Seven strategies to reduce anxiety and stress

Healthy Salad reduce stress

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We asked Clinical Counsellor Olivia Sakamoto to give us her top tips to reduce stress and anxiety

Media portrays the average person in isolation dressed in pyjamas, eating carbs, emptying the wine collection, going for a jog and then asleep on the couch in the foetal position following a binge of Netflix.

While it is true, in response to change or the unknown, many run to old bad habits or start new ones. It doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s OK not to feel OK

The school of thought that anxiety, depression and stress are a weakness or only for a select few has thankfully been dismissed. It’s important to recognise that the body’s natural chemical response to difficult circumstances, sabotaging behaviours, thought patterns or disease is part of the human condition.

Fortunately, medical and mental health professionals have investigated means to reduce anxiety, depression and stress.

If we see ourselves as a series of natural chemical reactions we find it easier to understand why some of the strategies can help us. But every person has an individual journey of becoming anxious, depressed or stressed and yet many don’t know or have ignored the pathway out.

The below strategies are evidence based (verified by extensive medical research) and when employed in a day to day routine all work to reduce anxiety, depression and stress.

1. Take a breath

Diaphragmatic breathing is a key strategy which helps with calming panic. On the surface it sounds absurd, but it has been clinically proven that diaphragmatic breathing reduces the fight and flight response in our body by triggering the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Explaining this to primary school students looks like this: Imagine our body is transparent and when we are anxious or stressed we would see black chemicals released and distributed through our body (stress hormones). The black chemical is not good for us long term and we need another white chemical to be released to calm us down and keep us healthy.

To see this type of breathing technique in action: Click here

2. Stay fit and healthy

Regular exercise is vital, even if it’s just a 20-30 minute walk every day. This will also help get your important daily dose of Vitamin D (only 15 minutes without sunblock).

Maintaining a healthy diet is equally critical, so try to include at least three fruits and five veggies per day with a focus on iron and magnesium rich foods. And drink up to eight cups of water a day.

3. Don’t overindulge

I know it can be hard, especially at this time of isolation, but you need to set limits on items such as sugar, alcohol and caffeine. It’s recommended to reduce alcohol to 1-2 glasses socially (stay in your home or video catch ups) and twice a day for caffeine. And no unprescribed drugs.

4. Live in the moment

One thing that isolation has given us is the permission to slow down. There’s many ways you can take advantage of this:

  • Slow down eating; don’t inhale food
  • Slow down everyday activities; getting ready and even going to the toilet
  • When outside take note of the nature around you
  • Relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxation – clench and then relax each major muscle in the body starting from the toes and working your way up the body
  • Laugh out loud; laughter is a proven healthy internal medicine

5. Sleep on it

Healthy sleep is incredibly beneficial for your mental health. Try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time, and aim for between 7-10 hours sleep every night. 

It’s also important to reduce blue screen time (devices and TV), especially not an hour before bed. If you find that too difficult, the look at getting Blue Screen Glasses which are available from pharmacies or online.

6. Be kind to yourself and others

Learning to forgive yourself and others is a powerful strategy, as is dealing with unresolved offences or trauma (with a professional). Resentment, anger, fear and bitterness are great factors to focus on too – be it very challenging.

7. Grounding and faith-based techniques

When overwhelmed or in a severe panic a grounding technique may help. There are many types, but the practice proven useful with all ages is using our five senses. Look at five things, touch four, hear three, smell two and taste one. Then follow this with diaphragmatic breathing.

If you have a faith-based technique, this can also provide great comfort.

Changing behaviours can take two months to become automatic and with COVID-19 disrupting our business and home lives, we may just have that time available.

So if you feel the stress and anxiety building, remember that it’s OK and normal to feel this way. And that the strategies you put in place to help today, can be something you can take with you and draw upon long after this crisis is over.

Please note: All of the above techniques are not to be in place of or in any way encourage people to stop taking their prescribed medication. It is strongly encouraged that this is to be done in consultation with your Mental Health Professional and or GP who is familiar with your medications and overall health history.

If you need to talk to someone there are many organisations ready to help:

Lifeline                        13 11 14                      lifeline.org.au

Beyond Blue               1300 22 46 36            beyondblue.org.au

Kids Helpline              1800 55 18 00            kidshelpline.com.au

Olivia Sakamoto

Olivia Sakamoto

Olivia Sakamoto has been a Clinical Counsellor for 11 years working in the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) industry, helping professionals with anxiety, depression and workplace stress. Olivia specialises in children, marriage, relationship and family counselling and has a Master in Counselling from Monash University (Vic).

Connect to Olivia via LinkedIn
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