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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Help Anxiety When Life Is Stressing You Out

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How to Help Anxiety When Life Is Stressing You Out

Feeling stressed or anxious? Then you’re not alone. In the UK, according to a new survey from the Mental Health Foundation, 74% of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.[1] In the US, that figure is slightly higher with 79% of Amercians who feel stress sometimes or frequently during their day.[2]

The terms ‘Stress’ and ‘Stress Management’ and ‘Stress Relief’ now receive up to 1million monthly searches on google. The most common causes of stress involve work pressure, lack of time, financial stress, children, health, relationships, and political climate.

Stress will make you feel anxious, it also causes you a number of physical health problems.

Given the potential impacts of prolonged stress, learning ways of managing, reducing, and preventing stress can be important tools for mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Here are 16 actions you can take to help anxiety caused by your stressful life:

1. Spend More Time Gardening

Researchers have shown that spending time in your garden will boost your mood and lower your stress and anxiety.[3] By spending half an hour a week tending to plants or vegetables in your garden can reduce feelings of tension and fatigue, leaving people less prone to anger and depression.

When you’re feeling stressed and looking for something to get you out of bed in the morning, head to your garden and spend some time tending to your plants.

If you don’t have an outside garden think about creating a mini herb garden for your kitchen or balcony.

2. Take up Yoga

Yoga is great for improving flexibility and strengthening our core. But it is also fantastic for inducing feelings of calm and improving your heart health, if you do it regularly. By spending 15 minutes a day, you could reduce your blood pressure by as much as 10%.

In a recent study by Canadian researchers, they found that, among people being treated for high blood pressure, those who spent 15 minutes five time a week in quiet relaxation, saw no improvement to their condition.[4] However, those who stretched for the same time experienced a 5% drop in blood pressure, and those who practiced deep breathing saw a 7% drop.

3. Celebrate Small Wins

When we pursue our goals and view our daily successes, we have two options:

  • Look at how far you’ve come, what you’ve achieved and celebrate success every day (Growth Mindset)
  • Look at how far away you are from the goals you have in life and feel more anxious and stressed because you haven’t achieved what you want (Gap Mindset)

With the Growth Mindset, you will always be making progress, your confidence and capabilities will grow every day.

Rather than worrying about doing everything perfectly and comparing yourself to others, a major source of stress and anxiety, you are focused on staying on the path and daily growth.

Try this:

At the end of every day, write down 3 things that you achieved that day. It could be big or small. The point is that you made progress, even if it was just a little step.

4. Take up Meditation

Meditation can improve physical health, boost the immune systems and increase our ability to cope with stress.

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Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says mindfulness meditation is perfect for reducing anxiety both short- and long-term:[5]

“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power … You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that–a thought, and not a part of my core self.'”

Meditation can help improve our attention and concentration, improve our self-control and give us greater overall psychological well-being.

By meditating for just 10-15 minutes per day, it can help reduce stress hormone levels, increasing serotonin, and strengthening your ability to let go of thoughts that don’t serve you.

You can download a meditation app such as Headspace to help you, work with a meditation partner or just give it a go, and see how it helps you.

5. Just Breathe

A powerful way to stay centered and to counteract the physical effects of anxiety and stress is to focus on your breathing.

If your breathing becomes shallow and chest-centered, then breathing deeply or “belly breathing’ can help by lowering cortisol and signalling to your nervous system to rest.

Learn these 5 breathing exercises for anxiety to calm anxiety quickly.

6. Exercise Regularly

Maintaining a regular exercise plan can provide relief for many of the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Exercise can enhance our mood, increase energy levels, give us goals to focus on, improve motivation, challenge us and improve the quality of our sleep. Exercise allows our muscles to move, it encourages blood flow and gets us breathing a lot deeper.

Try any racket sport, going to the gym, HIIT training, boxing or more mind-body activities such as tai-chi or Pilates.

The point is to get your body moving and find an exercise activity that works for you. This may be doing something by yourself, in a room of people or part of a team. Pick something that fits you.

7. Detach Yourself from Work

Do you feel overcommitted at work? Do you struggle to switch off from work when you get home?

If you feel overwhelmed with time pressures at work and struggle to switch off when you get home, you are more likely to additional stress and anxiety.

It is essential to unplug daily and create healthy boundaries upon yourself that separate your work and home life.

Detaching yourself from work can be hard if your jobs are highly stressful, demanding and all consuming. But to ensure you are productive at work and fully present when you are at home, it’s crucial. It can help create less work fatigue and procrastination, build better work-life balance and improve mental health.

