How to cope with stress and anxiety is an issue that constantly comes up in my relationship coaching work. And no wonder. We live in an always-connected-yet-unbelievably-lonely world, characterised by putting up fake smiles and posting fake relationships, all for the sake of being admired and followed. But it comes at a price.
Here’s the problem with stress and anxiety, however – it doesn’t work!
In the Ancient Hebrew Scriptures, the Rabbi Yeshua taught his followers not to worry.
He once asked them the question,
Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to his life?
I don’t know of many people who have done this, but I do know of some who have reduced their life by years due to stress because stress and anxiety are modern-day serial killers.
The very known Christain preacher, Charles Spurgeon, also once emphasised this point when he said,
Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.
Stress and anxiety not only fail to reduce the odds of shit happening tomorrow, but it does rob us of our focus, energy, motivation, health and happiness to deal with the bad stuff when they do show up.
So, learning how to cope with stress and anxiety is crucial for our wellbeing long term.
It kills people and it kills relationships.
Now, why I’m I writing this post about how to cope with stress and anxiety today?
Well, I’ve recently started working with a client who struggles with it quite a bit and it’s impacting his own happiness, family life, and love life, and he needed help.
But since he’s not alone, I decided to put this post together for you so it can help more people.
However, this is not a long drawn-out scientific paper but rather a simple post based on science, giving you a few practical and powerful strategies to cope with stress and anxiety over the long haul.
Also, I’m NOT advocating or discussing medication as a strategy to cope with stress and anxiety, since I believe we’ve become too reliant on medication and artificial substances as coping mechanisms for challenges that might have some other solutions.
However, I’m also NOT against medication as a possible solution, as it does have its place and incredible benefits in many cases.
I would just caution anyone to always go for the “chemical option” first if they haven’t explored other well-known and effective but natural strategies first.
But, that’s just ME.
You can do what you want.
Now, with that out of the way, let me just say that I cannot control the future.
But I can potentially help you build some resiliency to cope with the future better than you are right now.
And hopefully, that will help you somewhat when the time comes.
So, first things first …
What do we need to realise about stress and anxiety?
Ultimately, stress and anxiety can range from a mild inconvenience to mental dis-eases that destroys your life.
And the way they do that is first by attacking your thoughts (mental health), then your body and physical health, and ultimately your actions or habits and eventual results.
So, as you can see, it can become all-consuming.
It can render your completely ineffective and physically ill if you allow it to run wild in your life.
So let’s deal with it now.
First a question,
What triggers feelings of stress and anxiety for you?
Do you feel anxious when the pressure’s on?
Do you struggle to calm your nerves in the midst of stressful situations?
What are your triggers or stressors?
Is a specific situation or certain people, or both?
Now, the first part of coping with stress and anxiety is to realise that these are very normal feelings.
Everyone feels them from time to time.
Sometimes, however, these feelings can become overwhelming, even in your day-to-day routines, and that’s when things can get out of hand.
Extreme stress and anxiety can inhibit your everyday life.
Stress and anxiety about a particular situation can cause you to feel worried about everything else.
It spills, so to speak.
So, as I said before, learning to cope with stress and anxiety effectively is a powerful skill that will benefit you in many ways.
Your relationships with others will be improved.
You’ll go after your dreams instead of giving up easily or not starting at all.
And your self-confidence will grow as you develop the habit of effectively responding to most situations despite the stressed, anxious, or even fearful, feelings inside of you.
Down below, I’ve put together simple 5 strategies to cope with stress and anxiety and if you begin to use these five strategies today, you’ll most likely start noticing a difference soon.
Now, these ideas are simple, but they do have the power to revolutionise your life.
Therefore, give them a chance and a real shot.
Doing something once and then saying, “That didn’t work,” isn’t helpful.
You can’t go to the gym once and then conclude that it doesn’t work when you still look and feel the same afterwards.
It takes time.
As do most things.
5 Simple Strategies to help you cope with your anxious feelings:
Practice deep breathing.
One of the most effective ways to cope with stress and anxiety is deep breathing.
Deep breaths get much-needed oxygen to your brain and throughout your body, relaxing your muscles.
