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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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.

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work The Importance of Sleep Cycles (and Tips to Improve Yours) How to Help Anxiety When Life Is Stressing You Out A Lack of Sleep May Slowly Kill You: Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

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Published on April 9, 2021

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

What Is Mindfulness And How It Helps Your Mental Wellness

Mindfulness has become a popular buzzword in the health and wellness industry. However, few people truly understand what it is. My aim here is to teach you what mindfulness is and how it helps your mental wellness. By the end of this article, you will understand the meaning and benefits of mindfulness. Additionally, you will develop the ability to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is approximately 2500-years-old with deep roots in the Eastern world as a spiritual, ethical, and philosophical practice. These roots are intimately connected to the Buddhist practice of vipassana meditation.[1]

Mindfulness continues to be practiced as a cultural and spiritual tradition in many parts of the world. For Buddhists, it offers an ethical and moral code of conduct. For many, mindfulness is more than a practice—it is a way of life.[2]

However, mindfulness has evolved in the Western world and has become a non-religious practice for wellbeing. The evolution began around 1979 when Jon-Kabat Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).[3] Since then, mindfulness has emerged in the health and wellness industry and continues to evolve.

It is important to recognize the distinctions between mindfulness as a clinical practice and mindfulness as a cultural practice. The focus of this article is on the clinical model of mindfulness developed in the West.

Many researchers have integrated aspects of Buddhism and mindfulness into clinical psychiatry and psychology. Buddhism has helped to inform many mental health theories and therapies. However, the ethical and moral codes of conduct that drive Buddhist practices are no longer integrated into the mindfulness practices most-often taught in the Western world.[4] Therefore, Western mindfulness is often a non-spiritual practice for mental wellness.

Mindfulness aims to cultivate present moment awareness both within the body and the environment.[5] However, awareness is only the first element. Non-judgmental acceptance of the present moment is essential for true mindfulness to occur. Thoughts and feelings are explored without an emphasis on right, wrong, past, or future.

The only necessary condition for mindfulness to occur is non-judgmental acceptance and awareness of the present moment. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. It does not need to be complex even though structured programs exist.

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How Mindfulness Helps Your Mental Wellness

Along with MBSR, other models have been developed and adapted for use by clinical counselors, psychologists, and therapists. These include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).[6]

Structured models of mindfulness allow researchers to study its benefits. Research has uncovered an abundance of benefits including mental, physical, cognitive, and spiritual. The following is not a comprehensive list of all its benefits, but it will begin to uncover how mindfulness helps mental wellness.

Benefits on Your Mental Health

Practicing mindfulness can have positive impacts on mental health. It has been positively associated with desirable traits, such as:

  • Autonomy
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Competence
  • Empathy
  • Optimism

Mindfulness helps to improve self-esteem, increase life satisfaction and enhance self-compassion. It is associated with pleasant emotions and mood. Overall, people who practice this appear to be happier and experience more joy in life. Not only does it increase happiness but it may also ward off negativity.

Mindfulness helps individuals to let go of negative thoughts and regulate emotions. For example, it may decrease fear, stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. It also helps to reduce rumination, which is a repetition of negative thoughts in the mind.

MBSR was originally designed to treat chronic pain. It has since evolved to include the treatment of anxiety and depression. Clinical studies have shown that MBSR is linked with:

  • Reduced chronic pain and improved quality of life
  • Decreased risk of relapse in depression
  • Reduced negative thinking in anxiety disorders
  • Prevention of major depressive disorders
  • Reducing substance-use frequency and cravings

However, more research is needed before these clinical studies can be generalized to the public. Nevertheless, there is promising evidence to suggest MBSR may be beneficial for mental health.[7]

Benefits on Your Cognitive Health

Mindfulness has many important benefits for cognitive health as well. In a study of college students, mindfulness increased performance in attention and persistence. Another study found that individuals who practice it have increased cognitive flexibility. A brain scan found increased thickness in areas of the brain related to attention, interception, and sensory processing.[8]

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To explain this another way, practicing mindfulness can improve the ability to shift from one task to the next, increase attention span and increase awareness of bodily sensations and the environment. Therefore, it has the potential to literally change your brain for the better.

Harvard researchers are also interested in studies of the brain and mindfulness. One researcher studied how brain changes are sustained even when individuals are not engaged in mindfulness. Their research suggests that its benefits extend beyond the moments of mindfulness.[9]

Another study found that the benefits of mindfulness training lasted up to five years. In this particular case, individuals participating in mindfulness activities showed increased attention-span. Mindfulness has also been shown to increase problem-solving and decrease mind wandering.[10]

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. However, most practices include these elements:

  • An object to focus awareness on (breath, body, thoughts, sounds)
  • Awareness of the present moment
  • Openness to experience whatever comes up
  • Acceptance that the mind will wander
  • The intention to return awareness to the object of focus whenever the mind wanders

A practice that encompasses these elements is typically called mindfulness meditation. Most mindfulness meditations will be practiced between 5 to 50 minutes, per day.[11]

There is truly no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness. Most mindfulness meditations are done seated with an object of focus related to the breath, body, thoughts, emotions, or sounds. However, daily activities such as walking or eating can be practiced as a form of mindfulness meditation, as long as the aforementioned elements are in place.

