Finding ways to cope with stress and anxiety
We’ve all encountered the power that stress and anxiety possess over our lives, in one way or another. They’ve unequivocally become a major part of our normal everyday lives, and in today’s world, seem like common factors that take hold of our emotions, mental state of mind and physical wellbeing.
Stress and anxiety come in many different shapes and sizes, from sleepless nights, panic attacks and migraines, to nausea, worry, heart palpitations and even depression. We find more and more stressors popping up day after day, whether it be work-related stress, financial demands, peer pressure, family difficulties, tension to adhere to social norms or the burdens we put on ourselves to be the perfect employee, the perfect athlete, the perfect wife or husband, the list goes on.
A small amount of stress can help you be more energetic, alert, better focussed, competitive and motivated to take up new challenges and excel. But, when the stress becomes less of a help and motivator, and more damaging than good, that’s when you need to act and take back your control.
In fact, the simple recognition that you’re in total control of your life may be the ultimate foundation of managing stress and anxiety, and may be the answer that people have been continuously searching for. It’s all about taking charge of your life and the situations around you that tend to put you into a state of stress and anxiousness.
Stress plays a massive role in our overall wellbeing, causing emotional and mental strain, as well as physical health issues. Having a stress management plan means you can reduce the effects it has on your whole being, allowing you to enjoy life, be healthier and ultimately more productive.
Today’s fast-paced world consists of more complexities, competition and stressors than ever before – all calling for our attention and making that stress and anxiety a normal part of everyday life. However, understanding and identifying the sources of your stress, accepting that the emotional reactions and what you’re feeling are normal, and nurturing healthy practices and mechanisms to cope with and manage the stress and anxiety can certainly help get you through those uncomfortable and unsolicited circumstances.
Fear vs. anxiety: what is the fight-or-flight response?
Fear is the response that we have to actual dangers we experience, whereas anxiety is a response of our anticipation to potential threats that may occur. Both are reactions to stress-inducing factors. As soon as our brains perceive a threat – real or anticipated – our bodies go into survival mode and our automatic nervous systems initiate the so-called fight-or-flight response. Because our brains cannot distinguish between whether the threat is real or conceived, we experience a series of anxiety, panic or stress characteristics.
The stress we experience may be acute, in which case it’s a little easier to adopt one or more simple approaches to reduce or alleviate the pressure of it. But sometimes, we experience a more persistent, chronic level of stress which can be more harmful to our physical, emotional and mental health and wellbeing.
If you find that you’re constantly feeling anxious and stressed, it may be that you’re more sensitive to dealing with stress. Your susceptibility could well-be linked to your genetic makeup, whereby your brain and body finds it more difficult to process and manage the combination of stress and chemicals produced. So, it’s even more important to ensure you’re taking necessary steps to help yourself better manage it.
Combatting stress when it creeps up on you
Being a person who has always been prone to stress and anxiety, it has taken me years to figure out effective ways to deal with and manage the two simultaneously. Every individual will have different ways and means of coping, as no one approach is the same.
So, it’s important that you find what works for you and then revisit those approaches each time you’re feeling stressed and anxious. You’ll find that it will become second nature and you’ll be able to respond a lot faster and easier to the pressures you face.
I’ve compiled a list below of the coping mechanisms I’ve adopted over the years to manage my stress and anxiety levels, that you may find useful to your own circumstances as well.
It seems a proven fact that putting physical tension on your body helps combat and relieve mental stress. Exercising regularly, has positive effects because:
a) It reduces the body’s stress hormones called Cortisol, and instead helps to release good chemicals in the brain called Endorphins;
b) It improves the quality of sleep you experience each night – the counter-effect of stress and anxiety on your sleep levels;
c) Your mental wellbeing and self-confidence can be good results of exercising; and
d) It has an energy-boosting effect on the body, enabling the body to maintain healthy energy levels.
You may not realise it, but anxiety may be triggered by what you eat or drink. Caffeinated and alcoholic substances have been proven to have negative effects on our emotional state, causing nervousness, irritability, panic attacks, restless sleeping and even dehydration.
