How to Breakthrough Stress and Anxiety

How to Breakthrough Stress and Anxiety

Today, we delve into the exploration of overcoming experiential and emotional barriers to success—stress and anxiety. These pervasive phenomena are increasingly prevalent in modern societies, with the American Psychological Association estimating that around 40 million Americans grapple with some form of anxiety disorder, a distressing condition that profoundly impacts their lives.

As with many emotions, stress and anxiety do not define individuals, but rather, individuals have a relationship with these emotional states. In my role as a life coach, I frequently encounter clients facing the challenges of stress and anxiety, often without a clear understanding of the underlying causes or effective breakthrough strategies. Consequently, stress and anxiety become ingrained in their “normal life.”

Sometimes, stress arises from the conflict between one’s current position and the desired destination. Hence, the tips and techniques presented in this article aim to equip you with the tools to navigate and effectively manage your emotions.

Understanding Stress and Anxiety:

Stress and anxiety are related psychological responses to challenging or threatening situations, though they manifest in distinct ways. Stress is a natural reaction to external pressures or demands, often viewed as a response to change or uncertainty. It can motivate individuals to adapt and perform effectively in demanding circumstances. On the other hand, anxiety is a more pervasive emotional state characterized by excessive worry, fear, or apprehension about future events. While stress is typically a temporary reaction to specific stressors such as a particular event, while anxiety can persist over time and may not always be linked to an immediate trigger. 

Both stress and anxiety can have physical and emotional effects on an individual, impacting overall well-being and functioning. It’s crucial to manage and cope with these responses effectively to maintain mental health and resilience.

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Stress and Anxiety

The distinction between acute and chronic stress and anxiety is significant. Acute stress is the immediate response to encountering a threat or dangerous situation, triggering the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This prepares the brain and body for a fight-or-flight response. For instance, facing a looming deadline, giving a presentation, or dealing with upcoming commitments for one’s children constitutes acute stress and anxiety, often tied to a specific event or situation.

In contrast, chronic stress manifests when individuals grapple with ongoing stressors regularly. It is characterized by prolonged physical and psychological feelings of tension and pressure, particularly when coping with the continual demands of professional or personal life becomes challenging. Unlike acute stress, chronic stress tends to intensify over time, reflecting the cumulative impact of persistent stressors.

Tips to Breakthrough Stress and Anxiety

Step 1: Understanding Stress

Firstly, it is crucial to recognize that stress is an integral part of the process when you set ambitious goals. Instead of carrying it with you, it is vital to work through it. Comparatively, it is akin to running a full marathon – starting strong, pacing yourself, and beginning to feel the inevitable fatigue and pain in your body. Your mental fortitude enables you to persevere until the race is completed, leaving you with a sense of accomplishment.

Whether your aspirations involve securing a promotion, raising children, or becoming the top athlete globally, any worthwhile goal necessitates breaking through stress and anxiety. Winning stands on one side, contrasting with wishing on the other. The journey from wishing to winning involves constant effort and is often accompanied by stress and struggles. Effectively managing stress transforms it into a motivating force and a supportive companion on your journey.

Step 2: Create Awareness

‣ Focus on the Process

To enhance your ability to navigate life’s challenges, consider adopting the following strategies. Firstly, prioritize living in the present, diverting focus from both past regrets and future uncertainties. This approach equips individuals to be more attentive and better equipped to handle whatever life throws their way. Secondly, discover your “happy place” to bolster concentration, allowing you to disconnect from challenges and concentrate on personal growth.

“Until you are in pain, you’ll never realize your potential.”

Consider divorce as an example of a painful process. While pain is undesirable, it often serves as a catalyst for growth. Embracing difficult situations, like divorce, positions individuals to connect with others and discover their strength. Acknowledging such moments as opportunities for personal development is key to unlocking one’s greatness.

Financial stress, often attributed to excessive spending, might have deeper roots, such as attempting to compensate for feelings of loneliness. It’s essential to scrutinize the underlying causes of stress to develop effective coping strategies. 

Start by asking yourself key questions. Where do you feel stress in your life—emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, or spiritually? This initial self-diagnosis is crucial in understanding the roots of stress and pressure.

