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How to reduce stress, anxiety & depression

Steps to equilibrium, happiness and productivity during challenging times

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When the stress, anxiety and depression hit you, they are no longer concepts. You have to deal with them to survive and thrive.

“It’s different when it’s your house that’s on fire” K.B., Fire Department Captain

Life as we knew it pre-Covid-19 is no more. The changes and disruptions have wrecked many people’s mental and emotional stability along with their finances and careers. There are steps you can take manage your stress, anxiety, emotional and physical balance to give you the grounding to move forward gracefully.

A longtime friend of mine is in the eye of the storm. She is the community outreach nurse manager in the area’s largest hospital group, dealing daily with general hospital issues, constant adjustments due to the fluctuating caseloads of Covid-19 patients and the increasing demands from the community at large. One of her siblings died suddenly and another one was misdiagnosed with the Virus. In addition, her husband had a freak accident which resulted in second and third degree burns to over 10% of his body. Then she fell ill with a severe sore throat which triggered Virus alarms; fortunately, she recovered with a clean bill of health. All this happened in the last three months. To say that she is under stress would be an understatement.

How does she handle such an intense and potentially draining time? Having shared and supported her through this and many other challenging times, I like to share with you the tools we used to alleviate the tension, anxiety and regain some stability amidst apparent chaos.

It’s easy to lose perspective when you are personally involved in a crisis and forget some of the fundamental steps to managing the situation.

1. Pause.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath. Inhabit your total body instead of just your mind. Your instinctive reaction to crisis is to fight or flight. Since you are generally dealing with something less than instant loss of life, hold on, gather your thoughts and regain balance before you jump into action.

2. Do something physical.

Physical action will give your an outlet for stress, anxiety and depression — Mayo Clinic guidelines recommends physical movement to reduce stress, improve mental and emotional wellbeing, sleep, boost feel good endorphins and to reduce pain. Walk, jog, hike, exercise, dance, swim, cycle, do yoga, aerobics, etc. Release internal tension by doing physical activities that stretch the tightness in you.

3. Spend time in nature.

Whether it’s a garden, park, mountains, ocean, lake or river, nature heals. The European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter did a study with 20,000 people that showed just spending two hours a week or more in nature provide physical, mental and emotional benefits for everyone. You can even spend a few shorter sessions in nature to come up with the total time needed to receive noticeable improvement in your physical health and cognitive functions. The natural world is restorative and most likely you will find that you will be looking forward to more time there.

4. Meditate.

Calming the mind reduces anxiety and has lasting positive effects on your physical, mental and emotional states. John Hopkins University’s systemic review and meta-analysis of 47 randomized clinical trials with controls for placebo effects showed that mindful meditation can alleviate anxiety, depression and pain. Nowadays it is easy to be overstretched to the point you are depleted physically, mentally and emotionally. Meditation allows your mind to realign and heal, and that creates profound benefits for all aspects of your health.

5. Eat healthier.

Nourish your body with nutritious food to supply you with the nutrients to keep your metabolic processes, immune system, nervous system, hormonal and cardiovascular systems functioning well to deal with stress. Harvard Medical School’s publication uses the analogy of treating your body as the fine-tuned machine that it is by fueling it with healthy foods. Eat fresh food, as close to the source as possible, plant-based food, unrefined foods and minimize or eliminate sugars and processed foods from your diet. That pint of ice cream may taste good while you are eating it, but the sugar high and subsequent crash is going to make you feel much worse for a longer time. For more information about plant-based nutrition, please read my blogs https://tinyurl.com/y5bxz8s2 https://tinyurl.com/yywpzm9t https://tinyurl.com/yxbrnxet

6. Team up.

Cultivate friends and buddies to exercise with, meditate, and to develop healthy eating habits in tandem. Doing things together, even if virtual, will help establish the habits which will support your and their wellbeing. The social connections will also strengthen your social and emotional comfort.

7. Assess where you are.

When there are many events and demands happening simultaneously, the tendency is to focus on the most glaring one(s) without considering the relative importance of each. List all the issues, emotions and physical symptoms you are dealing with. Write them down on a sheet of paper. Your hand to mind connection in writing will reveal what is bothering you more than typing on your computer or phone. Review your list and prioritize them for the impact they have on your life.

8. Review your list of priorities and acknowledge your response.

Looking at the list may raise anxiety in you. Pause again. Breathe deeply and allow your feelings to come to the surface. What are they? Fear? Sadness? Frustration? Pain? Whatever they are, acknowledge them. It is natural to feel them. Give yourself time to process your emotions.

9. Seek professional help.

If you are still feeling overwhelmed after using the above tools to manage the emotions that come up, consider seeking professional assistance — the spiritual counsellor from your belief system, trained support groups, therapist, counsellor, or other trained professionals. Sometimes stress can be too much for one to handle and it is wise to consult with others to help manage the issues.

10. Explore and itemize possible action steps.

Now that you have released some inner stress, you have more creativity and fresh eyes to analyze and develop solutions. Review and see if some of your concerns fall into the same category. Can you work on those together? Are some of the issues caused by others on the list? Are there outside sources where you can get additional support? Scrutinize your list with these questions in mind and you may find solutions that resolve several matters concurrently. Itemize the potential ways to improve the issues; list the fanciful ideas as well as the practical ones. Your imagination may lead you to a creative resolution, if nothing else they may make you smile!

11. Decide on strategy and tactics.

Look at your list and choose the ones and the ways you are prepared to work on now. You may wish to start with smaller item(s) first because you may not feel ready to handle more significant ones. Move at the pace you are comfortable. Checking things off the list will relieve some stress and help you gear up for the next ones.

12. Dive in.

Getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Like being on the edge of a swimming dock or pool, the anticipation of the cold water is much worse than your experience when you finally jump in. Start on the project you’ve identified as the one you wish to work on. Take the first step and soon you’ll be feeling better as you make progress on your list!

13. Celebrate the small wins.

Rejoice in your progress. One step at a time is now things get done. Give yourself the credit for tackling your issues. You’ve started and that in itself is a win. Go forth, and be happy!

Written by

Marilyn Tam, global speaker, best selling author (The Happiness Choice), business leader and humanitarian. Formerly the CEO of Aveda, President Reebok, VP Nike

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