5 Ways To Squash Stress (And Reduce Anxiety)
By Dr. Steve G. Jones
“Stress is the trash of modern life-we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” ― Danzae Pace
Susan, a mom of two in her mid-forties, knew a thing or two about stress.
Her husband is in the military, and that means she has to hold the fort down at home, look after her two pre-teen daughters, and juggle a ton of other responsibilities.
So it’s no surprise that she would find herself exhausted to the bone and mentally drained.
Susan tried to keep herself cheerful and upbeat by watching a bit of Netflix and enjoy a glass of wine before bed.
However, she started to realize that her relaxation ritual became less and less effective as time went on.
For instance, Susan would still find it hard to get a good night’s sleep, so she’d have a rough start the next morning, which made her cranky around her kids.
And she tried distracting herself by spending way too much time scrolling through her social media feed.
But she’d wind up comparing herself to friends and getting into arguments in the comment section.
So, Susan was tired and anxious all the time because she couldn’t cope with the stress that was piling up.
Fortunately, her best friend Mary knew what was going on. She decided to step in and gently convinced Susan to revamp her approach to stress management.
She found it hard at first to change her routine, but Susan learned to embrace her new and improved lifestyle.
After making a few key changes, she’s learned to cut down on her nightcap and binge-watching habit.
And now, Susan checks her social media only once a day before doing something productive with her time.
As a result, Susan is more mentally resilient and she can handle the craziest of days without feeling overwhelmed.
Finding Inner Peace In A Chaotic World
A lot of people find themselves in the same situation as Susan. Unfortunately, they don’t have a system for dealing with the stress that accumulates throughout the week.
And if this goes unchecked, it can lead to long-term consequences, like chronic inflammation, low immunity, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and heart disease.
That’s why it’s critical to have a system in place that acts as a safety valve to release built-up stress.
Here are some effective ways to take the edge off and get stress down to manageable levels:
#1: Fine Tune Your Self-Awareness
The main challenge with stress is that we often get flooded without even knowing that it’s happening.
And when you’re submerged in feelings related to anxiety, tension or anger, you need to come up for air – here are some great ways to do that:
- Practice breathing mindfully: most people don’t bother to slow down and understand what’s happening to them in the first place. That’s why meditation is the perfect way to step outside the moment and observe yourself. As you become more aware of your inner world, you’ll gain better mastery over your emotions.
- Practice acceptance: It’s ok to admit to yourself that you’re feeling stressed or anxious. You’re not meant to fight these emotions, and trying to do so often amplifies them.Instead, tell yourself that accepting these negative feelings ISN’T the same as giving up.
You’re simply acknowledging that you’re not in the best situation right now – but you’re still doing something about it. And that in itself can be a source of relief.
- Practice critical thinking: Playing the skeptic is another way to stay on top of a stressful or anxious moment.Question your thoughts related to stress and anxiety by asking things like, “Is it really reasonable to worry THIS much?”, “Do I have all the facts or am I only going on my emotions?”, “What part of the situation can I control or do something about?”
#2: Tame The Beast Within
Stress can trigger feelings of fear, panic or hopelessness. And while awareness is the first step, you also need to direct that negative energy in a constructive direction.
Aside from practicing mindfulness and meditation, another way to deal with stress is by rewriting the negative dialogue in your head. Most people default to projecting the worst-case scenario in their minds – which is why you should counter that with positive internal dialogue.
For instance, you can come up with a list of positive statements to read to yourself when the occasion calls for it. Try telling yourself things like:
- “Everything is going to be alright.”
- “I can take myself out of a bad mood by (insert a relaxing activity – e.g., listening to music, watching a funny video, going for a walk, taking a quick nap, etc.)”
- “I got through this before and I can get through it again.”
- “I’m not in an ideal situation now, but I can still take action and make positive changes.”
#3: Eat Better To Feel Better
The human body can deal with stress better if it’s in a better condition to do so. That’s why a big part of stress management involves being on top of your health.
For starters, cutting out the processed food from your diet is a great step forward. Once you start replacing that with nutritionally-dense, whole foods instead, your body and brain will function much better.
Your gut bacteria, in particular, will hugely benefit from better food choices.
Billions of those microscopic organisms living in your digestive system play a significant role in emotional and mental health. A lot of studies over the years show that gut bacteria produce “happy chemicals” such as serotonin and dopamine.
#4: Ditch Your Inner Couch Potato
Many experts point out the risks of a lifestyle lacking in physical activity. For instance, research coming from Johns Hopkins Medicine shows that sedentary people are more likely to develop life-threatening conditions like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
So not only does exercise help cut down these risks, but it’s also your best weapon against the cumulative effects of stress. And the best thing you could do for yourself is to figure out a simple, low-maintenance exercise routine.
If you can get even get in 10-15 minutes of physical activity daily, you’re already on the right track.
Eventually, you’ll want to make room in your schedule to get in half an hour of exercise 2-3 times a week.
The other easy way to chip away at a sedentary lifestyle is by breaking up long periods of sitting. People who spend most of the day at the computer can get up and move once or twice for every hour of sitting down.
Go somewhere quiet (e.g., the office break room, your living room, an exercise room) and try doing stretches, going for a walk, or doing a handful of jumping jacks. The more you make a habit of this, the less damage sitting down can do to your body (and add to your stress levels).
#5: Stay On Top Of Your Bedtime Routine
A study from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine shows a clear connection between the quality of sleep and stress levels.
Even lacking a few hours of sleep can leave someone feeling irritable, agitated, emotionally unstable and lethargic. This is why it’s VITAL that you set the right conditions for a good night’s rest.
For example, make sure your bedroom is free of any distractions, such as electronics. Switch off all screens a couple of hours before sleeping and do something relaxing instead (e.g. reading a book, meditating, listening to music).
This quiets down your mind and makes it less likely for you to toss and turn at night. Also, make sure your mattress and pillow are ideal for sleeping, and keep your room as cool and dim as possible.
Most folks take this part of their day for granted, but getting a good night’s sleep (BOTH quality and quantity-wise) will make a HUGE difference the next morning.
It sets you up for success and protects you from the stress that builds up throughout the day.
Aside from cultivating better bedtime habits, there’s a quick and easy way to drastically improve the quality of your sleep in as little 30 minutes!