Monday 31 August 2015

Stressed about Christmas? Try Pause Button Therapy

Published 20/11/2012 | 16:52

The festive season can send our stress levels rocketing.
The festive season can send our stress levels rocketing.

Christmas undoubtedly has all the ingredients for a joyful celebration - the opportunity to be with family and friends and exchange gifts - but the downside is the stress.

Christmas can end up straining our self-control and tolerance, not to mention sending our stress levels rocketing.

Rushed and busy because of the extra burden of the preparations and arrangements, with our budget under pressure too, we're much more inclined to make rash, impulsive decisions - whether it's spending too much money, taking on more than we can cope with, or reacting hastily and unwisely to family tensions.

"The celebrations can sometimes feel like a helter-skelter race to spend money, consume food and drink, and generally indulge in materialism," says Martin Shirran, author of the book Pause Button Therapy.

Shirran and his wife, Marion, have developed a technique to help people have a more considered, balanced approach to life.

"Even those of us who normally step back and take thoughtful, well-informed decisions can throw caution to the wind at this time of year, which can have consequences on budgets and relationships.

"Feeling uncomfortable or uneasy about our choices may lead to feelings of anger, panic or resentment - all of which can make it more likely that we'll react badly and make other poor decisions as the weeks go on," he says.

The couple, who are hypnotherapists, acknowledge that while the 'Pause Button' method is not new, they believe their approach to it is.

They encourage people to mentally visualise the effect of their actions prior to taking them and to imagine holding a remote, similar to a TV remote, to help them control their actions.

"Just imagine if you had a remote control for your mind," says Shirran.

"If you watch a DVD, you press 'play', then if you want to see a scene a bit further on, you press 'fast-forward'. Then you might stop and 'rewind' and fast-forward to another scene.

"We take that for granted in terms of viewing but we can actually do that very positively with our mind," he says.

It's about trying to imagine how your different decisions will play out in your life, and how they will affect your friends' lives and your family's lives, he says, and the awareness that brings makes the technique more powerful and effective than just stopping and thinking for a few seconds as many people may be able to do naturally.

"Knee-jerk responses are learned over time, through making the same choice over and over again, and they become a part of us, but it's never too late to say we're going to alter that course of events," he says.

"Most people don't think they have the ability to take that critical step to stop and think. They don't believe they can take control.

"But by visualising as well as physically going through the miming motion of pressing 'pause' on an imaginary remote control, you can gradually understand how to do it. You're then much more likely to react reflectively rather than reflexively."

Before you launch yet again into that annual Christmas overspend, argument over the mother-in-law, or excess of partying you know you always regret in the new year, consider, he says,


  • Pause: "Stop whatever you're about to do," says Shirran.

"Do nothing until you've considered all your other options on that remote. It may only take you a few seconds or a minute or two.

"But you are safe, you haven't taken any action, nothing can get at you, and you have frozen life for as long as you need for reflection.

"Ideally, take a deep breath by inhaling slowly through your nose and if possible shut your eyes while you give yourself a 'breathing space' before taking action."

Ideally, crook your thumb as though you are pressing a 'pause' button on a remote control.

  • Fast-forward: Try to visualise the effect of your actions if you go ahead.

"Don't just think about what might happen. We want people to actually visualise the consequences of the decisions they're about to take, to almost feel them, smell them, taste them, experience them, and recognise the 'fallout' which could result, then decide what they're going to do.

"It's similar to visualising a meal you are looking forward to - you can almost taste the ingredients. After a few attempts, you will be able to key into how you'll feel if you pursue a certain course of action," says Shirran.

Psychological studies suggest visualisation has a more significant effect on our behaviour than simply thinking about a consequence.

"For instance, think what your partner will feel like if you have that annual row over the relatives visiting, how hurt they will be, and the way it will sour the weeks leading up to Christmas - and probably the day," he says.

"Consider how you could handle it differently, how that would feel, and really imagine the happier atmosphere."

  • Rewind: Take yourself back to the present and consider another outcome of your actions. It may be positive or negative.

Visualise again as much as possible. This rewinding and fast-forwarding will give you time, help you feel in control and should enable you to consider your actions carefully.

  • Play: Finally rewind again to the present, decide what action you are going to take and press 'play' and get on with your life.

"Bear in mind, it takes time to slow down your reactions," says Shirran.

"You have to remember to pause, fast-forward, rewind and play, but at some point your mindset will change.

"Just like learning to drive, you'll find yourself stopping to think and pressing the 'pause' button without having to tell yourself to do it."

P ause Button Therapy by Martin and Marion Shirran, with Fiona Graham, is published by Hay House, priced €18

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