8 Tips for Managing Stress and Anxiety
We don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but if you're feeling more stressed or anxious than usual right now, you are not alone. In these frightening times, many of us feel afraid and uncertain of what the future may hold. We have no roadmap, no precedent, for what’s happening in the world right now, and it can feel very challenging for us to navigate. Some days, it can feel like we're just putting one foot in front of the other, doing what we need to do to get by.
Collectively and personally, we are undergoing profound struggles and hardships. But there’s reason for hope, because as humans, we have reserves of inner strength and resilience that can help carry us through the most difficult days. When we tap into this strength and reconnect with what is most important, it enables us to find some peace amid the chaos happening around us.
With everything going on in the world right now, we’d like to share some of the tips that are helping us stay (mostly) sane and grounded. We hope they’ll bring you some needed comfort and solace.
1. Work with your breath.
Your breath is a profound tool for re-grounding yourself and calming your mind. Ancient yogis believed that working with the breath could directly influence the flow of our life energy, or prana. Focusing on the breath is a simple but effective technique that can alter the state of our minds and bodies.
When we’re relaxed, we tend to breathe more deeply and slowly; when we're anxious and on-edge, we unconsciously shift into a shallower, more rapid pattern of breathing. If you start to feel stressed, consciously shifting back into the more relaxed breathing pattern can help soothe your body and brain.
Next time you notice yourself feeling upset or afraid, try this simple exercise: stop, wherever you are, and take five slow, deep breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth -- just for five breaths. With each inhale, fill your lungs completely, and with each exhale, empty them all the way. Try to focus your mind completely on the sensation of breathing and nothing else.
While it’s not a magic “fix” for anxiety, working with the breath in this way is one of the quickest and most effective ways we know of to de-escalate stress.
2. Cultivate presence and mindfulness.
What does it truly mean to practice mindfulness? According to mindful.com, mindfulness is about “becoming more aware of where you are and what you’re doing, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.” It’s about paying attention to what you’re feeling in any given moment without judging or labeling your experience.
Being mindful when you’re feeling anxious can feel challenging because it means we face those difficult feelings and allow them to be there. It means going into the heart of the anxiety and lovingly embracing those scared, raw, vulnerable feelings. Not distracting ourselves from them; not trying to banish those thoughts and make them go away. Just observing what is within ourselves and lovingly accepting what we find.
So what does mindfulness look like during this time? It’s sitting quietly with ourselves and allowing feelings like anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, and grief to rise to the surface. It’s being compassionate with ourselves and giving ourselves the space to not feel happy or “okay” all the time. Only by experiencing and moving through our feelings can we ultimately find peace with them.
3. Let go of the need for control and certainty.
Ah, this one’s a toughie. As humans, we want and need to feel in control of our lives and circumstances. We crave certainty and security because it makes us feel safe. But, actually, this safety is an illusion; we live in a fundamentally uncertain and unpredictable world where we can never be sure of what will happen next. We cannot ultimately guarantee that we and those we love will stay safe, healthy, and well -- and it can be hard to accept this fact.
When we struggle to control things that are not within our control, we set ourselves up for stress and heartache. When we embrace that we’re not fully in control and we don’t always know how things will turn out, we can find a lot more peace. We can be ready to respond to life as it happens, and the world as it is. None of this is easy, but if you can practice sitting with the basic uncertainty of being human, you’ll be able to cope with life’s ups and downs with more grace and ease.
4. Establish healthy habits.
We know; you’ve heard this advice before, probably many times. But making healthy choices around eating, exercise and sleep is especially important during times of challenge and strife. Stress taxes us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and the better we care for ourselves, the more we support our own happiness and well-being.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can have profound and noticeable effects on how we feel. Opt for whole foods like fresh fruits, veggies, and non-processed meats whenever possible. Foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugary sweets may be tempting in the moment, and we’re not saying you have to cut them out completely, but all of these substances have been shown to increase stress and worsen anxiety, so it may help to limit your consumption of them.
Physical activity is one of the best stress-busters there is. It doesn’t have to involve going to a gym; it can be as simple as getting out for a jog, walk, or bike ride three to five times a week for 30 minutes each. Focus on forms of activity that you enjoy and that feel good to you.
And sleep is a vital part of keeping ourselves healthy and well. While you’ve probably heard of the standard recommendation of 8 hours per night, not everyone may need that amount of sleep. The key is to find out how much sleep you need in order to feel rested and try to get that amount of rest on a consistent basis. Having a consistent bedtime and nightly routine can help tell your body when it’s time to rest.
5. Do what nourishes you.
What activities do you find nourishing? What do you enjoy doing that feels good, helps you unwind, or feeds your soul? Whether it’s writing in a journal, doing a yoga class, receiving a healing massage, or going out for a walk in nature, make it a priority to do what brings your joy and lifts your spirits on a regular basis. Engaging in your favorite activities can help reduce stress and brighten your days.
Even if your activity doesn’t require you to set an appointment or attend a class, set a date with yourself, mark yourself unavailable for however long your schedule will allow, and hold this “you time” sacred. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish; it’s essential to your happiness and well-being, especially during difficult times.
6. Practice positivity and gratitude.
We wrote a post last month about practicing positivity, and next month we’ll focus on gratitude in-depth. Cultivating a positive mindset isn’t about simply ignoring what’s going on in the world or allowing only “happy” thoughts to run through our minds; it’s about looking for what’s good and beautiful about the world, being mindful of our patterns of thinking, and choosing an upbeat approach to life.
And if positivity is about seeing the good that’s around us, gratitude is about celebrating it. No matter what’s happening in the world, there is always something to be grateful for, even if it’s something very small. Most of us have friends, family, partners and loved ones in our lives, and that is a blessing. If we have our health, a place to live, and food to eat, we are truly fortunate.
Again, we’re not suggesting simply turning a blind eye to the challenges and difficulties you may be facing right now; this is just a loving reminder to not forget or take for granted what is still wonderful and worth appreciating about your life.
7. Connect with loved ones.
On that note, it can be very healing to connect with the ones you love. Whoever they are, and wherever they might be, don’t forget to check in with them and ask how they’re doing. If it’s possible and you feel safe doing so, you could visit with them in person, or arrange a virtual chat over Zoom or Skype.
Seeing each other face-to-face and hearing each other’s voices can be incredibly comforting on its own, and your loved ones may be able to help or provide support if you tell them how you’ve been feeling. If you’ve got a partner or furry friend at home, there’s a lot to be said for cuddling: it feels wonderful, and it releases oxytocin -- a lovely feelgood hormone that can help relieve stress.
8. Get involved in your community.
If you feel like you’ve been stuck in your own head, consider lending a hand to others who may need it. See what nonprofits and charity organizations might be looking for volunteers right now and ask how you may be able to help. Doing service work for others feels good, enables you to meet others in the community, and can help take your mind off of your daily stresses.
We sincerely hope that this article finds you and your loved ones well. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if there’s anything we can do to support you during this time.