Everyone experiences some level of stress and anxiety. Still, when our lifestyle limits our abilities to deal with them, more serious problems may arise. Such as the case with my life.
I spent decades living a lifestyle that led to severe stress and anxiety issues. In this article, I discuss those issues and how implementing slow living guided a lifestyle change that turned everything around.
Make slower lifestyle changes to better handle stress and anxiety.
In my experience, when I could not deal with my stress and anxiety as they occurred, they built up and became more significant issues.
Our mind and body are designed to deal with the pressures of life. Still, when our lifestyles make us unhealthy, we have difficulty doing so.
That is when everyday stress builds up and manifests into full-blown anxiety. It did for me, and that’s when I knew I needed to change.
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Start implementing slow living practices into your life, and your stress and anxiety will begin to fade away. Your mileage may vary, but this is my story.
How Slow Living Reduced My Stress and Anxiety
If you want more context on my experience with slow living, please read Why I Choose to Live Slow.
1. Slow Living Context
Slow living is a broad subject, so I wanted to provide some context for handling stress and anxiety. You can read my slow living guide for a deeper dive into the topic.
As I mentioned earlier, when our lifestyles cause us to be unhealthy, we can struggle with stress and anxiety. So the natural question is what role slow living plays in making us healthy again.
The simple answer is slow living helps us focus on the life we want to live at a pace that is most conducive to our overall wellness.
Slow living is also about being mindful of what our mind and body need and ensuring we nourish those needs.
It helps us prioritize what is essential in our lives and helps us get rid of the rest. This opens up an abundance of free time to relax, work on ways to reduce stress, and enjoy life.
I will use my experience to further explain.
2. My Stress & Anxiety
In this section, I want to highlight my stress and anxiety issues. Please read Why I Live Slow for more information on all my health issues and lifestyle changes.
For decades my lifestyle was, I think, somewhat expected:
I worked hard, always trying to be more productive, and worked long hours. I constantly set new, grander goals and focused on making money.
I rarely exercised and usually made meal decisions based on convenience and mood, which generally meant eating foods high in salt, fat, and sugar.
I constantly compared myself to others and felt the need to keep up or pass others. I viewed other people’s success as unfavorable and was jealous.
I never felt content; life had no meaning or purpose, just tasks to be done. I thought that meaning would be found in completing more missions.
After several decades of living like this, I started having issues dealing with stress.
At first, the issues were headaches, being short-tempered, thinking negatively, light-headedness, and constantly feeling run down.
Then I noticed stress turning into anxiety. When I became really stressed, I had heart palpitations and changes in my breathing patterns.
It was not long until I was experiencing full-blown anxiety and panic attacks.
Let me describe what mine felt like for those who have never had a panic attack.
First, my thoughts turn negative, as bad things will happen. Then my heart starts racing, which makes me believe I have a medical problem.
Then I start stressing about that, and I start sweating as now I have heart palpitations and experience shortness of breath and dizziness. By now, I am sure something terrible is happening to me.
Sometimes the anxiety (or panic) attacks would only last 15 minutes, but sometimes these persisted and caused me to leave work.
Several times I ended up in the hospital.
My mind and body reached a point of being so unhealthy that I could no longer deal with stress and anxiety.
During this time, I saw many doctors and had tests done, which you should do if you have anxiety and panic issues.
What really needed to happen was I needed to change my lifestyle and get my mind and body healthy again. If I didn’t, I would continue to be this way until I did.
Not being able to control how my mind handled stress and anxiety was upsetting, to say the least. There was a time when my depression kicked in, and my world became very dark.
In the end, I think a person either accepts things and works through them or gives up and lets the worst happen.
It reminds me of the line from The Shawshank Redemption: “get busy living or get busy dying.”
So I decided to change my life and started slowing down and experimenting with slow living practices.
3. Changing Mindset
Here is another quote I love from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
That speaks volumes about how one changes their mindset. It starts with the most basic of questions; am I able to change?
Until you can answer “yes” to that question, there is no other work to do, so keep thinking, praying, and seeking help until you believe otherwise.
There are three things I would recommend to start changing your mindset;
- Learn to center yourself
- Learn to be grateful and content
- Learn to remove negative thoughts
These will serve as valuable tools to combat stress and anxiety.
Learn to center yourself
Whether you try meditation, breathing exercises, or just use quiet time, learning to center yourself is one of the most valuable tools in reducing stress and anxiety.
It starts with finding a quiet place where you can spend quality time without interruptions. This is a stimulus-free time, where we can let our bodies relax and our minds drift. For me, adding breathing exercises elevates the results.
This is not a time to have a conversation with yourself. It is a time when you sit comfortably and listen to nothing but your breathing in and out. Close your eyes and mentally start at your feet, and relax to the point where they feel weightless.
Then mentally move up your body and relax each section as you go. Don’t worry if you start yawning; that’s a sign you are resting.
