Anxiety/stress feels terrible and can be brought on by many situations, including the pressures of work, deadlines, the weight of time, the reluctance to meet new people, etc. Uncontrolled stress and panic attacks can cause sleep disturbances due to racing thoughts and can keep people up at night and lead to problems staying focused during the day. Sometimes we even wonder if it is possible to manage anxiety because it feels like it’s invaded every thought and experience. But I’ve got good news:
You CAN manage anxiety and feel happier about your life.
- Get off the “hamster wheel.” Anxiety can make your mind go over the same thoughts in a continuous loop. Cyclical thinking doesn’t get you anywhere and is counter-productive to eliminating stress. For example, you might notice thinking the same thing, such as lying in bed and repeatedly thinking of your “to-do list.” Continuing these destructive mental cycles only increases the stress levels, fostering more negative thinking. The continuous thoughts increase the anxiety and keep the stress heightened. Be aware of your thoughts and get off the wheel with a mantra or different line of thought.
- Don’t forget to breathe: When people get stressed and overwhelmed, their breathing tends to become shallow and their muscles tighten up. Take a few moments to breathe and relax. Regulating your breathing in times of stress helps your body to calm down by ensuring you take in the normal amount of oxygen. Sometimes focusing too deeply on your breath can trigger anxiety, so instead try to focus on scanning your body. Notice where there is tension and take deep breaths. Withe very exhale, imagining the tension melting out of that area.
- Let out some steam: Imagine you have a balloon in your body. Now, imagine stuffing emotions down into this balloon every time you get irritated and frustrated. Just as helium balloons pop when they get full, so do the emotional balloons within us. The over
whelming feelings of anxiety and panic attacks are side effects from the popping of our emotional balloons. A good way to manage anxiety is to talk or write about your frustrations and anger so you can let out the air of the balloon and prevent it from popping.
- Work-it-out: Exercising, working-out, and physical activities are healthy ways to release anxiety and stress. During physical activities, our bodies release “happy chemicals” (neurotransmitters, such as endorphins and serotonin) which help calm the body. When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, go to the gym or take a walk around your neighborhood.
- Check your calendar. Sometimes we use terms like “manage anxiety” when what we really need to do is make some hard calls in our life. Do you need to alter your work schedule? Perhaps you’ve over-committed on social engagements. Try not to sweep things under the rug and have mercy on your schedule and what you can realistically handle.
- Make tough calls. When the web of responsibilities gets tangled, it seems like everything is stressful, when in fact one or two choice areas are causing anxiety. If you need to confront an unhealthy relationship, prioritize bringing healing or relief in that area. Maybe your finances are hanging over your head. Get proactive and create a budget or make an appointment with someone for financial advising. When you take specific actions, you manage anxiety and prevent it from bleeding into the rest of your life.
If you are struggling with anxiety and you notice your relationships are being impacted, you may benefit from working with a therapist. As a therapist, I provide anxiety therapy in San Diego to help many people create healthier relationships and feel increasingly satisfied in their lives. If you can’t seem to decrease your anxiety, call today to schedule an appointment.
Focus on letting out some air before the balloon pops. Here are some real ways to reduce stress:
- Speak up when something is wrong. It’s important to communicate as something comes up that bothers you, rather than letting things build. Speak to the people involved in a non-attacking way, but be honest. Try the communication sandwich: Say what’s working, what isn’t, and follow it up with something positive. For example, “Honey, I appreciate all the extra hours you are putting in at work. It means a lot that you are focused on contributing to our finances. I’m sure you’re exhausted, but your working late the last week has put some extra pressure on me to take care of the kids and cook all the meals, plus I’m getting behind at work. Is there a way we can balance things out? I want you to know I notice all your hard work, but I am also drowning a bit over here and it would mean a lot to have your support.”
- Communicate your stress level and how you can be supported. Even if you are not mad at a particular person and you feel like you are simply overwhelmed by responsibilities or circumstances, it is important to let people in to what is going on! A good vent session may let at least a little air out of your maxed out balloon. Letting others know what is going on in your emotional world can be vulnerable, but it is essential if you want those you care about to be able to understand and empathize. It doesn’t have to be incredibly complicated, either. Articulate what you need in the conversation as well. If you’re not looking for input but just a vent session, say so! “Hey, I just need to vent for a bit; I’m not looking for advice or anything but I need to let off some steam.” This can provide relief from the feeling that you will be judged or someone will add something to your exhausting list. Then share what’s happening: “Things at work have been overloading me lately and I just feel like I’m not getting enough done or if something is done, it’s the wrong way. Mostly, I am maxed out.” If there is another way they can support you (in addition to the vent sesh), particularly if they are your partner, include that as well: “It would help me out if you could [take over dinners/pick up the kids/rub my shoulders/run this errand].” Make sure to thank your listener for tuning in and caring about you!
- Delegate. Even if you are single, not everything has to be your responsibility. Maybe you need to say “no” to a few social engagements or extra projects. You control the pace of your life by how much you let on to your to do list so start clearing it off by assigning things to others. That may mean re-working your budget to hire a dog walker or house-cleaner or trying a grocery delivery service.
