Stress seems inevitable in modern day living. When we are exposed to too much stress, we would feel anxious and hence develop symptoms of anxiety – feeling overwhelmed, palpitations, tension over body, headaches, tummy discomfort, chest tightness, poor sleep and difficulty breathing. Anxiety limits our lives by driving us to avoid the unpleasant feelings it creates – along with the people, places, and situations that trigger those feelings.
Here are some tips that we can use to manage our stress and anxiety:
Write things down
First, we can consider writing things down, e.g., compiling a to-do list. Instead of worrying or ruminating over tasks that we have yet to do, it will be more efficient to write them all down and start prioritising them and getting them sorted out, one at a time. Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you are feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern
Complete small, simple tasks
Second, engage in problem solving. Instead of thinking about the problem or fearful situation over and over again (rumination), we can break them down into smaller bits and start to tackle them. We feel anxious as we tend to magnify the feared situations and minimise our ability to cope with them. If we divide a huge task into smaller chunks, we can tackle it, a bit at a time. Work on the things that need to get done today and give yourself chunks of uninterrupted time; switching between tasks or multitasking can be stressful itself.
Third, keep a gratitude journal. While recording what one is stressed about is one approach, another is jotting down what you’re grateful for. Gratitude may help relieve stress and anxiety by enabling one to refocus his thoughts on what is positive in his life.
Fourth, incorporate exercise into our routine. Exercise can relieve mental stress and the benefits are strongest when one exercises regularly. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety. Exercise lowers our body’s stress hormones — such as cortisol — in the long run. It also helps release endorphins, which are chemicals that improve our mood and act as natural painkillers. Exercise can also have a positive impact on our sleep quality. When you exercise regularly, you may feel more competent and confident in your body, which in turn promotes mental wellbeing. It will be useful to choose an aerobic activity like running, cycling, swimming or walking in the swimming pool. Physical activities — such as walking or jogging — that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can also be stress relieving.
Fifth, accord sleep the priority that it deserves. Many people sacrifice sleep as they prefer to work long hours, stay up late to play computer games or watch movies. Sleep consists of light sleep, deep sleep and rapid eye movements (REM) sleep. During deep sleep, the body gets to rest, recuperate, grow and injured and worn out tissues get repaired and restored. REM sleep is important for memory consolidation. A sleep deprived person would feel lethargic the next day, have poor concentration and difficulty managing challenging tasks which require quick mental processing and decision making. They may also fall asleep in front of the wheel and thus be a potential danger on the road.
Sixth, remember that laughter is the best medicine. Learn to welcome humour. A good laugh goes a long way. It is hard to feel anxious when one is laughing and there are a few ways humour may help relieve stress. Laughter relieves our stress response and helps to relieve tension by relaxing our muscles. In the long term, laughter can also help improve our immune system and mood. A study among people with cancer found that people in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those who were simply distracted. Try watching a funny TV show or hanging out with friends who make you laugh.
Limit alcohol and caffeine
Seventh, monitor your alcohol and caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate and energy drinks. High doses can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. If you notice that caffeine makes you jittery or anxious, consider cutting back. Alcohol suppresses the mood and leads to sleep fragmentation, making it hard for us to have deep sleep, which is the good quality sleep that we need so as to deal with the challenges in the day time.
Cultivate a support system
Eighth, spend time and effort to build up and maintain our social support system. All of us are busy with work and all kinds of commitments, so it can be challenging to maintain relationships with our loved ones and friends. Do not take them for granted as people do drift off if there is no frequent contact or efforts to keep in touch or meet up. Being part of a friend network gives us a sense of belonging and self-worth. An interesting finding is that for women in particular, spending time with friends and children helps release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called “tend and befriend,” and is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response. Also, men and women with the fewest social connections were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
Learn to say "No"
Ninth, learn to be assertive and not allow others to bully you by passing their work to you. We need to learn to say “no” more often. Being too obliging and submissive may not be a good quality as we will end up having a heavy work load and feeling stressed and overwhelmed. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves and take good care of our physical and mental well being.
Tenth, learn mindfulness, which pertains to practices that anchor us to the present moment. It can help combat the anxiety-inducing effects of negative thinking. There are several methods for increasing mindfulness, including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga and meditation. Mindfulness helps increase self-esteem, which in turn lessens symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Eleventh, listening to music can have a very relaxing effect on the body. Slow-paced instrumental music can induce the relaxation response by helping lower blood pressure and heart rate. Simply listening to the music one enjoys is effective but it will be good not to listen to sentimental or sad songs when one is feeling moody or down. Nature sounds can also be very calming.
Twelfth, practise deep breathing exercises, which can help activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn controls the relaxation response, allowing us to feel calm and peaceful. There are several types of deep breathing exercises, including diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing and paced respiration. The goal of deep breathing is to focus your awareness on your breath, making it slower and deeper. Progressive muscle relaxation technique would also enable us to feel relaxed. Stepping back from the problem helps clear our head.
Thirteenth, reward yourself when you have performed well or completed a task, no matter how minor it is. All of us deserve a pat on the shoulder when we manage to accomplish a task and learn to confront our fears. Reward can be getting a book that we want to read, listening to our favourite song or watching a video clip.
Practice awareness of negative thoughts
Fourteenth, monitor the negative thoughts that constantly appear in our mind. Many anxious people have low self esteem and lots of self doubts. Try to maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Accept that we cannot control everything that happens in our lives. We also need to put the stressful situation in perspective: Is it really as bad as we think? Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which oftentimes is simply not possible, be proud of however close you get.
Do not be afraid to seek help
Fifteenth, do remember to seek help from a professional when you feel anxious or whelmed by stress. Many individuals with stress and anxiety oftentimes suffer from anxiety disorder, insomnia disorder, depressive disorder, alcohol/substance use disorder and personality disorder. These individuals do need help from a mental health professional. Do seek treatment early as it is easier to nip a problem in the bud and early help seeking augurs for a good long term prognosis.