Everyone knows that stress and anxiety can be treated with therapy or medication. But many are put off therapy by the time and expense required.
As for medication, the possible side-effects and long-term health risks deter even more. Yet stress and anxiety needn’t require such drastic measures. Often, a few simple tips are all you need. So next time you feel that familiar pounding heart and sweating skin, try the following:
1) Pay attention to the here and now. When stressed, most people find themselves lost in thought, the mind spiraling away into the future, inventing dreadful scenarios in which you are being tormented. Take a moment to be where you are. Feel the ground beneath your feet, notice the flowers or waving branches, smell the coffee and doughnuts, and listen to the laughter and voices of those nearby.
2) Cuddle a pet. Research has shown repeatedly that stroking and fussing a cat or dog calms the nervous system and slows the heart rate. As someone once said, no greater Zen master exists than your cat. A well-loved pet is a model of relaxed indifference to the cares and worries of modern life.
3) Breathe properly. When stressed, most people breathe in a quick, shallow manner, often through the mouth. Instead, put your shoulders up, back, and down. Now breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose and out, as far as you can, through the mouth. Do this at least six times, preferably out of doors. If you find this works well, doing yoga a few times a week will really help your breathing and reduce stress.
4) Phone a friend. The people you interact with will make a huge difference to your mood. Anxious, stressed people should avoid one another, especially if they are both in a heightened state of fear. Phone a friend you know to be mellow, happy, and content, the sort of person whose mood rarely changes and who takes nothing seriously.
5) Do something creative, but simple. Find a creative outlet that does not demand great intensity and has no purpose or goal beyond itself. It may sound childish, but try a coloring book. Knitting is also worth trying. You should find yourself switching to autopilot as you perform such activities.
6) Play games. Again, this may seem childish, but play is a serious matter. As people age, they play less. And yet silly, meaningless games will calm the mind and link you back to your young, carefree self. Even bouncing a ball could help.
7) Write down everything that is worrying you. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation — just let rip. Write down everything that is bothering you, no matter how trivial, in a five-minute burst. Once you have written it down, read it through and then either burn it or fold it up, and place it beneath your bed. Think of this as a symbolic act. The point is to get the problems out of your head.
8) Distinguish what can be helped from what cannot. It may also be worth compiling a list of the things that most worry you. Then take a second sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. In the left hand column, write down all the things you can alter, and in the right, the things you cannot. Make a pledge to change what you can and to let go what you cannot.
9) Be careful what you eat. When gripped by stress and anxiety, do not reach for a sugary snack. Fizzy drinks, chocolate, and candy will give you a sugar rush, followed by a so-called sugar crash. This is bad for your mood, often making people tetchy and irritable. Instead, try foods rich in tryptophan, like turkey and cottage cheese. The ideal snack when suffering a bout of anxiety is in fact the humble banana.
10) Go into a mindful state. Thoughts fuel anxiety. But thoughts are not facts. Mindfulness teaches you to observe your thoughts instead of allowing them to sweep you away. Your consciousness is like the sky, clear and empty, while your thoughts are like the clouds that pass across that sky, sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes heavy and dense.
No simple answer exists to the modern stress epidemic, and of course, no solution is final. But try the above and you may be surprised by the results.