How To Stay Calm In Anxious, Stressful Situations

Life can be stressful and uncertain. Currently, the U.S. is a crazy place right now, full of chaos and unrest, regardless of where you stand politically. We have choices on how we can deal with this: we can freak out, we can bury our head in the sand or we can resiliently calm down so we can function properly. When the bottom drops out and the world feels strange, our body responds by releasing chemicals in our brain like the stress hormones: Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Norepinephrine.

When we have an increase of stress hormones in our system, we forget things, lose sleep, get sick and even gain weight. So, just like Tom Waits sings, “You gotta hold on…” and here are some tips to help you do that.

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1. Just Breathe

It sounds simple, but often times when life is stressful, we forget to breathe properly. Keeping shallow breaths running through your body will only cause you more strife, tight muscles, headaches, and dizziness. To ensure that you are breathing properly, simply stop and think about it. Sit up tall so that your lungs have open space to expand. Relax your shoulders so your neck is nice and long and your muscles are relaxed. Start with a deep breath in through your nose and allow the breath to travel all the way down to the deepest part of your lungs. This will cause your belly to expand like an inflated balloon. Hold the breath for a moment and sense how it feels to have full lungs. Then take a deep exhale, emptying your lungs and inflated balloon, breathe out completely so there is no breath left in the lungs, almost to the point of gasping. Hold the breath out for a moment and sense how it feels to have empty lungs. Repeat this throughout the day, especially when you start feeling anxious.

Beautiful young woman holding blue scarf on the wind

2. Spend Time in Nature

If you need to escape, try and be productive while doing so. When the people around you are stressing you out with their opinions and arguments, you need to escape from time to time so you don’t lose your mind. Nature is the perfect place to hide. Take a walk at the seashore and watch the waves as they swim in toward you, then push away from you. Try to match your breath with the tide. Lie down in a field and stare up at the sky, watch clouds float by and see if you can find shapes, animals or people forming in within their puffy whiteness. Go on a hike, climb up rocks, spend hours in the fresh air, and wear yourself out so you are too tired to think. These little breaks from reality will give you the strength you need to live among the chaos that is our reality.

3. Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? When life is chaotic, it wrecks havoc on our Z’s. Sleepy people are forgetful, grumpy and agitated. There are plenty unhappy people walking around these days, so make sure you are getting enough sleep. If anxiety is keeping you awake, make sure you are preparing yourself for a long night sleep each night. Keep a schedule in which you go to bed and wake the same time each day; this teaches your brain to create a behavior pattern where you get sleepy at a certain time and you feel awake at another.

Make sure your room is very dark so your mind knows it’s not daytime (black out curtains do wonders for this, but you can also use a sleep mask to block out light). Shut off all electronic devices (phone, computer, TV, Kindle) at least 2 hours before bed. This will give your brain a chance to shut off. Dim the lights about 2 hours before bed so your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Take a hot bath or shower, which will raise your body temperature and slow your heart rate and blood pressure. Chamomile tea is a sleep aid, so make yourself a pot of calming tea. Finally, if you are sensitive to sound, purchase some comfy earplugs so you can shut out the noise (you may want to keep these in your pocket for waking state, too).

4. Take A Break From Social Media

At times, social media can serve as an escape from normal everyday life. It is pretty cool being able to live vicariously through thousands of people on your friends list. That is, unless it is election season. I personally know people who ditch social media the entire election year to avoid over-opinionated rants about the candidates. If you haven’t taken some time off yet, you may want to do so now. Streaming through Facebook posts, Instagram or watching the news right now can keep stress hormones flowing freely through your veins. If you can’t peel yourself away from social media, consider carefully what you post and share so that you don’t get a barrage of hate comments that can ruin your day and add to your anxiety.

Runner stretching leg during outdoor warm-up on beach before run

5. Exercise

When the world is too much for you to bear, simply run from it. Escape reality for a short time by taking a jog, walk, swim or fitness class. Exercising is a great way to increase the feel-good chemicals in your brain and it’s a great way to take your mind off life. Put together an uplifting mix on your iPod and head for the beach for an hour to your troubles away for a bit. Take a yoga class and leave your mind outside the door as you stretch and breathe in a serene environment. You will clear your mind while also getting in shape. It’s a win-win!

When you have no control of what goes on outside in the big bad world, consider controlling how you respond to it. Good luck folks, stay strong and know that this too shall pass!

Sarah Stevenson
Sarah Stevenson, a.k.a., The Tini Yogini, is a Certified Yoga Instructor in Southern California. She has a degree in Behavioral Psychology and is a professional writer focusing on the subject of fitness and conscious living. She teaches not only yoga classes but also life affirming workshops.

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