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  • Writer's pictureC Killeen

5 Ways to Calm Anxiety and Stress

Sunset over North Vancouver ocean and mountains.
5 Ways to Calm Anxiety and Stress

According to a fall 2020 study by Statics Canada 1 in 4 Canadians (25%) over the age of 18 experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As a Counsellor I do not find this surprising, we have all lived through what I call the height of the Covid era, we have rising living costs, an unstable economy and immense day to day performance pressure in our every day lives. Our nervous systems tend to be overactive; we are constantly in fight or flight mode and trying to get the enormous mound of work, errands, house cleaning, children’s activities and social events done. We want to be present and enjoy life but there is just so much to always get done! There is so much pressure not just to do it but to do it so well and in a quick manner while being polite and looking our best too.

We live in world that expects us to conform, to be a certain kind of person and show up a certain kind of way even if it is not true to who we are. We may have to be nice to clients at work that are very rude to us. Perhaps someone yelled at us and we wanted to run away but we could not. We had to stay put and help them anyways. All the stress adds up and takes a toll on us.

According to the American Psychiatric Association “Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat.”

We are in a constant state of worry about the future…there are threats all around us. Yes, the threats are different today then they were for our ancestors but they are there. Often the work we do may require us to anticipate needs or issues that could arise in order to proactively avoid them.

We need to manage our thoughts, calm our nervous systems, and build up some emotional, mental, physical and if it resonates spiritual resources that we can use to support ourselves. This is called a bottom up and top-down approach. We can start to calm both our body and mind, which slows down the secretion of stress hormones and allows our brains to stop ruminating.

1. Create a self care routine or spiritual practice:

I suggest some breathwork if you are able, my favourite is the simple box breath, 4 second inhale,4 second hold, 4 second exhale. I would start to do this every day even if it’s just for a minute and setting a timer on your phone. Bring your attention back to your breath every time your mind wanders. This helps calm nervous the system by lowering stress hormones in the body, this starts to slow down the feedback loop between the brain and the body. When our exhale is longer than our inhale it signals to our brain that we are safe because when we are in fight or flight (which is what anxiety is, fear of future threat) we cannot elongate our breath. Our breath remains shallow so that we can run or fight.

Link to box breath technique:

Self care does not need to be fancy to work it can mean 1 minute of breathwork to start, it can be 5 minutes of journaling your feelings, a 2-minute meditation. Again, it does not need to be fancy or long to start to work and help you by lowering anxiety and stress. 5-10 minutes is manageable for most people. There are lots of apps like Insight timer, Headspace, and even great YouTube videos if you want guidance for meditation or breathwork.

(If you have not done breathwork before watch how you feel and slowly increase the deepness of inhale, if this creates fear, anxiety or discomfort consult a healthcare practitioner)


2. Acceptance:

Recognise and accept that anxiety is there, instead of fighting it be aware of it and allow it to be there and take a breath, notice where the feeling is in your body. Resisting anxiety makes it worse.

3. Notice the negative or anxious thoughts and when they tend to arise:

Take time to consider them before believing them, not everything we think is true. Perhaps your anxiety is telling you that you can’t get through this presentation, but you have done many presentations before and although uncomfortable, you made it through. Be kind to yourself, if you had a friend in this situation, how would you encourage or help them? Say it to yourself. Create a statement that will encourage or help you cope in difficult situations and say it to yourself.

4. Create Boundaries:

Create boundaries for yourself and other people. Most of us do not need to be on our phones all the time, checking work emails or being available all the time to everyone. If you are feeling anxious and exhausted it may be a good time to create some boundaries around technology, work, bed times etc. Also, it is ok to say No. You don’t need to say yes to everyone who asks you to do something, friends, family, or work.

5. Complete the stress cycle in the body:

Exercise can be a great way to expel pent up energy, stress, and anxiety. It does not have to be strenuous! In fact, low intensity exercise like walking, stretching and yoga etc., that tend to be more relaxing work better for calming anxiety. High intensity workouts and runs can further engage the fight or flight response increasing our anxiety.

This post is not to put more on your plate or to suggest you take on a tiring routine that you cannot keep up with. I suggest you choose one thing at a time from the list and try it out. Create something that is easy for you to do that will fit into your life. Small actions that are sustainable can create lasting change. Please consult a Counsellor or Health Care practitioner for individual feedback if required, these tools are general and each person and their life, goals and needs can vary.

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