If you try to stop stress from overwhelming you the opposite will happen. It’s like fighting an incoming wave; it will surround & submerge you again.
I know it sucks to read.
Stress & anxiety can hit us like a wall of water & that we didn’t see coming & don’t know how to get out from under. I’m sharing with you what I’ve done for myself & clients I’ve coached to manage this overwhelming sensation:
How Do We Stop Stress?
1. Make a New Relationship with Anxiety
It might not be easy to hear this, but I encourage you to look at your relationship with anxiety. And I do mean en-COURAGE because it is going to take crap-tonne of courage the first time you do it.
When stress comes out of nowhere it helps to know what you are dealing with before making a change.
Part of that knowledge is getting to know how we’re wired up in our reaction patterns to stressful stimuli.
Some of us are wired for higher adrenaline levels in our responses to otherwise pretty standard events. It can be modelled behaviour from our parents, a clinical diagnosis, or the result of experiences that caused trauma.
Understandably we have a negative association with a feeling that makes us feel afraid. However, we’re also conditioned to react instead of responding to that fear.
Typically, we judge ourselves negatively for experiencing stress & anxiety. The truth is, unless we’re in physical danger, those responses are learned. Some fear is just a thought.
2. Learn that feelings are not good or bad:
We’ve been taught that uncomfortable emotions are destructive & to suppress or avoid them. But it’s an unsustainable way to live when we think about that.
LIFE IS 50% BAD & 50% GOOD.
When I think about an average day, about half of my thoughts are “positive,” & half are negative thoughts. So as I look back on the past decades of my life, it’s about split down the middle; half of it was welcome experiences, half of it was not such welcome experiences.
I don’t want to be struggling to stop stress & anxiety every time an unwanted thought, uncomfortable emotion or “negative” event happens for that 50% of the time I’m alive. That strategy will exhaust me.
There’s a better way to look at “stopping” stress & that is to neutralize my life events (except for being chased by a Wooley Mammoth).
Armed with the knowledge that both good and bad will happen, beyond my control, it’s way more sustainable to accept it, not fight it. When I do that, I’m able to decide the thoughts I want to be having &, therefore how I want to be responding in life.
PERFECTION IS NOT THE GOAL.
We have this tendency to think that once we know a better way of responding, we’re supposed to do it “right” from then on. When we don’t stop or manage stress according to “the plan,” we judge ourselves for being weak or incapable. Welcome to perfectionist thinking!
I don’t neutralize my stress or anxiety every time I experience it & neither will you. Perfection isn’t the goal; the goal is to react less, respond more. Not perfectly, not 100% of the time, but more often than before.
Sometimes rushing into “the plan” can be a form of perfectionism & avoiding the emotional experience.
Have a plan ready for anxiety, but before rushing into the plan, CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF:
- Ask, “what do I need right now?”
- Take a breath.
- Recognize the other sensations in your body right now that aren’t in panic…the feeling of your feet on the floor or back against the chair.
- Tap into those sensations & you’ll reduce some of the focus on the anxiety-produced feelings.
- Then gently move into your behaviour or thought-based plans for moving past the anxiety. (I’ll cover behaviour & thought based methods in a future post)
3. Watch your thoughts about stress & anxiety:
If you constantly think about how terrible it is, that will increase how terrible you think anxiety is! That thinking will also increase the likelihood of anticipatory anxiety: Feeling anxious before you are in an anxiety-inducing situation.
You’ll likely think catastrophically about it:
- “I feel like I’m going crazy,
- I’m the only one going through this,
- I’m so messed up,
- This is unbearable.”
There are times you won’t be comfortable in life. Learning to be ok with things not being ok is a mindset shift that will help you cope when life gets hard.
Control is an illusion. Increase your tolerance for ambiguity to better handle the uncertainties of life.
Learn to be still. Instead of running when you feel those familiar anxious emotions, learn to be still with them. I hear you through the screen telling me how impossible that sounds, but is it? Have you ever tried it?
BE STILL in ANXIETY & stop stress:
- Start with 10 seconds.
- Time yourself being still for a short amount of time, so you know an end is coming soon.
- Notice the sensation without the thoughts:
- Where do I feel anxiety in my body?
- What colour is it?
- What shape is it?
- Repeat these:
- “Ok, this is anxiety.
- It’s a moment of stress.
- I’m going to observe this for the next 10 seconds without reacting.
- I might have some thoughts go through my mind, but I’ll choose not to react to those right now & let them go by.
- Those are just thoughts, just like anxiety is just a feeling.
- Feelings are not facts.
- Thoughts are not truths”
4. Train Your Brain Like A Muscle & stop stress
Time Under Tension: This is a term that refers to the amount of time a muscle is held under tension in an effort to optimize the muscle’s strength & growth.
Your brain is not a muscle, it’s an organ, but it learns like a muscle. Muscles need to be exposed to increasing tension or strain in order to grow & it’s never comfortable at first. BUT you DO build strength as well as endurance the more you expose it to responsible amounts of strain.
If you start your biceps muscle training curling 50lbs., you’ll end up straining the tissue, have to take time off your training & be more likely to give up the idea altogether. Instead, you start out with light resistance that you can complete just enough repetitions to feel a bit tired, but not harmed or exhausted.
The same rule applies to your relationship with anxiety. If you have a fear of social situations, you wouldn’t be effective in exposing yourself to attending a huge party. Instead, start out with a visualization technique, or go to the grocery store for one item at a time there aren’t many people in the store.
Likewise, if you fear your stress or sadness & try to distract or resist FEELING your feelings you won’t get the chance to build your ability to handle them when they appear.
5. Build the Observing Ego & Stop Fusing With Stress
The observing ego is your ability to watch yourself respond, change with & process an event as you experience it. Whenever you do this, you get to know yourself better & gain more control over your reactions.
IDENTIFYING WITH EMOTION: If you identify with your fear-based behaviours every time you feel anxious, you reinforce to yourself that “that’s just the kind of person I am.” This creates a fusion type of relationship with stress: that our stress response defines us as a “stressed out” person.
PSYCHOLOGICAL FLEXIBILITY: On the other hand, if you observe yourself; you build Psychological Flexibility: the ability to stay in contact with the present moment in the presence of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. When you can sit with the anxiety and NOT let it boss you around, you’ve shown yourself that there are options available to you. With practice, you will begin to trust that you’re able to choose how you want to respond to anxiety and stress instead of it telling you what to do.
OBSERVE YOURSELF: You are also building the “muscle-skill” of being able to observe yourself. This technique allows you to identify less as an anxious person & more as a person who experiences anxiety sometimes. In other words, you practise watching your anxiety as separate from you more than experiencing your anxiety as a part of you.
Remember, anxiety and stress aren’t a part of you, they are an experience like many other experiences you have in life.
They don’t define who you are & experiencing them doesn’t mean you are broken.
How To Stop Stressing About The Future.
Accept The Things You Cannot Change.
Sneaky Ways Fear is Holding You Back. 6 Ways To Face Your Fears and Build Resilience.
Make Confident Choices & Stop Regretting So Much!