Stress and anxiety have become insidious and pervasive for various reasons, particularly our fast paced lives.
Although technology was designed to make our lives easier, it has increased stress and anxiety in our daily lives.
Many people struggle to cope with stress-related problems, including sleep difficulties, chronic illness, immune system dysfunctions, excessive worrying, a tight and aching body, moodiness and irritability, as well as all kinds of addictions used as a way to numb feelings, including anxiety.
By realising that there are also aspects of stress that cannot entirely be controlled and are a part of life, we can open up the possibility of reducing the sense of feeling overwhelmed. At its root, stress is a natural part of living from which there is no escape.
Some people try to avoid stress by walling themselves off from life experiences, others attempt to escape by numbing themselves in one way or another.
It makes sense to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering and we all need to distance ourselves from our problems now and then but if this becomes habitual, our problems often multiply.
When we face our problems head on, we are able to learn, grow, change and heal the parts that need change or healing.
Facing our problems is usually the only way to get through them.
When we mobilise our inner resources, which we all have intrinsically, and face our problems artfully, we can usually position ourselves in such a way that the pressure of the problem propels us to greater awareness and insight.
Mindfulness is one way to deal with stress-related problems.
This is about an attitude of paying attention in the moment to what you are doing, sensing and feeling, while suspending judgement of your experience, as either good or bad.
Mindfulness-based stress release programmes have become popular and are included in many therapy treatment approaches for all kinds of physical and mental problems across the world.
Other ways to reduce anxiety and stress include the following:
Slow down. At the first sign of things speeding up, heart pounding, thoughts racing, breathing accelerating, slow down. Do everything a little slower.
Observe how you feel and what you are doing without judgement. Even when you judge yourself, just notice it with kindness towards yourself.
Come to your senses; take a few moments to become aware of your five senses, what you are hearing, smelling, touching, seeing, and tasting. Each time you do this, you bring your mind back into the present. Each moment by moment awareness reduces a sense of feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Do a reality check and ask yourself: “Is this worry/thought I am having really true?”
Often our thoughts are more past – or future-based and based on ruminating about what went or could go wrong or might happen and mulling over and over an experience that has gone or not even occurred yet. This is often a bad habit that we have developed over time.
Mindlessness – a wandering mind – often exacerbates our sense of feeling out of control over our problems. Hence, the opposite, mindfulness, where you bring your full attention to the current experience without judgement, aids significantly in reducing our sense of anxiety or worry.
Release the critic. Interrupt your inner self critic by thinking with kindness towards yourself. For example, you could say to yourself: “May I learn to have kinder thoughts towards myself.”
Lie down or stop for a short while. Lie down and look up at the sky. Use the clouds floating by as a natural reminder of mindfulness. The clouds are like your thoughts; they come and go. The sky does not cling to the clouds, so this can act as a reminder to gently let go of thinking and not cling onto thoughts. For brief periods, try to concentrate on your breath, while allowing your thoughts to come and go.
Listen. Take some time regularly to stop and listen to the wind rustling the leaves, children playing outside, cars going by or birds singing. Again delay judgement of the sound, either good or bad, just listen open-mindedly.
Recognise and know triggers. If you know what triggers your anxiety, you can prepare soothing practices better. Is it work, family, or too much that you’ve taken on? Re-evaluate your priorities. Delegate tasks and try not to take on things that are not your responsibility. Learning to say “no” is an important lesson for us all to learn, as hard as it may be.
Talk to a trusted person. If the anxiety feels overwhelming and you feel a sense of isolation and that you are alone with what you are struggling with, ask for help.
Often opening up to someone you trust or talking to a counsellor or your GP, alleviates a sense of isolation. Connecting with others in a way that feels supportive and hearing that your feelings are normal, often reduces anxiety in itself.
Exercise regularly. Yoga has been well-researched to reduce anxiety and stress and has short and long-term benefits on the brain and body, especially the nervous and immune systems. However, find an exercise practise that works for you.
Eat healthily. Reduce alcohol and caffeine as they are stimulants. Ensure a regular sleeping pattern. If this is severely disturbed, it may be that you need professional help from your doctor or a mental health professional, including possibly obtaining medication for anxiety.
Let go of perfectionism. Accept that you cannot control everything. Many times we all feel overwhelmed by problems including our own and that which goes on in the world. You can do your best at your responsibilities and the rest has to be surrendered.
Do your part in your community and contribute where you can as this also allows you to feel connected to others as well as to take a break from your daily routine and take perspective.
Switch off and tune out from technology regularly. Switch your phone off, close your computer, take a break from your gadgets. Always being connected and getting a constant barrage of information, including social media updates, fuels anxiety and stress.
Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org Send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.