Anxiety is much more than just excessive worrying. We tend to use the word for a range of panic disorders that its real meaning and implications are getting lost in the melee.
Most often it starts in a milder form because you want to put up a cool, brave, or “all’s well” front, even when you are worrying or panicking on the inside. Gradually, it increases in intensity because you consistently ignore the feeling or continue putting more and more pressure on yourself.
Ultimately, it reaches a stage when it is no longer controllable. The worst part is that it can lead to serious psychiatric disorders like depression and health problems like diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems, and a host of other lifestyle diseases.
It is simple enough to see that it is absurd or irresponsible to allow things to get out of hand. That is hindsight or a physician’s view of the problem. From the perspective of the sufferer, there is nothing silly about it. It is very much real and it robs you of a wonderful life.
Again, it is true that anxiety when dealt with in the initial stages can be easily contained and prevented from developing into a serious condition. Even better is to adopt preventive actions to ensure that anxiety doesn’t affect you at all.
If you belong to these two groups – no anxiety or with less intensity – you will find these activities helpful in alleviating it and keeping it under control. After all, managing stress and anxiety is the key to a happy life.
This article details simple ways to relieve stress and anxiety.
How can activities reduce anxiety?
Our mind has a tendency to dwell on negative thoughts and feelings if left to its own. While you need to summon all your energy and focus to stay positive, a momentary lack of concentration can let you slip into negative territory.
And this is the main reason for the overwhelming presence of anxiety in the population. You don’t need to put in any particular effort to trigger anxiety, while you need to evoke all your willpower to get out of it.
When anxiety is in its milder form or as a preventive, activities and exercises can help you keep it at bay. Here are the main reasons why engaging in stress reduction techniques can offer you relief from anxiety.
Activities act as diversions. Anxiety gains in intensity when your mind is fully focused on the negative emotions. A break in the focus can give you a breather and help in recovery.
Activities that demand physical movement reduces tension in muscles. As your anxiety levels rise, the muscles become more and more tensed up. Muscles remain stiff as you are unable to relax. Muscle rigidity and anxiety form a vicious cycle, one contributing to the other. When you engage in physical activities, you are taking away the body’s contribution to anxiety.
Activities lead to the release of anti-anxiety hormones. An increase in physical activities or feelings of happiness or fulfillment can lead to the release of happy hormones, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. This will induce a calming effect.
Activities can reduce stress hormones levels. The change of focus from negative thoughts to fun activities can bring down the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Activities help bolster your defense against anxiety. By enhancing self-belief, self-worth, and self-confidence, you will be less susceptible to anxiety.
Activities reduce the fight-or-flight feeling. Activities stimulate the frontal lobe of the brain, thereby reducing the feelings of threat and panic.
For more on this topic, see our article how to overcome social isolation during covid-19.
6 Stress relief activities to help you manage your anxiety
There is a wide range of anxiety reduction techniques available to relieve anxiety and stress. What works for one may not be suitable for another. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to less stress.
While some are outdoor activities, others are indoor. Some are group activities, while others can be performed on your own.
Depending on your requirement, circumstances, mood, and intensity of the problem, you can choose to follow one or more of these activities.
Physical exertion is one of the best antidotes to stress and anxiety. Though it may sound contradictory, putting more strain on your body can help in taking the pressure off your mind.
Here are some ways exercising can help in relieving anxiety.
Brings down stress hormone levels: Cortisol is one of the main culprits in raising anxiety levels. Physical activity can reduce the production of cortisol. In addition to this, exercising triggers the secretion of happy hormones like endorphins. This has a calming effect, helps in enhancing your mood, and acts as pain relief.
Better sleep: Physical exertion is bound to drain your energy levels and force your body to shut down. Despite feeling stressed, you will find yourself sleeping better. A good night’s sleep can help in improving your mood, thereby helping you to get a grip on anxiety.
Improved confidence: Regular exercise can lead to a better self-image and help in boosting your self-worth and confidence. This means better mental health and reduced levels of anxiety.
