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Reaching Your Calm

Three Ways to Manage Stress and Anxiety

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Stress and anxiety – sound familiar? Looking at the world around us, stress is a normal part of life. As a child, I think my biggest stressor was getting home before the street lights came on; life seemed so simple then. No social media, no smartphones, limited access to world news or events. Sure, everyone had stressors, but they were seemingly different then.

As we have entered the information age, the initiation of new/different stressors appears to surface daily. While juggling all of our adult responsibilities, we also find ourselves navigating technology and adjusting to a sense of instant gratification that our technology has brought. Rather, it’s checking social media, checking the weather or having “live” news updates on the coronavirus – it’s all at the touch of our fingers, in instant time. Most of us are hyper-stimulated, checking multiple devices and sources at once.

So where’s the balance? Let’s start by distinguishing stress from distress. While many people find themselves “stressed out” with anxious thoughts about “what’s next,” stress can be managed before it turns into distress. Stress management has an array of techniques and modalities as well as health benefits. My hope is to provide three simple techniques in “Reaching Your Calm” and managing your anxiety and stress in today’s world.

#1 Acceptance and Positivity

Creating acceptance and positivity in a difficult situation is challenging at minimum. Here are some tips:

  • Be objective. Try to overcome bias by doing your own research and considering all alternatives.
  • Try to not overreact. Practice emotional regulation and give yourself permission to take a “time out” to reflect and challenge anxious thoughts.
  • Unplug! Give yourself permission to take a break from all the stimulation and distractions.
  • Check your self-talk. Make sure you are telling yourself positive things that help your mental and physical health.

#2 Self-Care

We want to be intentional when finding ways to manage stress. This can be done by using a tool that addresses the area of the body that is “asking for help.”  I like to start this process with a body scan. A body scan is a self-awareness tool to determine what is happening in the body. Close your eyes and scan from the crown of your head, to the tips of your toes and ask yourself, what is my body doing? Are you hot, are you fidgeting? Where do you carry stress? Do you feel pain in a specific area (i.e. headaches or stomachaches), or tension in your shoulders?

Understanding what your body needs will make finding a coping tool or self-care technique easy and more effective. For example, if you are fidgeting or biting your nails, getting a stress ball or fidget device, such as a fidget spinner, to keep your hands busy might be helpful. Or, if you feel tension in your shoulders or neck, you can use a hot pack or massage to ease that area.

While there are many coping and regulation tools to choose from, exercise and anything that stimulates your five senses (i.e. communing with nature, music, essential oils, hugs, animals, healthy food, your favorite tea etc.) can be great ways to generate happy chemicals in the brain and create a sense of calm. Bottom line, listen to your body.

#3 Practicing Presence 

Practicing mindfulness and truly examining our thoughts without judgment is a wonderful way to create insight for the present!  Many have heard the quote by Bill Keane “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” I’ve always liked that quote because I know firsthand that too much focus on the past can create depressive thoughts/mood, and too much focus on the future can induce anxiety.

Accepting that both the past and the future are out of our immediate control, ultimately helps us embrace the present moment, and in doing so, we can enjoy and appreciate the here and now.

When feeling anxious about something whether it’s the coronavirus, or a different adversity.… pause and ask yourself…is there is something to learn presently? Examine what presumptions you are formulating to cause you to feel one way or another. What presumptions/perceptions are you willing to let go of, or put aside? What are the positive aspects that you can appreciate in this moment? What are you taking for granted?

In asking yourself these questions, most adversities and challenges that arise in the present can create an opportunity to learn from, and most importantly grow from!