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If you don’t detach from work, it’s much easier for you to be more distracted, burned-out and increase feelings of stress. Your sleep, happiness and general sense of wellbeing will also be affected.

8. Disconnect from Technology

When you make yourself available to everyone 24/7, you can expose yourself to numerous stressors.

Forcing yourself to take a break from technology can help. This includes taking a break from your phone and taking a break from email.

Technology enables constant communication and often the expectation that you are always available.

It is difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email or message can change your train of thought and get you thinking about work.

Constant notifications on your phone also don’t help. We take a look at what our friends and network are doing, often, because we don’t want to miss out. That fear of missing out can cause anxiety – what have I missed? It also creates a lot of stress when we start comparing our lives to those of others.

Create your own path and take a break from the technology.

9. Practice Daily Intentions

The art of practicing daily intentions can be a powerful way of managing and reducing stress. It can be as simple as stating what you want to happen that day or writing down at the start of each day what you feel grateful for.

I write down 3 things I’m grateful for as well as my weekly and 90 day goals. I share these with others to gather support and stay positive.

Gratitude brings together positive emotions like joy, contentment and hope and gives your mind a positive boost.

10. Declutter Your Home and Work Space

Excessive clutter can be a symptom and cause of stress and anxiety.

Your home and work environment can often be an external representation of what’s happening internally. It can overload your sense and your mind.

If something is cluttered, it’s very difficult to focus and it can feel like there are a million things to do, scattering your thoughts.

Clutter can distract, weigh you down and can create stress in your life. This clutter can also include the relationships that take up lots of time and energy, don’t really go anywhere and cause you more stress than joy.

So, start small and focus on different areas at a time. When I started decluttering, my first focus was my office and then I moved into my home.

Although it might feel worse before it gets better, committing to and taking small steps can pay big dividends.

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11. Find Someone to Talk To

When there are lots of stresses and anxieties in your life, one of the best things you can do is reach out and talk with someone.

When you share your concerns or feelings with someone, it can help relieve some of the stress or anxiety you feel.

It starts with choosing someone you can trust, someone who gets you and can validate you.

So, call a trusted friend, family member, colleague or mentor and just talk.

You can also create a group of people going through similar feelings of stress or anxiety. Just like with a Mastermind group for business owners comes together to collaborate, learn and support each other, explore creating a similar group.

12. Read More

When was the last time you sat alone with a good book?

Reading is one of those activities that we do on our own and can help us escape from the daily stresses of life.

This could be a book to help you increase your wisdom, or learn something new, or a piece of fiction to transport you away from daily anxieties and stresses.

In addition to the learning benefits, reading also improves the connectivity between our brain cells, lowering the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

13. Start Walking More

Have you ever taken a walk to clear your mind? Walking is something you should be doing every day. It boosts your mental and physical health and there are numerous studies out there that advises walking to remove stress and anxiety.

Walking also helps you think more clearly. During the day, you are inundated with information and it can be difficult to just get some time away to process our thoughts. Walking helps.

Some of my best ideas, for example, come from taking a simple 15-20-minute walk and letting my mind process everything that’s going on.

To amp up the benefits of walking, try visiting a forest or some woods and taking a nice long stroll through nature. This surrounding can calm the mind.

At the end of your walk, you could find somewhere with an inspiring view and just sit quietly for a few minutes. This gives you a real sense of perspective and can create a sense of awe, creating higher levels of oxytocin.

14. Start Journaling

Writing down positive emotions and thoughts can help to reduce stress and anxiety. This is one of the simplest techniques you can use for stress management, as you can assign a small amount of time to it, and it is hugely enjoyable.

Journaling can help you work through your anxious feelings as well as highlight the positive things that are happening in your life.

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By spending just 5 minutes a day journaling, you can examine both anxious and positive thoughts. Write down how you’re feeling, and explore how you can change your mind-set around the things that are causing you to be stressed.

Journaling is also beneficial simply by giving you somewhere to get all of the thoughts from your mind down onto paper. A space to analyze, a place to ask questions and a place to empower.

Another good use for your journal is to express gratitude for what you have. Every day, write down three things you are grateful for. This could be a person, something that happened to you, your environment, anything.

The point is to focus on appreciation. Try doing this for 7 days to see if it creates more positive feelings.

15. Take up Knitting

This may seem a bit left field but stay with me. Knitting is actually really beneficial for a healthy mind and body. Taking up knitting as a hobby can reduce depression and anxiety, as well as slow down the onset of dementia.

According to Knit for Peace, a network of 15,000 knitters in the UK,[6]

“There is an enormous amount of research showing that knitting has physical and mental health benefits, that slows the onset of dementia, combats depression and distracts from chronic pain.”