Any kind of exercise – such as walking, running, lifting weights, or playing sports – helps in reducing anxiety. If these activities are too strenuous or not practical to follow, you can also choose less intense activities. Even increasing your physical movements in your daily routine can help.
2. Spend more time with near and dear ones
Friends and family are the ones who care for you the most. It is the best support system you have. Make the best use of it by spending more time in their company.
The social support offered by your family and friends can give you a sense of belonging and remove the feeling of being alone. The confidence and self-worth you gain through your association with people who care for you can help you survive stress-inducing episodes.
Social support benefits both men and women, though women are known to benefit more from it. Close contact with friends, family, and especially children has been found to boost the production of the happy hormone oxytocin in women.
On the other hand, those who resist social contacts and prefer their own company are found to be more susceptible to anxiety, stress, and depression.
3. Laugh more
Laughter offers a vital break from the negative thoughts that feed your anxiety. It is known to improve your mental as well as physical health. In fact, it is hard to feel stressed when you are laughing.
Laughter improves your mood and triggers the release of happy hormones. It works on your muscles and helps them to relax and bring down tension in them. Laughter boosts your immune system and helps in improving your physical health. This also has a direct consequence on your mental health.
Seek ways to laugh more. Watching a comedy show, reading a humorous book, spending time with your family and friends are all choices for you to try. Laughter clubs and laughter yoga are some more options for you to choose from.
4. Gratitude journal
When you feel the stress level is getting out of hand, you can try the simple technique of writing down your thoughts. Anxiety will make you dwell on the same topic that is the cause of trouble for days together. Your mind will be going round in circles, trying to make some sense of it.
When you are analyzing the incident that triggered the anxiety attack, you are under the impression that you are trying to find an alternate ending or a solution to the dilemma. When you choose to write down your thoughts, it will give you more clarity and provide you with the answers you are searching for.
Once you have resolved the immediate crisis, you can continue your journaling activity by writing down what you are grateful for. Maintaining a daily gratitude journal is a sure way to induce positive thinking. And we know positivity and anxiety cannot co-exist.
5. Avoid procrastination
Often you feel stressed when work piles up and you feel overwhelmed by it. Procrastinating or putting off things can only add to stress levels. Avoid this by prioritizing your duties and responsibilities.
When you are always trying to catch up on your work, no wonder you feel stressed. Making a to-do list, prioritizing work, and setting yourself realistic deadlines can make life easier for you.
If you are comfortable with multi-tasking, go right ahead and get more work done. If managing multiple tasks simultaneously or switching between tasks is giving you nightmares, avoid them. Don’t do it to look cool or to save time. It is just not worth the mental agony.
6. Learn to say no
It may sound too simple or even silly. But most of us have a hard time saying no and some even don’t know how to.
Taking on more than you can handle is a sure way to invite stress into your life. You can avoid this just by learning to say no to that extra work you are asked to do.
Tight deadlines, too much work, or juggling too many tasks can make you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. All you need to do is to understand your capabilities and take on the work you are comfortable with.
Pampering yourself with a massage or aromatherapy, practicing mindfulness, listening to your favorite music, yoga, or deep breathing exercises are all beneficial in relieving anxiety. Physical contact with a loved one such as hugging, cuddling, or kissing is a known stress buster.
Avoiding addictive substances and caffeine acts as a preventive for anxiety and stress. Taking health supplements can also help you overcome stress. Omega-3 fatty acids, green tea, lemon balm, and kava kava are all proven antidotes to tension, stress, and anxiety.
Prevention is always better than cure. When stressful situations are unavoidable, do make sure that it doesn’t get unmanageable. Early intervention can make a huge difference.
Do you have a relationship with someone who has anxiety? Or need help to overcome the anxiety? You may also want to check out our ultimate guide on practicing mindfulness for anxiety or 36 powerful positive affirmations for anxiety and fear.