10 Ways to cope with Anxiety and Stress

We all have things that trigger feelings of anxiety and stress. Some are small and insignificant, such as being stuck in traffic, and others are life disrupters that turn our world upside down. The one thing that’s certain is that trying to avoid those things that stress us is like trying to walk in between the raindrops in a thunderstorm.

The world we live in is only getting more complex. We are surrounded by choices. From the close to 100,000 drink combinations at Starbucks to the 27 apps on a typical smart phone. At times it seems that our ability to innovate has exceeded our ability to cope with innovation. It’s simply overwhelming.

And, while we may joke about the ability of millennials and Gen Z to adapt, multitask, and embrace change, the truth is that they are feeling it most of all. According to Psychology Today, twenty-five percent of kids between 13-18 suffer from anxiety. One study found that eighty-five percent of college students score significantly above students of the 1930’s and 40’s when it comes to reporting symptoms of anxiety.

Its’ no wonder that prescriptions for anti-anxiety meds have increased by 50% in the last 20 years.

Mobile technology isn’t helping any of this.

  • 50 percent of us check our e-mail or text messages before getting out of bed in the morning.
  • 60 percent of us sleep with our mobile devices in or near our bed (up to 79 percent for those under age fifty).
  • 30 percent of millennials actually sleep with their smart phone “in” their bed.
  • We spend on average of 5.5 hours on mobile devices daily, however 40 percent of 22-32 year-olds spend more than 13 thirteen hours a day on their mobile device!

It’s all pointing to the inevitable conclusion that we live in a world whose complexity, uncertainty, and volatility is increasing faster than our ability to cope. When the context of change exceeds your ability to cope it creates stress.

Since we’re clearly not going to slow down the overall rate of change in the world, there are only two ways to reduce stress. You either have to avoid the triggers or learn to better cope with them. Notice that I didn’t say you had to adapt to the change. The greatest myth we perpetrate in modern society is that we have a mandate to adapt and accept every change. While that sounds very progressive, it can actually create even more stress because now you are not only anxious about the change but you’re also setting a high bar that you have to hurdle by adapting to something your body and mind really do not like, which in turn creates even more stress.

The fact is that not all change is good change that contributes value and quality to our lives. Take my earlier example of driving in traffic. If I could show you a way to get to your destination that is faster, more pleasant, more scenic, and which contributes something positive to your life wouldn’t you choose that over adapting to the traffic?

Although we don’t like to admit it, that’s the way most stress works. We choose to stay in stressful situations because we actually adapt to the presence of stress and accept it as normal. That only makes stress a permanent part of your life. Chronic stress is not normal. It damages your body, dulls your mind, and depresses you emotionally. And then all of these in turn make it even harder to cope with the triggers that create the stress.

So how do you reduce stress? Here are 10 ways to start both eliminating the triggers of stress and anxiety and coping with those that you have no control over.

1) Get off of Social Media

I know, I’ve started with one of the hardest and most difficult stressors to eliminate. With smartphones we are tethered to social media like tagged wildlife. Worse yet, studies have shown that social media triggers addictive and obsessive responses in the brain. But it’s not just what social media does to your brain but also what it does to your workload. Eliminating social media is exceptionally effective at reducing the stress of not having enough time. According to a study conducted by AdWeek we spend nearly 2 hours each day on social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. What would your day feel like if you had two extra hours to do things that you really needed to do? Well, guess what? You just got those two hours. It’s up to you how you use them.

2) Take a Break

Small breaks every 15 minutes have been shown to have a tremendously positive effect on productivity and well being. The key here is to avoid falling into the trap of believing that simply bumping up against an obstacle repeatedly will cause it to give way. In many cases that’s only going to increase your stress and frustration. Imagine your car being stuck in deep snow while you just keep spinning your wheels and digging deeper and deeper into the snow making it harder and harder to get out. Instead take a step back. Clear your mind. And then revisit whatever it is you’re dealing with from a new perspective.

3) Talk it Out

Depending on what type of personality you are this may appear to be very natural or very painful. This of us who like to retreat into the confines of our own mind believe that we can somehow will our way out of just about anything by focusing hard enough without interruption. In fact the worst thing in the world you can do to me when I’m stuck and stressed is to try and talk to me. My instinct is to shut you down faster than I’d swat away an annoying fly. Yet, conversation is one of the most therapeutic forms of problem solving. Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting someone else has the answer, but that your talking it out will help you find an answer. My friend Judith Glaser has written extensively about how conversations not only shape our emotions but also have lasting effects at the level of our DNA. Although I’ll admit to being the last one to take my own advice on this, I can attest that as a mentor, teacher, and consultant I’ve never ceased to be amazed at how people usually figure out their own problems with nothing more than encouragement and a bit of objective perspective.