A 2007 study from Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute, found that knitting lowers heart rate, by an average of 11 beats per minute and creates an “enhanced state of calm” similar to yoga.[7]

16. Get More Sleep

I’ve written before about the Benefits of Sleep and The Importance of Sleep Cycles on Productivity and Health. If you’re experiencing stress in your life, chances are that you might be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night.

Your anxious worry about life and its problems may keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day.

Getting enough sleep and mood are closely connected. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can cause irritability and stress.

Getting the right amount of sleep (7-8 hours) can enhance well-being and set you up for a purposeful, productive day.

The quality of our sleep directly affects the quality of our daily life and can affect mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, and physical vitality.

Start focusing on getting a better night’s sleep.

The Bottom Line

These 16 tips can help you reduce anxiety and stress. Some will work better than others, whilst others can be incorporated together into your daily life.

Try them. See which ones make a real difference in your business and life. If they work, share the knowledge with someone in a similar position.

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Featured photo credit: Claudia via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work 11 Tactics on Increasing Brain Power, Memory, and Motivation Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit 8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours)

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Last Updated on November 8, 2021

How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

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How To Do Focused Meditation Any Time

Do you often feel stressed for most of your day? Maybe you always feel a burden that you just can’t get rid of? Focused meditation might be your answer.

In this article, I’ll explore what focused meditation is, how it differs in the pool of many styles of meditation, and how to implement and start this practice today. Likewise, I’ll highlight the benefits of a focused meditation practice for your overall health.

What Is Focused Meditation?

Meditation is the practice of becoming self-aware through breath and attention to connect the mind, body, and spirit.[1] Meditation as a whole can change the structure and function of our brain. That being said, focused meditation or a guided meditation for focus is by far the best one. Meditation for focus and concentration can come in different forms. Experienced meditators use the following:

  • Mindfulness – this meditation involves us to be focusing on your breath and observing thoughts. This allows us to focus on our feelings without becoming too absorbed in them.
  • Concentrative – a meditation that gets us to focus on a particular point; be it a word, breath, object, or a point in the space you’re meditating. This is meant for us to pay attention to that point and prevent our minds from getting distracted.
  • Moving – this meditation involves gets us to focus on slow and repetitive movements similar to yoga or tai chi. The goal is again to be focusing on your breath while relaxing your body and mind with the movements.

Focused meditation, also known as concentrative meditation, is the practice of meditating and bringing your attention to one single object. This object can be something practical and tangible, such as a mandala painting or a candle flame. It can also be something abstract, such as a phrase (also known as mantra) or a sound (such as Om).[2][3]

Whatever you settle your attention on becomes the focal point. None of these object examples are better than others—they are simply choices depending on what you’re looking to get out of your practice. For example, practitioners will choose candle gazing to interpret the images the flame makes in the shadows while others will choose a mantra because that particular phrase or word empowers or heals them.

How Does It Differ From Other Meditation Styles?

All meditation styles and practices overlap and build on each other. Their basic foundation is the same: to bring the practitioner insight and introspection.

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There is no right or wrong way to meditate, however, the various types of meditation can enhance particular qualities. Based on your personality and needs, one type of meditation may be more useful to you than the other. The 9 types of meditation are:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Spiritual meditation
  • Focused meditation
  • Movement meditation
  • Mantra meditation
  • Transcendental meditation
  • Progressive relaxation
  • Loving kindness meditation
  • Visualization meditation

Focused meditation, specifically, is the practice of focusing on one single object for the duration of the practice. How this differs from other meditation styles is that it gives the practitioner something tangible to do: focus. It’s almost like giving your mind an action to perform—listen to this sound, repeat these words, watch this flame, etc. This is also one of the reasons why this particular meditation style is great for beginners!

One of the biggest challenges in any meditation practice is that the mind gets carried away and we lose ourselves to random thoughts. This “obstacle” is actually a style of meditation in and of itself called Vipassana.[4] However, in focused meditation, we give the mind something to do so that it’s not simply left to its own devices. This type of meditation is beneficial for beginners and for practitioners who prefer some structure and guidance to their meditations.

The Benefits of Focused Meditation

In this style of meditation, what you’re really doing is exercising your mental muscles. Your brain is highly affected by dedicated and concentrated meditation practice.

Scientists have performed countless studies on focused meditation and have found that active meditators have more gray matter volume in their brain and, therefore, offsetting the cognitive decline that comes with aging. So, not only does practicing focused meditation help you learn how to focus better on certain tasks, but it also improves similar functions, such as memory. [5]

Likewise, it helps in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, which our society is currently crippled with.[6] By settling your attention on an object, you are essentially building your ability to observe your thoughts and sensations from a place of objectivity. This allows you to detach from negative self-talk that is often the breeding ground for depression and other mental illnesses.

