There's no getting away from it. Modern life means that each of us will, at one time or another, experience stress and anxiety. Whilst both come with feelings of being out of control or unable to cope, there is a difference.
Stress, as we have discussed in a previous article, is your brain's way of responding to what it perceives as a threat, whether that threat is real or imagined. In general, we experience stress when we feel there are too many demands on us, when we feel overwhelmed, out of control and unable to respond appropriately or cope with whatever it is we're dealing with.
Anxiety is the reaction we have to stress. Stress will normally begin to disappear once the 'threat' is over. If, however, those feelings don't go away, but the stressor has gone, then you probably have anxiety. Someone who suffers with anxiety won't find it easy to control their feelings and may not always be able to pinpoint exactly what it is they're anxious about. All they will know is that they don't feel 'right' and that they don't seem to be able to cope or perform in the way they normally would.
Anxiety can have a range of symptoms including, but not limited to, panic attacks, dizziness, racing heart, breathlessness, chest pains, restlessness, excessive fear or worry and obsessive thinking. You might find yourself avoiding everyday situations because you worry they will make you anxious.
But let's be clear, as I said at the start of this article, we will all experience stress and anxiety at some point. It doesn't mean that we have or will develop a mental illness. A certain amount of stress and anxiety is normal. As long as you feel able to manage and the feelings go away once the 'threat' has passed, this is not usually any cause for concern. But, if it continues to affect the way you normally behave and perform, then you should seek help.
CABA's online counselling programme SilverCloud offers effective, supportive and interactive programmes for a range of mental wellbeing issues, including anxiety. The content is designed to help you develop practical and positive ways to manage your thoughts and behaviours and improve your overall state of mind.
Now let's look at how we can influence or 'control' things, to ease pressure and improve our chances of a successful outcome, when dealing with stress and anxiety.
I have grouped the suggestions under three headings, mind, body and soul. All the suggestions are based on research and have been shown to have a beneficial effect in relation to stress and anxiety.
Accept that you can't control everything
There's something called 'the serenity prayer' by Reinhold Niebuhr which is commonly quoted as follows; "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference." Not a bad place to start.
Do your best
Perfection is rarely possible but you can almost always do your best. Keep a diary of your successes, the things that are positive in your life and things that have gone well to remind you of what you can achieve.
Adopt a positive attitude
Try to replace negative thoughts with more positive ones. Ask yourself, 'what opportunities does my situation offer me?'
Identify your triggers
Is there a pattern in your thoughts and behaviours? What could you do to change it?
Your brain is about 80% water, so it needs to be hydrated to function effectively. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as they dehydrate you and can aggravate anxiety.
Eat at regular times. Eat healthily. If you snack, do so on helpful foods. For example, a small amount of high cocoa content chocolate can lift your mood. Almonds, pecans and walnuts contain calcium, which can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability and impaired memory. Berries are one of the healthiest foods. Blueberries, in particular, can help prevent the release of cortisol, a hormone produced in stressful situations.
Learn the secret to a better night's sleep that leaves you refreshed and full of energy on our Supercharge your sleep course.
Physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress. You don't have to clad yourself in Lycra and sweat it out at a gym though. Simply going for a brisk walk or taking the stairs helps you to feel good about yourself.
Mindfulness encourages you to be present and accept your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Try this quick and simple mindful breathing exercise when you feel your thoughts running away with themselves.
Taking time away from your desk or computer every 60 – 90 minutes for as little as 5 minutes, helps with memory consolidation and focus. Research has shown that people who do this make fewer mistakes, are sick less often and are more likely to feel content. Take your holiday allocation. Block out 'me time' in your calendar. Spend time with those you love.
None of the above are difficult to do. All it takes is the desire and will to feel better, to take better care of yourself and live a happy and healthy life. Give it a try. You never know, you might find yourself in a better place than you ever thought possible.
This article was written for CABA by Behavioural Psychologist, Richard Jenkins.
For more tips, tools and resources to help you take care of your mental wellbeing and empower others to do the same, visit cabamentalwellbeing.org.uk.