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How to relieve stress and anxiety naturally?
You may wonder if there really is a way to relieve stress and anxiety naturally? If there is, how effective is it? Does it cost a lot? And, most importantly, does it really work? I think it’s a fair question. That’s exactly the reason I wrote this article. I want to share with you the practical and simple method I use that has helped me, my friends and colleagues, to naturally relieve stress and anxiety.
In this age of chaos, characterized by information overload, never-ending media updates, and high-pacing life rhythm, a lot of people are living in a high degree of stress and anxiety. Dramatic changes and unexpected circumstances happen lightning fast.
Situations like this seemingly demand quick responses. The question is, do you respond quickly enough? But, if you think about it, do you really have to? Do you have enough time to think? And, if not, do you make the time?
Improperly dealt with, we often get too much stress and anxiety. As a result, our bodily and everyday functions get affected. Unconsciously, our muscles get tense a lot of the time. Some of us even experience concentration difficulty, panic attacks and are relying on drugs. While drugs have their place, you need to be very careful because many of them cause addiction.
Before we start, please note, we’re not giving you any medical advice. If you’re on medication, please always consult your doctors or other qualified healthcare providers for any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Please read our disclaimer.
Use the table of contents below to help you navigate this post. To go directly to the application of the technique, jump directly to the “How to…” section.
What is stress?
Stress is the physiological or biological and mental response of an organism to a stressor. The stressor can be an environmental condition or mental stimuli such as certain memories or past traumas. It’s the way our bodies react to a condition such as a threat, a challenge, or a physical and psychological barrier. Put it simply, it’s a normal reaction to daily pressures. Read this to learn more about the definition.
“Stress is a normal reaction to daily pressures”
What is anxiety?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. You can read this post if you want to learn more about the definition.
Anxiety is an unpleasant emotional state characterized by inner turmoil, a feeling of uneasiness and worry, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as threatening. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration.
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or worries about what’s to come. Facing an exam, going to a job interview, or giving a public speech may cause most people to feel fearful and nervous.
Ok, I don’t want to waste your precious time dwelling in too many definitions which are easily googled because the scope of this post is how to relieve stress and anxiety naturally, without medication. I want to get you to the point as fast as possible but, this understanding is important.
As you can see, stress is the trigger of anxiety. They’re closely-related and perfectly normal. As a matter of fact, they’re part of the “fight or flight” mechanism which is essential for our survival.
“stress is the trigger of anxiety”
But if your feelings of stress and anxiety are extreme, are too often experienced, and are interfering with your life, you may better be aware of them and take some actions immediately.
What are the symptoms?
The reason you need to recognize the symptoms is to be aware of them early. Early awareness of the symptoms will enable you to properly execute the method that I will explain later. The idea is to catch the “monsters” while they’re still small.
The idea is to catch the “monsters” while they’re still small
- Memory problems
- Difficult to focus
- Poor judgment
- Seeing only the negatives
- Anxious or racing thoughts
- Constant worrying
- Aches and pains
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea, dizziness
- Chest pain, rapid heart rate
- Loss of sex drive
- Frequent colds or flu
- Mental instability
- Moodiness, irritability, anger
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Loneliness and isolation
- Eating more or less than usual
- Too much or too little sleep
- Social isolation
- Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
- Heavy usage of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
Ok, maybe too many to list. I put them here so you can be aware of them and recognize them early. Those above are only some of the symptoms documented.
What are the effects of stress and anxiety
The most common effects of stress and anxiety are:
- Feeling of doom
- Heart palpitation
- Libido loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Blood pressure increase
- Muscle pains
- Panic Attacks
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea
The effects of stress and anxiety far exceed those on the above list. They may as well include cardiovascular problems, central nervous problems, PTSD, OCD, and even social relationship problems.
The list above is not meant to scare you. On the contrary, all the more reasons to be aware and practice the method that I’ll explain later in this article.
