Calming image of hay fields in Devon to illustrate counselling and hypnotherapy in Plymouth

Twelve ways to reduce stress and anxiety

Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Would you like to reduce stress in your life? These are my twelve top tips to becoming calmer and more confident.

1. Stress is a habit and habits can be changed

You may not have thought of it this way but how you deal with stressful situations is a habit that you’ve learned over the years. Like any habit, it’s possible to unlearn it and learn a new way of responding. For example, most small children cry when they fall over and graze their knee but it’s unusual to see an adult do the same. At some point the habit of crying changes and the distress lessens, even though falling still hurts!

2. Believe you can change

When it comes to overcoming any problems, people who believe they can change tend to fair much better than those who consider it’s a problem they’re stuck with. Resist saying things like “I was born this way” or “this is just how I am” or labelling yourself as a “stress-head” or an “anxious person” or something similar. Remember your stress response is reinforced through habit and all habits can be changed.

3. Think about stress as a good thing

We hear so much about how unhealthy stress is for us that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s wiser to avoid stress altogether. Even if this were possible, it wouldn’t be the best solution. Research suggests that our stress response system is strengthened through practice, rather like exercising a muscle. However, just like exercising a muscle, we need to get the balance right to prevent fatigue or injury. That’s why it’s good for us to experience some adversity in childhood, such as falling down, so that we can develop emotional and physical resilience. When we see stress as an opportunity to strengthen our stress response, it becomes a good thing and less threatening. Stress is only bad if you think it is!

4. Focus on the positives

When people are stressed they tend to be constantly bombarded with negative thoughts. You can break this cycle by consciously focusing on the positives in your life. Write down 3 positive things and 1 thing that you’re grateful for at the end of every day. This will help you reconnect with what’s good in your life. At first you may find this difficult but it’ll get easier with practice.

5. Breathe…

If you notice yourself becoming stressed, practice 7/11 breathing to calm yourself. It’s a simple technique that involves breathing in for the count of 7 and breathing out for the count of 11.

If 7/11 feels difficult initially, try 4/7 instead. The main thing is to breathe out for longer than you breath in. The more you practice, the easier and more effective it becomes.

6. Learn how to relax

Learning how to physically and mentally relax is a great way to reduce stress and calm the body and the mind. You could try Yoga, mindful meditation, take relaxing walks in the countryside.

7. Check you’re meeting your physical needs

People often overlook the fact that our bodies function better when we meet certain basic needs. When these needs aren’t met the body becomes stressed. For example, you might notice you feel more grumpy or stressed after a poor night’s sleep. Sleeping well, eating regular, nutritious meals and drinking enough to stay hydrated is important. Taking care of yourself will give you more spare capacity to deal with life’s challenges.

8. Reduce your caffeine intake and avoid alcohol

Research suggests that caffeine, which is a stimulant, can make stress worse. Switch to de-caffeinated varieties of tea, coffee and soft drinks.

Many people have a couple of drinks to help them sleep. Unfortunately, it’s been found that alcohol actually gives you poorer quality sleep, which means you’ll have less spare capacity to deal with stress.

9. Priorities, priorities…

Not enough time in the day? Too much to do? Rarely achieve your goals? Then it’s time to get realistic and re-evaluate your priorities. Set yourself smaller, achievable goals and this will give you the confidence and motivation to keep moving forward.

10. Make time for what you want to do

Are you always running around after everyone else? Is there little time left over for the things you want to do? If that’s the case, then plan some time in your diary that’s just for you. It’s not selfish, it’s self care!

11. Say “No” occasionally

Most of the people I’ve come across who suffer with stress tend to find it difficult saying, “No” when it’s appropriate to do so. Start with refusing small requests. Then as your confidence grows and you feel more comfortable, you can build up gradually. You’ll be surprised how easy it’ll become and how good you’ll feel.

12. Try clinical hypnotherapy to reduce stress

Clinical Hypnotherapy can be extremely effective in helping people to reduce stress. Hypnotherapy focuses on reducing your negative thought patterns and reconnecting you with the positives in your life (even if you can’t see them right now!). It aims to reduce stress by building your resilience to life’s challenges, increasing your confidence and helping you to learn how to really relax. If this sounds exactly like what you need, then give it a go!