Why are we never taught how to deal with anxiety and stress?

There are ways to reframe your anxiety… 24 ways in fact! Here are some science-based tips to lessen your anxiety and stress.

For this article, I gathered ideas from my friend, Michelle Poler, who is a master at conquering anxiety! She conquered 100 fears in 100 days and transformed her fear into a business!

Let’s learn how anxiety works. 

Are You Anxious? (Quiz)

In a 2017 study by the University of Bristol, researchers found that people with higher levels of anxiety had a harder time reading people.

People with higher levels of anxiety have a harder time differentiating expressions.

Take a look at each of these 6 facial expressions. Can you tell which subtle emotion is being expressed? All 6 of these are shown in the above graphic. Can you assign the correct image to the right face?

____ Sad____ Fear
____ Anger____ Happy
____ Surprise____ Disgust
Answer Key (click to reveal)

(1. surprise, 2. sad, 3. happy, 4. fear, 5. disgust, 6. anger)

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The Anxiety Loop

According to the Global Organization for Stress, at least 60% of working adults in major global economies are stressed.

This comic shows the effects of anxiety on social situations.

Let me tell you about a HUGE struggle of mine: After a party or dinner I would anxiously turn to my partner and ask,

“Do you think she is mad at me?”

He would look at me incredulously. “No, why?” 

I thought she looked angry. “Did you see how she looked at me?” I would ask.

Turns out my anxiety causes me to see neutral faces as angry. And this is found in the research too. When we feel anxious, our emotional sensitivity increases. We pay attention to others’ emotions more, but this also leads us to interpret supportive or happy emotions as negative ones, such as anger or fear.

And this causes us even MORE anxiety! This means that anxious people are likely to be stuck in a downward-spiraling anxiety loop:

The anxiety loops start with anxiety, which causes emotional sensitivity, which leads to bad emotional recognition, which leads again to anxiety.

No wonder anxious people don’t know how to deal with anxiety!

But here’s the good news: the Anxiety Loop can be stopped! I recommend trying one or more of our science-backed, anxiety-beating tips below.

Let’s get a better understanding of how anxiety happens:

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The CAN Hormones

The moment you begin to feel internal stress and anxiety, it means your cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine (CAN) levels are pumping. Amit Sood, director of research at the Complementary and Integrative Medicine at Mayo Clinic, says these hormones in your body work to bring you even further down into a cycle of anxiety

The stress hormone, cortisol
  • Cortisol: The “stress hormone,” cortisol is a great tool for short-term survival. Usually stress does not kick in immediately, but takes minutes for it to kick in. Too much of it can lead to chronic illness.
Adrenaline, the "fight or flight" hormone
  • Adrenaline: The “fight or flight” hormone. This is the chemical that makes your palms sweaty and your heart race during a stressful situation, and gives you that surge of energy in case you need to run or defend yourself during a dangerous situation.
Norepinephrine, the "awake" chemical for anxiety
  • Norepinephrine: Similar to adrenaline, this hormone keeps you awake, focused, and alert.

Whether your stress is caused by environmental factors, genetics, traumatic events, or mental factors, these hormones are always in play whenever you feel anxiety or stress.

But the interesting thing is that the way we think about stress and anxiety can actually change our behaviors.

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24 Coping Strategies for Anxiety and Stress

Being stressed and anxious can often make you feel weak or insignificant, so it’s important to stay positive and know that you are enough.

If you can take a step back from whatever stressful situation you’re in and recharge, you will be able to switch back to a healthy, more beneficial mindset, which allows for more productivity, creativity, and motivation to keep going.

Here are my top 24 tips on how to deal with anxiety—to relieve your stress and help you relax!

#1: Go with the black turtleneck

Steve Jobs gives a presentation while wearing a black turtleneck on stage.

Remember that infamous black turtleneck Steve Jobs would always wear? There was a reason he wore it (and it’s not because of the fashion)!

Choice paralysis is real. When we are overly-concerned about making decisions, this can lead to distress, according to a recent study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

And here’s the key: Not all decisions are equal! There are 2 main ways we can make a decision—the thinking way and the doing way.

