We all experience stress in different ways. Some people may experience migraines as a result of stress, whilst others experience muscular tension or an upset stomach. The factors that trigger your stress (such as work or finances, or a particular person or event in your life) may not be the same as someone else’s. Stress is very subjective.

SCALING emotions is a really simple and useful tool to help reduce stress. I use it often when working with people with anxiety, stress and anger, and also with clients who want to work towards achieving particular goals in their life. My first experience of using the scaling technique was when I had counselling many years ago. Once I’d scaled my emotions, I actually found that the level of stress I was experiencing wasn’t as high as I’d originally thought.

So what exactly is scaling emotions? Scaling is a tool to measure mood, anxiety, stress, progress or any area of your life you feel like you need to explore in more detail. For example, if you were feeling really nervous about an upcoming exam, you might ask yourself: ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least nervous and 10 being the most nervous, where am I right now?’

After my counselling session, I went home and tried the technique myself: I was really anxious a few days later – and was experiencing really heightened anxiety. When I scaled my feelings, I found that it was a 6 out of 10. Now a 6 might seem high but because I’d thought I was really more anxious than that, just identifying my anxiety as a 6 made me realise that it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought and this in itself helped me to relax.

You could take scaling further and ask yourself some empowering questions such as, “What can I do to make this emotion go down to a 5, or even a 4 out of 10?” For example, having a weekly pampering session with a bubble bath and candles might be something which usually helps you relax but you realise that you’ve been neglecting this lately. So by deciding to reintroduce this self-care routine into your week, you could be helping your overall stress levels come down by 1 or 2.

You could also ask yourself, “What would be happening if I was 1 or even 2 points less stressed on the scale?” You might answer something like, “I’d actually manage to sit down and plan and book that holiday I’ve been wanting to go on.”

Once you can identify some answers, you can look at putting some of these ideas into action. Really empowering!

You can also use the scaling technique to measure your progress in terms of goals you’ve set for yourself. For instance, I was working with a client who was extremely stressed about working on her university dissertation. During our coaching session, we looked into this and when I asked her on a scale of 1 to 10 how much she wanted to complete her dissertation, she replied, “10”.

However, when I asked her how much effort she was prepared to put into doing the work, she thought about it for a while and stated a “4.” So this got me thinking about what she was gaining by staying at a 4.

The essence of the problem that surfaced was that she didn’t know how to do some elements of the dissertation, hence the feelings of stress and anxiety. The essence of the solution turned out to be that my client needed to get some clarity on what she needed to include in her work. With some further questioning, the student decided that firstly, she would speak to her university tutor about the parts of the work she didn’t understand, and secondly, she would make (and follow) a timetable to help her feel more in control as she’d know which deadlines she had to meet and when. This client left the session a much happier young lady!

How else can the scaling method help us with stress? Well, you may be aware that the right hemisphere of our brains is what you could describe as the more emotional part of the brain, and the left hemisphere is the more logical, rational part. During times of high emotional arousal, the amygdala in our brain perceives a sense of danger, sending a flight, flight or freeze signal throughout our body. As a result, the emotional part of our brain can completely overtake the rational, clear thinking left side of our brain. Now by identifying numbers using the scaling technique, what we’re doing is taking a step back from the negative emotion and accessing our observing state, allowing our more logical side to take over. This helps us to be more mindful of what is happening for us and to decide how we would like to respond (as opposed to automatically reacting in a way which isn’t helpful for us).

You can use this idea for panic attacks as well. During a panic attack it is as if we have been is a completely hijacked by the emotional brain. Therefore, if you can practise the following (or teach someone this technique so they can guide you should you have a panic attack):

• Tell yourself “STOP!”
• Stay with your feelings – do not run away
• Scale your level of distress (1 to 10)
• Then rescale a few minutes later
• Then rescale again a few minutes after that

your brain will get the message that there is actually no danger and that this is not a fight or flight situation. You will notice that the level of distress out of 10 becomes lower and your panicky feelings will subside.

So why don’t you give scaling a go right now? You can practise on almost anything. For example, On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not hungry at all and 10 being famished, note how hungry you’re feeling at present.

Or, on a scale of 1 to 10, how cold are you right now?

And you could ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how well did I sleep last night?”

If you scaled yourself low on this question, such as a 4 for example, I’d like you think about what you can do to improve your sleep and get the score to a 5 or a 6 out of 10 over the next few nights. Perhaps you may decide that you will switch off your mobile phone a 2 hours before going to bed (I’d highly recommend this!). Or you may listen to a daily guided meditation for 10 minutes over the next week or so.

So I hope you found this article useful and the next time you feel stressed or anxious, I’d like to invite you to use the scaling technique and see how you get on.

If you or someone you know would like support to relieve their anxious mind, please contact me to find out how coaching will benefit you.