How to Shrink Stress and Calm Anxiety
Stress is a reality for all of us. But it doesn’t have to lead to overwhelm. There are many ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life — and to revise how you react to it.
Below, four clinicians share their best tips for shrinking stress and anxiety.
1. Exercise. “Do anything that allows energy to be expressed,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California. He suggested everything from walking to running to lifting to playing dodge ball.
2. Write down your worries. “Moving your worries from your head to paper is a great stress reducer,” Howes said. “Part of the stress is worrying that you’ll forget what you’re worried about.” Writing it out helps you forget momentarily, he said. It also can improve your sleep, he added.
3. Sit with the anxiety. Sometimes the best approach is to stop fighting and feel the anxiety – if the angst is mild to moderate, Howes said. Breathe, and simply say to yourself, “This is anxiety that I am feeling,” said Christina G. Hibbert, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and expert in postpartum mental health.
“When you allow yourself to feel the anxiety without resistance, you may find it’s not as intolerable as you think, and you may even learn more about the root of your anxiety,” Howes said. Hibbert also encouraged readers to remember that anxiety is just another emotion. “[It is] not who you are and certainly not determinant of who you will be today.”
4. Remember that there are no problems, only situations. How we perceive situations turns them into problems, Hibbert said. “We can choose to turn our ‘situations’ into ‘problems’ or we can learn to see them as something else — life experiences, lessons, or perhaps a time to practice our best coping skills,” she said. “Changing your views about your life situations allows you to determine just how much ‘stress’ you allow into your life.”
5. Focus on the here and now. Stress typically strikes when we’re stuck in the past or fretting about the future, Hibbert said. She suggested the following strategies to focus on the present:
- “At any given moment in the day, simply stop, take a deep breath, and notice where you are, notice what is happening [and] take it all in.
- Imagine a big brick wall popping up that blocks you from thinking of anything but what’s right in front of you.
- Get in tune with your senses: Take a walk, feel the ground beneath your feet, smell the flowers in the air, listen to the birds chirping. You will decrease your anxiety and increase your joy by learning to focus on now.”
6. Meditate daily. Just five to 10 minutes a day is valuable, Hibbert said. “The more we practice meditation, the easier it becomes to stop, get still, and breathe our way through feelings of anxiety or stress, giving us the power to create calm in any stressful storm,” she said.
7. Detach from the situation. This means being present without experiencing emotional overwhelm, said Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance. She gave the example of an emergency room doctor. “He or she is present and functioning but is able to set aside the emotional responses that would render him or her unable to function in times of stress or crisis,” she said.
Focusing on someone else can help you gain awareness, she said. “Being of service to somebody else — by listening, helping or volunteering — can get you out of your own head and help you view your stressors with greater perspective and clarity.”
8. Ditch the “shoulds.” “Most stress [occurs] because we don’t want to accept reality or we think that life, or people, or situations, should be different than they are,” said Julie Hanks, LCSW, a therapist, writer and blogger at PsychCentral.com. Whenever Hanks feels stressed out, she repeats this phrase from author Byron Katie: “There is nothing wrong here.”
9. Get to the root of your anxiety. Howes suggested getting to the bottom of your anxiety or stress by asking: “Why are you anxious? What are you really afraid of? When were you first afraid of it? Does it remind you of any fear from your past?” According to Howes, “Oftentimes, we stress out more because we’re projecting past baggage onto the present.” When you can identify this past baggage, it reduces the chances of it returning.
10. Practice self-care. “Self-care, such as proper nutrition, rest, exercise, social support and leisure activity, [helps to] reboot your mind and body,” Marter said.
11. Create a positive mantra. “Cut yourself some slack and recognize we are all human and works in progress,” Marter said. She suggested reciting a positive mantra or statement when you’re stressed or feeling overwhelmed. She gave the following examples: “I am doing the best that I can,” “I am a capable and resilient person,” “I am fine just the way I am.”