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From a guided meditation for focus to practicing it yourself, daily meditation for focus comes with several benefits:

  • It’ll reduce stress
  • Help you to control anxiety
  • Enhance your self-awareness
  • Improve attention span
  • Helps you to focus on the present moment
  • Increase your creativity and imagination
  • And boost your patience and tolerance for things.

How to Practice Focused Meditation

Here are six tips to help you practice focused meditation. Based on your availability and interest, these tips may change and evolve. That’s the point: to create a structured practice that caters to your needs.

1. Find a Comfortable Seat

As with any meditation practice, comfort is truly key. The physical body responds to meditation practice by alerting you to whether it is comfortable and supported or stressed out and in pain. This is best observed in practitioners who tend to slouch and lose the tall, supported spine that is essential to meditation practice.

A simple rule in meditative sitting is to ensure that your hips are higher than your knees. Therefore, choosing to sit in a chair instead of on the floor may be a smart decision or perhaps propping yourself up on a cushion. For meditation techniques overall, it does not matter how you sit. All that matters is that you are supported and comfortable sitting for some time.

2. Choose Your Object of Focus

Every meditation training session is going to be different because no single day is the same for any one person. Therefore, experienced meditators know that choosing an object is more about listening to what you need at this time versus following any doctrine or “rule.”

If you’re not sure and have a hard time deciding, make focusing on your breath and pay attention to the inhale and exhale is a good option. Then, assign each inhale and exhale a number, and once you reach 10, start over. This is one of the simpler methods of keeping your mind occupied—by giving it a task. This also trains your mind, and over time and with practice, your mind will easily focus on an object without too much effort.

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3. Set Your Desired Time or “Go With the Flow”

If you have a structured routine and would like to stick to your schedule, by all means, set a gentle timer for how long you’d like your meditation to be. This is also your opportunity to throw out the notion that any meditation has to be a certain length of time to be correct—it does not.

Likewise, if you have the time, you can also listen to your body and come out of your meditation when you feel it’s right to do so. This is often a beautiful practice of listening and tuning in.

4. Relax Your Body as You Focus on Your Meditation

Typically, when we are focusing on something, we tend to tighten our body. Observe this next time that you’re concentrating on something: your jaw will tighten and your shoulders will squeeze up towards your ears.

As you sink into your meditation, keep this in mind and check in with your body every once in a while. Let your shoulders sink down your back and release any tension through your jaw and face. Lastly, relax your brow and let your eyes be heavy in their sockets. Then, return to your object of meditation. Observe if your meditation changes at all by relaxing your physical body.

5. Return to Your Breath and Object When You Get Distracted

Notice that I didn’t say “if you get distracted.” That’s because you definitely will drift off with random thoughts or get pulled away from your object of focus. In meditation, distractions are almost guaranteed. Therefore, it’s your opportunity to practice detaching yourself from feeling guilty or inadequate to continue.

Over time and with practice, you will find it easier to stay with your object of focus. In the meantime, however, notice when you get distracted. Pause and take a big breath in and out. Check in with your physical body and relax. Once you’re ready again, return to your object of focus. Meditation is simply one long cycle of wandering and coming back to yourself.

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6. Journal Your Experiences

When your meditation practice has ended, another powerful practice is to jot down any experiences that you felt. There may have been insights and “downloads” that you acquired during your session that you may want to record.

Likewise, you could write about any challenges that you faced. These are great lessons that will continue to show up for you, and it’s nice to keep a journal of them to see how they evolve and progress over time (and they will). Lastly, you can write about what works and what doesn’t, as far as picking your objects of meditation go. This way, you can learn what you most associate with and feel comfortable with.

While these steps are simple, it’s easier said than done. Whether you’re starting out with a guided meditation for focus, loving kindness meditation, or transcendental meditation, anticipating failure the first time you try these things is healthy. Furthermore, congratulate yourself for even making slight progress like noticing and returning to the present moment and noticing the sensations you experienced.

Final Thoughts

If practicing meditation causes you to feel distracted and unsupported, give focused meditation a go! With the help of an object to bring your attention to, it structures your meditation time and offers guidance and support.

Dedicating yourself to this style of meditation will help increase your memory, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better cognitive function. Even though any style of meditation is a powerful way of taking care of your mental health, focused meditation gives your mind a tangible task with which to grow and strengthen.

More About Focused Meditation

Featured photo credit: Lua Valentia via unsplash.com

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