Stress and anxiety are things that will affect everyone at some point in their lives. While stress is short-term, caused by a looming deadline, an illness, or a series of unfortunate events, it is usually possible to cope with it, either by waiting for the troubles to pass or by making a concerted effort to fix whatever was causing the stressful situation. Once the issue has passed, your stress levels will fall and your body and mind will return to its normal equilibrium.
Anxiety is harder to cope with. Anxiety is something that some people are predisposed to, and that others experience as a result of chronic stress. Both stress and anxiety are quite debilitating, but what makes anxiety even more debilitating is that it can strike at any time, and be quite longlasting. Anxiety can be triggered by a lot of different things, some things that are stressful situations, and some things that are more mundane. The physiological effects of anxiety can be exhausting and leave you feeling even more anxious, creating a cycle that is difficult to get out of.
Managing Anxiety and Stress
Until relatively recently, in medical terms, anxiety was not recognized as a medical condition. Today there is greater awareness of it1, and this means that it’s easier to get treatment from your doctor or from a specialist. Sometimes, though, you don’t want to go to a doctor about anxiety, especially if it is only mild. Alternatively, you might have been diagnosed with anxiety already, and are wanting to try some self-care and natural or home remedies in addition to the care plan that your doctor has given you. Here are a few stress-busting tips that might help you to beat anxiety.
The Keys to Managing Stress
According to Professor Cary Cooper, the occupational health expert from the University of Lancaster, the key to stress management is to build up your emotional strength and try to always be in control of your situation. You should aim to have a good social network, and have a positive outlook.2
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Those things are all easy enough to say, but how do you actually DO them? Let’s break down some of those strategies into actionable chunks.
Use Technology to Track Your Mental State
There are a number of stress-busting tools and apps that you can use to track your mood and to help manage your stress levels. Apps such as Headspace are great for helping you to meditate, and there are mood tracking tools in the Jawbone UP app, that allows you to record how you are feeling each day so you can see things like how your mood affects your resting heart rate and your sleep quality.
Staying active can be a huge help for people who are suffering from stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which can boost your mood. It also helps to deplete adrenaline, which means that you are less likely to feel anxious. Exercise has demonstrable benefits in terms of weight management, cardiovascular health, bone density, and proprioception, but it can also improve your quality of life by reducing anxiety.3
Practice visualization exercises, and be mindful of how you are thinking. Do not allow yourself to remain passive. If you notice that you are stressed or worried about a problem, stop yourself from focusing on the worry. Instead, either tell yourself that you cannot control the worry, therefore there is no point ruminating on it, or you can control it, and therefore you should do something. If you think of something you can do, then do it. That simple act of taking control will empower you and allow you to stop those intrusive thoughts, and level your mood.
Build a Social Network
We spend a lot of time talking to people online these days, but time is precious and many of us lack the chance to really socialize with people face to face. When we are feeling anxious, the last thing we want to do, usually, interacts with people. In the short term, being alone could indeed be beneficial but in the long-term, it can make things worse. There have been several studies done into isolation and how it can affect anxiety in children4 and in adults, as well as the impact that loneliness can have on our mental health.5
Having a support network that we can refer to can help us to work through those difficult periods. Social activities may be difficult to face sometimes, but they are also good for stress relief, and having someone to talk to can be a lifeline when your mood is low.
Make Time for Yourself
One difference between the western world and developing countries is that while we have more money, and more technology, we seem to have less time. We spend more time in the office, and less time relaxing, exercising, and socializing. It’s important that you schedule some time for yourself. Whether that’s a few minutes each night or setting aside a couple of evenings for date nights and hobbies each week, the important thing is that you always have some special time to look forward to.
Try to spend some of that time doing something new and stimulating. That could be a sport, some volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about, or spending some time learning a new skill. Self-development makes you feel more confident. In addition, those who are engaged in lifelong learning may be staving off the effects of aging with their efforts. Your brain is constantly changing, and when you learn new skills you are helping to keep your brain active, which slows down cognitive decline.6
Clean Up Your Lifestyle
Some people use caffeine to help them focus after a sleepless night caused by anxiety. Some people smoke to calm their nerves. Others drink a nightcap to help themselves doze off. None of these habits are wise in the long term. Men are more likely to medicate in this way than women are, but it is something that both genders can indulge in. Drinking alcohol may help you fall asleep, but you’re more likely to experience sleep apnea and you’re also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night when the alcohol wears off. The sleep that you have is of poorer quality as well. Nicotine products are bad for your cardiovascular health, and caffeine, while it will help you stay alert in the short term, will leave you feeling tired in the long term and could increase your heart rate and make you feel more anxious.
Rather than masking the symptoms, try to find functional support mechanisms instead.
Essential oils are something that can be incredibly relaxing and beneficial to your physical and mental well-being. There have been several studies on the effectiveness of essential oils for reducing stress and anxiety. One recent study conducted in 2016 at the University of Montana looked at the effectiveness of essential oils including chamomile, lavender, and clary sage and found that they were effective in reducing levels of stress and anxiety in college students.7
There are many different aromatherapy oils out there. Lavender, chamomile, rose, and clary sage appears to be the most popular, well-studied, and effective for reducing anxiety but there are others out there too, and a large part of what makes people relax is the positive association with the oil and the fact that they like the aroma, so it is worth experimenting with different scents. There are some chemical processes relating to the terpenes and other secondary metabolites in the oils, and the impact that they have on the body, but there is enough cross-over between essential oils that if you like rose but dislike lavender, you can tweak your aromatherapy blends to suit your personal tastes.
Ask for Help
The most important thing is to understand that you are not alone. You do not have to suffer through anxiety. There are people who you can talk to that are happy to help you. Whether you use your own friend support network or find a group of like-minded people online is up to you. Share your burden and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you are patient and persistent then you will be able to beat anxiety and find the fun in life again.