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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work When You’re Stressed to the Max

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Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work When You’re Stressed to the Max

In today’s complex and ever changing society, it is almost impossible not to feel anxious and stressed at some point of your life. Stress and anxiety have become a fact of life for us all, and we all have to deal with the negative impact that stress can cause in our lives.

Stress is not something that suddenly enters into your life overnight. Stress slowly grows over time and it gets worse when you choose not to do anything about it.

“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.” — Andrew J. Bernstein

The consequences of not dealing with the unpleasant aspect of stress can be fatal to your mental, physical and overall wellbeing. There is, however, hope. There are ways in which you can minimize and control the negative impact stress can have in your life.

Once you understand what your stress triggers are and what anxiety coping mechanisms work best for you, you are then well on your way to managing anxiety and stress levels in your life.

The Impact of Stress and Anxiety

There has been an overwhelming amount of research done on the topic of stress and anxiety. For example there has been research done on; which gender is more stressed, which age group suffers the most stress, which country is the most stressed, which workplaces create high levels of stress, what are the triggers of stress, what is the cost of stress to the government and public health system and the list goes on.

What all this research highlights is that stress is universally well understood and experienced by many.

The problem, however, is that despite all this research and the fact we all know, stress is an unpleasant fact of life we in the western world are not very good at dealing with stress.

Because we are so bad at dealing with stress, we now face what many consider a crises point where stress is now one of the major causes that leads to the most lethal illnesses and long term health problems — high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and insomnia are all medical conditions that can be related to or directly influenced by high levels of stress.

The Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work

These 5 strategies will enable you to manage the levels of stress in your life and avoid the detrimental impact stress and anxiety can have on your life – physically and mentally.

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1. Know the Difference Between Anxiety and Stress

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” — Unknown

Knowing the difference between stress and anxiety is key to you reducing the impact of high levels of stress in your life.

Stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress. If we are constantly exposed to high levels of stress, then our anxiety will increase.[1]

We all have very different in built coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with stress and anxiety. What is stressful to one person may not necessarily stressful to another.

The symptoms we experience when anxious are often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. This comes from the idea that people primarily experience anxiety to help them either fight or run away from danger.

For example, if you saw a burglar, two options open to you would be to either – fight them off (fight) or try to run away (flight). Our fight or flight response would kick in to help us at this point.

The problem is that in today’s complex world, we are constantly exposed to disruption and change. Because we live more stressful lives, our body and our minds have not yet caught up to these changes. As a result, we now experience anxiety in situations where it is not necessarily as helpful because we cannot fight or run away from them (e.g. work or financial pressures).

2. Learn How to Challenge Your Unhelpful Thoughts

The way that we think about things has an impact on our anxiety levels. Many of these thoughts occur outside of our control, and can be negative or unhelpful.

It is therefore important to remember that they are just thoughts, without any real basis, and are not necessarily facts.

Challenge your unhelpful thoughts by asking these questions:

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  • Is there any evidence that contradicts this thought?
  • What would I say to a friend who had this thought in a similar situation?
  • What are the costs and benefits of thinking in this way?
  • How will I feel about this in 6 months time?
  • Is there another way of looking at this situation?

Try to apply these questions to the unhelpful thoughts that you notice. It can help to reduce your anxiety levels. You can use this technique to test that your thoughts are realistic and balanced.

3. Learn How to Become a Solution Seeker

It is often hard to solve a problem when you are so immersed in the emotion of the problem. One way to deal with the problems you face and ease your stress levels is to to follow these three steps:

  1. Identify what the problem is and write it down
  2. Come up with a list of potential solutions and write them down
  3. Select the best solution from your list and then test it out. See how it goes and if it does not work pick another solution.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King

I like this quote from Martin King. It highlights that by just taking one step, you are moving closer toward finding the solution to your problem. It is all about taking one step at a time – that is what solution seekers do.

4. Limit The Time You Spend Worrying

Anxious people tend to spend much of their time worrying. Sometimes they worry to the point that they find it very hard to ‘switch off’ and relax.

Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about feeling stressed and anxious is the seemingly uncontrollable worry that often occurs alongside it.

Therefore, if you can reduce the amount of time you spend worrying, you can reduce your anxiety levels.

To reduce the time you spend worrying, assign yourself a “limited” time like 10 minutes a day to allow yourself to worry. Any worries that pop into your head during the day, write them down. Then forget them until your assigned worry time. Usually it’s best to do this later in the day.

‘Worry time’ not only helps to reduce the time you spend worrying, but also proves that you can have more control of whether you engage in worry or not.

You may also find this guide useful: How to Stop Worrying About the Future: 8 Practical Techniques

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5. Learn How to Relax and Commit to It

It is important to make time to relax and do activities that are enjoyable. This can help to reduce your anxiety levels by calming the body and mind. It can also help you to sleep.

Without taking the time to unwind, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Relaxation can involve doing something that you enjoy, or just being by yourself. Good examples might be reading a book or having a bath.

What you do does not really matter. Try to choose something that you enjoy and look forward to doing. Exercise is particularly effective at helping you to relax. Research has shown that if you are constantly active you are far more effective at managing your levels of stress.

Learning how to control your breathing is simple technique that can be particularly helpful if you feel dizzy or light headed when you are worried or stressed. This sometimes happens because people’s breathing changes and gets quicker when they feel distressed. This can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience.

Learning controlled breathing exercises can help you to manage these feelings more effectively. It can also help to give your mind and body a chance to calm down.

“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” — Dorothy M. Neddermeyer

Tension often builds up when we feel upset or stressed. These symptoms can be painful and can cause anxiety in themselves.

Muscular relaxation exercises can help you to control such unpleasant symptoms. They can reduce physical tension and help you to relax in general. Yoga, massage and meditation are great activities to help your body and your mind relax.

6. Get to Know Yourself and Connect with Others

For me, this is the most important anxiety coping mechanism. I have put it last because if you fail to commit to any of the other five strategies, COMMIT TO THIS ONE.

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It is this coping mechanism that will form a solid foundation for you to successfully manage the stress levels in your life.

Get to know you and accept who you are warts and all. Our anxiety and stress levels increase when we worry about what we are not achieving or what we are failing at. If we give ourselves permission that it is okay not to be “perfect” all the time, our anxiety and stress levels are more manageable.

“I just give myself permission to suck. I find this hugely liberating.” — John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

Sharing your fears and anxiety with people who you are connected to will help you face your fears and deal with your problems. Although you might feel embarrassed or afraid to discuss your feelings with others, sharing can be a way to cope with a problem. And having someone to listen to you can help you feel supported.

When you feel supported, you are more likely to do the things you want or need to do by breaking the cycle of constant avoidance. The chances are the reality of the situation won’t be as worse as you expect, making you better equipped to manage, and reduce your anxiety.

Final Thoughts

The 6 anxiety coping mechanisms are tools to help you manage the stress levels in your life.

If you decide to try out these strategies, be prepared for it to feel uncomfortable and that change will not happen over night.

Keep trying and do not give up. Dig deep to find your faith to be a solution seeker who is always looking to create a present and future where you can live life to the fullest.

“Stress is an ignorant state. It believes everything is an emergency.” — Natalie Goldberg

More Tips for Coping with Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Dmitry Schemelev via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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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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Reference

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