I was 9-years-old the first time I experienced anxiety, and while I wasn’t an overly nervous person throughout my teenage years and 20s, stress and stress management have been extremely challenging for me since I hit my 30s, and my anxiety has been at an all-time high since I lost my dad very suddenly and unexpectedly in 2014. It just feels like as soon as we overcome one hurdle and start to enjoy some semblance of normalcy, something else happens, and even though I’m all about making margaritas when life throws me lemons, sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough tequila to keep up.
Of course, life is often about perception, and even though my family has been through quite a bit in the last 18 months or so, I am fully aware that there are people out there who are experiencing challenges in their lives that are a lot more difficult and heartbreaking than what we’ve been through, and I count my blessings every single day for all of the positive things I have in my life.
In fact, I am so sick and tired of feeling anxious and stressed out all of the time, and worrying about the effects it’s having on my daughter, that I have made a promise to myself and my family that 2016 is going to be a better year. And even though I know know I cannot control what happens in the next 12 months, I do know I can try to control how I react.
So I’ve been proactively teaching myself how to relieve stress naturally, and after a lot of trial and error, I’ve found quite a few tips that work for me. Some of these help me relieve stress instantly, while others are more for long-term maintenance, but all of them have proved extremely effective.
1. GO FOR A WORKOUT
I have been running religiously for about 3 years now, but whenever life gets crazy and busy and stressful, I immediately stop going to the gym. I have always felt like my sessions on the treadmill are a ‘nice-to-have’, and while that may be true to a certain extent, experience has proven to me time and again how important those 30-60 minutes on the treadmill are for my overall sense of wellbeing.
And when a trainer at my gym reminded me that exercise is a proven way to not only reduce our stress hormones, but that it also releases mood-enhancing chemicals to help us deal with stress, I decided to make a conscious effort to make my workouts a priority from now on.
This has required a little adjustment in my schedule, but the results have been too positive to ignore, and I’m determined to stick with it!
Don’t have time to go to the gym? Try some of these at-home workouts!
2. MAKE A CUP OF TEA
While I’m more of a (decaffeinated) coffee drinker, I always start and end my day with a warm cup of tea. I have been hooked on green tea for a couple of years now given all of the health benefits it offers, but when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, I immediately head to the kitchen (or the closest coffee shop) for a cup of chamomile, which is known to soothe nervousness and promote a sense of calm.
There are heaps of other teas that help with stress and anxiety, and I often find they are most effective when enjoyed with a friend!
3. TREAT YOURSELF TO A MASSAGE
I am not one who enjoys going to the spa, but when I was working in the corporate world and complaining of tension in my neck and back from sitting at my computer for hours on end each day, a co-worker (very nicely) made me an appointment with her massage therapist.
I initially felt annoyed by this – I simply did not have time to squeeze another appointment into my busy calendar! – but after only one session, I was hooked. As it turns out, massage not only helps relieve physical discomfort, but it also helps with symptoms of stress and anxiety as well.
Of course, massage therapy can be very expensive, but if you have a good insurance plan, I highly recommend you give it a try!
4. GO TO A YOGA CLASS
While I prefer cardio-based exercises with loud music, an elevated heart rate, and lots of sweat dripping down my body, the controlled breathing, meditation, and stretching yoga offers is absolutely amazing when it comes to anxiety and stress management.
I make it a point to incorporate at least one yoga class into my weekly exercise regime, and make a conscious effort to practice some of the techniques outside of the yoga studio, which goes a long way in keeping my stress at a minimum!
Don’t have time to hit a yoga class? Here are 10 fabulous yoga sessions you can do at home!
5. TRY LAVENDER
I read somewhere that lavender is good for anxiety and insomnia a couple of years ago, and while I do not use or promote the use of essential oils, I buy a lot of lavender-scented products as I find the smell helps keep me calm. In fact, I keep a tube of lavender hand cream in my purse at all times as I find it comes in handy when I’m feeling anxious while on the go!
I had the opportunity to ask a psychotherapist friend of mine for stress reduction tips a few months ago, and one of my biggest takeaways from our conversation was the importance of breathing.
This initially sounded a bit silly to me – I breathe all day, everyday! – but when I tried her suggestion of breathing in for a count of 4, and then out for a count of 4, for 5 minutes when I was feeling extremely anxious a couple of days later, I was amazed at what a difference it made.
Thankfully, I don’t have to do this often, but it instantly calms me down when I do.
7. EAT SOME CHOCOLATE
Yes, it’s true: eating chocolate has been shown to reduce stress levels.
Of course, inhaling 3 chocolate bars after a bad day can lead to other health issues (think: weight gain!), but there’s some pretty convincing evidence out there that suggests eating controlled amounts of DARK chocolate on the regular can actually be good for your mental state as it helps lower the levels of cortisol in your body.
And who’s kidding who – chocolate ALWAYS makes me feel happy!
Want more excuses to eat chocolate? Read this.
8. MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
For the last 4+ years, I have been surviving on about 5 hours of sleep every night, and in the last 6 months or so, it has started to take its toll on my body. I’m gaining weight, my concentration is shot, and I’m high strung, but it wasn’t until I started to make a conscious effort to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night that I realized how important sleep is to my overall health.
I find I am much more alert and productive after a good night of sleep, and when an illness or work project keeps me up past my (new) bedtime, I almost always feel more anxious, nervous, and irritable the following day.
We all experience some form of stress and anxiety throughout our lives, and while some can cope with these setbacks quite easily, others aren’t as lucky. I highly recommend speaking to your family doctor if you find it difficult to cope with your stress and/or anxiety, but in mild cases such as mine, learning how to relieve stress naturally may be all it takes to get yourself back on track.
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