Exactly a year ago, something devastating happened to me. I lost a very dear cousin to a tragic accident, and I was with her in the hospital when she took her final breath. I don’t think I can ever forget that visual scene.
It impacted me so bad that I became a recluse and refused to interact with people, fearing they, too, will die and I will cry horribly again. My husband, James, dragged me to see a psychiatrist. I had to be placed on medication and had to go through counseling. Eventually, I was weaned off the medicines and am now healthier emotionally and mentally.
For some, you are lucky not to have had such an experience, yet stress and anxiety follow you and haunt you making you sad, anxious, fearful, worried and just generally stressed, unable to concentrate, unable to get things done. Maybe not because of one big cause, but small, insignificant incidents that have piled up, like rebellious kids, unwashed dishes, dirty laundry and even a traffic jam.
Feeling stressed and anxious is common and natural; we can’t even fight it. It is our body’s natural response. Our hearts palpitate, we get sweaty. We can’t focus to do tasks; we are often caught staring off to space.
However, we can relieve stress and anxiety by identifying our triggers. We can also work on being healthier in mind, body, and spirit, so we don’t easily crumble during stressful times.
Useful tips to overcome stress and anxiety:
1- Identify the stress triggers and avoid it
- At certain points in our lives, our hormones are imbalanced and cause stress on us. These moments include puberty, pregnancy, menopausal and monthly period. While these moments cannot be avoided, we can prepare for it. For instance, a week before my monthly period is due, and I take iron supplements so I would not easily tire.
- Traffic stresses me, so I don’t make appointments where I have to drive out during peak traffic hours. I schedule these meetings mid-day or mid-afternoon, or I choose a venue that is nearby so I can just walk.
- Piled up laundry makes me anxious. I fear what bacteria may already be lurking inside a dirty pair of socks. I do the laundry every other day. Or if I am busy or too tired, my husband James does it because he knows my aversion to piled-up laundry.
- Sometimes, there may be circumstances that are out of ordinary that totally set us off, like having an employee not show up for work without notice. We couldn’t have prepared for it. In such case, refocus. Instead of getting angry and stressed, I condition myself to not be bothered by wasteful emotions, and instead to find a solution to the problem.
2- Maintain a healthy body
- Drink milk or hot tea, and not coffee, alcohol or drinks with artificial sweeteners. Caffeine and drinks with artificial sweeteners are stimulating because of its contents. To avoid getting high-strung, or even having palpitations, drink warm milk instead of hot tea.
- Milk has antioxidants, vitamins, and calcium. It also has protein component that regulates blood pressure, and potassium that will relieve those tight muscles we get when stressed.
- Tea, especially green tea, has antioxidants and a calming effect on the body.
- Eat home-cooked meals of foods that will ease stress and anxiety. Since I am a cook, cooking relaxes me. There is something hypnotic and relaxing about stirring soup, cutting ingredients, working over the stove. When it is my husband cooking, it also eases my stress and anxiety. Home-made meals are nutritious and taste unlimited, they not only help to calm down the stresses of life but also to be healthy.
- Sleep restfully. When our bodies are tired or sleepy, it is our built-in alarm system that we have to listen to. Do not take it for granted because our bodies need it. When we suffer from insomnia or lack of sleep, our bodies are tired and languorous and our minds cannot concentrate or focus.
- Exercise regularly. It is good for the heart and it also avoids fats storage, keeping us fit and trim. When we exercise, we release endorphins which are the happy hormones.
- Take medicine if required by professionals. If left unchecked or untreated, our anxiety and stress can worsen to become depression, which may lead to more serious illnesses, like cancer, or can lead to suicidal thoughts. Only a professional medical person can diagnose and treat us. Never try to prescribe your own medicine, and never use someone else’s prescription or medicine.
- There are also some supplements that can help regulate our stress and anxiety, like green tea, lemon balm, ashwagandha and omega-3.
3- Maintain a healthy mind
- Accept that there are things we cannot control. As a cook, I like to be in control; I control the quantity of oil I put in, I control how big the fire is, I control the taste to my own liking. When a fish of lesser quality is erroneously delivered, and it cannot be replaced in time, it throws me off.
- When confronted with a negative situation, I count one to ten before I react. It is a very conscious act of controlling my emotions and to give my attention to finding solutions.
- Do the best we can, and keep a positive attitude. We can prepare and do our best, but things may not always go our way. If I know I have done what I could, then I let it go. I cannot anymore wallow in self-pity or in guilt or self-doubt. I learn from the experience and move on.
- Refocus and learn something new. I like to challenge my mind so I try to learn something new at least every year. Last year, I took guitar lessons for three months. I may not be great at it, but I love to relax by strumming a few songs every so often.
- Learning a new skill or knowledge can take up a lot of effort, and it is my way of re-focusing emotions and thoughts to more productive outputs.
4- Maintain a healthy spirit
- Try yoga or do breathing exercises. These not only improve our body’s wellness, but the meditation done in yoga is also good for the spirit. It is a technique to focus on what is essential – our breathing, and calls the mind to an awareness of the ‘now’, not on the what could have been or what will be.
- Go beyond ourselves. When we think about other people and their plight, we are challenging ourselves to reach out. After learning how to play the guitar, I actually joined the music team of a nearby church. I gained new friends, and found fulfillment in sharing my talent. We can volunteer in a hospital or home for the aged, or we teach crafts to children in the community.
- Laugh and go crazy. Laughter really is good for the soul. My husband and I started a tradition of watching a funny film every week. There are days we play tag in our garden barefoot and enjoy the feel of grass.
- Talk with someone. I sought professional help, and wisely used that time to express my feelings especially about my cousin’s death. As the healing started, I was also able to talk about the incident with other family members and it was not as painful anymore.
- Friends and family can be our support system when we are anxious and stressed. They can be the listening ear, even the shoulder to cry on. But we have to do the first step of opening up and letting them understand our pain.
My favorite tip:
As I am a professional cook, I should say that my favorite thing to do to relieve stress and anxiety is to cook and to eat. When I became aware of my emotions, I realized when I was happy, I would most likely bake. When I was mulling or thinking, I would cook sous vide. When I was sad, I would prepare any meal with wine in it.
At the end of the day, there is nothing better for me than preparing and enjoying a home-cooked meal. How it looks, smells and tastes remind me that tomorrow, I can cook again. And while there is tomorrow, there is hope, there is something to look forward to.