I unfortunately have quite a bit of experience dealing with stress and anxiety. But, I have 10 go-to things for stress relief. A few I try to implement daily to create a better “baseline” and then a few are less frequent but help from a “big picture” standpoint.
It’s no longer a secret that the last year was intense. Too intense. I was working 80+ hours a week for over a year, training for the Boston Marathon, and my stress reached unhealthy levels. Stress (which can be good in healthy amounts) turned into daily anxiety, which started impacting my health, my sleep, and my relationships. And then I started having panic attacks.
While I knew there was an end in sight since I was planning to quit my Corporate America job, I still had to survive an extremely stressful time. And to be honest, even now that I’ve left that job, I still struggle with anxiety.
I’ve been working with a therapist (more on that below) and she explained that part of my anxiety is a habit my body and mind have formed. I was running on high all the time — physically and mentally — and I can’t just turn that off.
So, I still have to actively work to improve my stress and anxiety. After I shared what a day in the life looked like, I got a number of comments asking for tips for managing stress and anxiety. Below are the things I do regularly for stress relief. I truly hope it helps you and I’d love to hear what helps YOU – please leave a comment and share!
10 Activities for Stress Relief & Coping with Anxiety
I am a firm believer that everyone can benefit from therapy. I have been going to therapy off and on for 15 years, and have been seeing the same one for the past 9 years. There are periods in my life where I’ve seen my therapist multiple times a month and other times I go just once or twice a year.
In some circles therapy has a stigma and in others, it’s trendy to be in therapy. Regardless of your circle, I encourage you to see a therapist at least once a year. You have annual physical exams, right? This is just as important- it’s a checkup for your mental state.
2. Identify the root cause and address it
It’s one thing to do all the things to cope with anxiety, but if you’re not working to figure out what is CAUSING it, you’ll be treating a symptom that may never go away. It’d be like going to the dentist every year to get cavities drilled but never brushing your teeth and flossing.
Therapy can help with identifying root causes, as can journalling and spending time with self care to become self-aware, really thinking about what’s causing your stress. You have to give yourself time and space to really think and process. (Therapy helps make that time a priority!)
3. Pausing my inbox & turning off notifications
I have four very active inboxes and I could easily lose my entire day in emails. While emails don’t go away and I still need to answer them, it helps to pause my inbox and instead set specific times during the day to work through them. Gmail has a Pause Inbox extension that’s free to install and life changing.
I also try to remember to pause it at the end of the work day to help enforce the end of the work day. It’s easy to work all the time when you own your own business since there is always more to do. While I try not to get on my laptop after 7pm, I still check emails and messages on my phone most of the night.
But if my emails are paused, it helps me work a little less. And since feeling like I have to do EVERYTHING as soon as possible is one of my root causes for anxiety, this helps a lot.
I also have all notifications turned off on my phone except text messages and reminders to meditate (more on that below). And, people who text me will tell you that I don’t reply right away!
I don’t get any social media notifications, email pop-ups, nothing. I don’t miss having notifications at all, but since I still have a bad habit of checking my phone a lot, I often put it in another room while I’m working. Simply being away from my phone relieves stress!!!
4. Lavender diffusing
I’m not a huge essential oils person. I mean, I have a ton because they smell good but I don’t really use them — except lavender. I use it multiple days a week in a diffuser in my office.
Lavender is one of the most-studied oils as it relates to relaxation and it can help with anxiety. When I remember to diffuse, I often tend to take longer, deeper breaths to take in the scent – and slow, deep breathing also helps with anxiety.
I was not a good example of this over the last year, sleeping sometimes just 5-6 hours a night even when running 50-60 miles a week. And I firmly believe not sleeping enough made my stress and anxiety worse and it’s certainly not good for my health.
Now that I’m in “recovery mode” from the stress of the past year, I’m letting my body have the sleep it wants and needs. What does that look like? In the first few weeks after running the Boston Marathon and after quitting my corporate job, I was sleeping 9-11 hours a night.
While I’m no longer sleeping that much, I’m still sleeping 8.5 hours. Yes, it feels weird to wake up so late after waking up between 5am and 6am for the past 15 years. But, my body clearly needs it and my stress levels are significantly better when I’m well rested.
6. Fresh air
Just taking Maizey on a walk or going on a run (even when the weather isn’t great!) does wonders for my head. I need to time to breath and think, without being able to do anything else. The fresh air REALLY helps calm me down and it’s even better when I leave my phone at home.
Research shows that getting outside can improve your mood. This is an easy one to implement if you make it a priority!
I LOVE music, almost all kinds of music. While I’m working, I prefer classical or instrumental so I can focus better. And while I often run without music for various reasons, sometimes running is even better because of music.