Thinkers vs. Doers chart shows how overthinking can cause anxiety.

The thinking way of decision-making should be reserved for life-changing decisions. But when it comes to everyday decisions such as what to eat for dinner or how to dress, science says it’s best to simply “do it” rather than linger to the point of stress.

We like to believe choices give us freedom, but actually choices can cause us stress. So I want you to…

Take choices away.

Action step: What’s the one decision you make every day that causes you stress? Then think about how you can make a quick decision every day instead of wasting time?

Examples:

  • Deciding on what to eat for breakfast → do Sunday meal prep or have a 3 meal rotation.
  • Deciding what to do first on your to do list → Pre-plan the night before.
  • Deciding what to wear → make a uniform! Or make your entire closet color coordinated.
  • Deciding which restaurants to go to for family dinner → Make a list of 10 favorites in your phone and work your way down the list in order.

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#2: Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

I love this grounding technique to help you destress and relax in the moment! Here’s how you can use this technique anywhere, anytime:

  • Identify 5 objects around you that you can see.
  • Identify 4 things you can feel.
  • Identify 3 things you can hear.
  • Identify 2 things you can smell.
  • Identify 1 thing you like about yourself!

One of the hardest parts about feeling anxious is that you can’t be in the moment. When I am feeling anxious I am either overwhelmed with my past or projecting far into the future. This exercise is a way to be present.

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is an anxious person’s way to meditate.

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#3: Tend and befriend

Changing your reaction to stress and anxiety can take time if you’re used to regarding it as a menace in your life. While you work on accepting that stress can be a positive feeling, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal recommends tending and befriending your stress.

When we’re stressed out, a common reaction is to focus on ourself, which can make our problems seem more extreme than they are.

A solution to this is to channel your stressful energy into tending to the people around you and befriending new people whom you can form mutually supportive relationships with. 

Kindness is one of the fastest ways to feel calm.

Doing this boosts your oxytocin levels (the bonding hormone) and can lower your stress levels by distracting you from yourself. Furthermore, studies even show that being socially supported makes you more resilient to stress!

Next time you’re having a chaotic day, take a breather and do a random act of kindness. This can be as little as sending a hello text to an old friend or even buying a coffee for someone and asking them a deep conversation starter.

Studies have found that doing kind things for others, even if it’s as simple as holding a door open for a stranger or offering a couple minutes of help to a coworker, minimizes stressful emotions. And it also makes you feel like a better person!

Action step: Pick one of 62 kindness ideas and do it today. But keep in mind the next and final tip…

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#4: Thank you instead of sorry

Do you say sorry one too many times?

  • Sorry for being late.
  • Sorry for my behavior.
  • Sorry for asking.

The problem is, every time you say “sorry,” you’re subtly nudging yourself down and cutting your confidence.

If you’re an excessive sorry-giver, here’s good news: you can be your authentic self! It’s absolutely fine to not say sorry for your actions.

Instead of saying sorry, think of replacing sorry with thank you:

  • Sorry for being late. —> Thank you for waiting.
  • Sorry for my mistake. —> Thank you for correcting me.
  • Sorry for saying that. —> Thank you for your understanding.

Action step: Track down all the times you say sorry in one day and change those sorries to thank you’s. If you really want to be creative, you can even make a “Sorry Jar” and put in a dollar every time you say sorry!

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#5: Conquer your social anxiety

Social anxiety is when you feel nervous, tense, or uncomfortable in social situations because you’re worried other people are judging you. In fact, almost everyone has experienced social anxiety at some point in their lives.

Life is filled with moments of self-consciousness—from job interviews to first dates, we all occasionally feel nervous around other people. But social anxiety becomes a problem when it’s so frequent or intense that it gets in the way of important things in your life.

I recommend reading more about social anxiety or watching my video below:

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#6: Talk in third person

Have you ever noticed you are nicer to your friends than yourself?

I am so hard on myself! When I read this study I realized this might be a key anxiety solution. Talking to yourself in third person can actually reduce anxiety. Research shows third person talk works because it creates “psychological distance” between you and the perceived threat.