Natural stress and anxiety reliefs
These are some natural methods you can use to relieve stress and anxiety:
- Do physical exercise. Go to the gym and work out regularly. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience stress and anxiety than those who don’t. Exercise lowers the cortisol which is the stress hormone and increases the endorphins which improve your mood. Physical exercise also improves your sleep quality and self-confidence.
- Quit smoking. During stressful times, cigarette often becomes the go-to thing for smokers. Research has shown that the earlier you start smoking in life, the higher your risk of developing an anxiety disorder later. That same research also suggests nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke alter pathways in the brain linked to anxiety.
- Limit alcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks are addictive. While drinking wine or whiskey may calm you down at first. Once the buzz is over, the stress and anxiety will return. Instead of relying on addictive alcoholic drinks, you should treat the root of the problem.
- Limit caffeine. Caffeine may cause or worsen your anxiety. It may also cause panic attacks in people with panic disorder. For some people, eliminating caffeine may significantly improve anxiety symptoms.
- Have enough sleep. Insufficient rest and poor quality sleep lower your body energy. A weak body easily gets stressed and anxious.
- Have a balanced diet. Proper nutrition makes your body fit and your mind clear. Physically fit, you’ll be less prone to stress.
- Enjoy aromatherapy. Aromatherapy uses fragrant essential oils to promote health and well-being. The oils may be inhaled directly or added to a warm bath or diffuser. Studies have shown that aromatherapy helps you relax, calm your nerves, helps you sleep, boosts mood, reduces heart rate and blood pressure. Some essential oils that have relieving effects are bergamot, lavender, clary sage, grapefruit, and ylang ylang.
- Have chamomile tea. Chamomile tea is known for the effect of calming nerves and promoting sleep. This 2016 study concluded that chamomile extract produced a clinically meaningful reduction in Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) symptoms comparable to those observed during conventional anxiolytic drug therapy and a favorable adverse event profile.
- Have green Tea. Green tea contains many polyphenol antioxidants that provide health benefits. It may lower stress and anxiety by increasing serotonin levels
- Listen to soothing music. This is slow-paced, slow-rhythm music specially designed for relaxation and meditation. It calms the mind, reduces blood pressure and heart rate. This music often contains nature sounds which can be very calming.
- Do yoga. Yoga has long become a popular method of stress relief. You can find many yoga classes almost everywhere. While they may differ in styles, in essence, they share a common goal, that is to synchronize your body and mind in harmony.
- Practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is increasingly popular nowadays. This is partly due to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. This technique can help you ground your thoughts in the present. You can practice mindfulness by actively observing thoughts and sensations without reacting to them. This is a very effective technique but needs persistence and patience. Check this study for some conclusions about its effectiveness in this regard. If you want to learn it online, I highly recommend this course.
- Try the Panic Away self-help program developed by Barry McDonagh. The program teaches you how to empower yourself in a specific way to stop panic attacks and general anxiety fast and permanently. Barry wrote about his technique in his best-seller book “Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks” which 88% of the readers gave 5-star reviews. The program has been around for a while, is affordable and has a very low refund rate. Those facts can be an indicator that satisfaction level is high among the readers and that the technique actually works. So, you may want to check it out. Read my full, in-depth review of the program here.
Mindfulness meditation is the method that I want to promote in this post. That’s why I put more weight on it in the following sections. It has become my ultimate method over the years because it has helped me personally, a lot of my friends and colleagues.
What is mindfulness meditation?
You may ask, what is meditation?
There are many kinds of meditation. So, please remember, from now on, when I say meditation, what I mean is mindfulness meditation, not any other kind.
There’re lots of definitions online about meditation you can google. But, to save you time and effort, I’ve searched around the net to do my research. I summed up all the definitions available for references. And, I’ve come up with my own definition that resonates with my understanding and my experience with my meditation practice.
Meditation is a mental exercise…
…where the practitioner uses a technique of mindfulness of the mind…
…using a particular object, thought or activity…
…to train attention and awareness…
…to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state of mind.
