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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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

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

Reference

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

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

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

How to Clear Your Mind and Be More Present Instantly

You may be wondering how to clear your mind. Maybe you are facing a tough presentation at work and really need to focus, or perhaps you’ve got a lot going on at home and just need to relax for a few minutes. Whatever the reason, having a clear mind can help you find your center.

The only problem is that you can’t completely erase the thousands of thoughts you have each day. The goal is to be able to observe those thoughts without engaging with each one of them.

The good news is that clearing your mind and returning to the present moment comes from a simple act of acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed in the first place. A path to better mental health and overall quality of life starts here.

What Happens When You’re Not Present?

We’ve evolved to keep looking and working towards a future goal. The very nature of our careers is to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for the future. Our thoughts and, therefore, our habits and actions consistently point in the forward-moving direction, whether it’s in your relationship, career, or goals.

The point at which this becomes harmful is when we become too stuck in this forward motion and can’t reduce stress in the short or long-term. The result of this is burnout.[1] It’s a term that is most often used in the workplace, but burnout can happen in any area of our life where you feel like you’re pushing too hard and too fast.

The idea here is that you’re so engrossed in the forward movement that you take on too much and rest too little. There is no pause in the present because you have this sense that you must keep working.

On a physical plane, the body takes a real hit with burnout. You feel more muscle fatigue, poor concentration, insomnia, anxiety, poor metabolism, and so much more.

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These symptoms are the body’s way of throwing you red flags and warning you that you must slow down. But because your mind is so preoccupied with this forward momentum, it disconnects you from listening to your body’s signals. The only time you really hear them is when the signals are too loud to ignore, such as during serious illness or pain.

As we can see, not being present is something that snowballs over time. Eventually, it can cause serious mental, emotional, and physical ailments. 

To help you deal with this, you can check out Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment to see where you may be off balance. Then, you can check out the points below to keep moving in the right direction.

How Do We Come Back to the Present?

Answering this question will answer the question of how to clear your mind because they go hand in hand. There are many tools you can use to begin a mindfulness practice.

To reiterate, mindfulness is simply defined as the act or practice of being fully present.[2] Tools that allow you to step into this practice include meditation, journaling, a body-centered movement practice such as Qigong, or simple breathing exercises.

Underneath it all, however, is one technique that acts as a universal connector, and that is acknowledgment. This term may not sound like a technique, but its power truly flourishes when put into practice.

For us to come back to the present moment, we have to acknowledge that we have trailed off into the past or the future. Likewise, for us to clear our mind, we have to acknowledge that our mind is overwhelmed, distracted, or scattered.

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This simple act of pausing and catching ourselves in the moment is how we can build our acknowledgment practice. So, the next time you find yourself overwhelmed at work with mental to-do lists, pause. Acknowledge your state of mind and say to yourself that you’re overwhelmed. This sends a signal to your whole being that you’re aware of what’s going on.

It cuts the cords of illusion, denial, and ignorance. You are now building your awareness of yourself, which is an incredibly potent gift.

How to Clear Your Mind

Now that you’ve acknowledged where you are and how you feel, you can take action and learn ways to clear your mind. You can take a few moments away from your desk or to-do list, and practice something to ground yourself back into the present moment.

1. Take a Walk

Grounding yourself can be as simple as taking a walk and admiring the changing of the leaves. This practice is also known as “forest bathing,” and it doesn’t necessarily need to take place in a forest. It can be in your favorite park or even walking around your town or neighborhood.

Bring your attention to the senses as you enjoy your walk. Can you tune in to the sounds of your footsteps on the earth? Can you notice the smells and take in the sights around you while staying present in the moment? Can you touch a leaf or the bark of a tree and allow the texture to teach you something new?

Such a practice does wonders in clearing your mind and bringing you back to the now. It also connects you more deeply to your environment.

2. Box Breathing

As you’re learning how to clear your mind, a mind-clearing practice may look like sitting down and going through a nourishing meditation or breath practice. Breathing is, honestly, the easiest and best way to clear your mind. Even taking a few deep breaths in and out and feeling and noticing the breath will bring you right back to the present moment.[3]

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In yoga, we call this breath Same Vrti, meaning a 1:1 breath ratio. It can also be translated as “box breathing.” The idea is to make the length of your inhales and exhales the same, as this allows you to take in more oxygen and slow down the chatter of the monkey mind. It also kicks on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digestion, offering many health benefits in the long run.

This will allow your heart rate to slow down so that you can reduce any anxiety you may be feeling. It also aids in digestion, as the metabolism is back on track, and helps you physically process food and drink properly.

3. Add Meditation

how to meditate and clear your mind is also helpful when you want to clear negative thoughts and relieve stress. In fact, following your breath is a meditation in itself. Adding a visual, like imagining gentle ripples on a lake or clouds passing along a beautiful blue sky, can give the mind something to attach to without running through the train of your thoughts.

On the other hand, if you are mentally overwhelmed and meditation sounds like more stress, tuning in to a guided meditation session can be alleviating. It often helps to hear the voice of a teacher or guide who can walk you into more peace and contentment with their words and energy. If you can’t find such a guide in a local studio, turn to the many meditation apps on your phone, or YouTube.

4. Write Your Thoughts

Alternatively, another powerful practice for when you’re learning how to clear your mind is sitting down and writing out all of the thoughts in your head. We call this a “brain dump,” and it is an effective method for simply releasing your thoughts so that you can mentally breathe and process things better.

Grab a piece of paper and write out all of the thoughts that are pressing for your attention. The idea is not to analyze the thoughts or fix them, but to give those thoughts an exit so that you can move on with your day without fixating on them aggressively. This can look like a laundry list of thoughts, or a diary entry.

Afterward, feel free to close your journal or rip up the paper as part of your stress management. You don’t need to hold on to what you wrote, but it does help to see the expression of what you’re holding on to mentally. Likewise, this practice is very potent to do at night before bedtime. So many of us struggle to sleep soundly with many thoughts bouncing back and forth, and this exercise before bed can allow us to enter a deeper level of rest.

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Regardless of what you do, understand that practicing mindfulness is a lifelong process. With life’s ups and downs, it’s stressful to attach yourself to the practice of being mindful and in the present moment because it’s never guaranteed that you will be present for 100% of your life.

In this practice, what matters more than anything is intention. Our intention of staying present and sticking to our mindfulness practice is what will encourage us to keep coming back to it, even when we forget.

Final Thoughts

With the thousands of thoughts that we have in our head each day, it can sound overwhelming to even tackle this and try to learn how to clear your mind. The technique, however, is powerful, simple, and effective.

It all comes down to first recognizing and acknowledging that we are overwhelmed, stressed, or far away from the present moment. That acknowledgment acts as a wake-up alarm, inviting us to examine our state of mind and take action.

In this way, not only are we clearing our minds in a manner that works for us, but we’re also building our self-awareness, which is a beautiful and powerful way of being in the world.

More Tips on How to Clear Your Mind

Featured photo credit: Elijah Hiett via unsplash.com

Reference

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