And the increased air to your body and brain helps you calm down in times when you would normally become stressed out or overly anxious.
So when you notice that you’re beginning to get nervous, immediately pay attention to your breathing.
For a few days, practice deep breathing in a relaxed, private, comfortable environment where you’re not rushed.
Put your hand on your belly, and make your hand rise and fall with each breath.
Be sure to take in a slow, full breath.
A simple rule of thumb is the ratio 1:2.
For every one second you inhale, you exhale double.
For example, 4 seconds inhalation and 8 seconds exhalation.
It’s also important to have a slight pause in between inhaling and exhaling.
The feeling of relaxation typically happens on exhalation.
You can also pair this with saying a word such as “Relax” when you’re exhaling.
If you make the deep breathing exercises part of your everyday life, you’ll eventually condition yourself to be equipped to control your breathing when an actual stressful situation occurs.
When the pressure comes on and you notice your heart rate beginning to speed up, simply pay attention to your breathing and do what you’ve practised.
Preparation is better than cure in this instance.
Face your fears.
If you’re a person who stresses and worries easily or quite a bit, chances are you may also not be leaving your comfort zone often enough.
But leaving our comfort zones is actually very important for personal growth and building resilience.
The ingredients for good mental health.
Therefore, to start doing this, begin by looking for opportunities to stretch your mental boundaries in ways that aren’t extremely stressful.
And as your mind and body become used to taking on challenges, give yourself greater challenges to increase your ability to handle them.
In other words, stretch yourself without breaking yourself.
Facing your fears are one of the best ways to overcome them.
In Psychology, there’s a psychotherapeutic technique called Flooding that does exactly this.
Google defines Flooding as a form of behaviour therapy based on the principles of respondent conditioning.
It is also sometimes referred to as exposure therapy or prolonged exposure therapy.
It is used to treat phobia and anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.
For our purposes about coping with stress and anxiety, however, we can use the principle of flooding by exposing ourselves to the very stressors that elicit stress or anxiety in us (when and wherever applicable, practical, or safe).
Simply put, if you’re in the habit of shying away from things that stress you out, purposefully put yourself into situations that you are unsure about.
It could be as simple as going go to a different cafe for lunch or joining a new club.
Doing this will help build confidence and resilience.
It will be tough, but it does have the potential to be very helpful.
The more steps you take outside of your comfort zone, the better equipped you’ll most likely become when the real challenges of life cause you to feel stress or anxiety.
And the cool thing about this is that it’s transferable, meaning resilience in one area of your life can carry over into other areas too.
Fuel your body properly.
An often-overlooked way to cope with stress and anxiety is to make sure that your body is properly fueled for the challenges it must face.
You wouldn’t think of attempting to drive your car without the right type of fuel, would you?
Of course not!
So why do you expect your body to function perfectly if you don’t feed it with the correct fuel?
Of course, everyone has to eat but are you eating a diet that fuels your body AND mind best?
If you constantly consume fast foods and foods that are high in certain fats and sugar your body will start reacting to this in ways that you might not even realise.
For example, you might start to feel tired all of the time, have little to no energy and even start gaining weight.
The additional downside to all of this is that you will most likely also begin to feel unhappy and this side effect will eventually spill over into other areas of your life.
Your personal relationships will suffer as will your job or business.
You will not feel as though you are being productive enough or you may not understand why you are always passed over when it comes to getting a promotion at work.
Doing something as simple as fuel your mind and body with the right food can have a MASSIVE impact on your overall well-being and success.
By not eating correctly your body is not being fed all the nutrients that it requires to tap into your potential.
And this affects your personality, your mental health and your physical health long-term.
But, the good thing is you can easily resolve this and start to feel healthier and happier by simply changing what and how you eat.
Not sure how to start?
Well, I made a list for you below (scroll down) so you don’t have to think about it too long.
When eating the right foods in the correct proportions your health will quickly improve, and so will everything else.
As you start feeling better you will also begin to notice that you don’t suffer from as many colds or viruses as before.
The overall benefit of eating a healthy diet is that you will find that you are becoming more successful in all parts of your life, like your relationships and career.
Just remember that overall success is attainable and your success will come faster if you maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Stress and anxiety do not have to control your life and your success.