You see, by definition only, it’s already a CURE for stress and anxiety.
More importantly, meditation is a practice you can do yourself. It’s free. It won’t cost you ANYTHING other than a little time that will benefit you a million fold in the long run.
If you want to learn how to do mindfulness meditation in simple two steps, I’ve written a practical guide. You can grab it for free HERE.
I bolded the key points:
Meditation is a mental exercise, not a physical exercise although it may include physical activity as its object.
The technique being used is mindfulness of the mind so, meditation is mind work, not physical work.
The object of mindfulness can be a physical thing, sound, visual, thought or activity.
The object is what to be aware of or where you pay your attention to, continuously.
You don’t hate the object and you also don’t love it or cling to it.
Finally, mental clarity, calm emotion and a stable state of mind is the result of the right practice.
You don’t try to be calm. You don’t try to be stable. You don’t try to clear your mind. Because that’s NOT meditation. You just try to pay attention to and be aware of the object continuously. That IS meditation.
I purposefully avoid the term focus, focusing, concentrate, concentrating and concentration because they often give the wrong notion. Because you’ll think you need to focus or concentrate on an object until you get exhausted. In fact, if you’re focusing too much, you’re losing awareness and you’ll get tired easily. This way, you won’t be able to do it continuously. That’s not meditation.
Please note, I purposefully avoid the term focus, focusing, concentrate, concentrating and concentration because they often give the wrong notion. They’ll make you think that you need to focus or concentrate on an object until you get exhausted.
In fact, if you’re focusing too much, you will be losing awareness and you’ll get tired easily. This way, you won’t be able to do it continuously. That’s NOT meditation.
The key point is CONTINUOUSLY. Continuously means without breaks, no interruptions in your awareness. But, you shouldn’t exert too much energy to maintain awareness.
If you’re doing it right, you should be able to maintain awareness all day long, from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep.
So, If you feel you’re getting tired easily during your practice then you’re doing it wrong. You’re exerting too much energy. Maybe, you’re focusing too much. You can use this as an indicator.
What about sitting like a statue as seen in many movies or photos?
That’s only one of the meditation postures. The other postures are standing, walking, lying-down and daily activity.
Usually, beginners are discouraged to do the lying-down posture because it will make them fall asleep easily.
That’s why sitting posture is preferred for beginners. It’s also the posture of choice to achieve a deeper levels of meditative states.
That being said, a lot of practitioners, especially beginners often experience pains, aches, and other discomforts during longer sitting sessions. For this reason, proper sitting meditation preparation is important.
I think it’s enough for the definition. Meditation is quite a broad topic that will require a separate dedicated post to talk about.
The question is:
How you can use this meditation technique to relieve stress and anxiety?
This is what you’re here, right? Let’s get to it.
How to use mindfulness the meditation technique to relieve stress and anxiety?
First step: breathing activity as the object
Find a comfortable place with minimum distractions. You will need to avoid any distractions for the next 5 minutes.
Turn off or silence your phone and turn off your TV.
For starter, you will practice for at least 5 minutes, twice daily. Once in the morning before any activities, or before going to work and once in the evening after work.
You’ll do the sitting posture. You don’t have to sit in “lotus” posture if you don’t want to or if you feel it uncomfortable. You can use any chair. Sit with your back straight up in a relaxed and natural way. This is to avoid drowsiness and to help you maintain awareness.
I recommend you to close your eyes to avoid visual distractions, especially if you’re a beginner.
This is how you’ll do it…
You use your breathing activity as the object of your meditation practice.
What is an object? A meditation object is something to be aware of or something you pay attention to. You’ll understand what I mean in a moment. So, please, read on.
No need to regulate your breath intentionally or breathe in a certain way. Just breathe normally, naturally.
