As 2021 gets underway, amid the aroma of excitement and new possibilities that a new year brings, people across the world are facing unprecedented scenarios that are only short of maddening. The start of 2021 has been all but peaceful and relaxing to say the least. I do not know about you, but Christmas through New Year’s vacation did not feel like much of a vacation. Over the last month or so now, I have had more anxiety attacks than ever before. To put that in context, before this last stent of attacks (four in the last three weeks), the last one that I had prior to was never.
The abnormality of this experience encouraged me to write this article on ways to reduce and hopefully relieve any anxiety that you may be experiencing at this time as well. I included stress in the title because feelings of anxiety are derivatives of a stressor(s) and the same techniques to help soothe a person’s anxiety can also help in managing their stress levels.
Unfortunately, there is an abundance of things for people to allow themselves to be stressed about. In addition to the Covid-19 vaccine dissemination debacle in the United States, there is also: the now three new strain variants of Covid, the failed disgraceful Coup attempt and siege on the United Sates Capitol, the multitude of American families facing financial ruin as unemployment numbers tick higher and more and more small businesses close indefinitely. There are millions of people around the world facing more aggressive lockdown orders and restrictions, and the political environment is becoming less and less favorable towards everyday people.
On the flip side of that coin, people are also rightfully concerned and anxious about their own wellbeing. If you are like me, then the top of a new year is a time to reflect and plan and set the trajectory for the course of your year. This can be an anxious endeavor in and of itself (it was for me), even more so when you consider the degree of ambiguity, we have all been forced to live with going into this year.
Anxiety stems from an incessant worrying. When your stressors become greater than your capacity to handle them, they will begin to weigh you down. This will take the shape of worry, uneasiness, nervousness, and apprehension. If these symptoms persist and exacerbate, they can lead to even greater symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, loss of concentration, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep) – symptoms more aligned with an anxiety disorder, or a panic disorder/attack. A preventative measure for combating anxiety and avoiding these symptoms is by monitoring your stress levels.
Our bodies tell [warn] us when something is not right with it. Your body reacts to the amount of stress that it is undertaking. By knowing your body and how it communicates with you, you can begin to identify when your stress levels may be high, and take the proper steps necessary to address the trigger(s) causing the destabilization of your equilibrium. Some high stress level indicators include: acne, headaches, getting sick easily/frequently, noticeable [drastic] change in diet, decreased sex drive, depleted energy, and digestive difficulties.
From my experiences, the last attacks that I have had were rooted in worry and apprehension. Over the last three weeks I was writing my life and business plans for the coming year; and at various points throughout that process, I allowed the stress of the prospects of my future (or lack thereof) to overwhelm me to the point of heart palpitations, mental and physical fatigue, and body temperature irregularities. The first time this happened, because of my mental health background, I was able to immediately identify that I was experiencing an anxiety attack, and I was able to lean on my knowledge of the subject to alleviate my disturbed mental state.
The following are my five ways [techniques] to relieve stress and anxiety:
1. Take Deep Breaths
There is a myriad of benefits associated with taking deep breaths. Specifically, however, as it relates to relieving stress and anxiety, taking deep breaths is a game changer. No matter who you are, everyone at some point ‘needs a moment’. Taking a moment can mean anything that includes whatever it takes to return your body and mind to a state of equilibrium. This is not limited to deep breaths but rather, deep breathing is foundational in its purposes of helping to alleviate stress from various triggers.
When you take a moment to breathe you are signaling to your brain to slow your body down including your heart rate. Deep breaths allow for more oxygen to flow into your blood cells which equates to an optimization of your body’s functions. Think of taking a deep breath like restarting a slow computer, deleting corrupt files, or running a virus scan and removal program – the purpose is ultimately to help you “run” better.
Do not pish-posh this technique as it is both simple yet essential. Everyone breathes. I personally have yet to meet a living thing that does not breathe (part and parcel to the arduous efforts of scientists’ pursuit of the creation of artificial life – which while is arguably technically alive, does not in fact inhale or exhale oxygen, carbon dioxide, or anything of the sort). Breathing is so necessitous to the lived experience, that most of us do so on an automatic basis. It takes more conscious effort for us to hold our breath than it does for us to continuously inhale and exhale throughout a normal 24-hour period.
Such being the case, by taking a moment to focus on your breathing when you are feeling anxious or stressed, you are intentionally changing the state of your body. Think of an aircraft (or a Tesla) and autopilot versus manual control. When something is on autopilot or cruise control, it is set to function at a certain level – meeting the needs of the moment and environment in which it is being used. When our breathing is automatic, we typically do not pay attention to it because it is serving the purpose of helping us function on a higher [sentient] level.
Manual control however requires a literal hands-on approach and is necessary for crucial aspects of any trip by flight, ship, car, or otherwise. in the same way, when we intentionally focus on our breathing, we put ourselves in the driver seat of the everyday working condition of our body. This is important because just like an airplane takes off and lands, or a car speeds up, slows down, and parks, people also need to be able to regulate [control] their breathing during various courses of their day, so that they can ‘self-optimize’ for the purpose of meeting the needs of whatever moment they may find themselves in.
A practice that works well with deep breathing is meditation. Meditation is the process through which a person can naturally relax and calm their mind body and spirit through focused time and attention on deep breathing, mental clarity, and spiritual connectivity. This can be done by creating an intentionally peaceful space for the purpose of allowing focused time to sit quietly (or with ambient music playing), and be at ease by closing your eyes, taking synchronized deep breaths, and allowing your existence to experience tranquility.