Four Mindfulness Meditations and Their Benefits

Not all forms of mindfulness are created equal. Each practice has unique goals, structure, and benefits. The following four mindfulness meditations are linked with improved mental wellness related to vitality, happiness, and attention.

The results come from a study designed to explore the benefits of these four practices. All of these stem from traditional Buddhist practices.[12]

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1. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Loving-kindness is a form of meditation that focuses on sending love and compassion to others. It may begin with kindness for the self and extend outward towards close family and friends, communities, nations, and the world. Loving-kindness may even involve sending love and compassion towards enemies.

The study found that eight-weeks of loving-kindness meditation increased feelings of closeness to others. However, it did not reduce negative feelings towards enemies. Additionally, one week of loving-kindness mixed with compassion training increased the amount of positive feelings participants experienced.[13]

2. Breathing Meditation

Breathing meditation is a practice where the focus remains on the breath. Whenever the mind begins to wander, the attention is brought back to the breath.

In many different mindfulness and yoga practices, specific breathing (pranayama) practices are taught. However, for beginners, simple diaphragmatic breathing that focuses on each inhale and exhale is sufficient.

The effects of breathing meditation relate to attention. Breathing meditation is linked to changes in the way information is processed. Buddhist monks who practiced breathing meditation were able to process a greater amount of information than monks who practiced compassion meditation.

3. Body Scan Meditation

A body scan is as simple as it sounds. Attention is brought to each part of the body. Participants can choose to start from the top of the head or the bottom of the feet. It can be helpful to imagine a warmth or a color spreading from one body part to the next as each part begins to relax.

When body scan and breathing are combined, there are many benefits. Interoceptive sensitivity is the mind’s ability to focus on bodily cues. It is strengthened by body scanning. Body scanning also helps with attention and focus.[14]

4. Observing Thoughts Meditation

In observing thoughts meditation, the focus is on the thoughts. This is an opportunity to practice non-judgmental observation. It is also a practice of non-attachment.

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Within the study, participants practiced structured observation of thoughts. First, they brought their attention to their thoughts and labeled them within several categories: past, present, future, self, or others. Then, they practiced observing their thoughts without an emotional reaction.[15]

The benefits of this practice were robust. First, participants showed great improvement in the ability to observe their thoughts without judgment. Second, the practice greatly reduced rumination. As a result, participants had fewer emotional reactions to their thoughts and developed greater self-awareness around their thinking patterns.

In summary, there are many different ways to practice mindfulness meditation. The choice may be determined by the benefits each practice offers. For example, body scanning can increase bodily awareness. Thought-observation can increase self-awareness and decrease rumination. Regardless, every practice may increase positivity, energy, and focus.[16]

Considerations Before You Begin Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is still a relatively new concept in clinical research. Critics worry that its benefits have been overstated. There is also concern that the Western world has changed it into something most Buddhists would not recognize.[17]

Mindfulness is a state of mind that builds self-awareness. As a result, it may force individuals to face difficult emotions, memories, and thoughts. In a study of long-term, intense mindfulness practices, 60% of participants reported at least one negative outcome. Some cases are related to depression, anxiety, and psychosis.[18]

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental wellness. Mindfulness offering promising results but there are also risks involved. Working with a therapist may be a great way to start a mindfulness practice while monitoring for risk.

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a powerful practice that has deep roots in Buddhism. It is a practice of present-moment awareness, acceptance of the present moment, and non-judgment of thoughts, emotions, or circumstances.

It has many benefits that may increase mental wellness. However, there are also some risks to consider. Overall, you should consider your unique profile before beginning a practice or consider working with a therapist at the start.

More About Practicing Mindfulness

Featured photo credit: Simon Migaj via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[2] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[3] Greater Good Magazine: What is Mindfulness?
[4] Sage Journals: Mindfulness in Cultural Context
[5] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[6] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[7] NCBI: Mindfulness Meditation and Psychopathology
[8] NCBI: Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies
[9] The Harvard Gazette: When Science Meets Mindfulness
[10] Greater Good Magazine: The State of Mindfulness Science
[11] NCBI: A Perspective on the Similarities and Differences Between Mindfulness and Relaxation
[12] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[13] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[14] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[15] ResearchGate: Phenomenological Fingerprints of Four Meditations: Differential State Changes in Affect, Mind-Wandering, Meta-Cognition, and Interoception Before and After Daily Practice Across Nine Months of Training
[16] Greater Good Magazine: How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation
[17] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?
[18] NCBI: Has the Science of Mindfulness Lost Its Mind?

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