Dealing with stress and anxiety is something everyone has to do, but it doesn’t have to consume our lives or hinder our well-being. By adopting simple yet effective strategies, we can regain control, find balance, and embrace a more peaceful state of mind.
Frequent stress can even contribute to anxiety disorders. Some people experience more frequent or intense stressful events, and some don’t have the skills to cope with stress and anxiety. Genetics, personality, your social environment, and the availability of social support and resources can all affect your ability to deal with life’s challenges.
Stress and anxiety not only feel bad in the moment, but chronic stress can also lead to a number of health problems. Chronic, unmanaged stress may contribute to:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Lowered sex drive
- Digestive problems and stomach pain
- Muscle pain
- Sleep problems
- Anger and irritability
- Frequent illness, aches, and pains
Doing what you can to minimize things that cause you stress is an ideal solution, but in many cases, it’s not practical or possible. You may not be able to avoid stress and anxiety, but you can take steps to protect yourself and your health from their harmful effects.
Understanding the Sources of Stress and Anxiety
Stress is that feeling you get when you sleep through the alarm and wake up 30 minutes later than usual. Stress can be waking up to find your car was broken into overnight. Stress can show up in the days before that important exam, the one that decides whether you pass or fail a course.
In small doses, everyday stress can be helpful in some ways. The stress of waking up late motivates you to get going quickly. Taking a test can be stressful, but your fear of failing motivates you to study.
Stress, when harnessed effectively, can serve as a catalyst for personal growth, problem-solving, and the acquisition of new skills. The problem occurs when stress and anxiety are relentless, you don’t have the right skills to cope with them, and they’re causing problems in your day-to-day life.
The first step in dealing with stress and anxiety is to recognize what is causing your discomfort. Remember that everyone reacts to stressors differently, so the cause of your discomfort might be something that others tolerate just fine.
Stress, when harnessed effectively, can serve as a catalyst for personal growth, problem-solving, and the acquisition of new skills.
For example, let’s say you work in a busy office with a boss who is difficult to please. She constantly criticizes workers and pushes them to complete projects on impossible deadlines.
Everyone else seems to be OK with the situation, but you feel sick every morning on the commute to work. If everyone else is coping, the situation must not be that bad, right? Part of recognizing your stressors is being honest with yourself and paying attention to the signals your mind and body are trying to relay.
Common sources of stress include:
- Balancing work and life
- Financial concerns
- Academic pressure
- Life transitions (moving, starting a new job or school, or the end of a relationship)
- Health issues, especially chronic health problems
- Family and social problems
- Mental health disorders, including issues with substance use
- Past trauma
- Grief and loss
If you’re experiencing symptoms of stress, take a close look at what’s going on in your life. Some people experience higher stress levels just by their various intersecting identities. For example, parents, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to live with higher stress levels.
In addition, some professionals, such as social and healthcare workers, are exposed to more daily stress than the general population. Even past events like childhood abuse or trauma can cause stress symptoms in the present.
5 Ways to Minimize Stress and Anxiety
Eliminating stress is impossible and wouldn’t be healthy even if you could. But you can take steps to minimize the sources of stress in your life.
1. Identify Your Triggers
Do you know what stresses you out? You may need some thoughtful insight to arrive at the answer. Journaling is an effective way of identifying your stress and anxiety triggers. To use journaling as a stress-finding tool, keep track of your stress responses daily.
Record all the information you can, including if you skipped breakfast that day, the weather, and your location when you noticed feeling worried or stressed.
Stress triggers don’t always make practical sense, and they don’t have to. There may be a deeper reason you experience a shift in your mood when it rains, which may be something to explore with a mental health professional. But the first step is identifying the people, places, and situations that trigger you.
2. Prepare Ahead of Stressful Experiences
You’ve got a major test coming up or maybe a family event that you know will be stressful. What can you do to prepare for the experience? Dealing with stress and anxiety can be as simple as taking a walk before you enter the “stress zone” or talking to a friend about the situation beforehand.
You may not be able to avoid stressful situations, but if you know they are coming, you can take steps to prepare for them.
3. Address Circumstances You Can Change
Worrying about things you can’t change seems to be human nature. But scolding yourself for being human only causes more frustration in the long run. Instead, use that energy to change what is within your control.
You can’t control how your school administers tests, but you can put in adequate study time, arrive at class on time, and ensure you’ve eaten healthy food and are properly hydrated on test day. Taking charge is where you can reduce anxiety and feel more confident in any situation.
