Dealing with anxiety and stress

Wendy Grace offers tips on how to find peace and relaxation in our daily lives

Stress is an inevitable part of our lives. We will never fully eliminate stress but what we can do is learn to manage it. Nowadays people are working longer hours and are under more pressure at work, job insecurity and economic pressures are all adding to the burden. Being constantly connected via technology can often add to our stress levels. So many people are over-worked, over-connected and are immersed in a non-stop busy culture that makes so many of us feel stressed out. Because we are so 'busy' all the time, we never stop to think about the damage this could be doing to our health and to our spiritual lives. Often being overly busy is as a result of taking on too much or not planning our days properly and efficiently. This means that we have to make it a priority to fit in some relaxation time each day.

St Francis de Sales pointed out how dangerous anxiety could be, because being stressed can make it harder to stay close to God. Stress tends to take away from our peace, it makes it hard to find quiet in our hearts to be with God. The irony, of course, is that ensuring you have this quiet prayer time will help you greatly to reduce stress. What a lot of anxiety comes down to is not trusting God. This is certainly something we will work on for our entire lives, and it is no easy task. But there is such huge freedom during a stressful time to hand it all over to God and put your trust in him. We will never face any obstacle that God will not give us the strength to overcome.

Often we have irrational fears or worry about things and situations that are far beyond our control. We also waste a lot of time worrying. We could learn a lot from St Padre Pio, who is known for his motto, “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry”. One of my favourite pieces of scripture is Matthew Six, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself."

Severe anxiety happens when the brain’s fire alarm centre—the amygdala—gets a ‘chemical burn’ from bathing too long in stress chemicals, making it hypersensitive and over-reactive to new problems. The more stressed we allow ourself to become the more anxious we will become. Therefore, it is vitally important we learn how to manage stress. Below are some simple practice tips to help you manage stress:

Find the cause

Often times we just feel stressed without actually identifying what is causing it. Once you get specific and pinpoint what is stressing you out, you can begin to take action. You will quickly see what you can control and make an effort to stop getting anxious over the uncontrollable things. You can't control the traffic jams in the morning but you can use that time better. You could learn a new language while in the car, listen to an audio book, relax by listening to classical music or just enjoy silence for that time in the morning. Does rushing stress you out? It's time to set your alarm 10 minutes early, or maybe it's the clutter in your house? A day of spring cleaning will get rid of repeated stress. If there are stressful situations you can avoid or cut out then do it.

It is OK to say no

Something I see all too often (and am guilty of myself) is taking on far too much. In an effort to try and help people or causes we can shoot ourselves in the foot. What we get then is a situation where we are overstretched, involved across too many areas and not fully effective in any of them. Make a list of all your responsibilities, decide what your priorities are and eliminate unnecessary commitments. God commanded us to take a day of rest on a Sunday for a very good reason! Taking rest time, enjoying hobbies and giving yourself room to breathe ultimately means you will be much more productive in the busy parts of your life.

It's OK to ask for help

How many times have you been overwhelmed and someone has offered you help and you refused to take it? Sometimes things are out of your control, and you just need to accept that. Look to friends and family for support in times of stress, I am constantly uplifted by those who offer support when I have lots going on, but it only comes when you actually ask for it.

Set aside de-stress time

I lead a very busy life. If I do not put an activity in my calendar it simply will not happen, my great plans to relax or take a walk will be engulfed by work. I put everything in my calendar from walks to prayer time. Once it is fixed in there then I try my level best not to let other things interfere. What can you change in your weekly calendar? Could you make sure to have technology free time once a week?

What about taking a walk with a friend? Plan your week at the start of the week, where can you fit in some 'me time', where can you slow down and shut off? You will be surprised when you create structure like this, how you can give yourself more time or find space in your day to fit things in, sometimes all it takes is 15 minutes a day to re-charge and de-stress. Fill your free time doing things that you love, it's easier to get through a stressful week when you have something to look forward to, something you have planned, find a hobby that will help you switch off.

Get out and get active

All too often stress can be connected to being sat at a desk all day. Regular exercise really is key to a sound body and mind. You don't need to go to a gym. Find flexible ways of fitting it in – you can de-stress if you walk home from work and put your phone on silent. What about trying a new dance class or heading for a cycle once a week? Try and fit in 30 minutes of exercise, of any form, at least five times a week. Not only will you release the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin which helps with stress, but you will keep your heart healthy too. Exercise is as important as eating and sleeping, we wouldn't go weeks without those things and exercise should be no different.

Allocate prayer time

Implement at least 15 minutes of meditative prayer in your day. Spend time in quiet reflection and prayer so you can simply take a time-out from your hectic day. Numerous studies have shown a tremendous impact on anxiety and stress when a person has regular meditation each day. It may help to read from Scripture or a spiritual book to kick-off your meditation. Maybe you may be passing a church on your busy lunch hour, why not drop in for 15 minutes? Giving yourself silence from the world and its worries can do so much. Sometimes I just like to sit and rest my eyes in a church, not thinking of much at all. It is amazing how when thinking of nothing, God can speak to us in those quiet moments, but we can only hear God’s voice when we drown out the noise to listen.

If you are struggling with anxiety and stress why not try out the Aware Life Skills course. Details are on www.aware.ie

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