A Psychologist & Stress Researcher's 4 Tricks To Quickly Reduce Anxiety
We talk a lot about longevity here at mindbodygreen, from nutrition tips to exercise advice to supplements and more. But today, psychologist Elissa Epel, Ph.D., author of The Stress Prescription, is here to talk about the critical longevity factor that doesn't get nearly enough attention: stress.
Yep, unfortunately, stress is a major obstacle to living a long and healthy life. In fact, research shows1 that perceived levels of stress are associated with increased mortality in a dose-response pattern (meaning the higher the perceived stress, the greater the increased risk of death).
Now, when it comes to stress, the conversation can turn futile very quickly. And we realize that if you're stressed, the last thing you want to do is read about the link between chronic stress and mortality. That's where Epel comes in: On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, she offers actionable tips to reduce your mental burden, all in the name of longevity. Find some of her tried-and-true practices below:
Reframe your mindset.
Stress has quite the negative connotation, but stress can also be a good thing! Don't scoff just yet: Stress has the potential to boost your motivation, focus, and drive, assuming you harness it correctly.
That said, consider your mindset. According to Epel, a negative narrative around stress often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. "When we really focus on the negative aspects of stress and go into a stressful situation [thinking], 'Stress is bad for me. It's wearing me down. I'm not going to be able to cope when I'm stressed,' those put us in the place of having more of a threat response. So we actually get much more stressed about stress," she explains.
Whereas if you enter a situation with positive beliefs about stress ("This stress is strengthening me. Stress is good for me. It's helping me cope. Stress is energizing. My body's excited," Epel offers), you are much more likely to better tackle that stressor. "Find [the statement] that feels true, that fits for you, and then use that like a shield," says Epel.
Let go of what you can.
As many experts will tell you: Uncertainty is often the root of anxiety. And sometimes you encounter uncertain situations you cannot control. "So another important strategy to have at hand is letting go," says Epel. "Being able to step back and say, 'OK, this one is out of my control. I can actually put the baggage down or drop the rope."
Of course, relinquishing control is much easier said than done. But according to Epel, it may help you to zoom out, take stock of all of your stressful situations, and sort them into what you actually can and cannot control. "Know where to put your energy, and know where to literally lean back and focus on acceptance," she notes.
That way, you won't feel as overwhelmed by the stress. For situations beyond your control, you can focus on letting go; then it may become easier to come up with an action plan for situations you can actually tackle.
Prioritize your time.
Similar to the letting-go exercise, a prioritization practice can help you determine which stressors are actually worth your worry time. "Prioritization of how we spend our time is really important for stress reduction because it's so easy," notes Epel. You see, many people face what's known as "time stress," or not having enough time to do all the things you want to accomplish. "So there's this rush every day, and it really is self-created stress," adds Epel.
So take a step back and reflect on how you really want to use your time. Can you shuffle tasks around to better serve what's most meaningful to you?
"Life is much shorter than it feels, and there's this preciousness to every day," Epel continues. "There's so much wisdom in that for thinking about stress because stress is daily—we can either live in it every day and bathe in a chronic stress lifestyle, or we can actually wake up and do things to reset our course, to focus on joy, to have moments of ease, to stop the daily rush so that doesn't become our whole lives."
"Gratitude is an antidote for stress," says Epel. In fact, research has shown gratitude can decrease heart rate2 and lead to a calmer, more sedative state; regularly expressing feelings of gratitude has also been linked to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety3.
"Just ask yourself right now: What are three things that I'm grateful for today in my life?" poses Epel. "They can be small things, they can be big things, relationships, people…" (Coffee often makes it onto her personal list). "Gratitude can actually increase your positive mood immediately."
If you want to take the practice a step further, she recommends reaching out to someone you appreciate. "Text them, or write them, or call them today, and just let them know what they did and how it affected you," she explains. So not only are you experiencing the benefits of gratitude but you're also receiving quality social connection, which is also A+ for reducing stress4.
Stress is ubiquitous and unavoidable, so the key is learning how to manage it in your everyday life. Different methods work for different people (some swear by a daily journaling prompt; others love stress-busting supplements), but Epel's tips can help balance your mood in the moment.
We hope you enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.