Advice, Happiness

10 ways to relieve stress and anxiety

It’s January 2021, and my anxiety is consuming me. COVID is (still) running rampant, I didn’t get to see my family over the holidays, and I haven’t left my house in what feels like weeks.

I convince myself that life will be like this forever.

I haven’t felt this anxious in years, and no amount of telling myself “Everything will be okay” is making me feel better. I know I need help out of this anxious mindset, so I reach out to my Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work.

Over the next six months, I meet with a therapist regularly, and she helps me to not only get through this bout of anxiety, but also equips me with the tools and knowledge I need to manage my anxiety in the future.

I am so glad I reached out for help.

Now, it’s July 2022, and I have my anxiety under control. Most days I don’t feel anxious at all, but sometimes it creeps in. On those days, I reach for my coping techniques—the tools that my therapist helped me discover—and find a way to lessen my anxiety instead of letting it consume me.

What are coping techniques?

We all cope when we face difficulties in our lives—whether that’s crying, talking to a friend, going for a walk, or grabbing a bottle of wine.

The key is to find the difference between positive coping techniques and coping techniques that cause more harm than good (like that bottle of wine).

Coping techniques allow us to take a step back and regain control over our thoughts and emotions. We free ourselves from our minds (which can be a pretty nerve-racking place sometimes) and re-focus on the tangible world around us.

From my personal experience, I’ve found coping techniques to be helpful in two ways:

  1. Calming myself down when I’m in the depths of anxiety (or even while I’m having a panic attack).
  2. Proactively managing my anxiety levels on a day-to-day basis to avoid #1 from happening.

10 coping techniques to try

Over the past year, I’ve explored a ton of different techniques, but I’ve narrowed it down to what works best for me and what I use the most.

Every single one of these techniques helps manage my anxiety on a long-term basis, and the first few are especially helpful when I’m really feeling anxious in the moment.

#1: Do deep breathing exercises

Taking deep breaths in and out is proven to decrease your levels of stress and anxiety. Better yet, it’s something you can do anywhere, anytime.

When you feel your anxiety or stress bubbling up, repeat this process 10 times:

  1. Take a deep breath in through your nose while you count to four.
  2. Hold your breath for six seconds.
  3. Slowly blow the air out of your mouth for four seconds.

#2: Explore grounding techniques

Grounding is a process that helps you escape your thoughts and focus on what’s happening right here, right now.

You can do this in the physical world or in your mind. The physical techniques focus on using your five senses to establish a connection with what’s around you. Some popular methods include:

  • Picking up or touching items nearby.
  • Savoring a food or drink.
  • Savoring a smell.
  • Moving your body.
  • Listening to your surroundings.

Mental grounding techniques use mental distractions to redirect your worrisome thoughts and bring you back to the present. This healthline article has a bunch of examples, including playing a memory game, practicing self-kindness, and listing some of your favorite things.

#3: Go outside and get fresh air

I tend to feel especially anxious when I spend all day inside by myself, so when I step outside, take a deep breath of fresh air, and look at the world around me, it calms me down.

(Pro tip: Pair this with techniques #1 and #2 for extreme relaxation.)

#4 Talk to friends and family

Whether I want to talk about how I’m currently feeling or I just ask them how their day is going, talking to someone always makes me feel better.

It’s a welcome distraction that allows you to focus on something else, and reminds you that you have people who love and care about you.

#5: Color

This technique serves as a perfect distraction from your thoughts. (I’m too focused on coloring inside the lines to let any anxious thoughts creep in.) Amazon has a ton of different options—from pages of shapes and swirls to swear words with intricate backgrounds.

#6: Exercise

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t one of the first techniques I gravitated toward, but it does make the biggest immediate impact. I always feel like a weight is lifted off of me if I turn to exercise when I’m feeling anxious.

You can go for a walk, ride your bike, do some yoga, or hit the gym. Whatever you need to do to move your body and release some of those feel-good chemicals.

#7: Meditate

Meditation allows you to get outside of your thoughts and focus on the present moment. It’s a godsend for anxiety.

It may seem intimidating, but it’s easier to get into than you may think. If you want to give it a try, read this recent post I wrote for some tips!

#8: Practice gratitude

The thought of practicing being thankful for things may seem silly, but it is proven to provide long-term benefits to your life.

Our brains naturally focus on the negative, so we have to actively build the habit of focusing on the positive. When you regularly practice gratitude, you are rewiring your brain to automatically think positively.

To start, you can simply write down three things you are grateful for at the end of each day. Or, if that sounds too daunting, invest in a gratitude journal. (This one on Amazon is great!)

#9: Use positive affirmations

Going with the positivity theme, use positive affirmations to change your mindset.

When you constantly tell yourself you’re not normal, you’re depressed, you’re anxious, you’re fat, or whatever negative thought you can come up with, you put your mind and body in a negative space. The opposite is true when you say positive things about yourself.

Tell yourself you’re a work in progress, you’re strong, you’re doing your best, and your body does not define your worth. Encouraging yourself with these phrases will make you feel weightless.

#10: Connect with a specialist

If your stress and anxiety is impacting the quality of your life, please reach out to someone to help you work through it. The tips above may help you for a moment, but you need to get to the root of your problem if you want to feel consistently better.

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help I received (Multiple times!). There’s no shame in reaching out. Always remember that.

Do what works for you

If you try one of these techniques and it just doesn’t do it for you, don’t worry! We’re all different human beings and what works for me may not work for you.

This website has a ton of other techniques that you can try, and you can really tailor them to fit your needs.

And remember, if you keep trying and trying to overcome your stress and anxiety to no avail, reach out for help—whether that’s googling psychologists near you, signing up for BetterHelp, or reaching out to a friend and asking them to help you figure things out.

Take care of yourself. Always.

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