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The past few months have been challenging, to say the least. Regardless of your situation, we all face new circumstances and pressures. If your usual ways of dealing with anxiety don't work, that's normal.
"The strategies that people used to deal with stress successfully may be different now," says Dr. Sheobhan D. Newpert, a professor of psychology at North Carolina State University. "People need to match their coping strategies to the needs of the situation. Because we are all living in a new environment that is unique to us and different from what others may experience, there is no "one size fits all" solution. We should encourage everyone to try coping techniques."
Consider these six ways to see what can help you better manage stress and anxiety. Remember, one thing may work today, while another may fit your needs better tomorrow.
Think positive thoughts. In a recent study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers conducted a survey of 233 adults to determine how often they "actively coped." This refers to any action taken to reduce the likelihood of experiencing stress in the future, such as making plans or allocating resources. Then, over the course of eight days, participants filled out questionnaires about stress, mood and mindfulness, all of which have been linked to reduced anxiety and distress.
Unsurprisingly, those who took the initiative were less stressed on a daily basis.
However, those who respond best to daily stresses such as arguments, work conflicts, and your child's bad behavior are also able to focus on the present. "This is undeniably a challenging balance, and it highlights the real tension humans experience when balancing future plans and living in the present," said Neupert, the study's lead author.
It may be harder than ever to plan for a month, so Neupert recommends planning one day a day, or even part of one day a day. Then, consider trying more mindfulness practices like meditation and mindful eating. You'll find a balance between planning ahead and focusing on the moments that work best for you.
Deep sleep. And sleep pressure can create a vicious cycle. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that just one night of sleep deprivation can increase anxiety by 30 percent. "Sleep deprivation targets brain regions that predisposes us to anxiety," explains Eti Ben Simon, PhD, a neuroscientist and sleep researcher at the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. "When these areas are offline, as they are when we are sleep-deprived, our deep emotional centers go haywire and anxiety can follow." Moreover, as many of us know, increased anxiety can make sleep more difficult.
But deep sleep -- the stage of non-REM sleep where brain activity slows and it's difficult to wake up -- may actually help reduce anxiety. Ben Simon explains that this kind of sleep restores activity in brain areas that keep us calm. She recommends finding your optimal sleep time -- when you fall asleep easily -- and then maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
Talk to yourself in the third person. Many people may find it strange to call themselves by their first name instead of "me." But talking to yourself in this way has been shown to help control emotions and reduce stress. It's like a friend coming to you with a problem. Ethan Cross, PhD, director of the Self-control and Emotion Lab and professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, explains, "It's easier for us to guide them objectively because we distance ourselves from the problem, which can promote rational thinking." When you use the same word class to refer to other people (they, she, he), you get the same distance.
In the study, when Cross had people deal with challenging events in the past or that might occur in the future, those who used the third person felt less stress and anxiety, based on self-report and measures of cardiovascular response, such as blood pressure. The next time you're trying to process feelings, narrate in the third person and you may find that your language shifts to a more challenging mindset (" Similar situations in the past they/she/he did X to deal with. Cross added that it might work now "), rather than a menacing mindset (" How should I handle this? ).
Play a game. In a study published last July, researchers followed 20 adults.
Over the course of five days, once they got home from work, participants either played a jigsaw puzzle called building blocks. Hexa Puzzle or use a mindfulness app for 10 minutes. Over time, those who played the game reported feeling more relaxed, while those who used the mindfulness app reported feeling less relaxed.
"There are four aspects of gaming that can help us recover from work," said Dr Anna Cox, a co-author of the study and professor of human-computer interaction at University College London. "They help us put our work aside and not think about it; They help us relax; They give us the opportunity to experience the challenge of conquest; They give us a chance to feel in control of our environment." All of this reduces tension and anxiety. Any game you like will have a similar effect, adds Cox. Set a timer, because few people need more screen time.
Take a conscious walk. You've probably heard that spending time in nature can help reduce stress and anxiety. It only takes 10 minutes, according to a Cornell University review published in February. To maximize the benefits, it may be helpful to make your workouts more focused. Researchers at Penn State University gave college students an app that randomly prompted them to record their activity and mental state throughout the day for two weeks. They found that stress, anxiety and depression were reduced the most when students exercised and focused at the same time.
In a follow-up study, older adults who participated in an outdoor mindful walking program reported similarly positive mood changes. So instead of thinking about your to-do list, or the argument you had with your dad last night, use your walk time to focus on your breathing and your surroundings.
Try to smile and hold out your hands. The technique used in Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a bit like "fake it until you make it." The idea is that when you place your body in a body position associated with a sense of calm, it triggers your brain to relax and reduce anxiety. To smile, relax all the muscles in your face -- forehead, eyes, ears, tongue, chin, everything. Then simply start using your lips to form the first hint of a smile.
If your hands are willing, completely relax your shoulders, arms, and hands, perhaps shaking them to relieve tension. Then, whether you're sitting, standing, or lying down, keep your palms facing up (or whatever feels natural while standing) and keep your fingers open. You can practice it every day (like meditation) or all the time.