Tips for Reducing Anxiety & Stress
Everyone struggles with stress and anxiety sometimes. We are biologically programmed to assess for threats related to safety, both in our physical environment and in our relationships.
In small doses, this is a good thing. If a car runs a red light just as we are about to cross the street, anxiety helps activate the muscles needed to jump out of the way. If our partner is sick, we will feel stressed and worried because we need stable, connected relationships to feel safe.
Usually, anxiety passes once the stressor is over (the car misses us, our partner gets well). However, sometimes our bodies and minds take a long time calm down and relax, especially if we are subjected to constant repeated stressors. We then can experience ongoing fear as our new normal, exhausting us physically, mentally and emotionally. We were not built to live in a constant state of threat or anxiety, so we need to actively learn how to counter the habit of worry.
Here are some tips to reduce stress and anxiety, no matter what your anxious symptoms are or how long you have experienced them:
First, accept where you are in this moment without judgment.
For example, “I am stressed about final exams and that is okay.” Normalize your personal experience and validate those feelings.
- Avoid avoiding (the feelings).
Avoidance feeds anxiety rather than diminishing it. When we feel like we have to avoid something, then it has the power over us and we become more afraid of it.
- Stay in the present.
Anxiety is fear of something happening in the future. Noticing what your senses are taking in is an easy way to stay in the present moment rather than trying to control the future.
- Recognize what you can and cannot control in a situation.
For example, you can control the effort you put in to studying for an exam. You cannot control the exam’s content or how it will be graded. Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t. Let go of anything that is out of your control.
- Attend to the physical.
Our bodies let us know when we are anxious. These symptoms can feel scary but they are just your body reacting to stressful emotions. Take time to breathe, stretch, take a walk, or curl up in a warm blanket—it will help get you back in the present moment, and make your body feel better.
- Use positive coping.
Healthy ways of coping are the ones that work well and we feel good about doing. Here are some ideas:
- Prioritize a healthy lifestyle: Healthy eating, enough sleep, and moderate amounts of movement.
- Reward yourself: Daily treats like listening to music, noticing nature, or getting your favorite coffee/tea drink make us feel valued even when we are doing them for ourselves.
- Spend time with supportive people in your life that you trust and are good listeners.
- Take slow, deep (but not too deep) breaths to calm yourself through an anxious thought. You will notice that your anxiety reduces naturally as you practice staying calm and present.
- Challenge unhelpful thoughts that make you anxious.
For example, “Why do I think I have to be perfect when I know that is not possible? What is that thought about? What am I needing or what am I afraid of when I try to be perfect?” Just noticing and nonjudgmentally challenging such thoughts is vital to changing them and feeling less anxious.
- Seek help.
If no matter what you try, stress and anxiety is disrupting your life, seek help, just as you would if you wanted to learn any other new skill or information.
We all get anxious at times. Learning how to work with our anxiety or stress rather than trying to avoid or run away from it is a valuable lifelong skill, allowing us to live happier and more fulfilling lives. It takes practice and intentional effort but it is worth it when we feel in control of our mood rather than our mood controlling us.