7 Strategies for Feeling Calmer.
Advice for dealing with stress, by Antonia Ryan.
Antonia Ryan is a professional working in education and social care. This article is an extract from her new book "Mindfulness for Stress & Anxiety".
Stress and anxiety seem to be an inherent part of modern life. In recent times, anxiety levels are probably at an all-time high because of worries about health and finances in the current situation.
Research has shown that mindfulness practices reduce feelings of stress and induce sensations of peace and calm. Formal mindfulness practices such as mediation and breathing exercises are beneficial. In addition, there are activities and lifestyle tips to help you deal with troubling anxiety.
The following are some practical aspects to consider.
Food and drink.
Be mindful of what you are eating and drinking regularly. Sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can all mimic the sensations of stress and anxiety. Caffeine and alcohol can affect your quality of sleep. For most people, drinking two cups of coffee before noon is an excellent rule to adhere to and if you like an alcoholic drink in the evening, avoid drinking close to bedtime. Perhaps avoid habitually drinking every evening and find other ways to relax. Avoid sweets or high-sugar foods for your general health and weight. Eating too many sweet treats can give us a sugar rush that feels very much like the physiological stress response. Cutting down on sugar is an excellent move when seeking a calmer state.
Foods such as swiss chard, matcha green tea, sweet potatoes, kimchi, artichokes, parsley, chamomile tea, blueberries and garlic can reduce levels of stress or support our bodies in coping more effectively with stress.
Being more aware of the content you view on-screen or the material you read is worth thinking about too. Binge-watching horror movies or sitting up to midnight reading psychological thrillers will not help you feel calm or sleep well. I know I have tried it!
Be aware of the noise levels in your home. Is there always a constant stream of noise from television sets or radios? Be more intentional with what you listen to and remember that a quiet environment can be very soothing. Just being aware of the minute noises, birds singing, the hum of traffic and the wind in the trees can all help anchor you to the present.
We need to know what is going on in the world. Today notice how often you have the urge to check the news or social media. How regularly do you do it? At what time? Where are you? Do you know why you have the urge to check the news or social media feed? The object is not to tell yourself off, but to be aware of how you take in the news and what effect it is having on your emotional and mental health. Not down any observations in your journal.
Be aware of how you are responding to the people you encounter today. Even people you think you like. How do you feel after you have been with them – do you feel tired or uplifted and optimistic? Notice your levels of stress or anxiety around the people you meet today.
When we experience the stress response, our physiological state is getting ramped up to move. So much of the detrimental effects of stress are because we are being primed to move, but we can’t, for example, we have just been cut up in the car at a roundabout but we are restricted to our car seat. Any movement can help shake off the build-up of anxiety in the body. You might feel you need to get out for a run or a brisk walk to work through pent up stress from the day. Undoubtedly, rigorous exercise can help but don’t feel that you always have to throw yourself full throttle into an intense exercise regime. Slow and gentle movement routines such as yoga or tai chi help soothe the nervous system and work deeply into muscles, joints, and areas of the body that have accumulated stress.
Whatever you do, do it mindfully. Pay attention to the breath and really experience how each movement feels. Try to keep your attention on what you are doing, and how it feels. This will keep you calmer, more focused, and help to avoid injuries or damage as you will think about what you are doing rather than just throwing your body into it. If you have got into the routine of going to a busy gym with harsh lights, blaring music, and a pumped-up atmosphere, perhaps try something calmer like a run through a park or area of natural beauty.
Having a personal inventory of your lifestyle including eating, drinking, entertainment, and media exposure can be a rewarding mindfulness exercise. Just take a few minutes to think about your daily habits and amend one aspect at a time. Perhaps make some notes in your journal. Consider incorporating some movement if you don’t do so already. If you exercise regularly, consider how you do it. Do you run with no enjoyment on a treadmill in a busy gym with loud music? Consider some alternatives.
Studies have shown that multi-taskers are task-switchers who are less efficient than their colleagues who mono-task. Multi-tasking can bring on feelings of stress and anxiety because we are burdening the brain with a stressful experience.
Time can present challenges for those of us who feel stressed or anxious. There can be too much time and we feel it stretches ahead in huge blanks of nothingness. Or it can feel like there is too little time and we constantly feel harassed and behind on our schedules.
When we accept that really the only time we have is now, we can think more helpfully about time. We can’t be in tomorrow and we can’t time travel back to yesterday. By focusing on now, we bring our attention, emotions, feelings, and experiences right to this moment. When we are totally focused on this moment, we can be most productive and experience life to the full.
When we feel overwhelmed, we can chunk time for all the tasks we have to complete. This avoids the temptation to multi-task and feeling even more frazzled. By setting aside sufficient time to focus on one task, we know we can complete it well because we are giving it our full attention and effort. Chunking the day into slots for tasks, jobs, and more pleasurable activities, such as time with loved ones or a walk, we can use our time well and give the activity or person our full attention.
Try using your planner, diary, or calendar to block out chunks of time for the things you want to achieve or enjoy. Commit to them and give them your full attention. You will feel calmer, more satisfied, and achieve more.
As a mindfulness exercise today, perhaps spend a few moments taking stock of your daily habits and routines. Where could you make adjustments to support you in feeling calmer and less anxious? Just make one or two small amendments and see how it feels. Perhaps try to focus on just one task at a time. Maybe look at your home or work environment and do what you can to make it more peaceful and nurturing to body and soul.
Wherever you are on your mindfulness journey I wish you peace, joy and freedom from worry.
Antonia's book, "Mindfulness for Stress and Anxiety" will be available from Wins Press from 30th June 2020.