We all know that healthy diet, regular exercise, fresh air, sun and enough sleep all reduce stress and improve our mood.
I can hear you saying: “I have tried them all but they don’t work.”
Because on a bad day, when nothing goes well, all you can think of is take-away food, a glass of wine and a couch. Going to the gym or for a walk and cooking a healthy meal after work requires discipline and excess energy, which you don’t always have. That’s why those strategies, whilst valuable, are not enough.
What is required is to put oneself in the right frame of mind and have the right attitude…. as often as possible.
A good starting point to deal with anxiety and stress is:
1. Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness is having the ability to pay attention to the present moment purposefully and non-judgementally. In order to be able to achieve that more often than occasionally, we need to train our brain by regularly practicing – meditating, which is engaging in a single activity for a period of time. Such activity may involve deep breathing, visualisation or mantra.
The more we engage in a relaxation activity, the more we can control our stress and anxiety.
Researchers have shown that adrenaline and cortisol hormones produced in our bodies to help us deal with stressful or dangerous situations can be controlled by regular meditation.
Consequently, by slowing down our breath, our blood pressure and heart rate, otherwise increased by adrenaline, drop.
2. Self-Talk In Check
Margaret Thatcher once said: ‘Watch your thoughts, for they will become actions. Watch your actions, for they'll become habits. Watch your habits for they will forge your character. Watch your character, for it will make your destiny.”
And so your thoughts become your destiny.
Many people assume that they need to stop having negative thoughts in order to be happy. The thing is though, that negative or positive, thoughts will always be there.
The trick lies in having the ability to catch ourselves having those thoughts, and if they are negative we need to learn to take control over them before they start controlling us.
How do we do that?
The skill lies in observation.
We need to perceive ourselves as the observer of our thoughts, separate from them.
Rather than thinking of oneself as “stupid”, perceive yourself as the one who is thinking such a thought.
The thought is not the reality. It is just a thought, just one way of perceiving the reality.
The less we identify ourselves with our thoughts, negative or positive, the more balanced we are, less egocentric and in control of our emotions.
The more we are able to control our emotions and emotional reactions in stressful situations, the more likely we are to remain calm.
The stress, pain and misfortune are a part of life. It’s not what happens to us, it’s how we respond that matters.
3. Developing Self-Awareness and other aspects of EQ
In order to control our thought processes and be able to catch ourselves thinking negative thoughts we first need to understand our patters of behaviour, our trigger points and our limiting beliefs.
Such understanding is achieved as we develop higher level of self-awareness and generally, emotional intelligence.
A self aware person recognises what is the most important to them – they know their values. They are clear on what they want to achieve in life and career – they know their purpose and vision and consequently, they set meaningful goals.
Having such awareness permits focus and discipline in following a designed life and career path. It also explains why we are sensitive or have strong reactions in situations we are emotionally invested in, over others.
It may be as a result of someone else’s words about us or as a result of our own thoughts that we start feeling anxious.
Regardless of what is the cause, having an awareness of why we react in a certain way allows us to create distance between ourselves and that thought, and therefore not engage.
4. Connecting with Others
Hormones play a big part in maintaining our calm.
We meditate to control the release of adrenaline and cortisol hormones of stress. The latter maintains our mood balance whereas oxytocin is responsible for feelings of love and connectivity.
The more we connect with others, mentally as well as physically, the happier we are.
Having a conversation, sharing an experience, agreeing on a point of view all contribute to connectivity.
We can encourage connection by showing interest and being genuinely curious: asking questions of others and paraphrasing what we hear.
Positive conversations make physical connection easier and more natural to occur. Therefore, a handshake followed by a shoulder touch or an embrace and a hug (shared more amongst women than men) all contribute to a good feeling and release of happy hormones.