Now that we’re in the middle of winter, it can feel like the season will be never-ending. The cold weather, lack of sunlight, grey skies, constant shoveling and all the extra clothes and gear needed to leave the house can be incredibly stressful. Many people struggle this time of year with both anxiety and depression, and just feel very stressed out by all the effort required to to function normally in this climate. One way to better manage your stress and anxiety is to bring your “A game” using the 4 A’s of Anxiety Management:
1. AVOID unnecessary stress
Generally in life, and especially in therapy, avoidance is not a good idea. However, if there are stressors that cause you a lot of anxiety, like driving far distances in bad weather, then avoiding them can actually be a helpful. Of course, it’s not healthy to avoid a stressful situation that needs to be addressed, but you may feel much better eliminating non-essential stressors. Removing unnecessary stress is simple when you can:
– Learn to say “NO.” This two letter word is invaluable in helping us define our limits and stick to them. Whether personally or professionally, assuming more than you can handle is a certain recipe for stress and anxiety. Get clear on the difference between the “shoulds” and the “musts” and, when possible, say “no” to taking on too much.
– Avoid people who stress you out. If you have someone who consistently causes stress in your life, then you must learn to limit the amount of time you spend with that person, or end the relationship (if that is possible).
– Take control of your environment. If watching the news or your social media feed makes you anxious, turn off the TV and purge your feed. If traffic makes you totally stressed out, take a longer but less-congested route. If going to the mall is an overwhelming and unpleasant chore, do your shopping at smaller, more manageable stores or online.
– Scale down your to-do list. Take a long, honest look at your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, drop the tasks that aren’t absolutely necessary to the bottom of the list, or eliminate them entirely.
2. ALTER your environment
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to change it. Often, this involves altering the way you communicate and function in your daily life.
– Express your feelings instead of suppressing them. If something is bothering you, be more assertive and voice your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you’ve got to be somewhere in 20 minutes and your chatty housemate just got home, speak up that you only have five minutes to talk now, and can catch up with them later. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and your stress will increase.
- Be willing to compromise. If you’re going to ask someone to change their behavior, you must be willing to do the same. When both parties are willing to bend, you have a much better chance of finding a happy middle ground.
– Create a balanced schedule. All work and no play is a surefire way to reach burnout. It’s essential to find a balance between work and family life, social activities and solitary hobbies, daily responsibilities and leisure time.
3. ADAPT to the stressor
If you can’t avoid or alter the stressor, change yourself. People are resilient and can adapt to many stressful situations. You will regain a sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
– Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a being stuck traffic, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite album or podcast, or enjoy some alone time.
– Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a week? A month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, re-direct your time and energy elsewhere.
– Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set realistic expectations for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
- Practice gratitude. When stress or anxiety is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and skills. This simple practice can help you keep things in perspective.
4. ACCEPT the things you cannot change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as bad weather, serious illness, the death of a loved one, or a national crisis. In such cases, the best way to cope with the stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be challenging, but in the long run, it’s easier than expending all kinds of energy against a situation you can’t change.
– Be reasonable about what you can control. Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the actions and behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you do have power over such as the way you choose to react to problems.
– Focus on the positive. When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
– Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people mess up from time to time. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on. You will be less anxious.
– Share your feelings. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Talk to a support, a trusted friend, or make an appointment with a therapist.
If you feel you could benefit from additional strategies to manage stress and lower your anxiety, we can help! Give us a call at (716) 926-6009 or click here to schedule an appointment.