How To Beat Stress and Anxiety Without Prescriptions
Got Stress? We recommend “self-medicating”… but it’s not what you’re thinking.
We all have stress. We each have our own version of triggers. Our responses may vary a little or a lot and we will feel this, our (hopefully) temporary companion, with varying degrees of intensity.
Stress, worry, and anxiety are friendly companions. While it’s common for them to hang out occasionally, it’s when one or more of them decides to be your roommate that the trouble starts.
Stress is a response to either a perceived threat like “tiger, incoming”, or your current circumstances, like working three jobs to make ends meet. Worry results when you ruminate (also called “obsessing”) about what’s causing the stress. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to continual stress and worry.
Anxiety is a persistent feeling of apprehension, unease, dread, worry, fear, or any combination thereof. When you start to feel anxiety, that’s when you know your companion has moved in.
You, like most of us, may believe that how you feel is outside of your control. It’s not and here’s how we know. You can activate the stress response in your body just by thinking about an actual, or even a potential, event or situation. Got that? You can create this response in yourself just through your thoughts.
The body has a very complex and highly effective stress response protocol and it does not differentiate between real and perceived threats, because it can’t.
The physical stress response in your body lasts about ninety seconds. This is how it works:
1. The area of your brain called the amygdala perceives a threat through one of your senses.
2. The amygdala sends a warning to the hypothalamus
3. The hypothalamus sends a signal to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which controls your body’s involuntary functions like breathing and heartbeat.
4. The ANS sends a message to the adrenal glands.
5. The adrenal glands release adrenaline.
If the danger persists, or if worrying, ruminating, or obsessing commences, the brain signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol.
This is where the real problems start. Prolonged stress and/or worry and/or anxiety cause you to experience sustained blood sugar elevation, high blood pressure, diminished immune response, loss of bone calcium, loss of muscle mass, decreased cognitive function and increased accumulation of fat.
Now stress moves from a response to an external condition, to anxiety which is generated internally. Again, these feelings may be triggered by either real or perceived threats.
- Stress, worry, and anxiety are related
- External – real or perceived threats can activate the stress response
- Internal responses and/or actions can result in anxiety
- Internal responses like your thoughts, words, and actions like our self-medication prescription below, can reduce stress, worry, and anxiety
So How Do You Self-Medicate for Stress?
Movement – Beyond Exercise
Breath work, walking, dancing, qi gong. When you just don’t have the mental energy to talk yourself through your stress or anxiety, doing any one of these things will calm your mind and body. Doing more than one in synchronicity will make an exponential difference and doing it with someone else will have even more impact. Doing these mindfully (consciously aware, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally) are key. Mindful movement helps clear the mind, increase endorphin levels, and relieve everyday stresses, depression, and anxiety.
Time in Nature – Nature Bathing
This is mindful time spent in the forest, a sensory experience. This is not hiking, not running, not exercising. It is meandering, noticing, and appreciating. Forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing, concentration, and memory.
Connect – With Others
Social connections give us pleasure and are proven to improve mental health and reduce stress and anxiety. If you don’t have at least one strong social connection, get one now. I know what you’re thinking – “easier said than done” – and you’re right, but it’s SO worth doing. You know, you can practice anywhere you can find people. Which is everywhere. So do it.
If you have one friend but not three, make it a goal to develop one more connection within three months and another in the next three. If you don’t have any idea how to start, start with the intention of asking one question of one person each day and look for opportunities to develop a conversation out of that one question. Then look for more opportunities to connect where it feels at least somewhat natural to do so. Remember, social support benefits the giver as well as the receiver.
Life Management – Live with Intention
What steps can you take today that will get you on the path to a less-stressed tomorrow? Let’s face it, life can suck. Sometimes it’s because of the choices we make and sometimes it’s life happening to us. Our decisions and our reactions are in our control. Often, when we’re on the hamster wheel, we’re so busy running we don’t see the options. Breathe deeply, saunter in nature, and ask yourself, “what one thing can I do today to get me on the path out of this stress?” and then do it. Every day, decide what you’re going to do, and then do it. You can get to a place where you control your life, it doesn’t control you.
Emotional Release – Embrace It
Find a balance between obsessing about how you feel and distracting yourself from it. Obsessing keeps you in the very stress response that results in long term health problems and a strategy of distraction means you live in fear of not successfully avoiding your feelings. What if you tried something different and you let yourself feel your emotions?
- a) Sit with yourself and label the emotion you feel
- b) Scan your body and see where you feel that emotion physically
- c) Ask yourself what that emotion is trying to tell you
- d) Breathe
- e) Ask yourself if you can let that emotion go, just for now
- f) Answer yes and release it from your mind and your body, feel it leave
- g) Repeat as necessary
Self-Compassion – No Judgments
Avoid making your anxiety worse by judging yourself for feeling it. When you’re anxious, you need support, not blame. Be the friend to yourself that you are to others and give yourself love, understanding, and kindness. Put your hand on your heart and ask yourself why you’re feeling anxious. Get curious about it, explore it, breathe deeply, and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Then choose any or all of 1 through 5 to give yourself the care you need.
If you’d like to get into some of this but don’t know where to start, check out the workshops on our Event page. Our workshops focus on self care, community, personal development, and fun.