Fitness Magazine

2 Steps to Take Charge of Your Stress Or Anxiety

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina

2 Steps to Take Charge of Your Stress or Anxiety

Enclosed Field with Rising Sun by van Gogh

Lately I’ve been trying to help several people who are suffering from stress and/or anxiety. Although these people are all quite different from each other—they range from a young woman with a new baby to man with newly diagnosed heart disease to an older man with chronic insomnia—I found myself saying the exact same things to each one of them. And since my advice was, in a way, very basic, I thought I’d write it up for the blog.

One of the things that motivated me to share this advice was that I was struck by something my friend said when I talking over her daughter’s problems with her. “Well, I guess, anxiety just comes and goes.” My friend seemed to feel that her daughter was at the mercy of some emotion that took her over periodically and that there was nothing she could do to change that. But I feel that through a combination of educating yourself and making some lifestyle changes, you can empower yourself to deal more effectively with stressful situations and hopefully also reduce the levels of stress and/or anxiety that you are suffering from. And the advice I’ve been giving boils down to two simple steps.1. Learn About Your Nervous System.The first thing I always tell people I’m teaching to manage stress and anxiety is to read The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson so they can learn about how their nervous system—specifically the autonomic nervous system—works. I recommend this book because although we have some information on the blog about the nervous system (see Chronic Stress: An Introduction and Stress, Your Health and Yoga), we don’t yet have a comprehensive overview of the nervous system. (I am going to write one tomorrow, though, because I’ve realized how important it is!) I feel strongly that educating yourself about your nervous system will help eliminate some of the mystery of what’s happening to you and empower you to make some important decisions. Knowing the symptoms of chronic stress, such as insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, high blood pressure and so on, will help you choose the right solutions (see below) for you and to take action before things get out of hand. And I also believe that knowing about how your nervous system works and understanding the difference between sleep and conscious relaxation (see Conscious Relaxation vs. Sleep) will motivate you to start practicing stress management. Otherwise, you might think—as one friend did—that exercise and sleep are all that is needed.For example, I can always tell when I’m getting stressed out because I start sleeping poorly, lose my appetite (sometimes even feeling nauseated), and, because my mind is racing, I talk more than usual! If things get really bad, I start to feel a burning sensation in my chest. So rather than just waiting until things get even worse (I have been there—“going over the edge” I call it), I double down and focus my yoga practice on stress management (see Friday Q&A: Practicing to Manage Stress). I believe this has helped keep me emotionally healthy for almost 20 years now.2. Find Ways to Manage Your Stress and Reduce Anxiety, and Practice Them.Once you’ve learned about your nervous system and how important conscious relaxation is for your emotional as well as physical health, you should take the time to explore the possibilities yoga offers for helping you manage your stress and reduce your anxiety. We’ve been writing about the different ways that yoga can help you manage stress since the very earliest days of the blog. And throughout the years, we’ve continued to write about this. That’s because we feel that yoga includes such a wide range of possibilities that you’re sure to find something that works for you. Interestingly, the paper I wrote about in Self-Regulation, Psychological Health, and Yoga confirmed this very opinion!But everyone needs to experiment to find what suits them best. For example, even though breath practices (see Friday Q&A: Breath Practices for Anxiety) are traditionally thought to be helpful for stress and anxiety, one person I’m working with found that breath practices I recommended tend to agitate him. Happily, however, I introduced him to supported forward bends, which he immediately found soothing. Another man I’ve been counseling does find breath work helpful, and he has used to it relax while getting medical procedures that make him tense. He also really enjoys the guided relaxation tracks we have available on our site ( see Audio Tracks). I myself love the breath practices and supported inversions (see All About Supported Inversions). But I never enjoy restorative yoga, unless I’m super exhausted, and I don’t like listening to an audio recording of any kind while I practice, which are two of Baxter’s favorite things. Hey, we’re all different, not only in our tastes but in the ways we get stressed out. See The Relaxation Response and Yoga for an overview of the different practices.Finally, once you’ve identified the practices that work for you, you need to practice them regularly. This is crucial! Although some of the practices can provide quick, temporary relief, none are going to instantly rebalance your nervous system. After all, it probably took a while for your nervous system to become over-stressed, so it will take some time to return it to normal. But making the commitment to actively take care of yourself by practicing regularly is empowering—you are no longer at the complete mercy of outside forces—and that in itself is a huge step to take.

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