The hectic pace of modern life makes it easier than ever to fall victim to crippling anxiety with the smallest of pushes. Being connected to work emails and living under the microscope of social media 24/7 blurs the line between our private and public lives, making it harder than ever to find and maintain equilibrium whilst finding time to relax and catch our breath. This can be especially difficult if we find ourselves trapped in a job or career that we don’t enjoy (in which case a more serious lifestyle adjustment might be called for). The good news is that many of these short-term sources of stress can be banished as easily as they appear, especially when using appropriate techniques to counteract anxiety and ground your mental state. Here are 7 approaches you can employ to help keep calm in the midst of crises large or small while helping ensure you’re at peak mental stability to help you tackle whatever obstacles the day throws your way.
1. Learn Conscious Breathing
We have a natural tendency to take shallow breaths when stressed, which can cause our brains to become more deoxygenated and consequently exacerbate pre-existing anxiety. Most people aren’t aware of their breathing habits, but taking some time to take deep, effective breaths can instantly help calm ourselves down and release tension. Try breathing in deeply for a count of four through the nose, hold the breath for six counts and slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of eight as you relax. Breathing from the diaphragm (stomach) rather than the chest also helps regulate a better quality of breathing. You can do this first thing in the morning, during the commute to work or at the office, and you’ll be surprised at the difference quality breathing can have on reducing your stress levels.
2. Compartmentalize Your Concerns
There’s nothing worse than spending your whole day with a problem hanging over your head: it can distract your attention from dealing with the tasks in front of you and release a steady flow of negative stress hormones whilst aggravating muscle tension to leave you tired and anxious. If you have a problem, make a deal with yourself to set aside a time window where you allow yourself to deal with the concern in question. This might be brainstorming solutions, writing down the problem, or even crying your eyes out about it, if it will make you feel. Outside of this period, however, put the problem aside and keep your thoughts from wandering towards it, and wait until the next designated time to give it your full attention. By quarantining the problem, you can keep your worries from infecting all of your waking hours without having to exert energy telling yourself that the issue doesn’t exist.
3. Write Down Your Worries
There are many good reasons for writing down problems that play on your mind, but the key benefit is that it helps externalize personal difficulties and take them outside of your mind and into the real world where you can take concrete steps to solve them. Many people who worry a lot have trouble sleeping, so doing this before you go to bed can help you psychologically shed these anxieties and keep insomnia at bay. It’ll help with organizing your thoughts and solving your difficulties, and once you see them written down, you might realize that your problems are a lot less insurmountable than you thought.
4. Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
While the occasional espresso or breakfast tea can help us wake up and focus, most people who regularly consume caffeine find that it becomes a habit wherein we feel that we’re psychologically unprepared for the day ahead without our regular dose of caffeine. If you’re having trouble sleeping and feeling on edge the whole day, cutting out caffeine is an easy way to calm your nerves and reduce tension. Consider alternatives to your regular beverage that are lower in caffeine or free of it altogether, like decaf coffee or green tea.
5. Improve Your Eating Habits
Poor eating can have a tremendous effect on both our physical and mental wellbeing: fatty foods take longer to digest and leave us drained; high sodium consumption raises blood pressure, and intense sugar consumption leads to a cycle of dips and troughs where a manic spike of energy can quickly spiral down into a lethargic crash. Eating fruit and vegetables along clean, complex carbohydrates with a low glycemic index like nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses, and other whole foods give us a steady supply of energy and leave us feeling fuller for longer, as well as providing nutrients that help with cognitive performance. Poor health is a source of worry for many people, so eating right can go a long way in improving our stress levels and overall quality of life.
6. Boost Your Mood By Taking Regular Exercise
Although it’s commonly prescribed as a treatment for mild mood disorders, most people still overlook the benefits of regular exercise on mental health. Humans weren’t designed to spend their lives sitting at desks all day, and exercise can help ease tension and release mood-boosting endorphins whilst also helping with our quality of sleep. In addition, it can also help with cognitive function and improve our memory retention and mental agility. Anything from a vigorous 20-30 minute stroll every day and some light cardio like jogging, cycling or swimming can leave us feeling happier and more confident in every aspect of our daily lives.
Some light meditation can help us move through the day with a clear mind and empower us to take control of our thoughts. Whether performed in the morning or evening, taking some time to empty our brains lets us see the day ahead of us with purpose, allowing us to focus on taking practical action to solve any problems in our path. You don’t need incense and a CD of whale song to meditate; just find a space in your home that feels peaceful, get comfortable, and focus on your breathing while relaxing your body and trying to distract your mind from worldly concerns. Some people also find it useful to write down some positive affirmations that they can repeat to themselves throughout the day when they find stress creeping up on them.
These are some straightforward methods and lifestyle adjustments you can employ to help prevent and defuse anxiety as you encounter it on a day-to-day basis. Remember that’s normal to encounter stress in life, but should you find it’s persistently impacting your quality of life in a negative way, don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice to see if you would benefit from more formal treatment. Just remember that most problems are fleeting, and there are few problems that can’t be undone with the right attitude and some lifestyle adjustments.