Ten Healthy Ways To Let Go Of Stress
Increasingly, we live our lives in a state of stress, worried about the future. And, not surprisingly. From our romantic relationship, health, and job to the global economy and environment, everything seems uncertain, temporary, and prone to collapse.
Regardless of the truth about the situation, news and media pundits do their best to convince us that we are in one or other crisis: the “foreign policy crisis,” the “housing crisis,” the “crisis of leadership,” a “national security crisis,” and so on. In fact, Google News returns nearly six-and-a-half million results for the word “crisis.”
Stressed about the future, many people turn to medication, alcohol, drugs, or other destructive behavior to escape, hoping to escape or to manage their emotions.
According to one 2016 study, over eight percent of Americans were already taking drugs from a group that include anti-anxiety medication as well as sedatives and hypnotics. In 2020, after several months of the coronavirus lockdowns, over twenty-five percent of respondents to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were experiencing anxiety and over thirteen percent had either stated or increased “substance use” to cope with the situation.
From plagues to wars and famine, there have always been disasters, loss, cruelty, and tragedy, of course. But people did not look to the future as if a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Especially prior to the modern age, people believed that whatever happened was the Will of God (and, of course, many still do). If an individual was suffering, then God was either punishing him for some sin that he had committed or testing him for some act of greatness that he would need to perform.
There could be no scientific proof for the basis of such a belief. Perhaps, from a scientific view, such beliefs are even ridiculous. But, regardless, faith trumped fear. Today, however, fear often trumps faith — whether that’s faith on God or faith in our own ability to overcome difficulties. Fear controls our emotions and prevents us from being able to think clearly.
Zen Buddhism — which does not demand faith — tells us to “be in the moment,” not dwelling on the past and neither anticipating nor worrying about the future. Of course, we should acknowledge where we have gone wrong and what we can do to improve our situation. And if we can do something to help our situation, we should do it. But Zen recognizes that worrying, obsessing, and dwelling on what may or may not happen cannot help us and can only ever make the situation worse.
In martial arts, the student is often told to focus on what he can control, rather than panicking about what he cannot control (particularly, the force of the opponent’s kicks and punches). Today, however, many people focus on, and emotionally wrap themselves up in, the very things that they have little or no control over. They are passionate about international affairs and have an opinion on even the most obscure political issue, but they refuse to put any passion into fixing or improving their own lives.
Based on a prayer written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), the serenity prayer, is as follows:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
(The serenity prayer became very popular during the twentieth century and was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous.)
Regardless of the situation, you can do several things to lessen or get control of your anxiety, and we have already touched on some of them.
1. Don’t Dwell on The Day’s Stressful Events
Let go over what you have no control over. Lying awake at night, worrying won’t help you. Nor does coming home and complaining about what happened at work during the day. That only robs you of your time and energy. Value your time and leave work problems in the office.
2. Turn off the news
A study on the psychological impact of negative TV news found (unsurprisingly) that watching fourteen minutes of negative-slanted news made individuals more anxious and sad and significantly increased “the tendency to catastrophize a personal worry.” In other words, watching the news (which is nearly always bad news) is going to make you worry more about your personal circumstances.
3. Think Solutions
It’s essential to actively work to improve your life. This will give you a sense of agency and, eventually, it will give you more or better options. Focus on, and do, what you can do to improve your life both short and long term. Start work on a personal or business project, if you can. This might not be as immediately rewarding as laying on the couch, snacking and watching movies (with a vague sense of dread about Monday morning in the back of your mind) but it will be much more rewarding and empowering longer-term.
4. Get Outside to “Clear your head”
Get out into nature or — at the very least — go for a walk in a local park. Being in natural, open spaces can give us a sense of mental freedom and rejuvenation. It puts our stresses in perspective, reminds us that what’s going on at the moment isn’t going to last forever, and helps us to reconnect to what life is really all about.
5. Breathe Deep
Learn to breathe with your chest and stomach, to get more air into your lungs. And learn to breathe slowly. This will help you to stay calm. (This technique is used by martial artists and even the marines.)
6. Focus on The Positive
Take a moment to be grateful for something, no matter how small. Giving “thanks” for friends, family, health, or even the weather will turn your mind away from the negative and towards the positive. And, instead of habitually seeing obstacles everywhere, long-term, it will enable you to train your brain to find the positives and the possibilities in life.
7. Work Out
Physical exercise not only helps to release dopamine (which plays a significant role in how we feel pleasure) but will help you to focus on something other than what’s causing you concern. And it will also make you feel that you do have control over at least one area of your life: your fitness.
The Greater Good magazine (published by The University of California, Berkeley), says that “Over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors. In this way, exercise can both relieve depression and expand your capacity for joy.”
8. Listen to Music
As weird as it sounds now, before the internet consumed our time and attention, laying down, closing our eyes and just listening to music was a thing. When you do this, you can, of course, allow your imagination to flow. It is, in effect, a kind of very light meditation. Instead of surfing the net, watching a movie, or checking social media last thing at night, try turning out the lights and listening to some inspiring, imagination-fueling music.
Meditation can help you to relax and to focus on something neutral or positive. Don’t make meditation complicated. To begin, simply sit comfortably or lay down (note that if you meditate laying down you might fall asleep). Perhaps have some relaxing music playing quietly in the background.
Focus your attention on your breathing. When any thought enters your mind, just imagine it burning up and turning to ashes, smoke, or dust right in front of you. Then go back to focusing on your breathing, allowing yourself to relax. Do this for five or ten minutes to begin with.
If possible, meditate in the early morning to prepare yourself for the day. Or do it after work to help you shake off the stress of the day.
10. Experience Hypnosis
A study published in the the Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics says that a “tremendous volume of research provides compelling evidence that hypnosis is an efficacious treatment for state anxiety (e.g., prior to tests, surgery and medical procedures) and anxiety-related disorders, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome.”
Hypnosis can be used both to reduce and manage existing stress and to mentally prepare for upcoming challenging situations. While hypnosis is used for a range situations (such as quitting smoking, weight loss, and even preparing athletes for competitions), because it induces a deep sense of relaxation, it is especially suited to reducing stress.
Results may vary from person to person.