3 WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS
Anxiety, worry and stress are things I’ve carried around with me for my entire life. While these companions may never dissipate completely, working with them has been key to my holistic wellness. In this post, I share my most reliable tools to support being my happiest self, and overcome daily obstacles to living the life I want to live.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EXPERIENCE
I’ve always felt a sense of shame around my stress and anxiety, like I shouldn’t be feeling that way or experiencing those things. I’ve had a comfortable life. I grew up in a safe, loving home. I was supported and set up for a lifetime of success in every possible way. For years, I beat myself up about feeling stress and anxiety even though, compared to millions of people around the world, I had nothing to be stressed about. But my earliest memories, and the majority of my memories, are marked by potent anxiety. This guilt and shame prompted more stress and anxiety, and I was trapped in this vicious cycle for years.
One of the most freeing practices I’ve adopted is acknowledging that my experience is valid, simply because it’s my experience. I don’t need to justify, rationalize, or dismiss how I’m feeling. I can just feel it.
By letting my stress and anxiety be okay, I’ve also named it, which helps to put distance between what I’m experiencing and what my reality can be. When I name it for what it is, it loses its punch, which helps me move past it.
Maybe you’ll always carry your stress and anxiety with you. Normalizing it can help you experience it without letting it run your life, so that it’s simply something you experience, like hunger, rather than something that defines who you are.
SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
One of the most amazing pieces of knowledge I gained in yoga teacher training was: transformation is 95% logistics. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when I heard that. Don’t get me wrong, that other 5% is REALLY hard, but if you can set yourself up for success in the other 95%, you have more energy and bandwidth to devote to that 5% that’s going to make a difference for you.
If there are things you know make you stressed or anxious, put structures in place to avoid those things or make them easier for you. And, do this within reason. Obviously we can’t shield ourselves from every stressful event, and we don’t want to do this. Stress is a natural, necessary physiological function. But if there are situations you can create to avoid stress, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Here are a few ways I set myself up for success in stress- and anxiety-inducing situations:
Create an organized to-do list, ahead of time. I know that I tend to get overwhelmed and anxious when I’m not clear about everything that’s on my plate, especially when I’m busy. So, I always take time on Friday to get clear on what my next week will look like, and the last thing I do before I close my computer for the day is create my to-do list for the next morning. I also create categories for my to do list so that I know what needs to happen in each area of my life (personal, business, etc). When my list is prepped and ready, I can prioritize easily, budget my time, and accomplish my goals while staying sane.
Clarify expectations. Over the years, I’ve learned that one thing that causes me anxiety is not knowing what’s expected of me. I like to understand what my expectations are of a situation, and what other people’s expectations are of me. This open communication allows me to feel secure, stay focused, and deliver confidently. A few ways I clarify expectations are to:
Repeat back what I heard. After someone shares what they need from me, I repeat it back in my own words: “What I heard you say was XXX, is that correct?”
Set a deadline. If a deadline isn’t offered by another party, I ask for one. If I’m working on something for myself, I set a deadline and stick to it. This helps me stay on track without rushing. For example, “I will email this client about XXX by the end of the day on Friday.”
Speak up. When I sense that an expectation is not realistic or will require that I sacrifice something to meet it that I’m not willing to sacrifice, I say so. When I require something in order to meet an expectation, I ask for what I need.
Leave time. One of the most stressful situations for me is being in a rush. I utilize my calendar heavily and factor in buffer time for commitments so that I don’t have to rush.
Create your environment. One of my favorite ways to quell my stress and anxiety is to create a space that makes me feel at ease and doesn’t contribute to my stress. I decorate my space with colors and textures that are pleasing to me. I’ve learned that clutter makes me feel overwhelmed and clouds my mental space, so I pick up our home each evening and/or morning and purge our belongings a few times a year.
CREATE YOUR TOOL KIT
When all else fails, it helps to have a few go-to tools you can call on in a time of stress or anxiety. These tools are things that very reliably help me think, act and be from a place that serves me and others around me. Each person’s tool kit will be different, and it’s all about finding what works for you. Maybe you call a friend, write a gratitude list or journal what you’re feeling, or take a bath. I’ve outlined a few solutions that are in my kit:
Identify what is causing the experience. The first thing I do is identify, specifically, what is causing me stress or anxiety. The first step is to identify the area of your life: your personal life, your job, etc. Then, ask what is it about that area of life that’s causing anxiety or stress. Maybe it’s a particular deadline, a certain relationship, or an event. Sometimes this is an easy process, and other times it requires excavation. If something is bothering me and I’m not quite sure what, I’ll meditate or journal until it becomes clear. If I feel compelled, and if it comes easily, I’ll next identify what I can do help that specific stressor. Other times, I just sit with it and/or call on the tools below.
Create personal time. This is the tool I call on most frequently. I’m an introvert, so when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I ask for space. Sometimes I’ll watch TV, journal, meditate, or go for a walk. Whatever I’m doing, when I can process my experience in solitude, I can identify what other tools I need to utilize in that moment.
Take 5 deep ujjayi breaths. When acute anxiety hits, I rely on my breath to calm myself down enough to identify what I need next. I breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and breathe out for 4 seconds, all through my nose with my mouth closed. I send my breath into my belly, and if 5 breaths isn’t enough, I keep going. This yogic breathing help slow my heart rate and ease my tunnel vision, so I can approach the situation from a place of faith instead of fear.
Share with someone you trust. This is the newest tool in my kit, and one I felt a lot of resistance to for a long time. When I felt shame and guilt for my stress and anxiety, I didn’t think I could talk about it with others. But one of the greatest releases from the grip of stress and anxiety, for me, comes from sharing with someone I know will listen, support and love me unconditionally.
When I share, I keep it really simple: “I’m feeling anxious about __________ because ___________.” I don’t elaborate, justify, or fill the space. I just say it.
It feels vulnerable to share the our most personal thoughts, experiences and inner narratives with someone else, but in my experience, when I say it out loud, it takes away its power. Suddenly that voice inside my head isn’t dictating my experience because I’ve outed it to the world.
And, it’s a constant reminder of our shared human experience. We all have stress and anxiety about certain things! Chances are the person you’re sharing with can relate, and your share with them is likely a contribution to their experience. Not only can you experience connection, but your sharing can actually be of service to someone else too.
Create a declaration. A declaration is a statement that you make to recreate the reality you want for yourself. It can also be called an affirmation, although I prefer ‘declaration’ because it’s authoritative and promotes confidence in empowering the situation. For example, one of my declarations is I slow down for what matters, which helps me when I’m feeling rushed, which I know causes me stress.
No matter why you experience stress or anxiety your feelings are valid. Those feelings may or may accompany you throughout your life, and they don’t have to define you or control your experience. These practices have helped me to establish a sense of faith in my life, so that when I’m feeling anxious or stressed, I can trust that the situation will dissolve, work out alright, or even benefit me in some way.