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Life is stressful. It’s hectic. It’s busy. At times it is absolute chaos. If you have kids or a crazy demanding job, or a job with huge responsibilities, it’s even more stressful. If you’re a business owner responsible for the livelihood of others, it can be downright nerve wracking.
No matter the reason why you’re stressed, the point is that you’re stressed. Your stress and anxiety is real – even if you think you have nothing to be *that* anxious over, if you are, you are! I have battled anxiety for years and it can really wear you down if you don’t try to stay ahead of it. While I do use prescription meds to manage it, it was a lot for me to accept that I needed some assistance, so increasing my dosage is just not something I’m ready to tackle at this point. While having a glass of wine at night is a quick fix to unwind, for me I just don’t want to drink daily- and I definitely don’t want to get in the habit of needing to drink daily. (Don’t get me wrong, I definitely drink!)
Fortunately I’ve found some stress-relieving techniques that work well for me. It’s not always a sure fix, so at times one of these will work & the others won’t. It’s pretty hit or miss, but at one point or another these tips help me through. I hope they are able to help you, too!
If you need to speak with someone about depression or anxiety, but can’t manage leaving your house to do it, the Crisis Text Hotline is available for free confidential support from trained crisis counselors 24/7. You can read all about their services and purpose here. Text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 support in the US.
What is Anxiety
Before we get started, let’s talk a bit about anxiety. You may have anxiety & not even know it- especially if your life is “stress free.” Several years ago I started having all sorts of issues where I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like my throat was closing and I thought I was literally going to die at any minute. I’d go to bed and when I would finally fall asleep I would wake up gasping for air. This would lead to a total panic attack and three times I ended up at the ER, I went to my doctors office at least 6 times and had every allergy test known to man performed. And every time NOTHING was wrong with me. It was terrifying & frustrating.
Someone suggested anxiety & I brushed it off because my life was pretty cushy. I was a SAHM, my husband had a good job, my oldest daughter was in college…life was easy. What did I have to be anxious about? Absolutely nothing, I thought. Interestingly I had been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder years & years ago, but at the time I was a young mother of 2 kids going through a divorce- that is something to be anxious about!
Well, in the 6-12 months leading up to my last serious bought of anxiety (the one that resulted in me finding meds to help me) I had experienced a pretty significant trauma, and that’s the thing with anxiety: it can manifest weeks, months and even years after the “event” that is the root cause of your anxiety. So just because your life is sunshine & roses it doesn’t mean that you can;’t be hit with anxiety that stems from an incident in the past. Your past can linger, and don’t let anyone tell you it can’t or to “get over it” or “that was ages ago, come on” because it doesn’t matter.
Since getting to the bottom of this my Generalized Anxiety Disorder has been re-diagnosed, along with a panic disorder and mild PTSD. I know enough now to know that prescription meds are just going to be a part of my life because I never want to go back to having daily panic attacks and feeling like I was going to die in my sleep every single night. Talk about things that heighten anxiety!
Anxiety Symptoms and Signs
We may as well let the pros talk about anxiety, right? From the Mayo Clinic:
Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
There are several different anxiety disorders and if the above symptoms sound like you you may want to read more about the different types of anxiety disorders there are here.
For me, I have these two:
- Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
- Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred.
I think these two anxiety disorders (along with social anxiety disorder) are really, really common which is why I’m focusing on them, just in case you need validation for how you’re feeling. 🙂 I’m lucky to have an amazing husband who supports me 100% and will drop everything he’s doing to talk me down, so a support system is really important!
What is the difference between stress & anxiety?
Lots of people mistake stress for anxiety, or anxiety for stress, but they are two different things. From Mental Health First Aid, here is the difference between stress & anxiety:
- Stress is a response to an external cause, such as a tight deadline at work or having an argument with a friend, and subsides once the situation has been resolved. Because stress is caused by external factors, tackling these head-on can help.
