How to Overcome Stress and Anxiety
Stress is termed as a natural emotional response, and is experienced by humans when faced with a challenging or a threatening situation.
An important thing to recognize when experiencing stress, is the external trigger, as this is the root of the cause. Triggers can be characterized as short term (ex. a disagreement with a loved one or a deadline at work) or long term (ex. experiencing chronic illness, poverty, or discrimination). People under stress may exhibit certain physical and mental symptoms, for example, fatigue, anger, muscle pain, digestion problems, irritability, or difficulty in sleeping.
On the other hand, anxiety is defined by excessive and persistent worry that does not go away in the absence of the stressor. Symptoms of anxiety include insomnia, fatigue, muscle tension, loss of concentration, and irritability.
The disorders of anxiety are very common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in the past years, 19% of the Americans ware suffered from Anxiety over the age of 18. 31% of Americans will suffer from anxiety during their lifetime.
Both stress and anxiety can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both. If you’re experiencing stress and anxiety, know you are not alone. Here are some simple and effective ways to calm your stress response.
Exercise is an important coping strategy that can reduce emotional intensity or build-up. Regular exercise is proven to have strong benefits on mental health. People who do exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from anxiety and stress than those who don’t exercise.
This is due to several reasons including:
- Confidence: Regular exercise makes you feel more confident and competent which promotes mental well-being.
- Stress Hormone: Exercise helps to lower your body’s stress hormones like cortisol. In addition, it releases hormones called endorphins in the body that act as natural painkillers, which in turn improve mood.
- Sleep: Exercise directly affects quality of sleep. Stress and anxiety have a negative impact on sleep.
It is essential to find a daily exercise routine that you love such as dancing, walking, climbing, or yoga. The repetitive movements of large muscle groups due to physical activities such as jogging and walking are particularly helpful in relieving stress.
Spend time with friends and family
Social support from family and friends is essential to one’s well-being. Friends and family members help provide a sense of self-worth and belonging, which can help in tough circumstances, particularly during stressful events.
According to a study, women release a hormone called oxytocin while spending time with family and friends. Oxytocin acts as a natural stress reliever in the body, and decreases our stress response This response is opposite to the fight and flight response and is referred to as “tend and befriend”.
According to another study, people who suffer from depression and anxiety are more likely to have fewer social connections. Spending time with family, and building these social connections is essential for both men and women.
Take a Yoga class
One of the most effective stress and anxiety relief methods is yoga and exercise. Yoga is a type of mental exercise that allows one to sit with the mind and body. In yoga, this is done primarily through increasing the breath and body awareness.
Overall research has found that yoga is equally as effective in enhancing the mood as medical treatments used for treating anxiety and depression.
However, limited studies have been done about how yoga works to reduce stress. What we do know is that yoga has direct effects on the stress response and nervous system.
Furthermore, yoga is also helpful in lowering blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels and increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps to lower the effects of mood disorders.
Mindfulness is the practice that helps bring you to the present moment by increasing self-awareness, ultimately decreasing depression and anxiety. It combats depression and releases negative thinking.
There are several ways to practice mindfulness including mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive therapy, meditation, and yoga.
A recent study has found that mindfulness practices help to increase self-esteem which ultimately reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There are a lot of supplements that are helpful to decrease one’s stress and anxiety levels. The most common supplements are:
- Green Tea: Green tea is rich in polyphenol antioxidants which contain a lot of health benefits. It increases the level of serotonin in the body which lower stress and anxiety.
- Lemon balm: Lip balm, is effective for its anti-anxiety effects. Lemon balm belongs to the mint family.
- Kava kava: Kava kava is long used as a sedative in the South Pacific and Europe to treat stress and anxiety. Kava kava is a psychoactive member of the pepper family.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: A recent study showed a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms in medical students who received omega-3 supplements.
- Valerian: Due to its tranquilizing effects, it is known as the popular sleeping aid. Valerian contains valeric acid, which changes gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors to lower anxiety.
- Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is a herb that is used in Ayurvedic medicine to reduce stress and anxiety. Several studies have proved that Ashwagandha is effective.
It is important to not that some supplements may interact with medications. Therefore, please consult with a doctor if you have any medical conditions.
Reduce your caffeine intake
Caffeine is a stimulant found in chocolate, tea, energy drinks, and coffee, and in high doses, may increase anxiety. People are often unsure as to how much caffeine they should tolerate on a daily basis. You should cut back on your caffeine intake if you begin to notice symptoms such as jitters or heightened anxiety. Many studies, however, have proved that in moderation, coffee may provides health benefits. Reducing your caffeine intake may help manage stress and anxiety.
When we are laughing, it is difficult to feel anxious. Laughing helps reduce stress by:
- Reducing our response to stress
- Reduce tension by relaxing the muscles
In addition, laughing also improves the body immune system and enhance the mood. A study was conducted among the patients of cancer and it was found that people who laugh more experienced more stress relief than the patients who were simply distracted.