4) Take a Walk/ Workout

Cliche, right? Perhaps, but walking actually release the feel good cocktail of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which stimulates you brain and causes you to feel better about yourself and your situation. Again, the challenge is that we want to believe we can “deal” with the stressor and we see walking away as a loss, when the greater loss is in spending much more time than is needed or warranted trying to “figure it out.”

5) Read

This is another one of those activities that we often see as distracting us from the task at hand. Yet, I’ve found that few things stimulate my ability to think through a problem more than the simple act of reading. Sometimes I’ll stumble across a nugget of wisdom that is tangentially or even directly applicable to my challenge at hand. But most times it’s just a way to get my mind to divert from a train of thought that has been holding it hostage. We don’t want to admit how easily we can become near sighted and lose peripheral vision necessary to think creatively.

6) Write, But Don’t Judge

This is one of my favorites. Our brains are muscles. They work best when we exercise them. But they also need time to recover and rebuild. I’m convinced that moderate amounts of acute stress are a good thing. If you’re a small business owner it’s just part of your life. Yet, the periods of recovery in between the stress are critically important. One way to give your brain time to recover is to write, I’m not talking about writing anything deeply meaningful or, for that matter, even remotely interesting. Instead, my suggestion is to simply write with no judgement about what you’re writing or how you are writing it. When you’re done writing just toss it in folder of random thoughts and streams of consciousness. It’s no different than going to the gym to workout. You’re not doing anything permanent. You’re not building a stone wall when you lift weights. You’re not going anywhere on that treadmill, elliptical of stationary bike. But you do it because it has a long term impact on you. Same with writing. Just do it for 5-15 minutes — no judgment, no proofing–and see how much sharper you are

7) Take a Nap

“And just when am I supposed to do that?” you’re asking. Well, that is exactly the problem. Most of us do not get enough sleep to begin with. Short power naps are one way to improve that. According to WebMD, “Research shows longer naps help boost memory and enhance creativity. Slow-wave sleep — napping for approximately 30 to 60 minutes — is good for decision-making skills, such as memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. Getting rapid eye movement or REM sleep, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping, plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems.” Yes, I know, the guilt of daytime napping is a hard one to cope with, which may contribute its own form of stress. Then again, if you haven’t tried it you may be very pleasantly surprised at its benefits.

8) Meditate

People fall into two categories, those who meditate and those who haven’t yet. Once you do it’s amazing how drawn you will be to it whenever stress shows up. I’m not going to give you a meditation method here. You need to study it and develop your own approach to meditation What I will share is something a good friend once told me. Meditating is not about trying not to think, instead it’s about allowing your mind to wander where it will while you observe calmly and without judgment. All I can say is, try it.

9) Listen to Music

In the age of mobility it seems as though each of our lives has a soundtrack. It’s a good thing and it can help reduce stress significantly. A group of neuroscientists at Mindlab International in the U.K have come across a piece of music that they claim reduces overall anxiety by 65 percent and reduces physiological responses to anxiety by 35 percent. I’ve often found music, in general, to be a wonderful way to help my mind get into a sort of creative zone where ideas flow smoothly and that same feel-good brain cocktail gets released. After all, who among us hasn’t been caught coping with rush hour traffic by performing a bit of carpool karaoke?

10) Stop Asking “What if?”

Lastly, it’s one thing to deal with the stress of the present without adding to it the stress of the past. While there are many episodes in each of our lives that we carry forward, the worst sort of stress is the “what if” games we pay about the past. I’m going to be very blunt here. The only reason to second guess the past is because you are unhappy with where you are now. If that wasn’t the case there would be no reason to questions how you got here. So, if that’s the case what you really need to focus on is your situation right now, right here. Do that and the what if games come to an end. Don’t do it and I will guarantee you one thing. Several months or several years down the road you will say “what if” about today as well!

Will the ten ways I’ve described eliminate your stress? No. Some degree of stress is a normal response to the world we live in. If you weren’t periodically stressed you also would likely not feel much of anything else. We need the occasional thunderstorm in our lives. Most of us just don’t want to live in a perpetual monsoon.