In today’s complex and ever changing society, it is almost impossible not to feel anxious and stressed at some point of your life. Stress and anxiety have become a fact of life within the workplace and home life and it gets worse when you choose not to do anything about it.
“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.” — Andrew J. Bernstein
The consequences of not dealing with the unpleasant aspect of stress can be fatal to your mental, physical and overall wellbeing. As a coach I recommend these 5 strategies to enable you to manage the levels of stress in your life and avoid the detrimental impact stress and anxiety can have on your life – physically and mentally.
1. Know the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — Unknown
Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is key to you reducing the impact of high levels of stress in your life.
Stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress. If we are constantly exposed to high levels of stress, then our anxiety will increase.
The symptoms we experience when anxious are often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. This comes from the idea that people primarily experience anxiety to help them either fight or run away from danger.
The problem is that in today’s complex world, we are constantly exposed to disruption and change. Because we live more stressful lives, our body and our minds have not yet caught up to these changes. As a result, we now experience anxiety in situations where it is not necessarily as helpful because we cannot fight or run away from them (e.g. work or financial pressures).
2. Learn How to Challenge Your Unhelpful Thoughts
The way that we think about things has an impact on our anxiety levels. Many of these thoughts occur outside of our control, and can be negative or unhelpful.
It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts.
Challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions:
- Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
- What would I say to a friend who had this thought in a similar situation?
- What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
- How will I feel about this in 6 months time?
- Is there another way of looking at this situation?
Try to apply these questions to the unhelpful thoughts that you notice. It can help to reduce your anxiety levels. You can use this technique to test that your thoughts are realistic and balanced.
3. Learn How to Become a Solution Seeker
It is often hard to solve a problem when you are so immersed in the emotion of the problem. One way to deal with the problems you face and ease your stress levels is to follow these three steps:
- Identify what the problem is and write it down
- Come up with a list of potential solutions and write them down
- Select the best solution from your list and then test it out. See how it goes and if it does not work pick another solution.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King
I like this quote from Martin King. It highlights that by just taking one step, you are moving closer toward finding the solution to your problem. It is all about taking one step at a time – that is what solution seekers do.
4. Limit The Time You Spend Worrying
Anxious people tend to spend much of their time worrying. Sometimes they worry to the point that they find it very hard to ‘switch off’ and relax.
Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about feeling stressed and anxious is the seemingly uncontrollable worry that often occurs alongside it.
Therefore, if you can reduce the amount of time you spend worrying, you can reduce your anxiety levels.
To reduce the time you spend worrying, assign yourself a “limited” time like 10 minutes a day to allow yourself to worry. Any worries that pop into your head during the day, write them down. Then forget them until your assigned worry time. Usually it’s best to do this later in the day.
It is important to make time to relax and do activities that are enjoyable. This can help to reduce your anxiety levels by calming the body and mind. It can also help you to sleep.
Relaxation can involve doing something that you enjoy, or just being by yourself. Exercise is particularly effective at helping you to relax. Research has shown that if you are constantly active you are far more effective at managing your levels of stress.
Learning controlled breathing exercises can help you to manage these feelings more effectively. It can also help to give your mind and body a chance to calm down.
Muscular relaxation exercises can help you to control such unpleasant symptoms. They can reduce physical tension and help you to relax in general. Yoga, massage and meditation are great activities to help your body and your mind relax.
“Life is ten per cent what you experience and ninety per cent how you respond to It.” — Dorothy M. Neddermeyer
5. Get to Know Yourself and Connect with Others
For me, this is the most important anxiety coping mechanism. I have put it last because if you fail to commit to any of the other strategies, COMMIT TO THIS ONE.
It is this coping mechanism that will form a solid foundation for you to successfully manage the stress levels in your life.
Get to know you and accept who you are warts and all. Our anxiety and stress levels increase when we worry about what we are not achieving or what we are failing at. If we give ourselves permission that it is okay not to be “perfect” all the time, our anxiety and stress levels are more manageable.
“I just give myself permission to suck. I find this hugely liberating.” — John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars
Sharing your fears and anxiety with people who you are connected to will help you face your fears and deal with your problems. Although you might feel embarrassed or afraid to discuss your feelings with others, sharing can be a way to cope with a problem. And having someone to listen to you can help you feel supported.
When you feel supported, you are more likely to do the things you want or need to do by breaking the cycle of constant avoidance. The chances are the reality of the situation won’t be as worse as you expect, making you better equipped to manage, and reduce your anxiety.
Theses mechanisms are tools to help you manage the stress levels in your life.
If you decide to try out these strategies, be prepared for it to feel uncomfortable and that change will not happen over night.
Keep trying and do not give up. Dig deep to find your faith to be a solution seeker who is always looking to create a present and future where you can live life to the fullest.
“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency.” — Natalie Goldberg
Featured photo credit: Jared Rice via unsplash.com