Midlife Strategies

Rescued by a Lifeboat and Other Lessons in Handling Stress

It sometimes takes an extreme event to teach you about your own capacity to handle stress, understand it, and survive it, says Kay Newton.

By Kay Newton

A young woman is sitting holding onto a VHF radio; she is wearing a life jacket. Around her waist is a piece of rope which, if followed, leads to two men on the bridge who both look terrified. The motorboat has no engines and is slowly being pushed towards the east coast of Britain. If it doesn’t capsize before it reaches the rocks, it will be smashed to pieces.

The woman is talking into the radio, slowly counting backwards from 10 in order that the lifeboat crew can locate the vessel. Despite being thrown around the cabin as the waves get bigger and stronger, she still carries on in the same methodical manner. She has been doing this for four hours…

That was me 30 years ago, sitting in the main salon of a 20m private yacht, furiously bobbing up and down on the ocean. The storm was a force 8 on the Beaufort scale at the time. I remember looking down at the rope and thinking, if we capsize, this is going to do me a s**t lot of good!

Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if we had.

Kay Newton is a professional confidante and life coach based in Zanzibar

Recently life has thrown lots of stressful situations my way: downsizing, moving from our 30-year luxury lifestyle in Spain to a small two-roomed tin-roofed house near a pristine beach in Zanzibar. (The beach part, actually, wasn’t too hard!)

Over the years I have dealt with nautical emergencies, running businesses, bringing up a family, looking after parents from a distance, hormonal hell (andropause, menopause and adolescence all at once!), empty-nest syndrome, my husband’s bouts of depression, and becoming an orphan.

How do I deal with stress and stay reasonably calm despite what life throws at me? One of the things is my stress philosophy.

We have been told a lie about stress. Yes, stress can kill, yet you do not have to take a pill or potion to calm stress. Your response to stress is part of you; it’s inbuilt and serves a purpose. You only need to learn how to harness it. Write down what stresses you, how you respond, and what’s good about it. Then share it with someone else.

There are different types of stress and if you listen to your body, you can use them to your advantage. You often cannot take yourself away from the circumstances you find yourself in (I certainly didn’t want to jump ship and try to swim against those huge waves), yet you can choose how to tap into your natural stress-coping mechanisms.

Avoiding stress allows it to come back and bite you even harder in the bum! It will make you ill. Instead, deal with stress head on. You can learn from experience and hardwire yourself to cope with even further stressful situations.

Think of the learning a pilot has to go through to hardwire herself for all the stress she may encounter whilst flying a commercial aircraft. Dealing with your stress is no different, it takes time and practice. Start a stress inoculation now! The more you face stress successfully, the more immune you become.

Knowing thyself is important when dealing with stress. At 16, I was given a list of my core values whilst attending an Outward Bound course. I still refer to them today in times of stress; I can use them to manipulate stress to my advantage. For example, I hate exams, I get extremely nervous, yet I know that this ‘stress’ serves a higher purpose. One of my highest values is knowledge, so exam stress is worth it.

Stress can also be conquered by using the care-giving side of you. It strengthens your social relationships, helps you become more resilient, find hope, and meaning. It allows for growth and strength. When dealing with my father’s cancer, the local doctor said I was an inspiration: “Not many people in today’s Western world drop everything to help a dying parent,” she said. Yet family is a high value for me; it was the least I could do.

Conquering stress requires you to have an open mind. Stress is a great time to learn another point of view. It also increases your physical resilience, enhances your focus, deepens your relationships and strengthens your personal values. Stress challenges you to find your meaning in life. A happy life will not be stress-free.

I got a commendation from Lowestoft Lifeboat for staying calm under stressful situations. Face your stress head on, and you can have that commendation too.

If you need help dealing with stress and/or anxiety, you can find the author at www.Kay-Newton.com.

First published in the July 2017 issue of eShe. Buy the copy here.

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