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17th Apr 2015

Why don’t I have… less stress? Psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy on how to cope

Learn to be mentally fit – develop an optimistic mindset

Fiona McGarry

“We all get stressed,” says Psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy. Well known for his practical down-to-earth advice on RTE’s Operation Transformation, Dr Murphy strongly advises managing stress before it becomes chronic and toxic.

“There’s no doubt that families create stress – a lot of this energises us and gets us going. However, when the stress response is persistent, chronic and long term, the situation is toxic. Stress then starts to cause harm to our health, mood, productivity, relationships and quality of life.”

The good news is that by tuning in to the source of stress and making some practical changes, it can be reduced. Here’s Dr Murphy’s advice:

1. Build Resilience

“Building resilience is something you can do in advance to buffer you against stress. Resiliency is about being flexible, adapting to new situations quickly and thriving in an atmosphere of constant change. Learn to be mentally fit – develop an optimistic mindset. Live your life with meaning and passion. Learn to laugh at yourself and with others. Find wise people in your life. Nurture friendships and relationships.”

2. Change the situation

“For some this just may be the way it is, their work place can be just too toxic and to survive they need to change work. While it’s a very strong strategy it does not always work as you cannot walk away all the time – for example, if the stress is associated with caring for an elderly relative or dependent person.”

3. Changing how you think about the situation

“This approach takes the greatest amount of work in addressing stress. The tools of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are really helpful. A series of questions can really help. What is the problem? Is there another way I can look at this? What do I need to do now to be compassionate to myself? Do I need to be assertive here and address the issue? Try to be realistic in the goals you set for yourself and others. When we make our expectations more reasonable, we are more flexible.”

4. Increasing your coping strategies

“There are some stressful situations, such as bereavement, chronic illness, cancer or chronic pain, that are present and where the other strategies may be less helpful. In these circumstances, your task is to look after yourself. There are many excellent coping strategies – particularly building up your physical health and strength by exercise which can reduce stress through the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel good hormone. Learn mindfulness skills – that is the mindset to slow down and be in the present. Learn to relax. I think yoga practice is amazing in the management of stress. Other simple stress buster measures include taking baths, spending time with your family or friends. It’s important to reduce your alcohol use as it will impact on your mood, affect the quality of your sleep and only add fuel to emotions such as low mood, anger and anxiety.

“Chronic stress drains your energy levels. You need psychological vitamins to tackle these:

Vitamin A – Assertiveness. Learn to ask for what you want in a confident way; learn to say no.

Vitamin B – Balance – Learn to find balance in your life.

Vitamin C – Courage – Learn to face your fear.

Vitamin D – Deal with it, Delegate it, Dump it.

Vitamin E – Exercise – Release your own stress busters hormones through exercise.”

Dr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and life coach. He is also Psychologist on RTE’s Operation Transformation. He provides more information on a range of issues on his website.

His latest book Becoming Your Real Self – A Practical Toolkit for Managing Life’s Challenges, published by Penguin Ireland, is available nationwide.