Learn to say No
Some stressors are within our control, however other times they are not. Taking control of areas of your life which you can control can help in reducing stress.
One of the best ways to take control of a situation is by saying no in situations in which you feel may increase the workload beyond what you can handle. This may mean discussing options with your boss, telling your family member you cant make the dinner, or telling your friend you can’t make the party.
Managing your workload plays an essential role in managing stress. Try saying no to the things that will unnecessarily add load or time to your work. This will help with managing stress.
Studies show that chewing gum helps you reduce stress levels and provides a greater sense of wellbeing.
Chewing gum increases the blood flow to your brain, and some studies have suggested that brain waves are similar to those of relaxed individuals while chewing gum.
According to another study, it was found that stress relief was much higher in people who chewed gum more strongly.
Try chewing a stick of gum for a quick form of stress relief.
Learn to avoid Procrastination
Stay on top of your priorities while avoiding procrastination is another effective way to manage stress.
Not managing priorities can result in acting reactively and may leave you scrambling to catch up. This can result in increased stress and can negatively affect your sleep and overall health.
Make a habit of organizing a to-do list in priority sequence, and write down your deadlines.
Spend time with your pet
Spending time with your pet can help reduce stress and elevate your mood. The oxytocin level increases in the body by interacting with a pet. Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain that promotes a positive mood.
Caring for and interacting with a pet, helps relieve stress, keeps you active and provides companionship. These are all components that help reduce anxiety.
Listen to soothing music
Music has an extremely relaxing effect on the body. Slow music induces a relaxation response by lowering the heart rate and blood pressure as well as stress hormones.
Classical, Celtic, Indian musics are particularly induce relaxation in the body and the music that you enjoy is effective too.
The music of nature is also calm us and enhance our mood. This is the reason that the music of nature is often incorporated into meditation and relaxation tracks.
Physical contact is helpful in the production of oxytocin and lowering cortisol. It is interesting to note that humans are not the only animals who experience stress relief by cuddling. It is found that chimpanzees also relieve their stress by cuddling with their friends.
Stress and anxiety activate the sympathetic nervous system’s responses by sending signals to your body activating the fight or flight response. When your body goes into fight or flight mode, stress hormones are released during this period and physical symptoms become evident such as a faster heartbeat, constricted blood vessels, and quicker breathing.
When practicing deep breathing, the parasympathetic nervous system activates which regulates the relaxation response. There are many deep breathing exercises which include abdominal breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, paced breathing, and belly breathing.
Deep breathing allows you to feel more peaceful and slows down your heart rate. You can watch this video to practice diaphragmatic breathing.
Remember: This shall too pass
Too much worry can lead to excessive worry, dread, stomach upset, or may even result in difficulty in breathing. A good first step in dealing with all the negative feelings is to accept that this situation is a very common emotional state identified as anxiety. Understand that these negative feelings and emotions will pass.
Acknowledging that you are experiencing anxiety can help to activate the natural responses of your body, bringing it back to baseline.
Focus on the present
Feeling anxious or stressed often coincides with dwelling on the past and worry for the future. Focusing your mind on the present will help you feel more relaxed and confident. This can help you to deal with anxiety and stress.
Face your fears
If you always avoid the things that lead you to stress, then it might stop you from doing things that you really want to do. This is not the best thing to do. However, facing the situations that make you fell anxious can help significantly reduce your stress and anxiety. Learn to manage your fears by testing whether the situation is as bad as you expect. This will ultimately help you to deal with stress and anxiety.
Soothing plant oils and sweet aromas are helpful in coping with stress and anxiety. Try to consider experiments with different options because certain scents work better for some people than others. Lavender is shown to be extremely helpful. Certain studies have shown that aromatherapy helps reduce heart rate in short term circumstances, and helps to ease sleep issues in the long term.
Other treatment options
Anxiety and stress can have long term health implications, and can interfere with a person’s ability to function optimally, thus, it is recommended to find a treatment that works. Therapy is the most popular and effective form of treatment when there is no other solution available to treat anxiety.
Therapy helps a person understand, and come to terms with the triggers that activate their anxiety. In addition, therapy help one develop positive lifestyle changes and effectively work through trauma.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most effective therapy methods used to treat stress and anxiety. The specific goal of this therapy is to help individuals gain a better understanding into how their way of thinking can affect their behavior and emotions. After understanding these things, their thoughts are replaced with positive and constructive alternatives.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy also helps individuals identify the root of the anxiety, such as trauma or work issues.
Lastly, if you find anxiety is difficult to manage using the examples above, medication can be an effective means of treatment. The ones most commonly prescribed by doctors include:
- Anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines that include Valium and Xanax.
- If anxiety interferes with sleep, sleeping medications are prescribed.
- Anti-depressants include Prozac.
Stress and anxiety affects everyone. Living a balanced lifestyle can help elevate these responses.