Stress & Anxiety – a quick overview

Written by Eileen Hopkins

My road to counselling and psychotherapy has been interesting. Having worked in a caring profession, nursing for over 30 years, I was always at my happiest when interacting with my patients & I have always been a people person.

It’s totally normal to feel anxious from time to time, but there are lots of things you can do to feel a bit better. Remember: there’s a difference between feeling stressed every now and then and experiencing ongoing anxiety. If the anxiety is starting to take a toll and you’re looking for ways to deal with it, consider talking to a mental health professional. Get started and learn how to deal with stress and anxiety.

Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands that life places on us. In small amounts, stress is useful in motivating us to complete a task. However large amounts of stress can lead to symptoms such as feelings of hostility and anger, frustration, lack of tolerance, crying, feeling overwhelmed, depression. Stress can also cause physical symptoms such as stomach ache, headaches, shortness of breath. Excessive stress can be detrimental to your relationships, performance at work and quality of life.

Stress management psychotherapy & counselling can help you to understand your own patterns and behaviours around stress, identify stressors and give you strategies and skills to manage the stress in your life.

Quick tips to help with stress and anxiety.

These techniques can be helpful if you experience anxiety every now and then or feel unexpectedly anxious.

Practise breathing techniques.

The physical symptoms of anxiety can be triggered by hyperventilation. This is when your breathing quickens and your body takes in too much oxygen, reducing the carbon dioxide in your blood. You need a certain amount of carbon dioxide in your body to regulate your reaction to anxiety and panic.
Try doing one of these breathing exercises to help calm you down and slow your breathing whenever you feel anxious:
The 4–7–8 technique: Breathe in for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds.
Long exhale: Spend a bit longer exhaling than you do inhaling. Exhale fully, and then take a big, deep breath for four seconds. Then exhale for six seconds.

Practise muscle relaxation techniques

Also called a ‘body scan’, this technique helps you to focus on yourself and release tension you’re holding in your body. Breathe in and tense the muscles in your face, squeezing your eyes shut. Clench your jaw and keep your face tensed for five seconds. Gradually relax your muscles over the time it takes to count to ten, then take a deep breath. You can say ‘relax’ as you relax. Next, move on to your neck and shoulders, and gradually move down your body. Be careful with any injuries or pain that you have.

Focus on the present.

Have you ever noticed that feeling stressed or anxious often coincides with dwelling on the past or worrying about the future? Focusing your mind on the present moment can help you feel a little more relaxed.

Take a break.

Schedule regular breaks into your day. Excuse yourself for five to ten minutes, go to a different room, or put aside what you’re doing to take a walk around, try some breathing exercises, get some fresh air, or do some light stretches to help you relax.
Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling.
Just talking to someone about how you’re feeling can take a weight off your shoulders. Make sure you trust the person, work out what you want to say to them, and then just go for it.

Long-term strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety.

If you experience anxiety more frequently, or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, quick coping methods can still help when you’re in a bind, but they shouldn’t be the only thing you use. It’s important to find treatment that works for you to manage your day-to-day life. It can be helpful to have a chat to your doctor or mental health professional to figure out a plan.

Keep a ‘thought diary’ and challenge any negative thinking.

Writing down what you’re worrying about can help you to clear your head and reduce stress and anxiety. You could keep a journal or have a notes file in your phone and write down your thoughts whenever you’re feeling anxious. It’s almost like you’re transferring them out of your head and into your journal.
Doing this can also help you to see what you’re thinking about more clearly and to challenge negative thinking. If you’re having trouble challenging your thinking, you could try asking someone you trust (such as a friend, family member or mentor) or a therapist to help you out.

Identify your triggers.

You can identify your triggers with a psychotherapist. Recognising what causes your anxiety can help you to better understand and face what’s going on. Some common triggers are:
• alcohol, caffeine, or drugs
• a stressful work, home, or school environment
• driving or travelling
• withdrawal or side-effects from certain medications
• phobias
• health issues or concerns
• erratic eating patterns – if you skip a meal, your blood sugar may drop, which can lead to feeling jittery and anxious.

Knowing your triggers doesn’t mean you should avoid them. Some ongoing stressors, such as your job, need more time to break down – is there a work deadline, or a specific person or project, that’s triggering your anxiety? Some potential triggers, such as a stressful home environment, are difficult to manage. In these situations, using other strategies can help you to become more resilient and better able to cope with your anxiety.

Avoid drugs, alcohol, and stimulants.

Stimulants are chemicals that ‘excite’ your nervous system, making it work faster and harder. Using stimulants can worsen your anxiety symptoms, so cutting these out can help you to manage your anxiety. Some of the most common stimulants are:
• caffeine, which is found in coffee and tea.
• nicotine, which is found in tobacco products such as cigarettes, chews and vape pens.
• drugs such as cocaine.

It’s ideal to avoid alcohol and drugs in general when you’re experiencing anxiety. If you’re using substances to feel better or to relax, you might become dependent on them, and they could make you feel worse in the long run.

Put relaxation and self-care into your routine.

A fully packed schedule would make a lot of people feel stressed. Make sure you take time out each day for at least one thing you enjoy doing – whether it’s spending time on a hobby, watching a Netflix episode, or chatting with a friend. It can also help if you schedule the activity into your day, so that you don’t feel guilty about not doing something else. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to things when you need to.

Move more, eat well, sleep.

It’s well-known that exercise lowers stress, reduces anxiety and improves mood. It takes just 30 minutes of exercise a day to make a difference. Diet and sleep are also important for your wellbeing. A healthy diet will make you feel healthier and stronger and better able to handle stress, while enough sleep positively affects your mood and stress levels.
Face your fears.

If you always avoid situations that make you anxious, this might be stopping you from doing things you want or need to do. It sounds weird, but facing the things that make you anxious can reduce your anxiety. Begin with small steps – think of them as ‘acts of bravery’ – to test whether the situation is as bad as you expected and to learn to manage your fears. It’s best to do this with the help of a professional counsellor or psychotherapist.

When should I get help to manage my stress?

Excessive stress can be detrimental to your relationships, performance at work and quality of life. There are many ways you can cope with stress in your life. When you start to feel stress is taking a hold of your life and starting to have a negative impact on your mind, body, and spirit, then you know, you need to look for help. It can be helpful to see a psychotherapist to assess the situation, so you can determine what is the best course of action. Most times the best option is a mixture of psychotherapy and lifestyle changes that can assist you.

Can psychotherapy & counselling help with stress management?

Yes. Stress management counselling can help you to understand your own patterns and behaviours around stress, identify stressors and give you strategies and skills to manage the stress in your life.

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