So, here are some general guidelines to get you started:
Foods to eat plenty of …
- Eggs: Pastured, organic whole eggs make the best choice.
- Poultry: Chicken and turkey.
- Fatty fish: Wild-caught salmon, herring and mackerel.
- Meat: Grass-fed beef, lamb, venison, pork, organ meats (and bison).
- Full-fat dairy: Yogurt, butter and cream.
- Full- fat cheese: Cheddar, mozzarella, brie, goat cheese and cream cheese.
- Nuts and seeds: Macadamia nuts, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and flaxseeds.
- Nut butter: Natural peanut (technically it’s a legume), almond and cashew kinds of butter.
- Healthy fats: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut butter and sesame oil.
- Avocados: Whole avocados can be added to almost any meal or snack.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers.
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, vinegar, lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices.
- Fruits: Berries in moderation, with strawberries being the best in this instance.
Foods to Avoid for the most part …
- Bread and baked goods: White bread, whole-wheat bread, crackers, cookies, doughnuts and rolls.
- Sweets and sugary foods: Sugar, ice cream, candy, maple syrup, agave syrup and coconut sugar.
- Sweetened beverages: Soda, juice, sweetened teas and sports drinks.
- Pasta: Spaghetti and noodles.
- Grains and grain products: Wheat, rice, oats, breakfast cereals and tortillas.
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas and pumpkin.
- Beans and legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans.
- Fruit: Citrus, grapes, bananas and pineapple.
- High-carb sauces: Barbecue sauce, sugary salad dressings and dipping sauces.
- Certain alcoholic beverages: Beer and sugary mixed drinks.
Though carbs should be restricted, you would have noticed that low-glycemic fruits such as berries (e.g. strawberries) can be enjoyed in limited amounts as long as keep an eye on it.
Build your diet around high fat, moderate proteins (or high if you’re an athlete and very active), and low carbohydrates.
You will need to increase the former when you restrict your carb intake since it’s the primary fuel source for most people.
They are carb-adapted so to speak, meaning their bodies prefer burning carbs as a fuel source instead of stored fat.
The only issue is, carbohydrates are NOT the best fuel source of our bodies and brains – fat is.
But, the moment you restrict your current main fuel source, without encouraging your body to use another, you might feel low energy and massive cravings for a bit.
This is where many people crash and burn, with even worse results than before.
The following items should 100% be avoided:
- Unhealthy fats: Margarine, shortening and vegetable oils such as canola and corn oil.
- Processed foods: Fast food, packaged foods and processed meats such as hot dogs and lunch meats, including processed vegan products.
- Diet foods: Foods that contain artificial colours, preservatives and sweeteners such as sugar alcohols and aspartame. Lite versions are NOT better.
Last, but definitely not least, drink plenty of fresh water.
This should give you a good start.
You knew this one was coming, aye?
Here’s a fact too many people want to ignore – our bodies are made to move.
A sedentary lifestyle is killing many people.
If you sit at a desk all day, you’ll also be inclined to struggle far more with stress and anxiety than someone who’s always on the move.
Exercise provides tremendous stress relief as an outlet for frustration and a boost to your overall self-confidence.
And all of these contribute to increased peaceful feelings and less stress and anxiety on a daily basis.
Exercise obviously also induces deep breathing (see point #1) automatically. Score!
When you’re puffed and you’re sucking in the big ones, you tend to automatically breathe in a way that’s normal and highly beneficial to you.
So moving more MUST become an intricate part of your plan to cope with stress and anxiety better.
But. here’s a general problem I’ve observed and personally experienced before – most people I know can’t get themselves to exercise more for a whole range of reasons (read excuses)…
Lack of motivation.
I don’t really buy into any of these, as there are simply too many options these days to exercise more for anyone to have any excuse not to.
But, I appreciate how hard it is to stretch yourself and adopt any new habits (including exercise), so rather than crap on your excuses, I’ll rather give you 3 simple strategies to help change your mindset about moving more and exercise.
Find a sport or activity you love.
One of the simplest ways to ensure you get a great workout is to choose something you actually enjoy doing.