- Write. Writing can be therapeutic and help reduce stress, so start keeping a journal as a way to let off some steam. Pen and paper is ideal because it requires you to slow down and process plus it brings into play the calming effects of cross-lateral movement. However, anything helps. Get some of the negativity or confusion out, whether that is writing or typing or even voice recording. Maybe today’s stress is next month’s blog post or next year’s book — vent and re-purpose. Win, win.
- Get real. You can’t do it all and you’re fooling yourself if you think you can. There are certainly seasons of life where we have to be “on” for awhile but those times should come with a deadline, not only for your mental sanity but also for your physical health. Prolonged seasons of stress seriously alter your body and brain chemistry so utilize the above tips to reduce stress as quickly as possible to support your health.
Finally, give yourself a break! If you want to reduce stress, you probably need to take a step back. Take a nap. Take a bath. Take a walk. Give yourself some breathing room to gather yourself before diving into another round of to-dos. Sometimes a little space is what we need to bring clarity. If you find yourself still drowning in overload or your anxiety can’t be managed, bring in some outside help! Call us today and book an individual counseling session so we can help relieve some of the emotional pressure before you pop!
Here are a few tips to stop stress:
- Exercise: This helps release emotional stress and anxiety while the body is releasing “happy chemicals” (aka: neurotransmitters). This is a healthy, productive and natural way of releasing the air from the balloon.
- Talk to someone: Share with someone what you are going through. Talk about what you experienced, how you felt or feel, and even what you may be thinking. By talking about stressful situations, you can decrease some of the negative feelings. Talk to a friend, family member, therapist, etc.
- Pick up a journal: Write about your stress, your anger, your sadness, etc. Writing in a journal helps get the thoughts and feelings you have bottled up and keeps them from staying active in your mind and igniting. Writing can clear your thoughts, sort out your emotions, help you make decisions, and may solidify how you will address the issue.
- Let it out: Let your body experience the emotion by physically letting it out. Examples are crying, yelling into a pillow, using a punching bag, or even going to a driving or batting range.
- Take time out for yourself: Plan some downtime, to just relax and do what you want to do. Often we have so much on our schedule that we forget about ourselves. You can relax by watching a movie, getting involved in a hobby, listening to music, etc. This can rejuvenate the way you feel and get you re-energized. Take a break from the stress.
- Take deep breaths: People often begin to take shorter and shallower breaths when they are stressed or anxious. The body needs oxygen to function and survive. Slow it down! Slow and deep breathing can help you relax and calm down. Try it the next time you get overwhelmed at work and see what happens!
- Let go of the outcome: Try to avoid focusing on the outcome, since you can rarely control or change it, anyway. Instead, focus on the moment and the task at hand, not the outcome.
If you are actively engaged in releasing your stress and anxiety, your balloon won’t have a chance to reach capacity! Figure out which stress relievers work for you, and stick with them. Whether it’s running on a treadmill, writing in a notebook, or meditation, once you have an effective strategy for stress relief you should notice an improvement in your anxiety. When in doubt, consciously remind yourself that life has its ebbs and flows — things will get better!
Do You Have Anxiety? How to Keep Your Relationship Strong
The irrational thoughts and intense feelings that come along with your anxiety don’t always tell you to do the right things, which is why anxiety and relationship doubts often go hand in hand.
Let your partner know how he or she can help you. They may not know what to do, so if you are open and honest about the best way for them to help you things can run more smoothly. Instead of snapping at your spouse if he begins to debate your fears with you, just explain that his rational explanations don’t eliminate your fears and give him a suggestion of what he can say that will help. Teach him the coping techniques that you’ve found to be helpful, like deep breathing, so he knows what to suggest when you have an attack. If it’s hard to talk about, write a letter or start journaling when you have an anxiety episode and share it with your partner.
Don’t Shut Down Completely
If you are distancing to calm your body down, make sure to be clear that you are distancing from the anxiety and not distancing from your partner. This will help your partner understand that it isn’t about not caring about them, it is more about calming yourself down. When you shut down altogether your spouse will just feel pushed away and you will create a wedge in your relationship. Instead, talk about how scared you are and work with your spouse to take steps to fight the anxiety as a team. Talk through your fears with your spouse and allow yourself to be vulnerable. You and your spouse can begin to create a roadmap for relieving your anxiety once you are open.
A professional counselor will be able to help you work together as a team to fight your anxiety. You can both express how the anxiety impacts your life in a safe and open forum. You might find that your anxiety impacts your partner more than you thought, and this gives him or her a chance to talk about it. A therapist won’t judge; he will just encourage you to work together and finds ways to create a healthier bond despite your anxiety, as well as help eliminate the anxiety itself.
Allow your partner to get physically close. Even though this might make you uncomfortable at first, physical closeness can actually have a calming effect. Let your partner hold your hand, hug you, or give you some level of tactile comfort. Over time, this can be used as a soothing coping tool that will let your anxiety start to decrease.
Each person deals with anxiety in his or her own way. This can make it even more difficult for your partner to know how to respond to you in a way that makes things better, not worse. Open communication is key when you have anxiety so you can keep your relationship strong and stop pushing your partner away.
If you need help developing more tools, come see me and we will tackle your anxiety one step at a time.