Pay attention to the process of breathing, the air moving in as you inhale, the air moving out as you exhale. Feel the flow of the air in and out the nostrils. Feel that the air you’re exhaling is a bit warmer than the air you’re inhaling.
Or, alternatively, you can pay attention to your abdomen moving up and down as you breathe.
That’s what meditations objects are for. They’re where you pay your attention to, what to be aware of. They’re not something to get rid of nor something you invite or cling to.
“Objects are things you pay your attention to, things to be aware of”
No need to try to pay attention to all aspects of the breathing process. That will be too much. Just try to pay attention to the most obvious ones or the easiest for you. That’ll be enough. You’ll naturally widen your awareness as you progress.
Always remember, and this is important, whenever you find your mind wandering away into thoughts, feelings or memories, just remind yourself to shift your attention back to your initial object, which is your breathing. Make this a habit.
No need to feel guilty. No need to punish yourself. Why? Because wandering mind is normal! This is important to understand. Guilty feelings easily shift your attention and weaken your awareness. Therefore, they won’t help with your practice.
Periodically, keep asking yourself what is happening right now. You’re paying attention to your breathing. This is key to maintain mindfulness.
That’s it. For now…
The key is, you need to practice it often and consistently. You may add 1 more session in the afternoon break.
“you need to do it often and consistently”
As you progress, you’ll be able to increase the duration from 5 minutes to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. On occasions, you can practice for 30 minutes. That will be incredible!
This practice is meant to strengthen your “awareness muscle”. Awareness is a mental faculty like muscle strength is a physical faculty. You go to the gym to exercise to strengthen your physical muscles. As you progress, when your muscles get stronger, you can lift heavier weight.
The same analogy applies. The more you practice the longer the duration you can maintain your attention to your breathing. In the process, you’re strengthening your awareness.
No targets. No goals. Targets and goals will only make you more stressed and depressed. Just do it. But, the key is, you need to do it often and consistently. And, you’ll need to commit to yourself that you’ll practice it at your set schedule.
You will keep using your breathing activity as your meditation object until you can maintain your awareness continuously for 5 minutes. As you progress, increase it to 10 minutes, 15 minutes and so on If you can maintain awareness of your breathing continuously for 30 minutes, you’re INCREDIBLE!
Second step: stress and anxiety symptom as the object
Remember the symptoms we’ve discussed earlier? There is a reason why I put much emphasis on the importance of recognizing them as early as possible.
Especially, the MENTAL ones.
Because AS SOON AS any of the symptoms, especially any of the mental ones, occur, you will position it as your meditation object.
“As soon as” means IMMEDIATELY!
Remember the point: catch the monsters while they’re small?
Do you still remember what an object is? The thing to be aware of, where you pay your attention to, without judgment? You don’t try to get rid of it and you don’t try to cling to it. You don’t hate it and you don’t invite it.
But, at this point, there’s one thing to acknowledge:
If it happens that your awareness muscle is not yet strong enough, you’ll get drawn and lose your awareness. The object will be gone. No awareness means no objects. This is NOT meditation!
What does it mean?
It means: go back to the FIRST STEP, use breathing activity as the object.
That’s why patience is invaluable in practicing meditation. Keep using the breathing activity to strengthen your awareness muscle. You’ll know when you’re ready.
When you know you can maintain awareness of your breathing continuously without wandering away for longer and longer duration.
Breathing is a natural activity that’s emotionally neutral which makes it an ideal object for initial practice. Stress and anxiety, on the other hand, have intense negative emotions attached to them which make them more difficult meditation objects.
The first step is meant to build your base, your foundation of mindfulness.
So, don’t rush!
There’s no need to be discouraged. No need to judge or blame yourself. Simply go back to your breathing. It’s that simple.
If you keep practicing consistently, in time, you’ll notice when any of the stress and anxiety symptoms occur, they’re not as powerful as before. They can no longer bring you to your knees. You won’t get drawn.
They just become your meditation objects!
Because you’re maintaining your awareness!
