How to engage in Stress Relief

How often do you engage in stress relief?  How often do you experience stress? At work, at home, health-related, painful memories, old hurts, traffic-congestion, thoughtlessness, … the list goes on and on. If you are like most people, you experience stress on a regular – mostly daily – basis. I would like to emphasis again that stress puts a huge drain on your body, and of course your mood and happiness.

If you are committed to your own happiness and wellbeing, stress relief becomes imperative.

They type of stress relief that suits your personality and lifestyle most depends on different factors. But let’s take a look at the causes of stress. There are two types of stress factors:

  1. Stress that depends on internal factors, that is the way you view the stressful situation.
  2. Stress that is caused by external factors such as pollution, traffic jams, weather conditions


As I said, it is important to balance all stress with stress relief. Meditation is the most effective, fast and reliable way to relieve stress. When you meditate, you spend some time in a neutral state, focused on the present moment. Time out from distress and rushing. The benefits of meditation go way beyond stress relief. Meditation will increase your personal sense of power. Your ability to become clear about what it is you want out of your life. And it can give you the sense of personal power, inspiration and motivation that is required to bring your desires to fruition.

There are avoidable and unavoidable stress factors. Some stress factors are avoidable in that they are based on our perspective on things. If you change your perspective, your thoughts, you will change your emotional reaction.

Changing your perspective requires you to reflect and to contemplate. Changing your perspective is based on an act of will. It doesn’t happen by accident. When we repeat the same type of thoughts over a long period of time, we always cause the same type of emotional reaction. So this combination of thought – or thinking about a specific memory – combined with the emotional reaction(s) establishes neural pathways in your brain.

Now you need to make changes in the very make-up of your body if you want to stop experiencing the same emotions. You need to re-wire your brain, your neural pathways, so that the old emotional responses will no longer be triggered by the same thoughts. Whew.

Your thoughts bring about feelings in you. The thought ‘I was hard done by my dad. He always favoured my older brother and didn’t have the time of day for me’ will bring about feelings of anger, helplessness, resentment and perhaps apathy. Every time you think about your dad your resentment gets triggered. Until you change your perspective on what happened to you, the same emotional response will be triggered. It can’t be any other way. Your thoughts, repeated over and over, have created very well established neural pathways. They exist in your brain.

Feeling angry and helpless causes your stress response and as such is detrimental if triggered time and time again. If you don’t want to feel stressed about your childhood memories you need to rewire your brain, those old hurtful memories that are stored in your body.

Now, it’s all good and well to have the intention to let go. But those old memories really, really hurt. How then do you change your thoughts, your perspective?

One very effective method of reflection and contemplating an experience from different perspectives is writing. So-called free-flow writing is extremely effective. Writing is a bridge to our subconscious mind – or more precisely it is the metaphors and symbolic language that we use in writing that form this bridge.

We cannot reach our subconscious mind through conscious intent, but we can reach it through personal writing, especially free-flow writing. Personal writing is not about grammar or being polished, but simply about flowing onto the page. One word of caution though – it is very important to have a safe space when you undertake free-flow writing. Because none of us know what’s stored in our subconscious mind, we also don’t know what might come to light. You don’t want your son to walk in on you when you are in the middle of an emotional memory. However, let me stress that any short-term discomfort will be far outweighed by long-term stress relief and health improvements.

If you engage in personal writing in a safe environment – a workshop with a skilled facilitator is a good place as it is a safe, caring emphatic environment – you are able to re-wire your brain, those old painful memories that have very established neural pathways, in a way that no longer causes painful reactions.

It takes a lot of energy to suppress painful memories and emotions, and when you relieve the stress that’s caused by keeping things under wraps, you will not only feel better, but also free up loads of energy that is no longer tight up in stuffing unwelcome memories down the bottom of the barrel. Changing your perspective, your way of thinking, in a way that supports your happiness and inner peace, is a powerful way to relieve stress! It has the potential for long-term and permanent stress relief.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change


How to Achieve Stress Relief




I’ve talked in the previous posts about the vital importance of engaging in stress relief. According to Joe Dispenza, most people spend most of their time in what he calls survival mode. That is, we are reactive to our environment and we experience stress with adrenalin and cortisol pumping through our veins. This is a state of being that is detrimental to wellbeing and good health. Most significantly, in this state cell renewal and body maintenance do not take place – and these are essential to vibrant health and longevity.

The desirable state of being, the one that is supportive of good health and thriving in life, is what Joe calls the creative state. This state is optimal for cell renewal and wellbeing. In this state we are not reactive, that is to say we don’t simply plot along until some external factor such as a partner, teenager, colleague, traffic jam or missed appointment causes us to react with a negative emotion and stress response. We are in a creative state, we purposefully engage our attention (better still after having planned and/or organised our project – as well as our long-term goals – in our minds beforehand.

A creative state itself does not require planning. For example if you are engrossed in and focused on the chosen task – may it be writing, painting, singing, organising a work project – your attention is fully on the task. A tell-tale sign when you are in a creative state is when time seems to disappear. You might have been engaged in something for a couple of hours and it seems like 15 minutes. Even external factors such as a noisy truck outside your window or a cold air-conditioner are not registered by your brain. In other words, your brain – more specifically your highly evolved frontal lobe – has the power to tune out all unrelated external stimuli that have nothing to do with the task at hand. That’s very cool, isn’t it. You feel engaged, joyful, content, alive. You are literally outside of time and space when you are 100 % focused.