For instance, feeling stressed about a messy house may indicate a deeper issue of not feeling supported or cared for by family. By probing these questions, you initiate a process of awareness and diagnosis, laying the foundation for a strategic approach to work through stress. Identifying the root causes and locations of stress is the first step toward effective stress management.

‣ Finding a Life Coach

Embarking on the journey to find a life coach is transformative for stress management. A life coach raises awareness and provides effective strategies for handling stress and anxiety. They guide you to identify stress’s emotional and physical impact on various aspects of life.

A skilled life coach helps visualize stress, implementing coping techniques and preventing the disconnect between actions and mental states. They use the “scary scale” to assess stress severity, offering daily reflection for perspective. In severe stress, a life coach aids in facing challenges, fostering open communication. They provide valuable perspectives without minimizing experiences, instilling resilience, and breaking down overwhelming projects into manageable tasks. Life coaches support beyond daily stressors, guiding energy toward meaningful pursuits and impactful connections.

Step 3: Identify Your Body’s Reaction

In numerous instances of stress, the initial indicators often surface physically, followed by emotional symptoms like low mood, mood swings, panic, and worry. Concurrently, behavioral changes may manifest, such as altered sleep patterns, changes in eating habits, overeating, or increased alcohol consumption. Recognizing these signs is crucial as they signify stress, requiring immediate awareness and attention. Learn to pay attention to your current state. This can be achieved by training yourself to evaluate your state on a daily basis. Learn what are the possible symptoms of the stress to help guide you towards taking immediate measures if spotted.

Given the diverse ways stress can manifest, it is imperative to identify personal triggers and understand the underlying causes affecting the body. Commencing with an exploration of physical symptoms is beneficial, as they are more tangible and immediately recognizable. Pinpointing where and how physical pain is manifested enables individuals to embark on finding suitable solutions. Initiating the journey with the physical aspect is essential, as it is the aspect most palpably felt, offering a prompt recognition of its presence.

Step 4: Holistic Strategies for Stress Management

Research indicates that it takes approximately 6 hours to fully eliminate cortisol, the stress hormone, from our system once triggered. The challenge arises as we encounter stress multiple times throughout a day, causing these cortisol reactions to overlap and intensify. The techniques outlined below serve as valuable tools to expedite cortisol metabolism, effectively reducing the time required to process our stress reactions. Their optimal effectiveness lies in their application within the crucial 6-hour window from the initial stress-inducing event.

‣ Exercise:

Engaging in low-intensity physical activities such as walking, hiking, or spending time in water can profoundly alleviate stress. It’s essential to note that high-intensity workouts may increase cortisol levels, so opting for gentle exercises is recommended. Exercise acts on various fronts: it reduces stress hormones like cortisol, releases endorphins that enhance mood and act as natural painkillers, promotes better sleep, and boosts confidence through a sense of accomplishment. Identifying an enjoyable exercise routine, be it walking, jogging, dancing, hiking, rock climbing, or yoga, is crucial. Even simple home exercises can be convenient and budget-friendly. Overcoming the common excuse of lacking time is essential—finding just 10 minutes a day for physical activity can be a transformative step towards improved well-being.

‣ Diet and Nutrition:

Considering diet and nutrition is pivotal. Our energy levels and the ability to create an effective stress reaction are determined by the availability of some nutrients. For example, vitamin B (one example of many) are crucial for maintaining balance and harmony, and when we lack iron, it’s noticeably more difficult to feel motivated. Stress depletes our levels of vitamins and minerals, so it is crucial to take care of yourself through good nutrition in moments of stress.

Natural supplements known for stress and anxiety reduction include lemon balm, which exhibits anti-anxiety effects, ashwagandha, a herb in Ayurvedic medicine, and green tea, containing antioxidants that may lower stress. Conversely, certain foods heighten anxiety, such as caffeine, alcohol, and simple sugars, impacting blood sugar levels and mood stability. Awareness of individual thresholds and regular consumption monitoring is advised. It’s important to note that everyone reacts to nutrients differently; it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What has a calming effect for one person can excite the nervous system of another person. A nutritionist or health coach may help you find the best-suited supplements for your particular case.

