Anxiety Treatment:
Stress Management Techniques

Feeling stressed? Isn't everybody?

Unfortunately, stress management techniques have become essential living in a world that pretty much defines "stressful." High-paced, constantly changing, with worrisome events streamed 24/7, touted by anxiety-provoking teasers despite the actual importance of the story itself-- sometimes it seems there's nowhere to turn that isn't stressful.

I don't think there is anyone among us who doesn't need, or couldn't benefit from stress management techniques.

Consider the following article, reprinted with permission fromThe American Psychological Association:

How Stress Affects Us

The subject of stress has become a favorite subject of everyday conversation. It is not unusual to hear ourselves talk with friends, coworkers, and family members about the difficulty we have with managing the stress of everyday living. We talk about being burned out, overwhelmed and "losing it." We also hear and talk about our efforts to control the events that cause stress, and most of us understand the results of not controlling our reactions to stress. 

Yes, we know that stress may cause heart disease. But most of us are unaware of the many other emotional, cognitive and physical consequences of unmanaged stress.

  • 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress

  • 70 to 90% of all physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints

  • Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death--heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has declared stress a hazard of the workplace

Stress is expensive. We all pay a stress tax whether we know it or not. And one in four people in a 2004 poll say they've taken a "mental health day" as a result of work stress.

While stress plays havoc with our health, productivity, pocketbooks, and lives, stress is necessary, even desirable. Exciting or challenging events such as the birth of a child, completion of a major project at work, or moving to a new city generate as much stress as does tragedy or disaster. And without it, life would be dull.

Hmmmmm. . . dull . . . Yes, life would be dull without stress. 

Did you ever notice that the physiological experience of excitement and the physiological experience of anxiety create pretty much the same sensations? Butterflies in the stomach, pounding heart, feeling like one might burst out of one's own skin--all are experienced by us as "good" or "bad" depending on the meaning we assign to the situation provoking those feelings. There's even a name for it: good stress is known as eustress while bad stress is called distress. And to further complicate things, stress itself is relative. What is considered stressful to one person may be considered exciting to another, and not even register on the personal radar of someone else.

In the end though, stress is stress. And while we do need it to feel motivated and energized, and while we even experience it willingly when we take on challenging but positive life events, too much stress takes its toll on all of us. It would be foolish to think we could, or should, try to live a life completely devoid of stress; it would be even more foolish not to consider the effects of daily stress on our minds, our bodies, and our souls.

When you are suffering anxiety, stress management techniques are essential.

Here is a list of some of the most effective stress management techniques my clients and I have benefited from, in no particular order:

  • Diet and Exercise:It's pretty well accepted that poor diet and a lack of exercise contributes to--or even causes-- stress, anxiety, and depression. Clearly, lots of caffeinated beverages, sugar and alcohol are contraindicated if you are experiencing anxiety or depression, or experiencing a high level of stress.
    Clearly, these are exactly the items many of us reach for when we're under stress. Coffee to get us up and going, fast food at lunch because there isn't enough time, a drink to relax, maybe a nice dessert as a reward, or possibly a sleep medication because we need to get our rest if we're going to do it all again tomorrow . . . you get the picture.

    There are tons of books and websites to give you detailed advice on how to change these patterns to improve your well-being, so let me say only this: be kind to yourself. Every improvement you make is indeed an improvement. Trying to go "cold turkey" on ingrained habits will create its own stressor, so take it a step at a time. If you can take on an exercise program with gusto and make it an immediate priority, more power to you! If you cut down from a pot of coffee a day to two cups, congratulations! If you spend 5 minutes in meditation or prayer, hallelujah!

    Diet and exercise are the foundation of stress management techniques. Give yourself time, eat better, move around, and get regular and restful sleep. You'll notice the difference.

  • Eliminate a stressor: If you have too much on your plate too often and for whatever reason, you and your family (and your schoolwork, health, workplace, and society) will suffer. This may be a hard one because you may have no idea how to do things differently, or even because the way you go about your life is what's causing you a problem. The help of a trusted therapist can help you make the changes you need for a more satisfying, stress and anxiety-free life.

  • Limit your exposure to news media: No, I'm not asking that you be uninformed, but in this area of stress management techniques, a little news goes a long way.

    This is a lesson I learned personally by accident. Coming from a "news junkie" family where the day was filled with many news-oriented TV shows, radio broadcasts, and print publications, I didn't learn the impact the stress of repeated negative events spiced with gratuitous anxiety-provoking "news" teasers and time-fillers ("Is there a killer in your refrigerator? The story you must hear to keep your family safe!") had been taking on me until I found myself living in a foreign country where the only english-speaking broadcast was a half-hour of "World News Tonight"--a day late. Turns out, it was just enough info to keep me informed and alert me if there was something I really needed to know, and it didn't take long to notice my anxiety was markedly reduced.

    Try it.

  • Use an affirmation: If our negative feelings are representative of our negative, automatic and usually subconscious thoughts, it makes sense that an effective stress management technique is to give ourselves a conscious, productive thought to run through our minds instead. My favorite affirmation for anxiety is very simple: "I AM Safe." The reason for this is also simple--when we are feeling anxious, we are most likely holding the belief or thought that we are not safe, and we are ruminating on it over and over and over again.

When you are feeling anxiety, consciously introducing and repeating the thought, "I AM Safe," over and over, trains your mind to react (create feelings and actions) that are likely more accurate to your current situation, and probably much more comfortable.

Yes, I understand that things are not perfect when we are experiencing significant anxiety. We may not have       enough money, or may be worried about our marriage, or whether our car will make the next 50,000 miles we need it to . . . but what else is true?

Right now, in this moment, what is true?

Do you have a roof over your head? Some kind of food to eat? Clothes to wear? A friend or family or pet who loves you?

Most likely, right in this moment, you are safe. Let that be your thought.

It will be awkward at first to start repeating this alien thought to yourself. It may even make you angry. But try it anyway. Coupled with some nice deep breaths, I have used this stress management technique on myself and my clients to coax even the most anxious one off the ceiling many, many times.

Try it, let me know how it works.

  • Breathe: Speaking of nice deep breaths, just breathing is a great stress management technique. Studies have shown that individuals who tend towards anxiety have this funny habit--they don't breathe. Well, at least not as often as non-anxious types, or they may tend toward rapid or shallow breathing which can exacerbate anxiety. Taking slow, deep breaths--all the way in and all the way out--really does calm the mind and body and decrease the physical sensations of anxiety. My favorite is this, sometimes called a "four square" breath:

Placing one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen, breathe in slowly and deeply in four counts, noticing the expansion of your abdomen and then your chest; hold for 4 counts, and then slowly exhale for 4 counts noticing your chest and then your abdomen deflate. Hold for 4 counts, and repeat for three sets, working up to six.

  • Take time for yourself: Easier said than done, right? But as a stress management technique, still essential. Giving yourself permission for a quiet cup of tea, a walk around the block, time with a good book, or a bubble bath with the door closed and without (or despite) screaming children, goes a long way toward decompressing and re-energizing yourself to take on the next battle. Again, be nice to yourself.

Teaching stress management techniques is an important part of any good anxiety treatment 

including my own Soul-Focused Therapy. Do you have too much stress in your life? The right anxiety treatment will get you back on track. Are you ready to feel better?

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