Now, focused attention is a skill that we can learn. Just like playing tennis or driving a car. Meditation is a way of training the mind and the body to concentrate on one thought alone. Meditation is the antidote to stress like antivenom is to snake venom. Science has now come on board and confirmed what eastern mystics have known for eons: meditation quiets the mind and stops stress in its tracks.

Now, the thought of meditation scares many people. Sitting still and doing nothing is not taught in our schools. Our society praises action, action and more action. Many people fear what thoughts might come up when they sit still. Others simply don’t think they can sit still even for a short period of time such as 10 minutes.

I believe that everyone who is motivated to learn how to meditate can do so. Because it is a skill, a learned skill. If you decide to put your full attention on something that is important enough to you because you realise the benefits to your life you will learn it. You might not attain mastery, after all people who learn to ride the bike don’t become Tour de France riders overnight. Like every other skill, meditation also requires practice. But just as you get from A to B when you first manage to ride a bike, even if it is wobbly and you might feel a little unnerved, when you start to meditate you will reap immediate benefits.

Also, it is good to remember that there are many different forms of meditation: going into nature is a form of meditation. A bushwalk, a stroll along the river or the beach usually quietens the mind. That is, as long as you actually focus on the nature around you and don’t think about your bills or other worries. As long as you stay focused and don’t let your mind wander off. If you focus your attention on your surroundings – the trees, flowers, mountains or water – you will relieve stress and help your body to return to homeostasis or balance (at least until the next stress factor comes along).

I would like to inspire you to start to learn the skill of focused attention. It will bring you incredible benefits such as joyfulness, contentment and peace. Start small. Take time out on your next walk to really look closely at a flower and become engaged in the wondrousness of nature.


Allow all of your attention to be focused on the flower. It does not matter what you choose to put your attention on – water, the sand under your naked feet, trees, the blue sky – as long as you are 100 % focused. If your thoughts wander, no worries, don’t chastise yourself, simply stop and decide to put your attention back onto whatever you were engaged in.


The skill of focused attention is like a muscle that needs strengthening and building. Once it is build up, it only needs to be maintained. There are so many ways in our life where the ability to deliberately and purposefully focus our attention will reward us with gifts such as inner peace and joy. The biggest benefit of all is wellbeing and stress relief.


Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change





What is Stress


Stress comes in many different forms and ranges from mild to extreme intensity, as is the case in any crisis situation.

Modern life presents us invariably with a whole gamut of stress factors: pollution, peak hour traffic, road rage, disrespectful behaviour by others, work stress, deadlines, poor sleep patterns, fighting with your spouse or teenager to name but a few. These are external stressors.

Then there are our internal stressors: old wounds, insults, having been wronged or treated unfairly, losses. Old emotional pain locked away in our bodies. Unresolved issues and wounding keeps a good chunk of our attention under wraps. This reduces the amount of creative attention we have available to us to focus on the task at hand, such as a work project. The more locked-away pain we have, the more we feel that we have been wronged by others, life, a colleague or our boss, the lower our stress threshold becomes. It is a vicious cycle. The more stressed we are, the lower our tolerance level for the smaller stressors in our life, such as another driver cutting in on us, minor annoyances or delays. We blow up, get angry, and our resilience for stronger stressors, such as a betrayal or the loss of a relationship, diminishes. The more stressed we are, the more vulnerable we feel.

But there are other ways we stress ourselves: through our thinking. Negative thinking and self-talk, such as I’m not good enough, I don’t have what it takes to …… get the promotion, my dream relationship; and worrisome thoughts about the future cause stress, although nothing external has actually taking place. It is a mental projection into the future. Neuroscience teaches us that thinking alone – coupled with the negative emotions evoked by the negative thoughts – can trigger the fight or flight stress response.

Actually, to be precise, it is not the thoughts as such that trigger stress, but the resultant negative emotions. Any thoughts that don’t cause an emotional reaction will not trigger the fight or flight response.

Evolutionary speaking, the fight or flight response was a beneficial survival mechanism. Modern human beings haven’t been around long enough to alter the fight or flight response. Now it is triggered not just by a predator we need to get away from, as was intended, but by our thoughts alone.

This has very detrimental consequences for our bodies. Our digestion as well as our mental and emotional states suffer, our ability to focus diminishes, our organs endure hardship, and over time we become sick. Many people actually experience stress on a daily basis, with the fight or flight response being triggered.

When my husband fell ill in an extreme crisis situation, with ambulance sirens flaring and life or death surgery, the stress was accordingly extreme. And it stayed extreme over the ensuing eight months of his tragic illness, coupled with repeated surgeries and the not knowing if he would live or not and several against all odds setbacks. I was like an elastic band stretched to its outermost limits. There was no letting up, not even a little loosening of the elastic band. Such continuous, prolonged stress takes a huge toll on the body, who is not designed to withstand a prolonged fight or flight response. The body is out of its equilibrium, ready to run, and other physiological modes such as digestion become secondary. Only they are not meant to be secondary around the clock.

It would have been impossible for me not to be in the fight or flight mode during this extreme life crisis. Faced with the death of my husband my body responded to the crisis, and kept responding for all those months the crisis kept going. I was symbolically chased by a lion.

But we can learn to respond differently to minor and medium stressors and we can address locked-away pain.


Our brain cannot tell the difference between an actual event and an envisaged event. Research has shown that a team of basketball players who only ‘practiced’ with basketball computer games off the field and no time on the field where almost as skilled as another team that practiced their game intensely on the field. Such is the power of our mind.



If you don’t want to become the ‘lunch’ of your own worrisome thinking, and the upsetting emotions this thinking causes, you need to make changes.  


What is the way out? Stress relief will be the topic of my next post.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change