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So easy you don’t think of them: the tools that stop stress and anxiety

Try these tools to stop stress and anxiety

I have news for you: when you want to stop stress and anxiety (often a by-product of imposter syndrome) you’re probably forgetting the ‘step 1’ of what’s going to make you feel calmer and more present.

Here’s the catch-22 of being in a heightened stressed state. Your thoughts are running at 100 miles an hour, your attention is scattered, and you’ve told yourself you need to do more, more, more to have any hope of feeling less stressed.

The thought of helping yourself almost feels counter-intuitive.

Slow down? Are you joking? Make time for myself? Pah. I’d love to but unfortunately my pounding heart and tight stomach is not going to let me do that.

The Stress Response

Your pounding heart and tight stomach comes from your stress response. All humans have a stress response that occurs within their body, and it has a beginning, a middle and an end.

The stress response is something we’ve inherited from caveman times when we needed to run away from predators. If we saw a lion about to run for us, our bodies would get flooded with adrenaline and cortisol (the beginning). Our heart rate and blood pressure would shoot up (amongst many other physiological changes) to enable to us to do one thing: to run as fast as we possibly could (the middle).

If we got eaten by the lion, then that would be that. Otherwise, if we escaped by scrambling up the nearest tree, we would have a victory dance and be flooded with relief that we had survived (the end). The stress cycle would complete, and we could feel calm and relaxed again.

This cycle was perfectly designed to give us a boost for short bursts of activity to make sure we stayed alive. Our modern-day problem is that we have the same stress response for a very different way of living with stress.

The incomplete stress cycle

Stress in the modern world means being stuck in traffic, social media, dealing with financial uncertainty or experiencing conflict at work. We know these stressors are not predators – but the same response occurs in our bodies. Even more damaging is that we often don’t give ourselves the chance to complete our body’s stress cycle.

The stress response was only ever supposed to kick in for short-term bursts of action (like running from a lion). This is why when you suffer from longer-term periods of stress and you don’t give yourself the opportunity to complete your stress cycle your body remains on high alert to protect you.

Separating Stress vs Stressor

The most powerful thing you can do to reduce stress is to realise a fundamental misunderstanding. The misunderstand is this: this thing that’s making me stressed (‘the stressor’) is something I must fix or complete before I can relax.

That might sound like “I’ll relax once I’ve sent that e-mail” or even “I can’t relax until I’ve finished this report” (even though you can’t finish it until your boss gives you their input and won’t do this for another 5 days).

If you buy into this misunderstanding, you’re signing up to a life of chronic stress which, aside from being not fun at all, is likely to result in a range of health problems and burn-out.

The truth? Your to-do list will never be done. Say it with me now: my to-do list will never be done. You’ll never be done and you’ll always be in the middle of something. You can make your peace with that and instead focus your attention on what you can do.

The great news is you can complete your stress cycle, regardless of what’s going on around you.

Ways you can stop stress and anxiety

These suggestions are evidence-based ways you can complete your stress cycle, drawn from the excellent book ‘Burnout’ by Emily and Amelia Nagoski:

  • Focusing on your breath to calm your mind and body. A favourite for me and for clients is to simply breathe in for 3 counts and exhale for 5 counts through your nose. Try this for 2 minutes and notice how you feel.
  • Exercise. This doesn’t need to mean pumping iron at the gym. Any movement will do.
  • Laughing. Find some stand-up on YouTube or call your funniest friend. Laughing is an excellent de-stressor.
  • Crying. Many of us have that film that we know will get the tears flowing. If you know stress has been mounting, give yourself the gift of
  • Connecting with people you love and trust. We’re hard-wired for connection and we need love and support to feel safe. Make sure you carve out time to be with people you love, it’s an enjoyable and fun way to reduce your stress levels.
  • Hugging someone you love and trust for more than 20 seconds. Why 20 seconds? It’s at this point your body starts producing the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin which will leave you feeling calmer and more connected.
  • Creative expression. Let whatever you’re feeling move through you by using your creativity. This can mean dancing round your kitchen, drawing, painting, pottery, singing, writing or playing an instrument.
  • Writing in a journal. This is a tool that is so often underestimated and underused. When you’re highly stressed, you’re likely to be lost in patterns of over-thinking. The page can be a brilliant ‘dumping ground’ for your thoughts, bringing you relief as you empty your head and create more distance between you and your thoughts.
  • Prioritising good quality sleep is one of the most powerful things you can do for your emotional regulation, including your ability to complete your stress cycle. Are you giving yourself an 8 hour window for sleep? Are you giving yourself at least an hour to wind down, free from electronics to give yourself a chance of switching off? Your mind and body will thank you.

I hope you’re probably struck by how common-sense and accessible these strategies are. Most of us know it, but are you actually doing it? Are you taking that time regularly in your day to shut down the multiple stress cycles you’ve started?

I recommend you pick the one that seems the most appealing to you right now and commit to doing it every day for the next week. Score your current stress levels out of 10 today and revisit it in a week’s time. What’s changed?

Of course there are times when our stress or anxiety levels reach a point that we need extra help bringing ourselves back to balance. I love teaching my clients how to live and work from a place of calm and balance. If you’d like to explore how I can help book in for my Clarity and Confidence call today. I offer a range of programmes, depending on what would help you most right now.

13 July 2022