That could mean identifying a sport that you’ve played leisurely before or trying out a new activity.
Remember this is about movement, so you’re not restricted to time in the gym.
Racquet sports like squash and tennis are excellent.
Touch rugby is great.
Martial arts like Brazilian Jiujitsu are awesome.
Swimming is excellent too, but if you’re looking for structure, try a water aerobics class.
If you don’t have a lot of time or space, then maybe check out the Freeletics app.
Or just simply walking long distances.
Take your pick.
I don’t know your situation but there will be something you can do if you do a bit of research, thinking and trying a few things out.
Incorporate a favourite pastime into your workouts.
Working out within a community of other people is enough for me to find it really enjoyable.
But, maybe you and your situation are different.
Maybe you like exercising on your own or you just can’t get to Jiujitsu, CrossFit, or swim classes.
And that’s cool.
Just go with something like Freeletics then.
But, to make it easier to start, focusing on something enjoyable while exercising can be a welcome distraction from initial shock to your system.
For example, when walking on the treadmill, plug in your earphones and blast your favourite tunes on your iPod or MP3 player.
Listening to music is a great diversion that can also be very energizing.
Listen to a podcast during that first 30 minutes on the spinning bike or rowing machine.
This will keep the muscle burn from feeling so intense because you’re distracted.
Look, I don’t care what you do …
Just find what works for you and make it as enjoyable as possible.
The actual benefits of moving more will soon be enough in itself.
Focus on your health.
The easiest way to develop an appreciation for exercise is to consider the benefits to your overall health.
On the other hand, limited exercise can result in developing ill health.
When you truly realise that exercise is NOT about punishing yourself but supporting your overall mental and physical health, and by extension your overall success in life, it becomes very easy to move more.
Manage your mind
Managing your mind is probably the most important thing you need to learn how to do effectively if you want to really cope with stress and anxiety really well.
Now, there are many ways to manage your mind and we don’t have time to go into all of them, but I would suggest 1) learning how to use mindfulness and 2) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Now for the latter, you will most likely need to go see a professional counsellor or therapist, but there is also a lot of information on the internet these days.
Essentially, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach and tool used by psychologists and professional counsellors in order to help people suffering from various kinds of mental health disorders like stress, anxiety and depression.
The basic idea behind the process is to look at the underlying thought processes, called cognitive distortions, that make us feel and act in certain ways.
For instance, when you are afraid, stress or anxious about something, it’s normally because you are running through your mind all the things that could possibly go wrong.
While this might seem fairly normal and fairly unavoidable, it is actually about the worst thing you can do for your stress and anxiety so if you could only convince yourself not to worry, you’d find you were better able to perform in high-stress situations.
So, if you’ve tried many things without success, a mental health professional that is trained to help you overcome these challenges may be a good idea to consider.
Stress and anxiety could often be a symptom of underlying mental distortions or unhelpful patterns of thought.
And therapeutic modalities such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) tend to be very effective in dealing with this.
However, maybe you don’t want to go see someone right now or it’s not practical for you, and that’s OK.
Learning how to use mindfulness can be equally powerful to start managing your mind and cope with stress and anxiety.
Take away thoughts …
Well, there you have it – 5 simple strategies for how to cope with stress and anxiety.
There are of course many other, but I think these are a great start to begin taking control of your life and results.
It’s also important in all of this to remember a very liberating truth,
It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious when stressful situations occur.
So stop beating yourself up when you feel these things.
We all do to some extent.
But, with that said, without the right strategies to overcome those feelings, you could end up feeling paralysed and sabotage your chances of experiencing the success you deserve.
And that’s not helpful to anyone.
Instead, start using these 5 simple strategies today to effectively cope with your feelings of stress and anxiety and emerge triumphant over them in the end.
If you want to learn a bit more about how to use mindfulness to cope with stress and anxiety, feel free to check out my eGuide below.
Let’s talk soon.
? Check out my eGuide on Mindfulness Below! ?
When you get this eguide today, you also get these bonus downloads:
- Yogic Breathing Step-by-Step
- 11 Ways to Practice Mindfulness without Meditation
- 10 Ways to Declutter Your Mind