4. Practice Self Awareness
You may be adding to your stress and anxiety levels without realizing it. Your choices before or after a stressful experience could worsen things. Perhaps you have never developed the skills needed for coping with stress and anxiety, or maybe the skills you’ve relied on in the past are no longer effective.
Becoming more self-aware of your patterns and ability to deal with stressors is important in improving your overall state of functioning.
5. Develop Coping Skills
There are many individual techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety, and they all fall into two general categories. Maladaptive coping skills like drinking, avoidance, angry outbursts, and denial can harm your mental and physical health. Also, these types of coping skills only help for a short time and usually end up causing further problems in the long run.
Learning new, positive coping skills is essential. Positive coping skills include good self-care habits and connecting with other people who understand what you’re going through.
Why Developing Healthy Coping Mechanisms is Critical for Dealing with Stress and Anxiety
Coping mechanisms are the skills you rely on, consciously and subconsciously, when you need to balance distressing emotions like stress and anxiety. Everything from heavy traffic to the loss of a loved one can threaten your emotional balance. Without healthy coping skills, you can become even more imbalanced. Unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety disorders as well as a whole host of physical and mental health concerns.
Learning positive coping skills can sometimes require you to examine past trauma. In many cases, unhealthy coping mechanisms are learned from unhealthy relationships.
Even without trauma or abuse to heal from, examining your coping skills can still be an uncomfortable experience. You may be forced to review your mistakes and take an honest look at how you have treated yourself or others in times of stress.
The process may be difficult, but the results are important.
Benefits of learning new skills for dealing with stress and anxiety include:
- Preventing mental health decline
- Avoiding worsening situations
- Improving relationships
- Increasing overall happiness
- Preventing potential stress-related health problems
- Growing self-love
- Increasing confidence and self-esteem
- Fostering productivity
Adding new coping strategies to your repertoire will also increase your resilience, allowing you to find your balance more easily after challenging events. You’ll feel more confident when facing adversity, and your newfound sense of self-worth will help you excel in all areas.
10 Simple Tips for Dealing with Stress and Anxiety
The most important tip for coping with stress and anxiety is to give yourself some grace. If you’re striving to be a healthier, happier person, give yourself the credit you deserve. Change is difficult, especially when it involves introspection and personal growth.
Remember that not every technique will work for every person, and approaches that are successful in one scenario may not be effective in others. Explore a range of healthy coping mechanisms to find the ones that work best for you.
1. Keep a Daily Journal
Journaling is one of the best ways you can deal with stress and anxiety. In fact, journaling is scientifically proven to help reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety. The many benefits of journaling are backed by research, with the health benefits of expressive writing including lowered blood pressure, improved mood, and a reduction in the number of stress-related doctor’s visits.
Journaling about feelings and journaling for anxiety, in particular, also increases your self-awareness and helps you recognize patterns in your behavior that might be adding to your stress level. Reflecting on journal entries provides insight into which coping skills work best for you and which may not be as successful.
As for how to start journaling, using journaling prompts can help you get started and make the most of a journaling practice. Prompts are questions or topics that can give you ideas for writing when you feel emotionally “stuck” and can’t think of anything to write about.
Journaling for just 15-20 minutes a day has been shown to be all you need to see the benefits. There are many ways to journal, including writing in a notebook to digital journaling, and each method offers its own unique advantages.
“Writing in a journal activates the narrator function of our minds. Studies have suggested that simply writing down our account of a challenging experience can lower physiological reactivity and increase our sense of well-being, even if we never show what we’ve written to anyone else.”
— Daniel J Siegel, M.D
1. Keep to a Schedule
Maintaining a consistent schedule qualifies as a coping skill. While you don’t have to become rigid, staying on schedule will help reduce daily stress and reinforce your efforts toward better stress management.
Your exact scheduling needs depend on the priorities in your life. Whatever your daily “must-do” responsibilities may be, leave time in your schedule for self-care, connecting with friends, quality alone time, and breaks from stressful activities.
4. Prioritize Self-Care
The term “self-care” covers a lot of different actions. Self-care is anything you do to care for your physical and mental health. Self-care means eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking a break when you need it, and more. Taking care of your own needs is a coping skill that helps you remain emotionally and physically strong when challenges come your way. You can even roll your journaling practice into your self-care techniques by keeping a self-care journal.