Which means you don’t try to get rid of them, you also don’t try to cling to them. You just keep paying attention to them, without judging. You will be able to watch them arise and fade away.
The more you experience this arising and fading away cycle, the effects of your stress and anxiety will get weaker and weaker and finally will fade away.
“The stress and anxiety symptoms just become your meditation objects”
You’ll learn many things about yourself. Mark my words!
What is stress and anxiety in the “eye” of meditation? They are the objects.
Remember what object is? It’s something to be aware of, where you pay your attention to, without judgments, without thinking.
When you position the object like this, it will lose its strength over time. You’ll become more detached to the object. You’ll notice that objects come and go. Finally, you will understand that the cycle of every object is rising and fading away.
You may ask:
How long does it take for the object to lose its power?
The answer is, it depends on the development of your “awareness muscle”. They’re negatively correlated. The stronger your awareness muscle, the weaker the “stress and anxiety” object.
So, practice often and consistently.
“Stress and anxiety are objects in the “eye” of meditation”
This simple technique has helped countless people relieving their stress and anxiety. You can find lots of relevant testimonials online, too many to be included in this post.
But, there’s one authority figure I think worth mentioning. A well-known meditation master who was haunted by panic attacks and anxiety disorder himself for years since childhood and eventually cured by using this meditation technique.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a famous author of best-selling books like
- The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness
- Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedom
You may want to check his other works.
Wrapping it up
Now, let’s make it simple. You don’t need to get caught up with what meditation is. You just need to take advantage of the technique that works, to effectively relieve your stress and anxiety. No need for too many technical terms.
Let’s give you a quick recap:
- Use breathing activity as your initial object.
- Try to pay attention to the object for at least 5 minutes. You can increase the duration as you progress.
- Don’t exert too much energy when you’re practicing or you’ll tire yourself easily. Try to keep your mind and body relaxed.
- Practice at least twice a day, once in the morning before work and once in the evening after work. You may add an afternoon session.
- During practice, keep asking yourself: What is happening right now? This is to help you maintain awareness.
- Whenever your mind wanders away, shift your attention back to your breathing. No need to feel guilty, no need to judge yourself.
- Keep practicing consistently to strengthen your “awareness muscle”.
- You’ll know that you’re developing your “awareness muscle” as you can maintain awareness for longer and longer duration.
- When any of the stress and anxiety symptoms occur, position the symptoms as your meditation object and keep paying attention to them. Watch them arise and fade away
This technique won’t cost you any money. You only need patience and perseverance to practice it.
And, you need to practice it often and consistently.
Often times, you’ll experience dwindling in motivation and interest. To combat all the hindrances, apply these effective hacks to your daily practice.
If you practice persistently, you’ll gain much-much more than just relieving your stress and anxiety. But, that’s a topic for another article.
You can practice anywhere, anytime.
You don’t have to attend a meditation retreat if you don’t have the time. Although I highly recommend it because it indeed has its benefits. One of the main benefits is you’ll be provided with a conducive environment with minimum distractions for the duration of the retreat. As a result, progress usually comes faster. I attended several retreats myself.
As an alternative, you can take the online meditation course by Giovanni Dienstmann. He wrote a best-selling book “Practical Meditation” which is available in 7 languages. He is a very accomplished meditation teacher with 9,000+ hours of meditation practice under his belt. I really encourage you to take a look. Check it out here.
Read my review of the course here.
Please remember, it doesn’t mean you won’t experience stress or anxiety ever again. I’d like to remind you again that stress and anxiety is a normal mechanism for survival. It just means that you can cope with it properly and react in a more healthy way. That way, you’re no longer at their mercy.
If you adopt this technique and practice it continuously, you WILL live a more balanced, healthy and enjoyable life.
This is how you relieve stress and anxiety naturally, without medication.
It’s simple wisdom.
How is your practice? Do you have more simple and more effective ways to relieve stress and anxiety you want to share? Let me know in the comments…
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