In other words, third person self-talk lets you look at things more objectively instead of being consumed by stress and anxiety. You will also talk with more kindness and forgiveness to yourself, just like you were consoling a close friend!

Here are some self-talk phrases I’ve used recently during stressful situations:

  • “It’s okay to be a little late, Vanessa.”
  • “Vanessa, don’t let small problems eat at you!”
  • “You did great during that interview, Vanessa!”
  • “Vanessa, you can do it!”

Action step: Think of a recent situation that caused you stress or anxiety. Think of the negative things you told yourself and replace them with positive third person talk!

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#7: Track your triggers

This thing kept happening to me where I would be going about my day and all of a sudden I felt a pang of anxiety. And then a burst. And then a wave. 

Anxiety kept surprising me during the day. And I couldn’t figure out why.

I realized there had to be some triggering going on. Something must have triggered the pang, which sparked the burst, which released the wave. Right?!

So I began to track. 

Tracking Anxiety: Focusing on the first signal of anxiety.

The very first moment I feel any kind of anxiety I pause and track. What did I just read? What did I just see? What did I just hear? I couldn’t believe that most of my anxiety was coming from very small things that I could control. 

I realized that I could minimize my anxiety triggers before they started. So much of my anxiety came from social media pings, bad news and … texts. I now have to turn my phone on silent for most of the day. Here is what you could consider:

  • Go on a news diet.
  • Unfollow people who don’t make you happy.
  • Limit your coffee or caffeine consumption.
  • Eliminate your “technostress” from excessive phone or computer usage. Set timers on your phone!
  • Get rid of toxic or fake relationships.
  • Say no to parties and social events you dread.
  • Check email or texts purposefully.

Action step: What triggers you? Find at least one source of anxiety or stress and release it!

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#8: Snap out of your funk

Remember how we talked about the C-A-N chemicals above? Sometimes you can trigger positive chemicals to fight the negative ones. Try my 5 ways to get out of a funk

Try to boost your:

  • Serotonin: Feeling of belonging
  • Dopamine: Feeling of excitement
  • Oxytocin: Feeling of connection

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#9: Take opposite action

Do you find your anxiety leads you to self-destructive tendencies? I truly believe action is the best thing you can do for your anxiety. But if you find yourself doing the wrong things instead of helping yourself, try a technique called “opposite action.”

As the name suggests, if you feel stressed or worried or sad or upset, try doing the opposite of what you normally do:

  • If you need to make your bed and organize everything neatly before you leave the house in the morning, let it grow messier by the day instead.
  • Go outside for a walk or take a drive when you would normally stay inside.
  • Cook dinner without a recipe or switch out random ingredients.
  • Color outside the lines, complete your tasks out of order, throw all the rules you used to follow out the window.

Sometimes our brain gets stuck in patterns and we need to shake it up a bit to reset. I’ve even tried brushing my teeth with the opposite hand when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. It doesn’t fix everything, but it definitely helps!

Action step: The next time you’re feeling in a rut, try completing an opposite action of what you’d normally do. If you’re someone who likes order in your life, you’ll soon see that there’s beauty in the chaos.

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#10: Destress with anti-stress body language

As soon as you feel yourself go into a stressful mental space, put your physical space into strong body language:

  • Roll your shoulders back and down your spine.
  • Aim your chest and forehead up towards the sun.
  • Place your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder width apart.
  • Relax your arms at your side.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that when athletes win a race, the more expansive their body language and when athletes lose a race, the more defeated their body language. Want to look like a winner? Roll your shoulders back, firmly plant your feet, open your chest, and keep your head up. The more confident your body looks, the more confident you will be perceived as. This is called high body power—taking up space with your body.

Vanessa poses in 3 different power poses

Three kinds of power poses you can try:

  1. Pride. When we win a race, we throw our hands above our head and smile with happiness.
  2. Wonder Woman or Superman. Putting your hands on your hips and standing wide and firm is a great posture for confidence.
  3. Dancing. The more you can move your body and take up space, the more likely this will turn into muscle memory. Turn on your favorite song and rock out—it’s the best stress relief there is.