When I’m super stressed out or trying to prevent a panic attack (I can sometimes feel them coming on and other times they hit out of NOWHERE), I sit on our porch swing with my earbuds in, just listening to my favorite playlist.
Music therapy is a thing for a reason – it can really help with stress relief.
After reading 10% Happier, I tried to start meditating more consistently. And I cannot speak highly enough about it for stress management. I’m not super consistent (yet!) with a daily practice, but I typically meditate 3-4x a week.
Meditating is kind of like running – I never regret doing it, even when I don’t feel like doing it. I use the Waking Up app, which is free but I pay for the upgraded service to have more options.
Insight Timer is another app that has more free options but I like the consistency of Waking Up. Insight Timer has SO much variety, which is great for some people, but I like to know what I’m getting rather than starting one and realizing I don’t like the music, the guided voice, whatever. Headspace is another great meditation app that I used for a while.
9. Scheduling breaks & time with others
I have to literally schedule downtime in my day since I have a habit of working nonstop. Since I work by myself most days, it’s easy to go all day without meaningful breaks or without interacting with anyone else.
When you’re in an office, you get natural breaks. Coworkers stop by to chat, you get get coffee, you go out for lunch, etc.. I don’t have that unless I’m VERY intentional about it since coffee and food are all ten steps away.
It’s been really helpful working in person with my social media assistant, Hannah, while she is home from college for the summer. I get more “breaks” just by having someone to chat with and it gives me a social outlet.
It’s so easy to feel isolated when you’re stressed or anxious because you just want to work all the time, thinking you’ll finally get caught up and things will feel better. But, I’ve found that working nonstop and/or isolation makes things significantly worse. Scheduling lunch dates with friends or just running errands midday helps me interact with other humans! (Usually I just talk to Maizey all day. 🙂 )
10. Working out
My most consistent coping mechanism is running, and multiple studies show that exercise can improve mood disorders in some patients as much as prescription medications.
While I don’t run every day, I run most days. It’s one of my favorite parts of my days (see why here!), but another reason I run is because it helps manage my stress and anxiety. Without it, I firmly believe I would struggle even more.
Aside from running, I find that heavy lifting calms my anxiety. I zone out to my favorite playlist and since I use my breath so much when I lift, it’s very calming. I love HIIT (high intensity interval training), but my body and mind crave slower movements when I’m super stressed.
On the contrasting side, I LOVE a vigorous yoga class. I definitely can’t think about anything else during yoga and that is SO good for my head. It’s like moving meditation, where my brain just stops spinning for a bit.
I so wish we had a really great, hot yoga studio in Winston. I LOVED the hot yoga classes in Charlotte, particularly Jen’s, since she has the best playlists. The only thing I love nearly as much as a great run is a hot, sweaty yoga class with AMAZING music.
The bottom line on dealing with stress & anxiety:
Not everything that I do will work for you, but I truly hope some or all of these help you manage stress and/or anxiety in your own life. If you only take away two things from this post, it’s these:
- Do NOT be afraid to seek professional help
A good therapist can truly help change your life. And don’t be afraid to shop around. It may take a couple tries to find the right therapist. Be sure to check your health insurance as well – many plans will cover part of your bills, if not the entire bill, up to a certain number of visits.
If you don’t want to or can’t see someone in person, many therapists do virtual sessions. I haven’t personally met this counselor, but she’s in Winston-Salem and her content about anxiety resonates with me a lot. She seems like she’d be great and offers counseling to people located anywhere.
And remember, unless you see a psychiatrist, you’ll need to see your primary card provider to get any necessary prescriptions for anxiety. Having a good relationship with your PCP and a therapist can help you make the right decision.
I’ve been on daily anxiety meds in the past and it helped a LOT. I was very hesitant, but my doctor explained it this way. With anxiety, your brain is like a snow globe being shaken all the time. Medication helps the snow settle so you can think more clearly and make better decisions. Again, talk to your doctor and get help if you need it.
- Identify the root cause(s)
Working with a therapist or doing some work solo (and I mean work!), identify the root cause of your anxiety. I’m a firm believer in treating the cause of a problem so it becomes less of a problem over time.
This holds true for addressing challenges in work, in my diet, in day to day living (like having a dedicated spot for my keys so I don’t misplace them), almost everything I do.
What do you do for stress relief?
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I love strategy and logistics. and LOVE identifying something that’s creating issues and working to address the real issue. I have a specific process I follow when I’m forming new habits, breaking habits, simplifying healthy living and just trying to make life more efficient.
Note: I am NOT a licensed therapist. I’m simply sharing my experience dealing with stress, anxiety and panic attacks and what has helped me. PLEASE seek the help of a professional for your anxiety.
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