Professor Jennie Hudson notes that stress is a normal part of life and can be managed.
October is Mental Health Month in New South Wales. We asked Professor Jennie Hudson, Director of the Macquarie University Centre for Emotional Health, to give us her expert tips for keeping anxiety and worry in check.
Feeling stressed or worried can be a normal part of life, particularly when you may have an upcoming presentation or deadline at work or during transitions. To prevent stress from taking hold, here are a few strategies that you can put in place:
1. Don’t avoid the situation
As tempting as it is, stress and anxiety thrive when you avoid. One of the most effective ways to overcome fear and anxiety is by facing the feared situation. This is best done in a gradual way, starting with an easy step and working up to more difficult situations. For example, if you are worried about delivering a presentation at work, start by practising by yourself, then try presenting to your partner or friend, and then in front of a group of trusted colleagues at work.
2. Explore and challenge your thinking
Anxiety and fear occur when you think something bad is going to happen. Sometimes, particularly in times of stress, people might be more likely to over-estimate the likelihood of something negative occurring and underestimate their ability to cope with it. Identifying and challenging your thoughts can help. Ask yourself “What do I think will happen?” and explore other possible explanations and different points of view. Revise your original thought by considering the alternative possibilities you’ve come up with.
3. Focus on the task
High anxiety can take your mind away from the situation and make you focus on your worried thoughts. Practise staying focused on the task by training yourself to attend to the task at hand.
4. Find a relaxation or ‘switching off’ technique that works for you
The arousal that comes with anxiety can’t hurt you, but if you want to reduce your arousal, there are a number of different techniques that can work if you practice them. Some people find deep breathing, going for a walk/run, taking an exercise class or taking a technology break can help. Regular physical activity, breaks, sleep and healthy eating all contribute to emotional well-being and health.
5. Talk to someone
Sometimes it can help to talk to a trusted friend or partner. If they are a good listener, they might help you to get perspective on the situation. If you find that your worry and anxiety is interfering with your daily routine or preventing you from enjoying life, then it would be useful to see a professional. Effective help that involves practical strategies is available.
The Centre for Emotional Health (CEH) is a Macquarie University Centre for research excellence that focuses on the understanding, treatment and prevention of anxiety, depression and other emotional health disorders.