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3 Steps for Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Stress is becoming more prevalent for adults and is reaching epic proportions in kids. With the fast-paced nature of life, many of us are looking for ways to tame the stress that finds us daily. In my coaching practice, I use a three-step model for dealing with stress. Each of the steps can help us decrease stress levels and increase resilience.

Step 1: Take a deep breath and identify what is happening inside you. What are you feeling right now? What is the origin (root cause) of your stress? How is the anxiety manifesting in your body? Focus on your direct experience. Honing in on our awareness allows us to be more present and intentional, getting out of our heads and into our bodies. One of my younger clients likes to envision that she is blowing up a bubble around herself with each deep breath she takes. She can go into the bubble when she is feeling worried and sit with the feeling for a few minutes to understand it better.

Step 2: Put on your “big-picture glasses” and look at what is happening outside of you. We often blame ourselves for not managing a situation well or making a mistake. When we put our actions into context, it’s easier to be compassionate with ourselves and others. For example, if you’re having a rough day and become frustrated with your partner, you might blame yourself for being unkind, which may send you down a rabbit hole of worry about the impact of your argument. Will your night be ruined now? What if that was the last straw for your partner? That one thought about your reaction now has you envisioning all the different ways the relationship might end.

Now, stop and imagine yourself putting on glasses that let you zoom out and see the big picture with compassion. What might you see? Maybe you can recognize that you’ve had a really long week at work and slept poorly because your two-year-old has been sick. You might also notice that your partner is dealing with some staff conflicts at work, which may have sapped some of her patience. Finally, you might recognize that the two of you haven’t had much time alone lately because of the holidays and travel and that you could probably benefit from some time to connect over something other than bills and figuring out who is going to take out the garbage. In other words, stress adds up quickly when we put the blame entirely on ourselves. When we zoom out and put stress into context, we can lighten the burden of stress and allow compassion to find us. Self-compassion goes a long way toward stress relief.

Step 3: Make purposeful and intentional choices. Sometimes stress can feel debilitating. We might think there’s nothing we can do and no way to ease the anxiety we’re buried under. But, even if it’s just a simple re-frame, there’s always something we can do, and reminding ourselves that we have some control can be empowering. Going through the first two steps gives you plenty of information to implement in Step 3.

If you’re feeling stressed because you haven’t been sleeping well, is there a time you could catch a nap, take a few minutes for meditation, or ask for help so you can go to bed early?

If you’re feeling stressed because your relationship is a mess, can you communicate your fears, acknowledge that you have room to grow, ask for forgiveness, and build a sense of connection?

If you’re spiraling mentally, can you stop and reframe the situation transforming “I’ll never be able to get this right” to say “I’m still learning” or “It’s slow progress, but it’s steady progress?”

Often stress and anxiety send us into a whirlwind of worry, and it’s hard to see our way out. Remember the client who blew the bubble to give herself space to process stress? Once she had sorted out what she was feeling, what was happening around her, and what she needed to do, she imagined herself popping the bubble and going out into the world to take action. The next time you feel stress and anxiety overpowering you, consider these three simple steps and walk towards a more compassionate and grounded reality.

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