At one time or another, most of us have experienced the racing thoughts and fears that come with stress. Here, Beth Robbins, PsyD, shares strategies on how to reduce stress throughout your busy day.
Q: It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t experienced periods of stress and anxiety. Do you think it’s worse today, or are we just more aware of it?
A: I think that in many respects more people feel stress and anxiety than in the past – and it’s partly due to things that are supposed to make our life easier, such as technology. In “the old days,” people relied more on being outside in nature and connecting with other human beings to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Now people spend so much time on their devices; this in and of itself is isolating, and can actually increase feelings of stress. The other stress-inducing aspect of our lives is the relentless exposure to the news. It’s hard to avoid – there are TVs everywhere. And you feel like you’re out of the loop if you aren’t totally up-to-date on the latest piece of news.
Q: So, given all of that, can you share some strategies to reduce stress and anxiety?
A: Most people know what they’re supposed to do; it’s just a question of taking the time to do it. Here are some recommendations for dealing with the daily stresses of modern life:
- Change Your Behavior: Develop some habits that will help you bring down your nervous system response to stressful situations. Mindfulness is such an important tool, and it doesn’t mean you have to become an expert at meditating. The goal is just to be present in the moment, which crowds out the stress-inducing tendency to worry about the future or ruminate on the past. You can use deep breathing, stretching or just practicing focusing exclusively on whatever you are doing – whether it’s washing the dishes or going for a walk. Try to do this whenever you are stressed during the day. It will physiologically bring down your stress levels.
- Another important behavior change is assertiveness. A lot of us are afraid to say no. Set limits. Ask for what you need. Introduce self-soothing activities like laughing into your day.
- Change the Way You Think: So much of how we feel about our world has to do with how we interpret it. So, if something stress-inducing happens, you can increase your stress levels by complaining about how these things only happen to you, how much better your life would be if this hadn’t happened – or you can try to look at it as a challenge to find a positive workaround.
- This brings me to my next point: positivity. Injecting positive thoughts into your day is a great stress-reducer. Think about what’s NOT wrong with your life at least twice a day. When you come into work, notice what is going right so far. Before you go to bed, think about what went well that day.
- Change Your Lifestyle: While we all know what a lot of these are, it’s still worth emphasizing the benefits of introducing healthy behaviors such as exercise and good nutrition into your days. The positive feelings – both emotional and physiological – of exercise and eating right cannot be underestimated. Also important is finding and maintaining a good work-life balance.
Finally, tying back to my opening comments, put your phone down. Step away from your computer. Call someone rather than emailing or texting. Human beings need to feel connected – and not with a screen between them. Meaningful, face-to-face conversations are huge stress-reducers.
Beth Robbins, PsyD, clinical psychologist, is the clinical director of the Seneca Center at the University of Vermont Medical Center and director of the Mood and Anxieties Clinic at the University of Vermont Medical Center.