in the comfort of your home.
Now we would love to hear from you.
What is your main strategy to deal with stress? How do you calm your body and mind? What really helps you?