• Tips and Tools to Destress and Manage Anxiety

    Anxiety and stress are universal experiences. We have all felt the pressure of life build a nest inside our chests or felt helpless to our thoughts spinning yarns of catastrophe and calamity. Here at MSC, we help individuals learn how to navigate and reframe their relationship with anxiety, and in this article will review some simple and useful tips and tools that anyone can use to destress and better manage their anxiety. Not all of these will apply to you or fit into your life structure, so try out as many as you can and figure out what works for you!

    As always, we recommend reaching out to a mental healthcare clinician if you feel you could benefit from more support and guidance.

    Get Some Zzzzzzzz’s: 

    Sleep is vital to our mental health. During sleep, our brain and body rest and recover, working through many of the challenges of the day. Without adequate sleep, we are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, more likely to make mistakes, and to not act in our own best interests. Here are a few tips to help maintain/improve your sleep:

    • “Bed is for sleeping” as a rule of thumb – every decision around sleep should follow this rule.
    • Create a nighttime “wind down” routine – this lets your body and mind know it is time to sleep.
    • Minimize/eliminate screen time at night, and especially in bed – screens such as phones, tablets, and TVs (even those with “nighttime settings”) trick our brains into thinking it is time to be awake. Additionally, social media and other apps are designed to hold our attention and keep us engaged, the opposite of sleep.
    • Avoid caffeine and alcohol use at night – these (and other substances) significantly affect our ability to fall and stay asleep, as well as the quality of sleep.

    Get Active: 

    Physical activity and (especially aerobic) exercise has been proven to help reduce anxiety and improve mood. At MSC, we almost always “prescribe” physical activity as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Here are a few ideas/tips to start:

    • Set attainable goals: start with a short (10-15 min) walk outside each day
    • Pick a physical activity you enjoy: examples include walking, running, dancing, biking, boxing, martial arts, swimming, weight lifting, or the team sport of your choice
    • Enlist your friends: we are more likely to engage in exercise when joined by a friend or loved one, plus you get the added bonus of spending time with them!

    Breathe Deeply:

    It’s been called by many names – deep breathing, belly breathing, box breathing – and they are all variations on the same technique. By engaging the diaphragm, we are activating the “rest and relax” system (parasympathetic) that helps balance out the “fight or flight” system (sympathetic) that is activated when we are stressed/anxious. The basics of this breathing are:

    • Sit comfortably in chair/on bed, with a hand on your chest and and a hand on your stomach
    • Breath in for 4 seconds through your nose, making sure the hand on your chest remains still, and your belly moves out
    • Hold breath for 4 seconds
    • Breath out for 6 seconds through your mouth, again making sure the hand on your chest remains still, and your belly moves back down
    • Repeat 4 more times!

    Get Grounded:

    When we get anxious, we tend to get lost in our thoughts and feelings of stress or distress. Grounding exercises, such as the “54321” exercise, can help us to reconnect with the present moment and our surroundings and navigate the anxious moment.

    5) LOOK: Name 5 things you can see around you (ex. The lamp above me, cup on the desk)

    4) FEEL: Pay attention to your body and name 4 things you can feel (ex. my feet in my socks, my back on the seat)

    3) LISTEN: Listen and name 3 sounds (ex. Car going by, birds chirping)

    2) SMELL: Say 2 things you can smell (or if you can’t smell anything, your 2 favorite smells)

    1) TASTE: Say 1 thing you can taste (ex. Toothpaste, food you recently ate, or your favorite taste)

    Put Your Anxious Thoughts On Trial:

    Thoughts about a situation, other people, and even ourselves can trigger anxiety or stress. These thoughts often occur automatically and outside of our conscious awareness, and may not be a true or accurate interpretation of reality. By reacting reflexively to these (possibly inaccurate) thoughts, we end up sounding alarm bells when there was no emergency to begin with. By putting anxious thoughts “on trial”, we are able to wrestle back some control over our anxiety. Ask yourself these simple questions the next time you are feeling anxious and/or having anxious thoughts:

    • What evidence do I have to support this thought? Evidence against it?
    • Is this thought based on facts, or on feelings?
    • How would my best friend/partner/parent see this situation?
    • How likely is the feared thought/outcome to come true?
    • Even if the feared thought/outcome does occur, will it still matter in a week? A month? A year?


    Created By:
     Jacob Feldman, M.D; Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist

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