- Anxiety is a person’s specific reaction to stress; its origin is internal. Anxiety is typically characterized by a “persistent feeling of apprehension or dread” in situations that are not actually threatening. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern has passed. In more severe cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health issue in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are classified in a variety of ways: generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ok- now that we’ve addressed what anxiety is, and its difference from stress, let’s talk about techniques that help ease it enough for it to be manageable.
Techniques to Reduce Stress and Calm Your Anxiety
If you’re under a lot of stress it’s really important to get a handle on it sooner rather than later because eventually it can turn into an anxiety disorder. And getting in front of a possible anxiety disorder is important!
Here are 10 ways I’ve found to help reduce stress and calm my anxiety- before it flares up- without having a drink:
1. Learn the Correct Way to Deep Breathe
Believe it or not, there is a correct way to breathe and there are two ways of breathing.
- Thoracic (chest) breathing – people who are anxious take rapid, shallow breaths from the chest. When you’re anxious you may not even know you’re doing this! Chest breathing causes an increased heart rate and dizziness because there is an upset in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in your body. This lack of proper oxygenation can also result in tingling extremities, too. All of this increases your anxiety & can lead to a panic attack.
- Diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing – when you are relaxed you take deep, even breaths. (Just like the breaths someone takes when they are sleeping.)
When you are feeling stressed and your anxiety level is increasing, practicing intentional abdominal breathing can help calm you down. You can do this as often as necessary and you can be standing up, sitting down or laying down- whatever you are most comfortable with. (This technique and sequence is from the Very Well Mind.)
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should expand, and your chest should rise very little.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you blow air out, purse your lips slightly, but keep your jaw relaxed. You may hear a soft “whooshing” sound as you exhale.
- Repeat this breathing exercise for several minutes.
2. Deep Breathing with Sound
You may be surprised if the above method of deep breathing actually increases your anxiety since it is supposed to do just the opposite! This happens to people because they are too focused on their breathing and using this technique to calm down quickly, so when it doesn’t work they get even more anxious. This happens to me A LOT. I have found that using the deep breathing techniques in tip #1 combined with a calming background noise helps me tremendously. I love the Relax Meditation app from the iTunes store. You can choose from whatever sounds you find comforting and it will help to focus on that while you are deep breathing.
If this happens to you, stop for now and try a different technique. You can always practice deep breathing techniques and use them once they are more routine.
3. Keep Your House Clean & Clutter to a Minimum
This may sound odd, and it’s certainly not the case for everyone, but when my house is messy I start getting really stressed and it impacts my whole mood/personality. Since I don’t have little kids it’s fairly easy for me to keep my spaces clean & clutter free, but it can still sneak up on me at times! This is when I either clean clean my house or do a quick one hour clean up (<– that’s my one hour power clean technique) so I can almost instantly start to feel better. Plus cleaning is a big distraction for me and distraction is good for getting over an anxiety hump.
4. Slow Down
You know the saying “stop and smell the roses?” It’s a well-known phrase for a reason- it’s necessary! In this day and age of rushing everywhere, multi-sport kids, side hustles and multi-tasking it is easy to feel like you are constantly on a hamster wheel. SLOW DOWN. Take 20 minutes for yourself. I promise you can find 20 minutes in your day if you prioritize. Take a walk. Treat yourself to a coffee. Stop by a florist and pick up a flowering plant for your desk. Do something for you and you alone- and that may very well be taking one of your kids out for ice cream, even if that doesn’t sound like “you alone.”
This one is an UGH for me, but exercise is a great way to kill two birds with one stone: when you exercise you naturally feel better about yourself, and feeling better about yourself leads to less stress & anxiety. If you can get outside in nature, it’s even better. I hate exercise that is in the form of walking, running or going to the gym. The main reason is that is “quiet time” for my brain, and I can’t have quiet time for my brain because then I just think & think & think some more, which is not good for me.