Action step: Next time you’re stressed try to use your body language to put you back in control and get the right hormones pumping. You will be amazed at how different you begin to feel.

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#11: Let Nature Heal You

A 2019 meta review showed that 90% of relevant papers found at least one positive association between nature-based recreation and mental health, including decreases in anxiety.

In other words, spending time around trees, plants, mountains, and fresh air can really give you a boost in your mood! I try to go out for a walk at least once in the evening to unwind from a long, stressful work day.

What if you can’t take a stroll through nature? Bring nature to you!

One 2019 study by the University of Hyogo in Japan found that taking care of a small plant at their desk reduced stress in office workers. And better yet, they found that even just looking at the plant reduced their stress levels significantly!

Action step: Go for a nice stroll for at least 15 minutes. Aim at doing this at least 3 times per week! And if you can’t go out in nature, this next tip is for you. Find a great plant for your room or office.

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#12: What’s your type? Cat vs. Tiger

There’s no doubt that the mind and body are connected. A new inpatient study even found that 95% of patients who participated in an exercise program reported improved mood!

If you want to know how to deal with anxiety in an active way, you should definitely try transferring your anxious energy into your body. In fact, this is one of my favorite methods to reduce anxiety: finding your preferred cat or tiger exercise.

Cat exercises are activities like yoga, stretching, meditating, and walking.

Tiger activities include running, weightlifting, boxing, and cycling.

Both cat and tiger activities are great for people who need to calm down and have trouble focusing; However, cat activities are generally more relaxing and calming, while tiger activities are great for high-energy anxious people.

Action step: Which exercises do you prefer? Find your preference and do it today!

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#13: Take down the clock

Keeping track of time is an easy way to calm anxiety and take control. We allot ourselves specific time increments to complete tasks throughout the day. But if things take longer than usual, we can really become stressed out!

It’s important to accept that we cannot control time.

Action step: Pick a day to never look at a clock; just go about the day doing chores and performing routines as you see fit. But do not monitor the time! Choose parts of a day to spend with no plans. Stop thinking about time so much and you’ll see that it doesn’t matter as much as you think.

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#14: Go on a digital detox

Modern technology is great, especially when you can use it to your advantage. But sometimes we use technology as a distraction. Like when we’re bored.

If you are prone to boredom, your brain actually might work differently than others. Studies show that people who experience boredom more often actually have a greater chance of experiencing anxiety and depression.

If you’ve been following me, then you might know I did a digital detox earlier this year that drastically improved my focus and made me feel so much calmer in my life!

Check out my video here where I go into detail about how to go on a technology diet:

Also read: How to Do a Digital Detox: 3 Easy Steps for Success

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#15: Seek out scary experiences

What? Seek fear inducing experiences to reduce my fear? Yes! Sometimes we love a good horror movie to give us a little scare in the comfort of our own homes. Yes, there’s a science term for that.

Voluntary arousing negative experiences (or VANE, for short) are those scary experiences we seek out just for the fun of it. Science says that VANE experiences condition us to adapt to and better handle adverse emotions in the future, including stress and anxiety!

Here are some other examples of VANE:

  • going on a rollercoaster ride
  • going to a haunted house
  • taking a walk in the middle of the night
  • reading a scary book

Action step: Are you a scare-seeker? If you can handle it, try VANE experiences to build your anxiety resistance!

Check out how I did this with my friend Michelle Poler:

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#16: Utilize the ABCDE model

Psychologist Albert Ellis came up with the ABC model to treat anxiety (later reformulated into the ABCDE model). The idea behind the model, which is also a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is that our beliefs can cause anxiety, so changing our beliefs can change our emotions.

As the name suggests, there are 5 steps in the model ranging from A to E:

  1. Activating event: This is the real-world experience or adversity that triggered anxiety, such as being late or missing a deadline.
  2. Beliefs about the event: This is what you believe is true because of the event, like “I’m bad at timing” or “I don’t work hard enough.”
  3. Consequence: The feeling or behavior that resulted from your beliefs about the event. For example, you might tell yourself you feel useless and even give up trying to be on time.
  4. Dispute the beliefs: Here’s your chance to challenge the dysfunctional beliefs. Ask yourself: Why do you have to be perfect? Are you really bad at everything? Where is the evidence that people think you are useless?
  5. Effect: Write down your feelings after this exercise. See if you can change your beliefs through logical reasoning, behavior, or action-taking.

