Six simple ways to reduce anxiety and manage stress

By Norelle Done

I run a business with my husband, and it gets really stressful sometimes. We’re a bootstrapped startup, employing 23 young professionals. Sometimes their individual stress levels and drama brings in a whole new element of management that I often don’t have the bandwidth to handle. Sometimes our clients can be challenging, too.

As our business has grown, I noticed that my stress started affecting my health in significant ways, including having real panic attacks when checks haven’t come in on time. I knew it was time to learn how to manage my stress before I got serious health problems. If you’re in the same boat, please keep reading.

Stress is bad news for your body

I started with some research. First, I found a few scary stats on stress: Stress increases the risk of heart disease by 40 percent, heart attack by 25 percent, and the risk of stroke by 50 percent – That got my attention.

But as I researched, I found that many “stress reduction” techniques just add more to-do’s to my never-ending list, which adds to my stress. So instead, I decided to find simple, natural ways to manage my stress – things that I can easily fit into my normal routine. Here are the six strategies that have really helped me:

  1. Just breathe. In the moment of increased stress or high anxiety, it can be very difficult to combat the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress, or manage a panic attack. Practice exercises like Diaphragmatic Breathing or these other three great breathing exercises, which maximize the oxygen in your bloodstream and trigger your body’s natural relaxation response.
  2. Walk every day. The simplest and most effective way to lessen stress is to go for a daily walk. Fit into your normal routine. For example, you can take a 30-minute walk during lunch, use the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the bus or train, and walk as you do your errands. Not only is the walking good for you, but the fresh air is calming and health-bringing as well.
  3. Meditate for 10 minutes. You can easily fit this into your day by sitting in bed at night or in the morning (I recommend both) for ten minutes. You don’t need a fancy pillow or meditation room. If you missed your morning time, you can meditate on the bus or train. The more you meditate, the more you’ll become aware of your thoughts. When you’re aware of your thoughts, they won’t have the power to run you as they do now, such as worrying about all of the “what if’s” and other uncontrollable worries. Here’s an easy, simple video called Setting a Morning Intention
  4. Knock off the bad stuff. When you’re stressed, your body craves food that actually makes you more stressed and more susceptible to cell breakdown. These are things like caffeine, alcohol, refined oils and packaged or sugary foods. If you’re stressed, don’t try to change your whole diet at once, but focus instead on slowly weaning yourself off of the two worst offenders, sugar/sweeteners and alcohol. Once you’ve done that, you can gradually shift into eating healthier food that will actually strengthen your body and allow it to fight off stress. Here are tips on how to wean off of sugar and ways to reduce your alcohol consumption
  5. Find a friend that you can be truly, deeply honest with. There are numerous studies and articles about how friends can help relieve stress and make us happier. There are times when we need more than just somebody to lean on – we need a shoulder to cry on, someone to call us out when we’re wrong, or encourage us to see the silver lining. When you have a loving friend with whom you can share the deep and dirty truth about your life, their support can help relieve a lot of the mental and emotional tension you’re feeling.
  6. Manage your thoughts. A great book that teaches how to manage your anxious thoughts is “SOS for Emotions”, by Lynn Clark. He explains that it’s not the situation that causes our stress, but our reaction to the situation. The book gives simple, direct ways to combat stressful thinking. Learning how to manage your thoughts will take time, but if you keep practicing, it will eventually become second nature.

To help you commit to trying these tips, just add one per week. Don’t overwhelm yourself. For instance, you can try the breathing exercises this week. Next week, see where you can fit in a 30-minute walk every day, and so on. And if you need more help or you want to de-stress your whole life, then sign up for Janet’s class, Simplify Your Whole Life in 11 Weeks. Please take care of yourself!

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