The Mechanics of Managing Stress & Anxiety

Janelle Thompson, MHC-LP December 16, 2020

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health complaints in America. Whether you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or just understand this experience all too well, I want you to know this is not a death sentence. Here are some practical tips for managing anxiety and stress.

WOW. 2020. What a year?! 

If I had to describe the past year, I would say it has been exhausting, overwhelming, challenging, and anxiety-filled. These last 6 months have turned everyone’s routines upside down, and we are all continuously learning to adapt. In short: life has been incredibly stressful. 

 As human beings, we all deal with stress and anxiety in some shape or form every day. My guess is that you have had the following experience at some point in the past year: feeling so overwhelmed that you start sweating, your heart palpitates, there’s nauseousness, and maybe even a headache? This is our physical body’s response to prolonged stress and anxiety triggers. 

You are not alone. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health complaints in America. Whether you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or just understand this experience all too well, I want you to know this is not a death sentence. In fact, it is a completely understandable human reaction in the face of great uncertainty. There is hope in this journey, and, with a little help now and then, you can place your feet on the ground every morning and function well.

 My suggestion is to view the anxiety symptoms you are experiencing as the equivalent of your check engine light coming on. When a car’s check engine light comes on, what does it mean? It probably means it’s time to change the oil or do some other routine maintenance, right?  It is time to clean out all the debris and grime that various filters have absorbed over time. So, when that light comes on, what do we do? Hopefully, we no longer ignore it and hope it goes away, and instead, we take it to a mechanic for a tune-up. Often time, the mechanic will change the oil and run further diagnostics to maintain the health of the car, and let you know when to schedule your next appointment. 

I will be bold and say that the truth is, as a therapist, some of us take better care of our cars than we do ourselves. We ignore our personal check engine lights and hope it goes away. We avoid. We self-medicate. We run until the wheels fall off. Rather than do this, when our personal check engine light switches on, we can assess (much like a mechanic with the tools at our disposal) by asking the following questions:

      • When was your last emotional and mental maintenance checkup? 
      • When was the last time you took inventory of the people and things in your life that are and are not serving you well?
      • When was the last time you looked in your toolbox and got rid of the tools that no longer work and replaced them for better versions?  

Once the above questions have been tackled, I often get asked the follow-up, “Where do I start?” Here are a few suggestions:

Start by being honest with yourself. Remove the mask for a moment. Sit with your feelings and examine them. Identify what you are feeling and what reaction it caused.

Identify your triggers and stressors. Symptoms don’t just appear. They are a response to something that is occurring internally or externally. Pay attention to your internal engine light and identify the pattern.

Schedule a “time out” consistently. When your car goes to the mechanic, it takes some time off. You should consider doing the same by taking a step back from your problems and clearing your mind. At least once a week, try carving out time just for you to pray, meditate, listen to music, and get some much-needed self-care.

Accept that everything is not within your control. We often become anxious over things that we have no control over. 

Reframe your irrational thoughts. For every negative thought or outcome you come up with, find a positive one and write it down. 

Identify what you think your best is in this season and aim for that instead of perfection. No matter what a person’s title is or how many accolades they have, no one is perfect. 

Take time to breathe.  Deep breathing does the body well as it helps to release tension.

Here are some more tools that can help reduce anxiety:

      • Eating a balanced diet (especially energy-boosting foods)
      • Sleep for 7-8 hours 
      • Exercise daily 
      • Limit alcohol and caffeine 
      • Meditation and breathing apps

And, finally, reach out to someone for help. There are professionally trained therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists that can walk alongside you and help you mitigate and make peace with your feelings of stress and anxiety.

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