8 Things To Try Before You Totally Break Down From Stress And Anxiety

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How To Deal With Stress & Anxiety Before It Starts Hurting Your Mental Health

It's not easy learning how to deal with stress and anxiety. But if you don't address it, these feelings will sabotage your happiness and eventually harm your physical and mental health. 

That's why, if you're at the point to feeling like you need a mental escape just to get away from it all, it's time to focus on some much-needed self-care.

Perhaps you go longer each morning on your walk, and then realize that you don’t want to go back home. Or maybe you find yourself rebelling at the thought of returning from a much-needed vacation.

All you know is that you have a primal need to get  and stay —  away from your “normal” life because you’re stressed out ... and have been for quite some time.

Whether it’s due to a fight with your spouse, a major work deadline or a big speech, it’s normal to feel stressed from time to time. But feeling the need to run away from your life and responsibilities because of stress isn’t normal, and can actually have serious effects on your physical and mental health.

RELATED: 10 Ways To Get Real With Yourself About Stress (So Life Doesn't Burn You Out)

Your body has a natural "fight or flight" stress response that’s encoded within you for survival that activates a host of nerve signals and hormonal reactions. These reactions are designed to protect you and make you more alert and perceptive when under assault, but it’s intended to be short-term.

Chronic stress subjects your body to a near-constant attack from the “fight or flight” response, which triggers a host of negative mental and physical health problems, such as insomnia, poor cardiovascular health, high blood pressure, a suppressed immune system, and depression. When undergoing this type of assault, it’s no wonder you eventually get to a point of needing to escape your life.  

If left unchecked, this need to escape can manifest into extremely unhealthy coping behaviors, like binge drinking and emotional eating. In its worst form, it can also eventually lead to addiction.

Unfortunately, chronic stress has become the norm for many, but there are things you can do to finally overcome it. And it all starts with practicing self-care. 

There's a common misconception that practicing self-care is indulgent or selfish or simply not worth your time. But self-care has nothing to do with indulging yourself or escaping your life. It’s about doing what’s necessary and prioritizing what’s needed to be physically, mentally and spiritually well. And that deserves to be prioritized.

So, how can you start practicing good self-care as a way to overcome your stress? By starting to Incorporate some simple habits and rituals into your daily routine that will keep you physically fit, while also positively changing how you perceive yourself, the world around you, and even stress itself.

These 8 self-care practices will help you learn how to deal with stress so you can protect your physical and mental health, refocus and finally start to relax:

1. Practice gratitude.

Practicing gratitude rewires your brain in a way that makes you more likely to have a grateful mindset in general. It’s also simple and quick.

All you need to do is write down at least 3 things you’re grateful for every day. Try not to repeat yourself, and include the “little” things, such as feeling the sunshine on your face or having hot water for your morning shower.

2. Eat real foods you actually like.

Think fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, like nuts and avocados — whatever you enjoy eating that's also nutritious for your body. Keep them on hand and add them to your meals and snacks.

Not only will these healthy choices give you more energy, eating them will also make you feel better about yourself. And there’s an extra bonus about fresh, whole foods: They don’t require much, if any, prep time.

3. Spend some time with yourself.

Take at least 10 minutes once a week to do something alone that’s quiet and relaxing. The point of this practice is to allow your brain some breathing space, while relaxing your body at the same time.

You could spend this time alone taking a hot bath or shower, sitting on your back porch or patio, or taking a leisurely walk (and leave your phone behind!).

Then, let your mind wander so that your subconscious thoughts can bubble to the surface. This will help bring awareness to what’s going on within so you can deal with it.

RELATED: Why Trying To Overcome Your Anxiety Only Makes It Worse

4. Meditate.

Although meditation has been over-hyped as a cure-all to many common ailments, we know that regular meditation increases your ability to bounce back from stress. If you’re a first-time meditator, you can get started easily right now.

Set a timer for 10 minutes, close your eyes, and breathe slowly and deeply. Pay attention to how your breath feels in your body and whether you feel it in your nose, your throat, or your chest.  When you realize that you’re thinking about the doctor appointment you need to make or what you’ll have for dinner that night instead of your breathing, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

And don’t worry about your mind wandering — it’s normal and part of learning how to meditate.

5. Move your body.

This doesn't mean you have to go workout as a way to increase your activity levels and help you release stress. Instead, identify 3 physical activities you enjoy doing and that make you feel good about yourself, and then schedule some time in your day to do them — whether it's walking your dog, weeding the garden, or playing tag with your kids.

Be creative and flexible in your approach — you don't have to have a big sweat session all in one go. In fact, studies show that several short workouts are just as beneficial as one long workout. So, you should feel great about fitting in a quick 10-minute run in the morning, playing baseball with your kid for 15 minutes after school, and weeding for 20 minutes before dinner.

And even if you only get one 10- or 15-minute workout in, it’s better than doing nothing — so do it!

6. Connect with loved ones.

People need to connect with others, especially loved ones, to be mentally well. But unfortunately, when you're feeling run down and stressed out, time with friends and family is usually the first thing to go.

So even if you can't carve out time to see your favorite people in person right now, set aside time on your calendar to give them a call. This will help you prioritize your time with them and actually stick to it!

7. Refocus your life around your values.

Living according to your values is the quickest and easiest way to find meaning in life, which can help put your stress in perspective. Not only do your core values give you purpose, but honoring them will help you feel at peace with yourself and your decisions.

To help you stay focused on living by your values, keep a list of them on your fridge and review them often. Make a point to check in with yourself regularly about how your current goals, projects, and actions are furthering those beliefs.

8. Create a routine.

Put together a short, simple, and flexible ritual for both mornings and evenings to help you get in the right mindset before starting your day and before going to bed. 

Your morning ritual should be designed to give you energy and help you get focused for the day ahead. For example, you can do 5 minutes of yoga/stretching followed by a simple 5-minute meditation.

Your evening ritual, on the other hand, should be a quiet, uninterrupted period that helps get you into a relaxed state and ready for sleep. It might involve taking a hot bath, practicing gratitude, and reading a bit before going to bed.

This may seem like a lot of time to dedicate to yourself every day — especially if you’ve not been prioritizing self-care. But you’re worth the investment.

RELATED: 19 Quotes For When Anxiety Feels Completely Overwhelming​

Heather Moulder is a recovering attorney and executive coach who helps high-achieving female professionals create a balanced life while enjoying sustainable career success without all the stress. Join Heather's newsletter for expert tips and strategies on how to have a life full of career and personal success that feels balanced, fulfilling, and fun or visit to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.