I love exercise in the form of the volleyball leagues I am in, because it’s a group sport & you’re involved in the entire game. You’ll need to figure out what type of exercise works for you. For me, when I walk or run or go to the gym I listen to music or podcasts to keep my thoughts at bay. If the gym gets too monotonous & I find myself tuning out my podcast or music, I find a machine in front of a tv show that I like and watch tv and listen to music while I walk or run. <gotta keep the brain busy!>
Lots of people like yoga. I like yoga, but it takes awhile for me to get into it because it is soooo slow. I do, however, really enjoy the YouTube series Yoga with Adrienne when I finally do get back on track with yoga. A really thick yoga mat helps a lot, too- especially if, like me, you end up in an unintentional upside down turtle pose most of the time. 😉
Sleep is so important! There i a fine line between “not enough” and “too much,” too, so you need to find your happy balance. From News in Health:
Sleep helps you think more clearly, have quicker reflexes and focus better. “The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep,” says Mitler.
“Loss of sleep impairs your higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to detail,” Mitler explains. Tired people tend to be less productive at work. They’re at a much higher risk for traffic accidents. Lack of sleep also influences your mood, which can affect how you interact with others. A sleep deficit over time can even put you at greater risk for developing depression.
But sleep isn’t just essential for the brain. “Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies,” says Dr. Michael Twery, a sleep expert at NIH. “It affects growth and stress, our , appetite, breathing, blood pressure and health.”
Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections. Throughout the night, your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure rise and fall, a process that may be important for cardiovascular health. Your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to sleep than you’d think! Make sure you’re getting enough sleep so you’re at your best and also help ward off stress & anxiety.
7. Loosen Up
I am in a permanent state of tense. In fact, the photographer at my first wedding asked me “were you in an accident and had a spinal fusion or something?” Um, no, I just can’t relax. (And TBH, that was not the first red flag that I should head for the hills rather than the church! :p) But when my stress increases and my anxiety starts revving up, I get even more tense. Sometimes I find that my shoulders are nearly up to my ears as I am cooking or cleaning or, most likely, typing! That’s when I know I need to take a few minutes to get my poop in a group, so to speak. The “loosening up” techniques I use are:
- Sit or stand up straight.
- Shoulder rolls – up, back, down – in a circle.
- Head turns – turn your head slowly allll the way right, then slowly allll the way left.
- Wall stretch or child’s pose – depending on where I am (home/out)
Taking 3-5 minutes to work on loosening up saves me a day of neck & shoulder pain, so it’s definitely worth it.
8. Pet Your Pet
Pets are emotional support animals for a reason and that old “who rescued who” is true. If you have a cuddly pet, take a few minutes to give them some love. You may even find that combining this with the deep breathing techniques in #1 and #2 above works wonders!
If you don’t have a cuddly pet you may want to visit Petfinder to see if any pets in your area could use you as much as you could use them.
9. Get Creative
Creativity is a great way to destress. Whether you enjoy knitting, painting, woodworking or any other type of creative craft, be sure to make time for it. My creativity comes in the form of making things for my store space and working on household projects, but learning to knit and/or crochet are on my to-do list for this year!
10. Read a Book
Nothing takes your mind off of you more than immersing yourself into the lives of characters. If you’re like most of us you have a stack of books you’ve been meaning to read. Challenge yourself to read 1 a month or 6 this year or however many you want and then start reading! I’m trying to read a book a month this year and I was surprised by how much reading helps my anxiety.
Do you think any of these ways will help you destress & calm your anxiety? I’d love to hear about your successes with these tips to reduce anxiety in the comments. Like I said, I use all of these techniques to help with my anxiety and if one isn’t working I move on to another. Between the 10 of them I am almost always able to reverse the path down anxiety lane I am on and regroup. My favorite (almost) no-fail way? Deep breathing while petting my dogs! <3
Don’t forget – you can text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 confidential support. Here are additional resources if you need someone to talk with.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000
- Teen Line: 1-310-855-HOPE (4673) or 1-800-TLC-TEEN (852-8336)
(Thanks, The Hearty Soul)
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Also be sure to check out our Self Care 101 board on Pinterest. There are hundreds of Pins with great tips & ideas for this crazy thing called life!