Jacqui Boles, LMFT, ATR
Tips for Managing and Reducing Stress & Anxiety
Practicing stress reduction skills is easiest when not in the midst of a panic attack or more extremely stressful situation. Try practicing these strategies when feeling mildly anxious or stressed. Using these moments as a dress rehearsal for greater stressors can create healthy habits around becoming triggered with anxious feelings and increased awareness as to when and what makes you stressed.
1. Reduce Caffeine Intake
Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant. It works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical that makes you feel tired. At the same time, it triggers the release of adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone associated with increased energy. Increased heart rate and rapid breathing can lead to jitteriness and a spike in anxiety. Studies have found that higher caffeine intake appears to increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It may also decrease total sleeping time, all of which can contribute to higher levels of anxiety. If you are feeling edgy without it, maybe consider decaf coffee or herbal teas in place of that afternoon extra cup of joe.
2. Create Healthy Sleep Habits
The National Institute of Health reports the average healthy adult requires 7-8.5 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation negatively affects your mental abilities and emotional state. You may feel more impatient or prone to mood swings. It can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity. All of this can lead to increased anxiety and irritability. Work to develop good sleep hygiene, shutting off electronics 2 hours prior to bedtime and creating a pre-sleep routine to relax you. Maybe use a guided meditation app, read a pleasant book, sit on your patio and listen to the evening noises, take a warm bath, etc. Increased sleep will support you in decreasing the need for caffeine, assisting you in twice the anxiety relief.
3. Breathing Exercises and Meditation
Both of these activities get a lot of hype these days by practitioners touting the effects on stress and mood. According to NAMI (National Association on Mental Illness) approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a cognitive state connected to an inability to regulate emotions. But research shows that a consistent meditation practice reprograms neural pathways in the brain and, therefore, improves our ability to regulate emotions, thus decreasing anxiety. Take a few minutes each day to focus on your breath, practice yoga or walking meditation or try apps like Headspace or Calm for guided meditations.
4. Laugh It Up!
Research on laughter has concluded its benefits include relieving physical tension and stress, relaxing your muscles for up to 45 minutes after, it triggers a release of endorphins- the body's "happy chemicals" that promote an overall sense of wellbeing and can allow you to see situations in a less threatening light.
5. Go For A Walk
The act of walking is a proven mood booster. One study found that just 12 minutes of walking resulted in an increase in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence versus the same time spent sitting. Walking in nature, specifically, was found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences, which increases activity in the brain associated with negative emotions and raises risk of depression. In another study, psychologists found that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety.
It is easy to disregard the aforementioned list as too simple to be worth the time but science has consistently proven these strategies to successfully aid in the reduction of stress and anxiety. Try to incorporate them into your day for a few weeks and monitor your progress. I know from clients and my own routine, these simple strategies will naturally decrease anxiety and contribute to feeling more balanced daily.
Note: If you are experiencing panic attacks or unmanageable anxiety that is impacting your daily functioning, contact a mental health professional (therapist or counselor) and a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation to begin to get support in decreasing your symptoms while you work to incorporate new strategies for success.