5. Get Regular Exercise
People who are physically active have lower rates of anxiety, depression, and negative mood than people who are sedentary. The effects of exercise vary, but federal guidelines recommend a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderately intense exercise, such as brisk walking, a week.
6. Maintain a Balanced Diet
A diet that’s filled with a variety of fresh foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats is best for maintaining overall health. A balanced diet is part of a healthy lifestyle, which can help you manage symptoms of stress and anxiety.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness may sound like an elusive ideal, but being mindful is really just the effort to be fully aware in the moment. For example, instead of daydreaming about a tropical vacation when you’re doing dishes, you could practice mindfulness by focusing on your task. Pay attention to the feeling of water and soap suds moving over your hands. Notice how shiny the dishes look after rinsing and how satisfying it is to dry and put them away.
Life gives you many opportunities to practice mindfulness, but if you want to adopt a more formal habit, consider:
- Meditation (silent, guided, or walking)
- Breathing exercises
- Pausing each day to savor a moment
Becoming more mindful can help you pay attention in moments of stress so that you can intentionally apply healthy coping skills when needed.
8. Get Outdoors
The wellness benefits of the great outdoors include lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. Spending time outdoors is often recommended for people struggling with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. While not a cure, being in a natural environment can help alleviate the symptoms of some mental health disorders.
Nature can recharge the human battery by helping you feel centered and more peaceful. Outdoor time is also important for getting adequate amounts of Vitamin D. Vitamin D may reduce depression, increase energy levels, and help regulate a balanced mood.
9. Reduce Technology Use
Technology has made life easier in many ways, but devices also have a downside. Excessive screen time is linked to increased levels of stress and worsened mental health symptoms.
Spending too much time focused on the lives of influencers or the news of the world can create feelings of jealousy, dissatisfaction, and fear, and it can lower your self-esteem. Instead, put “non-tech” hours into your schedule to limit screen time.
10. Get Enough Sleep
Stress and sleep have a reciprocal relationship. Too much stress can cause insomnia, and not enough sleep increases stress.
Practice good sleep hygiene by:
- Going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time each morning
- Creating a dark, relaxing, and quiet sleep environment
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bedtime
- Getting regular exercise during the day
- Banning electronic devices from the bedroom, including phones and televisions
Getting a restful eight hours of sleep every night may not be possible, but restorative sleep is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle.
When to Reach Out for Support
The negative side effects of stress and anxiety are real, and you shouldn’t ignore them. If you are struggling emotionally or are exhibiting some of the physical side effects of stress, contact your physician or a mental health professional. Treatments, including therapy and medication, can help.
If stress is affecting your health, don’t make the mistake of thinking the feeling will get better with time. Symptoms like high blood pressure and anxiety can get worse without treatment. Learning to ask for help when needed is a positive way of dealing with stress and anxiety.
How Journaling Helps Combat Stress and Anxiety
Journaling is an excellent way to cope with stress and anxiety. There are many types of journals and different journaling techniques to explore, and all of them are beneficial.
Whether you’re attracted to the idea of a clean, organized bullet journal you keep on your laptop or a creative art journal filled with splashes of hand-painted color, there is a journaling style that will work for you.
Benefits of journaling include:
- Lets you brain dump (let go of intrusive thoughts and ideas)
- Helps you relax and unwind
- Allows you to identify and acknowledge concerns
- Guides you in processing emotions and situations
- Prompts you to ask helpful questions
- Fosters better decision making
Journaling goals is also useful for setting and meeting goals. As you try new coping strategies, you can keep track of how well they work for you. Once you master a new strategy, you can set a goal to try another.
You can think of learning new coping mechanisms like learning a musical instrument. You must start with the basics, but as your confidence and experience grow, you can tackle more challenging melodies with confidence.
In the midst of our fast-paced lives, it’s crucial to prioritize our mental and emotional well-being. By implementing these 10 simple tips for dealing with stress and anxiety, you can embark on a journey towards serenity and inner peace. Remember to practice self-care, get regular exercise, and incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine. Journaling can also be a powerful way to gain greater self-awareness and release stress. Each small step you take in prioritizing your mental health will have a profound impact on your overall well-being. So, let’s bid farewell to overwhelming stress and anxiety, and welcome a calmer, more balanced life. You deserve it.
About the Author
Hannah Van Horn, MCMHC, LPC-C, is a mental health professional who specializes in helping trauma survivors navigate their healing journey. She is an advocate for making mental health accessible for all through written and digital content as well as face-to-face counseling services.
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