Scientific Research: Nutrition and Functional Neurochemistry

‣ Hydration:

Adequate water intake, recommended at 8 to 10 glasses (2 to 2.5 liters) daily, is crucial for overall well-being. Pay attention to signals such as thirst, dark urine, dry mouth, or fatigue to gauge individual hydration needs. Establish a routine by starting the day with warm or room temperature water, distributing intake evenly, adjusting based on activity, weather, and health conditions. Drinking water before meals aids in managing portion sizes and supporting stable energy levels. While there’s no universal “best time” to drink water, listen to your body’s signals, keep a reusable bottle for regular hydration, and include water-rich foods like watermelon and cucumber for refreshing snacks.

Related article: Drinking Water for Wellness: Nurturing Your Body, Mind, and Lifestyle

‣ Sleeping Schedule:

Tracking sleep patterns—duration, timing, and correlation with stress and anxiety—is vital. Documenting the sleep-related process aids in understanding its association with emotional well-being. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is generally 7-9 hours per night, though individual needs may vary. It’s essential to establish a consistent sleep routine, aiming for regular bedtime hours and creating a comfortable sleep environment. Quality sleep contributes significantly to emotional resilience and overall mental health, making it crucial to prioritize sufficient and restful sleep each night.

Moreover, insights from notable sleep expert Matthew Walker, author of ‘Why We Sleep,’ emphasize the importance of the first and last hour of sleep. Sacrificing sleep hours, especially during these critical periods, can significantly impact REM sleep, which plays a key role in processing emotions. The initial hours of sleep are also crucial for the brain’s glymphatic system to eliminate toxins, contributing to overall well-being.

When stressed, prioritize your sleep.

Step 5: Improve Your Body Language

People often exhibit a physical response to their emotional states, which can be as subtle as a hand gesture. The way individuals use their bodies and facial expressions can significantly impact their emotional well-being. Consider this: sitting hunched forward and defensively, accompanied by speech lacking confidence, can induce feelings of anxiety and stress. Conversely, sitting upright, shoulders back, chest out, and adopting an open posture can convey empowerment and positively influence one’s mood.

‣ Hugging:

Physical interactions, such as hugging, play a significant role in stress relief. Positive physical contact triggers the release of oxytocin, often referred to as the “natural love drug,” and reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, both physical symptoms of stress.

It’s essential to note that positive touch, whether hugging, embracing, or offering a supportive pat on the back, doesn’t have to be romantic. Showing support to friends, family members, or anyone in need through positive physical contact can be remarkably effective. Additionally, surrounding yourself with good energy and managing environments that drain your energy is crucial for effective stress relief. Enjoying good company in a positive environment can be one of the most effective ways to metabolize cortisol, whereas attempting the same in a toxic environment is likely to generate more stress.

‣ Breathe In and Breathe Out with a Smile:

During a session, if you observe you are stressed, take a deep breath in, and upon exhaling, put on a big smile. Repetitive muscle tension and relaxation through deep breathing, coupled with smiling, inject positive emotions into the body, releasing accumulated tension. It’s a reminder that people often overlook the simple act of smiling, waiting for external triggers when they can actively create positive emotions for themselves. While it’s crucial to acknowledge and release intense emotions when needed, holding everything in contributes to stress and anxiety.

As a quick stress-relief tip, deeply inhale, raise your shoulders, exhale while lowering them, simultaneously stretching your hands and fingers. Repeat for one or two minutes to induce relaxation.

‣ Laughing:

Laughter is a delightful and effective way to alleviate anxiety. Research conducted among individuals with cancer revealed that those in the laughter intervention group experienced more stress relief than those merely distracted. Engaging in activities like watching a comedy TV show, spending time with friends who induce laughter, and finding humor in daily life are all effective methods to combat stress through laughter.

Step 6: Self-affirmation and Boundaries

Encourage yourself to express your emotions daily, be it through writing, acting, smiling, laughing, crying, or talking—each of these methods contributes to emotional well-being.

‣ Positive Affirmations:

Commence with a Series of Positive Affirmations:

  • “I’m growing; this is part of the process.”
  • “I’ve done it before. I got this.”
  • “I’m so brave, stepping outside my comfort zone to break through my status quo.”
  • “I am at peace. I am exactly where I need to be.”