The more we analyze and understand our anxiety, the more in control we can become. Don’t be afraid to explore your activating events and triggers.

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#17: Find your flow

If you’re too energetic to meditate, transfer your energy to find something that makes you flow!

What is flow?

Flow is a state of consciousness where people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.

In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that this flow state is what makes our experiences truly satisfying. This state of flow is when we feel truly “in the moment” and everything outside of us disappears. You know when you’ve been in a flow state when you look at the clock and you can’t believe how late it is!

My state of flow happens when I draft the outline of a video. I have a special whiteboard and markers I use (I think even seeing those triggers me to flow state) and then I begin to draft—I use post-it notes and arrows and script as I go. It’s amazing!

On a personal note I also think I hit flow while I cook. The moment I play my French music (love Stromae) and pop open my recipe book it just all goes. I look up and it’s 45 minutes later!

Quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about Flow

Here are some activities you can do to find your flow:

  • Cook or bake.
  • Clean your junk drawer / room / house / mom’s house. 
  • Do jigsaw puzzles.
  • Chat with a friend.
  • Hike in the forest or mountains.
  • Play an instrument.
  • Write poetry.
  • Do photography.
  • Go for a run.
  • Plant seeds in your garden.

Action step: Find your one thing that makes you forget your sense of time and enter flow!

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#18: Repopulate your microbiome

Did you know the health of your gut determines your stress levels? More specifically, 

Reduced microbiome diversity in the gut are linked with higher levels of anxiety and stress.

So how do you know your gut health isn’t looking so good? According to Healthline, a few symptoms to look out for are:

  • upset stomach
  • a high-sugar diet
  • skin irritation, and
  • sleep disturbances or constant fatigue

Action step: If this sounds like you, try improving your gut health or following an anti-stress diet guide.

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#19: Reframe Stress and Anxiety

Here’s what is important: Your perspective of stress is your reality.

Columbia research psychologist Alia Crum conducted research that shows that our mindsets shape our physical reality.

In one shocking study, her team told housekeepers that their work was exercise and gave them estimates of how many calories they burned per task. Within one month, they lost weight while the housekeepers who were told nothing remained in the same physical state.

When the housekeepers simply believed they were burning calories by working, they actually burned more calories similar to if they were engaging in rigorous exercise!

Your body reacts the same way to your beliefs about stress.

If you believe stress is harmful, it will be. McGonical found that people with negative perceptions of stress are more likely to experience fight-or-flight stress responses.

This includes the commonly feared reactions to stress such as feeling panicked, an inability to focus, and acting irrationally. People experience these symptoms because their bodies release large quantities of CAN hormones, making it harder for them to deal with their anxieties.

On the flip side, if you believe stress is a positive feeling, you will experience a challenge stress response. This is the type of stress response that gives you an intense desire to prove yourself, heightens your focus under pressure, and gives you the energy you need to succeed in whatever situation you are in.

People with positive beliefs about stress have these advantages because their bodies produce higher levels of DHEA– the performance-boosting stress hormone!

When handled properly, stress and anxiety can be one of your greatest assets for boosting productivity and performance in challenging situations. McGonigal explains these five benefits of stress:

  • It increases your energy levels. When you choose to harness rather than hate them, stress and anxiety can be the source of energy and motivation you need to tackle your problems head on.
  • It fuels flow states. If your stress and anxiety doesn’t lead to a panic attack, it helps you increase your focus on your triggers and efficiently develop beneficial solutions.
  • It makes you more productive. One study in the book found that worldwide national stress levels are positively correlated with each country’s well-being as measured by GDP and other factors. In other words, stress inspires people to create more.
  • It rewires your brain to learn from experiences. To avoid dealing with the same stressful or anxious situation again, our brains alter our perceptions and reactions toward our triggers. This prevents you from repeating mistakes.
  • It makes you more resilient. If you choose to learn from negative experiences and reflect on how you overcame them, it can heighten your threshold, so small issues no longer worry you.

