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Published on October 31, 2018

How to Help Anxiety When Life Is Stressing You Out

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.

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.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • They rile up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

The Bottom Line

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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