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 for us all, and we all have to deal with the negative impact that stress can cause in our lives.
Stress is not something that suddenly enters into your life overnight. Stress slowly grows over time 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 well being. There is, however, hope. There are ways in which you can minimize and control the negative impact stress can have in your life.
Once you understand what your stress triggers are and what anxiety coping mechanisms work best for you, you are then well on your way to managing anxiety and stress levels in your life.
The Impact of Stress and Anxiety
There has been an overwhelming amount of research done on the topic of stress and anxiety. For example there has been research done on; which gender is more stressed, which age group suffers the most stress, which country is the most stressed, which workplaces create high levels of stress, what are the triggers of stress, what is the cost of stress to the government and public health system and the list goes on.
What all this research highlights is that stress is universally well understood and experienced by many.
The problem, however, is that despite all this research and the fact we all know, stress is an unpleasant fact of life we in the western world are not very good at dealing with stress.
Because we are so bad at dealing with stress, we now face what many consider a crises point where stress is now one of the major causes that leads to the most lethal illnesses and long term health problems — high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and insomnia are all medical conditions that can be related to or directly influenced by high levels of stress.
The Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work
These 5 strategies will 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.
We all have very different in built coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety. What is stressful to one person may not necessarily stressful to another.
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.
For example, if you saw a burglar, two options open to you would be to either – fight them off (fight) or try to run away (flight). Our fight or flight response would kick in to help us at this point.
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 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.
‘Worry time’ not only helps to reduce the time you spend worrying, but also proves that you can have more control of whether you engage in worry or not.
5. Learn How to Relax and Commit to It
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.
Without taking the time to unwind, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Relaxation can involve doing something that you enjoy, or just being by yourself. Good examples might be reading a book or having a bath.
What you do does not really matter. Try to choose something that you enjoy and look forward to doing. 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 how to control your breathing is simple technique that can be particularly helpful if you feel dizzy or light headed when you are worried or stressed. This sometimes happens because people’s breathing changes and gets quicker when they feel distressed. This can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience.
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.
“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” — Dorothy M. Neddermeyer
Tension often builds up when we feel upset or stressed. These symptoms can be painful and can cause anxiety in themselves.
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.
6. 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 five 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.
The 6 anxiety coping 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