Anxiety & Stress

image of a water strider on the water - links to anxiety & stress page

Stress is a response to an event. Anxiety is a reaction to stress that continues after stressful events have resolved.

Whilst stress and anxiety are used interchangeably, understanding how they differ is a really good basis upon which to explore how we tackle them. Stress and anxiety share many emotional and physical symptoms, and both can usefully improve our performance. When experienced at high levels for long periods, we can however become distressed and unwell, and our performance can suffer. There is a vast amount of information available to us online around what to do to manage stress and anxiety and links are provided below, yet it remains the primary reason people seek counselling. So what are the common things that block us from putting strategies into practice and how might we give these a boost.

Strategies often suggested

A quick search of the internet will reveal the following suggestions:

  • Balance your commitments
  • Prioritise rest or relaxation time alongside completing study or work commitments
  • Take a break – 1 day off a week, a few hours off every day and 10 minutes off every hour
  • Exercise 
  • Talk to friends or family
  • Delegate or prioritise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Learn to say “no”
  • Meditate
  • Small acts of bravery – do something that makes you feel anxious to build confidence
  • Practice relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation
  • Slow breathing
  • Cut back on coffee or foods/drinks that make you feel jittery
  • Challenge your thoughts and look for “facts”
  • Plan “worry time”
  • Learn from others through talking about your experiences or joining a support group
  • Be kind to yourself if you are feeling anxious, rather than being harsh  
  • Learn to plan instead of worrying

Blocks

Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can prevent us from addressing our stress or anxiety.

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  • The strategies don’t work for me

    Our beliefs about how something will help and what that will look like significantly impact our assessment of whether it’s effective. We know that running on the treadmill for 5 minutes will not suddenly make running 10km immediately achievable. Strategies aren’t instant remedies and like anything we become good at, they require time and regular practice.

  • They might work for a while but nothing ‘solves’ anxiety or stress, it always comes back

    Anxiety has a critical function in helping us to avoid danger. In the modern world, anxiety continues to signal danger but has also evolved to signal when something is new or unique. In an ever changing world, we will regularly come upon things that are new or make us feel uncomfortable and require effort to engage with. Anxiety is not a problem to “solve” but a signal that we can learn how to interact with differently.

  • The strategies are impossible because I can’t take time off

    Flexible thinking is not something that comes naturally to most of us. We become invested in doing things in a set way and filter out alternatives because they require a shift in priorities. Accepting that we can’t do everything or do things to a set standard all the time is a helpful step towards clearly examining our priorities and making time for strategies that work.

Boosters

Below are three things you can do to boost success.

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  • Start with one strategy only

    Commit to one strategy alone to begin with and make a detailed plan around how you are going to put it into practice. Make a specific time, think about how you will handle things that interfere, tell someone you trust about what you’re doing or write your plan down. Choose something that is within your control and plan to do it imminently.

  • Set a morning routine

    Set a morning routine that is likely to promote a sense of calm and control. You might change your wake up time to allow 15 minutes to set your tasks or priorities for the day. If reaching for your phone is your first action of the morning, ask yourself, “How does this influence everything that comes next?” If it’s useful, do it. If it subtly influences your mood or increases anxiety or stress, postpone it until later in the day.

  • Incorporate your strategies

    Incorporate strategies into your daily plan and link them to activities you already do. For example, if looking at your diary in the morning and taking time to plan your priorities for the day helps to build a sense of calm and control, leave it open near the kettle so you see it when making a coffee. Coupling activities like planning whilst having a morning tea or coffee might increase the likelihood of forming a helpful habit.