Managing Stress Responses

Prior to any situation you recognise causes you anxiety, you can prepare yourself with relaxation techniques.

For example, if you feel stress and anxiety before a visit from your mother-in-law, you can practise a relaxation technique shortly before she arrives. And you can then do some breathing practises during the visit to manage your stress levels.

So, you are preparing yourself by becoming as relaxed as possible before the anxiety inducing situation and, as is required, you manage your stress levels with a relaxing breathing technique during the situation.

In particular, the method of breathing out for slightly longer than you breathe in is useful for preventing and overcoming anxiety.

Also, by doing some aerobic exercise after the situation, in this example, when your mother-in-law leaves, you can discharge stress hormones and release anxiety.

By successfully managing your stress responses to situations that caused you anxiety, you train yourself to not have a stress response. You prove to yourself that the situation is no longer a threat, as you can handle it.

Mindfulness and Non-Reaction

It is our own attitudes, opinions and judgements that are often the primary source of our discontentment and unease. And if you spend a lot of time ruminating, this can lead to stress and anxiety. Changing your thinking style is central to overcoming anxiety.

You have to make an effort to neutralise thoughts and emotions that generate a friction within you.

These are typically the thoughts and emotions that come from reactions to situations or people in your life. Disappointment, fear, indignation, jealousy, resentment, self-pitying and frustration are some common examples.

Mindfulness is a technique that can help you to overcome anxiety. To practice mindfulness, you become an observer without judgement or opinion.

It can take some practice, as most of us become conditioned to have opinions and judgements about pretty much everything.

Sit on a bench on a busy high street or in a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon. Can you remain in a state of non-judgement? Can you stop your mind from voicing its opinions? Or do you find there is a running commentary occurring in your mind? Such as, ‘Wow, he’s got a lot of shopping’, ‘Goodness, I would never wear that colour’, ‘She’s really overweight’, ‘He’s obviously rich’, ‘That kid looks so happy’ etc.

When practising mindfulness, if a thought occurs regarding what you’re doing, what you’re observing, or any other concerns — be aware of the thought, observe the thought, but try not to react to it or start analysing or making up opinions about it.

Over time, you can train yourself to not react and to simply observe. By doing this, you will be able to remain in an undisturbed present moment, with a calm mind, uncluttered by opinions and judgements.

Looking on the Bright Side

Many people with anxiety think too often about catastrophic outcomes. But if you think catastrophic thoughts such as, “My life will be ruined if I lose my job”, then you are setting yourself up for anxiety, and you are also irrationally limiting your perspective.

If you did lose the job, perhaps you’d find a better job, or perhaps in the time not working, you’d discover an even more satisfying path you could take in life.

Begin to challenge the rationality of your thoughts. Are you making assumptions and jumping to conclusions? Are you thinking only about worst-case scenarios?

Task yourself with exploring different potentials that include positive outcomes. This will help you to cope with the inevitable uncertainties in life.

Improving Your life

Any activities that concentrate your mind on the here and now can release you from worrying and alleviate anxiety. For instance, reading, writing, cooking, drawing, dancing, watching a movie, meeting a friend, going to a Tai Chi class, mowing the lawn etc.

But you should also take some time to focus your mind on overcoming your worries, and this can help to eliminate the causes of anxiety.

If you do not understand the specific causes of your anxiety, write down what you feel discontented and stressed about. And then write down any ideas you have about how you could improve your life.

What actions could you take to help yourself feel more satisfied and fulfilled?

By being proactive in seeking ways to improve your life, you will alleviate anxiety. And when you take action to help yourself, you will discharge your stress responses.

The more contentment and satisfaction you generate, the quicker you’ll overcome anxiety.

And at times, it will help to be assertive with people and to ask for what you really want. To set healthy boundaries and be willing to say no.

And sometimes, it will be best to simply eliminate anxiety causing situations from your life. So, perhaps: move out of a home, end a relationship, leave a job, or take a break and get some time alone.

Anxiety is often simply a message, guiding you towards the right path to take in life. Prioritise your wellbeing as appropriate.

Pushing Through Your Fear

If you feel that anxiety is hindering your progress in life.

  • Make a list of what you would like to be doing that you feel anxiety is holding you back from.
  • Assess each of the items on your list and place them on a scale of how challenging they seem.
  • Begin with the least challenging item — make plans to do it, and then go and do it.

The more you push through your fears, the more confidence you will gain, and this will alleviate anxiety.


A lack of self-acceptance can cause you stress and anxiety.

Perhaps your standards are too high and you berate yourself for imperfections. Maybe you’re stuck in regrets and self-loathing.

We all have occasions in life when things don’t turn out as we’d hoped for. But it’s important to accept these events, and to not keep replaying negative emotions. Just because something didn’t go as planned before, does not mean it will always happen this way.

You have to allow yourself room to change. To do that, you have to stop focusing on your perceived inadequacies and failures.

Recognise the strengths and resources you have. Focus on the good in yourself. Think often about what you are grateful for in your life. And consolidate feelings of self-worth, reverence and acceptance.

How you think determines how you feel. And it’s often helpful to simply stop affirming to yourself and others that you are “an anxious person”. Stop labelling and identifying yourself with anxiety.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that trying to battle your anxiety can actually cause you more anxiety. And you can end up creating a situation where your fear of anxiety can cause anxiety.

By accepting your anxiety, you begin to neutralise its grip over you. By curiously observing your anxiety and not reacting to it with dread, you begin to become less afraid of it. And you will then be in a much better position to figure it out and make beneficial changes to help yourself.

Further Tips

Compassionate self-care will alleviate anxiety.

Ensure you are well hydrated and eating a diet consisting mostly of natural, non-processed foods.

Monitor your caffeine intake from tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and chocolate. Sometimes, it can be as simple as drinking more clean water and eliminating caffeine from your diet to resolve anxiety.

Furthermore, monitor your sugar intake — too much sugar, especially refined white sugar, can cause mood fluctuations and anxiety.

Stand on grass with your bare feet for at least five minutes each day. And don’t spend too much time using wireless devices such as smartphones.

Practise some form of aerobic exercise that you enjoy at least two or three times a week. And if you begin to feel anxious, then jog on the spot for a few minutes. It may sound silly, but it works, as you will burn off the stress hormones.

If you’ve been experiencing anxiety for a long time, it can take some time for the stress arousal in your nervous system to dissipate. But if you regularly practise relaxation techniques, you will notice positive changes.

It is also worth mentioning that certain medications can sometimes cause anxiety. If you are unsure of the source of your anxiety and are taking pharmaceuticals, do some research and inquire with your doctor. It is possible, you could alleviate anxiety by changing or stopping medication.

© Adrian Connock

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