Watch McGonigal’s TED Talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend” TED Talk and read on for an eye-opening perspective on how stress affects us, and how to use it to our advantage:

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Small (and random) Science-Based Anxiety Reducing Tips:

We covered the big tips above, now for some small and interesting research-backed tips that might inspire you:

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#20 Draw a mandala

Studies show that “structured coloring of a reasonably complex geometric pattern,” such as a mandala, can help reduce anxiety by leading you into a meditative state.

Drawing or doodling is also a great way to get into your state of flow (see Tip # 24).

You can try creating your own mandala, finding one online, or even downloading an app for mandala coloring!

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#21 Sing or listen to music

Are you one of those people who are afraid to sing out in public but an American Idol wannabe in the shower? This might actually be a great stress-reliever, as research shows that singing improves people’s mental health and sense of belonging!

Not a big singer? Try loading up your favorite playlist on Spotify. Studies show that listening to music can even regulate stress and anxiety.

Action step: Find your perfect song and sing it out loud (or just listen to it)!

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#22 Walk with lemurs

In a 2020 study by the British Ecological Society, 86 participants took a walk through the UK’s largest lemur enclosure.

The result? The participants reported improved mood after their lemur walk. But you don’t have to live in the rainforest. The findings suggest that you can take advantage of this benefit by spending time with different kinds of animals, too!

Action step: Try taking an anti-stress trip to the local zoo or spending more time with animals.

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#23 Take a cold shower

When you take a bath or shower, do you like your water warm or cold? If you answered anything but cold, you might be missing out on a major benefit. Studies show cold showers help to decrease anxiety.

Cold showers are an amazing, instant “get out of funk” natural remedy.

The reason is that taking cold showers sends an overwhelming amount of electrical signals to our brain—unlike warm showers, which are calm and easy to do—which can lead to that possible anti-anxiety effect!

Action step: Don’t even think too much. Just turn on the cold shower and jump in! If you’re up for it, try a 30-day cold shower challenge!

Watch triathlete Joel Runyon’s TEDxLUC talk about how taking cold showers changed his life:

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#24: Put yourself first

Trying to people please is a stressful habit. Before you know it, you’ve soon put everyone around you first and have forgotten about yourself.

I am giving you permission to put yourself first.

Only help your friend or coworker when everything you need to do is finished first. Don’t overexert yourself if someone is asking too much of you.

Make sure your mind and body are well-rested, well-fueled, and recharged. Putting your needs before someone else’s will help keep those stress levels down.

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What is the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety?

Stress and anxiety often go hand-in-hand.

What is stress?

Stress is the feeling of worry caused by external factors, such as being late to a meeting or giving a big presentation. Stress usually goes away after the external condition is removed.

Think of stress like an alarm clock. It’s that constant signal that’s telling you, “Hey, it’s time to do something!” and if you don’t listen to it, your stress hormones ramp up, causing you even more stress!

Anxiety, on the other hand, can be triggered by stress.

What is anxiety?

What is anxiety? Anxiety is a feeling of worry caused by internal factors, and often can be characterized by a “feeling of dread” or “butterflies in the stomach.” Anxiety typically lingers around after stress is gone.

The bottom line is, if you are anxious, it’s likely that an external stressor is causing you worry. And if you have stress, it might cause you to be anxious! 

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Control Your Anxiety, Control Your Life

Stress and anxiety can have underlying problems. It’s important that if you need medical help, seek out a professional doctor or medical professional.

Bottom line: I want you to take action.

If you’re feeling lots of anxiety and stress in your life, it’s even more important to take action now, not later.

And remember, you are important! Hang in there, because it WILL get better.

I know you can do this!

Vanessa

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

1 reply on “24 Science-Based Tips to Deal with Anxiety”

  1. Dorla Harness

    Thank you for all the awesome information Vanessa! My husband and I first found you when we purchased your Non-Verbal Communication course from the Great Courses to help us with marketing for our ecotour business. Your teachings truly make a difference in people’s professional and personal relationships! Thank you so much!

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