Now, engage your senses and feelings while vocalizing these affirmations. Remind yourself daily that you are precisely where you need to be. The level of anxiety experienced corresponds to how much focus is placed on the present. The more time spent dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, the higher the anxiety. Living in the present allows individuals to impact the past positively and shape the future. Consistent repetition of affirmations, self-talk, and meditation each day serves as a powerful tool to bring people back to the present moment.

‣ Learn to Say “No”:

An additional strategy to overcoming stress, particularly when feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, is teaching them to say “No.” Certain stressors are within their control, and they need to take charge of aspects of their life that are changeable. Declining requests more often becomes crucial, particularly when they realize they are taking on more than they can handle, juggling multiple responsibilities at work or home. It is essential for individuals to recognize when their energy is depleting and acknowledge that they cannot persist without taking necessary breaks.

How to Breakthrough Stress and Anxiety

Step 7: Building your resilience to stress

After successfully managing stress, the next step involves fortifying your resilience through strategic exposure to controlled short-term stressors. Resilience, defined as the ability to adapt effectively to acute stress, trauma, or chronic adversity (Russo et al., 2012), can be cultivated through deliberate practices.

Scientific Research: The Contribution of Physical Exercise to Brain Resilience

‣ High and Medium Intensity Exercise:

Engaging in any activity that elevates your heart rate proves beneficial for enhancing long-term stress resilience. Regular exercise not only slows cognitive decline but also provides protection against the consequences of stressful events.

‣ Contrast Showers, Cold Water Immersions, or Ice Baths:

Introducing controlled stress, such as exposure to cold through contrast showers or immersions, is another effective method to boost stress tolerance. Consistent, controlled exposure gradually adapts the body to the cold, with studies highlighting the link between cold water and stress reduction.

Step 8: Create a Happy Place

The purpose of this step is to remind you that you are exactly where you need to be. When worries and anxieties about the past or future arise, it’s essential to ground yourself in the present.

Create a designated space in your home that resonates with your happiness. Choose a favorite sound or a calming visual for this space. For instance, if envisioning a beach brings you peace, set beach scenes as screensavers on your phone, desktop, laptop, and TV. Introduce scents matching your happy place into your home, creating a sensory connection. Carry these sounds with you to work or play them while working, reinforcing your happy place in various physical spaces. This practice disrupts patterns of stress and anxiety, serving as a comforting reminder.

The trio of sights, scents, and sounds continuously feeds information, interrupting stress patterns. Consider using scented candles or essential oils for stress reduction, with options like lavender, rose, sandalwood, or geranium.

‣ Happy Place Meditation:

  • This simple meditation exercise aids in building and enjoying your happy place while balancing and centering your mind and mood.
  • Close your eyes, lower your gaze, and find a physically calm, balanced, and easy state.
  • Visualize a calming space—a river, a lake, a beach—paying attention to every detail.
  • Picture yourself in this place, experiencing calmness, balance, stillness, and peace.
  • Engage your senses—what do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel?
  • Immerse yourself in the calming sounds, like water, birds, animals, trees.
  • Smile, acknowledging the happiness in this place without any worries.
  • Repeat affirmations to anchor yourself in the present and embrace your power for positive change.

“I am present because in the present lies all the power.”

“I accept exactly where I am right now.”

“I am in the best place to change my life.”

  • Breathe in and breathe out.

When ready, gently bring back your awareness by opening your eyes. 

In navigating the intricate landscape of stress and anxiety, it’s paramount to recognize that these emotions are not fixed entities but rather aspects of our journey. Embracing stress as a motivator and understanding the nuanced interplay between the past, present, and future are pivotal steps towards fostering resilience. 

Related article: Embarking on the Journey of Meditation: Breathwork, Visualization, and Sound Meditation

Anna Dvurechenskaya Certified Breath Coach and Meditation teacher

Co-author: Anna Dvurechenskaya

Certified Breath Coach and Meditation teacher.

8 years of personal meditation practice and 2 years of teaching experience with a practical approach to helping others find balance in the chaos of everyday life. A firm believer that the journey of improving your mental state starts with only 5-10 minutes a day.

Follow her on Instagram @soymenteenpaz for insightful reflections, practical tips, and updates on upcoming workshops.

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