5 Min Read
Learning How to Build Strategies and Cope with Anxiety in a Complex World
We live in a highly complicated time. With all technology built to make our lives easier, it only seems to get more complex. On top of the usual stresses of daily life, COVID has turned our world upside down. Is it over? Probably not. Is it safe to be in large crowds? Maybe.
Let's be honest. No matter the issue, any question you have about any subject on earth has a myriad of answers on the Google machine. It's all so confusing. Who do you believe, and who can you trust? All of this uncertainty leads us down a rocky path full of stress and anxiety.
Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of experiencing. Everyone suffers from anxiety, at least occasionally, and it's a daily occurrence for many of us. Consider this fact the next time you're ready to lash out at a confused cashier or launch into a fit of road rage because someone cut you off in traffic. Each one of us is dealing with some sort of stress in our life. Give others a break, and don't add to their stress by unloading your anxiety upon them. We're all in this together.
A Quick Fix
Before we get into long-term strategies for coping with stress, we should discuss a few quick ways to relieve unavoidable pressures. Arm yourself with the tools for de-escalating situations and soothing your nervous system.
Take a breath
When dealing with stress in the moment, there may not be a better quick fix than taking a few deep breaths. Use the 4 X 4 method by inhaling for a count of four, holding another four-count, and exhaling completely for four seconds. Do this as many times as necessary until you feel the stress leave your body.
The timing of each breath isn't as significant as simply evening out your breathing. When we become stressed, our breathing patterns shorten as our heart rate increases. Paying attention and controlling your breath will slow down your heart rate and calm your entire body.
As you begin to feel anxious, try removing yourself from the situation by taking a short walk. Do this in conjunction with directing your focus towards your body and not your mind. Remember you're going for this walk to ease your mind, not plan your attack for when you return.
Use this time to question your thought patterns. Are you stacking one problem on top of another? Maybe you're distorting the situation or suffering from a hidden fear. Analyze your ways of thinking instead of stoking your anxiety.
Identify Your Triggers
What's that thing that really sets you off? Maybe driving, alcohol, chronic pain, money, or your boss put you in stress mode. If you can identify the triggers in your life, it's easier to understand your anxiety and handle it appropriately.
Some triggers are simple: watching politics on TV makes you angry, leaving the office at five puts you in traffic, or eating tacos leads to drinking tequila. If you avoid the trigger, you eliminate the stress.
Not all triggers work the same way, and some are tougher than others to diagnose. Also, some triggers might be unavoidable in the short term but need addressing more permanently. It's probably not wise to address every trigger at once. Please don't ask for a divorce, quit your job, file for bankruptcy, and give up drinking at the same time.
Try to look for the master trigger and start there. Let's say you are having financial trouble. Identifying and working on your money problems may solve your work, marital, and drinking issues. Stress in one part of your life often creates multiple triggers. You may even be ignoring your master trigger entirely and using the others as a distraction.
Don't be afraid to seek guidance from friends, family, or a professional. You may find that others have better insight into your problems than you think. Let them help you.
Body and Mind
So many times, we focus more on our stress and less on ourselves. Keeping our minds and bodies in shape by exercising regularly, meditating, eating better, and sleeping better relieves stress and keeps anxiety in check.
Exercise should be part of any stress management plan. Any form of exercise gets your blood pumping, releases endorphins, eases the symptoms of depression, and provides a sense of self-control. One of the little-known cognitive effects of exercise is that it imitates the fight or flight response mechanism in your brain. Self-imposed physical stress trains your brain's reaction and protects your body from the harm of all stressors.
Sleep and anxiety are a double-edged sword. Many people suffering from anxiety struggle with sleep, while restorative sleep will help combat feelings of anxiety. Develop a sleep hygiene routine to let sleep relieve your stress instead of exacerbating it.
An adult male should get at least seven hours of sleep per night and ideally eight to nine. Improving sleep hygiene requires making your bed more comfortable, avoiding blue light at least thirty minutes before sleep, maintaining a regular bedtime, and abstaining from caffeine and alcohol in the evening.
What you put in your mouth has a tremendous effect on your mood. A diet heavy in carbohydrates causes the daily boost and crash roller coaster of your glycemic index. If you get hangry, your stress levels go through the roof. Avoiding junk food full of carbs and sugar allows your body to process nutrients evenly throughout the day.
Certain dietary supplements can also aid in the fight against anxiety. Try adding green tea to your nightly routine and a bit of dark chocolate after dinner. Supplements with ashwagandha, valerian root, and kava-kava have a calming effect.
A few minutes of a daily meditation practice helps train your brain to move on past anxious thoughts. Meditation aids in focus and awareness of the present moment and keeps your mind from the constant "what ifs" most of us struggle to eliminate.
Sitting on a cushion and trying to let your mind go blank for twenty minutes isn't for everyone. If you're not familiar with meditation, try an app like Calm or Headspace.
What's Your Strategy?
If you fail to have a strategy for dealing with anxiety, it can dominate your life. You must realize that avoidance is not a strategy. Stress will always find a way into your life. Learning how to cope with anxiety is the key to living life to its fullest.
A saying that people often like to throw out is "Don't sweat the small stuff." That's great for a t-shirt or one of those motivational posters but doesn't work in real life. Life is the accumulation of small stuff. What you decide to sweat is up to you.
Anther. Male wellness where it counts.