Making sure you reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake and replace with more natural foods, herbal teas and water, may vastly improve your overall wellbeing. Eating protein-rich foods is also good for maintaining your blood sugar levels, thus stabilizing and improving your mood.
3. Deep breathing exercises
Breathing in slowly from the belly or diaphragm helps calm and activate a relaxation response in your body, stabilizing the heart rate and minimising stress levels.
4. Talk to yourself
It might sound ludicrous, but talking to yourself can also help reduce feelings of anxiety. Positive affirmations and reassurances to the self can help bring clarity back to your racing mind and can have a calming effect.
Telling yourself things like, “I will get through this”, “this feeling, this pain too shall pass”, bring back a sense of calm and control to allow you to cope with whatever anxious or stressful situation you’re dealing with in that moment.
5. Seek support
Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and have had no success talking ourselves down from the ledge, so to speak, try confiding in someone you trust. It might be a friend, sister, colleague or mother.
The sheer sense that someone is listening and understanding how you’re feeling – even if they may not necessarily have the answers or be able to help you out of a situation – can be somewhat comforting and stress-reducing.
If you find that even talking to a friend or family member doesn’t help, then seek advice from someone experienced or specialised – a counsellor, doctor or psychologist.
6. Think of something else
It might be easier said than done, but try and find activities or things you enjoy, that are bound to take your mind off your stresses. Practice meditation or go for a yoga session, meet a friend for lunch, Google and plan your next holiday or overseas trip, or simply immerse yourself in your favourite feel-good movie.
7. Set boundaries
It’s important you establish work-life boundaries for yourself. Having a healthier work-life balance is everything in this increasingly-demanding world, where you feel the need to be available 24/7. Establish rules such as not checking emails or answering work-related phone calls when you get home in the evenings (or mornings, if you work shifts). Having boundaries can significantly reduce the likelihood for work-life conflict.
8. Recharge and relax
Refuelling and recovering can significantly reduce the effects of chronic stress and the potential to burn yourself out. There’s nothing wrong with disconnecting and switching off from reality and just taking some time out for yourself.
Making time to recharge allows you to refocus and re-centre yourself, enabling you to be more productive and rejuvenated.
9. Consider stress-reducing supplements
Consult your doctor or health practitioner to see what products are out there that can help mitigate some of that stress and anxiety. Some common supplements that I’m familiar with include: Omega-3 Fatty Acids (also found in fish, some nuts and seeds); Vitamin B Complex; St John’s Wort; Melatonin (also good for controlling your sleep cycles); Lavender Oil; and the ancient Ayurvedic medicinal herb, Ashwagandha (also known as Indian Ginseng).
10. Aromatherapy and Himalayan Pink Salt Lamps
It’s not uncommon for people to respond positively to pleasant fragrances and smells, and research suggests that using scents in your home helps enhance your mood, reduce anxiety and improve your overall sleep cycle. Try burning a candle, incense or fragrance diffuser to help calm and soothe your senses.
Another way of boosting your mood and reducing your level of stress and anxiety, is to invest in an Himalayan Pink Salt Lamp. Studies have suggested that the release of negative salt ions, when the pink rock salt is heated, boosts the production of Serotonin in the brain and improves overall performance. Properties in the lamp provide other health and healing benefits too, such as improved sleep, asthma and allergy relief, improved blood flow through the body, air purification and the reduction of electromagnetic radiation emitted from our electronic devices.
I was given one of these lamps last year, and I absolutely swear by it. To really get the best out of my lamp, I make sure I leave it on for as long as possible during the day/evening before I go to bed, although I believe that the benefits are even greater if you leave the lamp on 24/7.
11. Practice the Four A’s concept
a) Avoid unnecessary stress – believe it or not, there are stresses you absolutely can control and eliminate from your life;
b) Alter the situation – if you can’t avoid a circumstance, then alter it / change it for a better outcome;
c) Adapt – if you can’t change the stressor, then adapt to it. Control and change your own attitude and adjust your expectations;
d) Accept what you can’t change – some stress is completely unavoidable, so the best way to cope with it is to simply accept it. If it’s beyond your control, accept it rather than stew and stress over it.