As a Doctor of Psychology, I get asked a lot about how to manage stress and anxiety. It’s something we all face.
Nearly 40 million Americans say they have been affected by anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This can wreak havoc on our health. Stress is actually a very normal and even necessary part of our lives, but of course, it can take a toll on you after a while.
If you’re someone whose daily life is consistently impacted by symptoms of anxiety, please reach out to a professional for guidance. How we cope on a daily basis with normal levels of anxiety sets apart those of us who are able to cope effectively and those who will suffer lasting negative consequences. Here are five essential tips for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Anxiety is a feeling just like other feelings. Understanding that it’s a normal feeling in the range of emotions is often overlooked but such an important step to the process of overcoming it. We often try to resist it and are so hard on ourselves for it, which only adds to our anxiety. It’s obviously not a pleasant feeling but it also won’t last forever—and acknowledging that is key.
2. Just breathe.
It’s simple and so effective. Take a deep breath from your diaphragm through your nose, hold it for a few seconds, and breathe out. Repeat several times until you feel yourself stabilize. This will help normalize your heart rate and provide some much needed oxygen to your brain to help you cope with the feelings.
When you’re feeling really stressed or anxious, you probably just want to curl up on the couch. What you really should do instead, as much as you don’t want to, is go outside and talk a walk. The fresh air will rejuvenate you and the brisk walking will increase your happiness inducing hormones. Try to be mindful of your surroundings; this moving meditation will help clear your mind and reduce feelings of anxiety.
4. Take ‘you’ time.
Timeouts aren’t just for toddlers. Use them on yourself as well and reap the benefits! Do something you enjoy, take a bath, read a book, listen to music, and just check out for as little or as long as you need to reboot. This will help relieve the tension and allow you to manage your feelings of anxiety more effectively.
5. Positive self-talk.
Anxiety can produce a lot of negative thoughts. Make an effort to replace those thoughts with positive ones such as “I don’t feel good right now but I know I can conquer this” or “this will pass”, “I can get through this rough day.” If you can’t think of what to say in the moment, imagine a good friend asking your advice and how you would respond. We’re often more forgiving and loving to others than to ourselves, so reframing it that way helps us find more positive words.
Illustration by Karley Koenig