Life Advice



Barton Goldsmith: How to lower your anxiety in stressful situations

Barton Goldsmith, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

Have you been feeling stressed and anxious lately? Don’t get down on yourself about it, because it’s a natural response to difficult times.

Let’s look at the components of stress to better understand how to decrease its impact. In life-threatening situations, or situations that feel life-threatening, we may have a fight-or-flight response, or a freeze-or-faint response. Depending on what’s going on, you can fall into either or both categories. These responses are automatic; they originate in the very core of the brain.

Stress isn’t all bad. It can motivate and stimulate us into action. Without stress, some people might not even get out of bed in the morning. Stress reminds us to respond to life. However, your reaction to stress can increase or decrease your levels of anxiety, so it’s important to pay attention to how you respond.

Responding negatively to stress results in increasing your sense of tension and anxiety, so how do you remain neutral or respond positively instead?

Here is a simple visualization. Picture the mind as if it were a teakettle boiling and full of steam. To stop the noise, let the steam out a little bit at a time, and do that continually. Whether you have more or less stress than anyone else matters less than the way you handle — or more accurately, don’t handle — the stress you have. How you respond to stress can set the tone for the entire day and any interaction with another human being.


Stress is a signal to begin using coping exercises. First, try using a stress coping statement, an affirmation like “You're going to be all right” or “This is going to be so easy.” These positive statements have the power to lower anxiety. Many times, people overlook this type of coping mechanism because it seems too simple. But sometimes simple is simply the best option.

After using coping statements, confront the stressful situation. Your stress level will likely rise, so continue to use stress coping statements (positive self-talk) to direct your thinking in another direction. Tricks for self-calming include visualizing your last vacation or pondering where you might like to travel. Letting your mind roam to happier places will help you get unstuck. Thinking and/or talking about things totally unrelated to what is causing you stress will ease your tension.

Deep breathing and relaxation exercises help as well. For example, if you are undergoing a stressful medical exam, it will help to relax as the doctor talks you through the exam. Listen but also close your eyes if you like, and breathe deeply. At the end of the procedure, reinforce your success with the experience by giving yourself a mental pat on the back. This will remind you of how well you did and will make you even more relaxed the next time. Telling yourself “I did very well. Next time it will be a breeze!” also works great.

Being prepared for stress can help you cope better with it, so you will be less anxious in the moment. The above exercises create a holding pattern for your anxiety. Once you have even the slightest success with them, you will want to use them again and again. Maintaining self-calm is a positive addition to anyone’s life.

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