There are times when everything seems to go wrong at once. All the conditions are perfect for you to have an involuntary stress response, what some psychiatrists call a “stress storm.” This is when multiple factors converge to make you acutely, intensely anxious, and although it’s a rare occasion for most people, for others, including those prone to anxiety, it happens on a regular basis. Here are five suggestions for remaining calm when a stress storm hits.
Magnesium is one of nature’s most powerful anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) chemicals. Magnesium has been proven to inhibit the release of cortisol, a hormone responsible for the human stress response, and prevent it from entering your brain. It also binds to and stimulates your brain’s GABA receptors. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps you relax, and when you’re low on it, you’ll feel extra stressed. Low levels of GABA are responsible for the shaking hands many of us suffer from when we’re in a stress storm. But magnesium can have the same calming effect. Taking 200-300 mg. three times a day will help you prepare for stress storms.
When we’re anxious, our internal monologue becomes very, very negative. We start to tell ourselves over and over again that the situation we’re in is our fault, that it’s hopeless, and that we’re screwed. Positive self-talk can combat that natural negativity. Take the time to tell yourself that everything will be fine, that you’re capable of handling the tasks before you, and that it’s not the end of the world. If you’re in a situation where you can’t do so out loud, do it internally. It may feel strange at first, but you’ll observe that self-talk has a real, noticeable impact on stress.
Along with shaking hands, another physical symptom of stress is rapid breathing or even hyperventilation. This is part of the stress response that contributes to the storm—you start breathing rapidly because you’re upset, and your body interprets the rapid breathing to mean you’re in danger and releases even more stress hormones. You can combat this stressful cycle by practicing breath control. Inhale very slowly through your nose, feeling your chest rise as your lungs fill with air. Exhale equally slowly through your mouth. You’d be surprised how quickly this can calm you down.
Part of what sends us into a spiral when we’re stressed is feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. There’s too much that needs to be done and too many obstacles. Shifting your perspective on things can help you manage the stress response and be productive. Instead of thinking about how difficult flying home to see your family will be, focus on the first step, getting dressed for the airport. Breaking down your duties into smaller, doable tasks is a way of getting things done without being conquered by racing thoughts.
Studies have shown that slow, rhythmic music reduces stress levels. Have your phone or mp3 player pre-loaded with some gentle music that you can listen to when you feel a stress storm brewing. The audio cues have a profound effect on your brain, especially if you choose music that you strongly associate with relaxation and positivity. That can translate into a slower heart rate and decreased levels of cortisol. Those dulcet tones could be all it takes to derail the stress train and get you back on track.
Although stress may be unavoidable, it can contribute to health problems including high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. That’s why it’s important to know how to manage these intense bouts of stress when they occur.