Your brain will try to start thinking of things; it is natural. I focus on breathing sounds, and when that doesn’t work, I often lightly hum. For some reason, the humming silenced my mind.
I do this daily as part of my routine whenever I feel stressed or in a bad mood.
When you know how to center yourself, you can rid yourself of stressful feelings.
Learn to be grateful and content
Frankly, I am not talented enough to adequately describe how feeling grateful, and content has put me at ease with life. Being able to feel and experience these two emotions daily is why I love my life.
I am grateful for everything I have and am content with where and who I am. You can read Learn To Be More Grateful and Feel Thankful In Life, but here is a summary of how to begin to be grateful.
Start saying and writing down when you are grateful for something. I used to just live on auto-pilot and let everything in life go by without paying any attention to it.
When I stopped and started making a conscious effort to acknowledge when I was grateful, I actually started feeling grateful. I don’t know if that is a self-fulfilling prophecy or not, but it works.
It worked because I believed all the little times I was grateful, which built up a mindset over time.
The other day someone did me a favor, and I told them I was grateful for their help.
Yesterday I had a good jog around a lake in Da Lat, Vietnam, and then, walking back to my hotel, watched storm clouds roll in. It was beautiful. I actually said out loud to myself that I was grateful for today.
Then I noticed an interesting thing happen; I became content.
While I didn’t consciously work on being content at the time, I just started noticing a calmness in my life. I was enjoying it.
I was enjoying it because I was not chasing it; I was living it.
I am grateful for what I have; therefore, I am content with where and who I am.
These feelings make it difficult for stress and anxiety to find their way into my life.
Learn to remove negative thoughts
If we let negative feelings linger, they can manifest into stress and anxiety. Therefore, we must deal with negativity immediately.
Be mindful of when you are being negative by observing trigger symptoms like being short-tempered, sulking, and second-guessing yourself. Everyone is different, and you can also ask someone close to you if they notice any signs when you are being negative.
When we notice we are being negative, try to flush out why.
In my slow living guide, I use the following example:
If someone sends me a mean message online, it hurts my feelings and makes me sad. But here’s the thing. It is fleeting. I acknowledge it hurt. Allow a minute to go by, and then make sure I am mindful that it is over.
If it is still bothering me, I’ll do an exercise to center myself again.
Don’t try to hide negative feelings because they will just build up and manifest into natural stress and anxiety over time. Acknowledge these negative emotions, and deal with them as it happens. Then move on.
4. Finding A Purpose
When I started focusing on what caused stress in my life, I was surprised to realize that having a lack of direction made me feel stressed and anxious.
When I woke up, I had no purpose. I had a job during the week, but that’s not what I am talking about.
I did not think about what I wanted out of life, so I just floated through each day on autopilot.
If someone is married with children, the family is undoubtedly a crucial purpose they have in life. But I also think everyone needs that one thing that is for them.
Without having that direction, I felt my life had less value. That made me sad and led to negativity, other problematic emotions, and eventually to stress and anxiety.
When I first started implementing slow living, I had health issues, so my purpose during that time was to get my health back.
With my health restored (for the most part), I decided on a new exciting direction as a full-time traveler and creating content for a living. It is less a profession and more a lifestyle in itself.
I love what I do and feel I have value and actually feel fulfilled.
When you find that purpose and start pursuing it, your self-value increases, which goes a long way to preventing stress and anxiety from entering your life.
5. Healthy Habits
Stress and anxiety prey on the weak, so we need to do the basics daily to ensure we are as strong as possible.
When I started my journey with slow living, many of my health issues were due to not following these essential healthy habits.
- Get more exercise
- Get enough rest
- Eat nutritiously
We all know why these are things we need to do each day, even if we don’t do them, so I won’t bother explaining the science behind them.
Instead, what may be more helpful is to mention what I do for each section and see if that helps provide some context.
By doing the following, it took less than a year for me to lose 75 pounds, get my blood pressure and blood work in order, and that all helped lower my stress and anxiety.
Get some exercise
I was overweight when I first started exercising, so exercise started slowly, walking for 30 minutes daily.
After a month, I increased the distances and added stretching, fast walks, push-ups, and sit-ups.
These days, I am walking at a brisk pace of 90 minutes a day or jogging for 45 minutes a day, and shortly, I plan to start weight training.
It was hard to start exercising every day initially. Still, if you stick with it, you will eventually really enjoy it.
Exercise boosts self-esteem and self-confidence, which are great for preventing stress.
Get enough rest
I was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea. That meant part of getting healthy was addressing the fact that I wasn’t getting all the oxygen I needed during my sleep.
By losing the weight and exercising, I control my sleep apnea with a $90 mouth guard now, and let me tell you, getting oxygen-rich sleep made a vast improvement in my well-being,
Aside from making sure I get 9 hours of sleep each night, I often take naps during the day. In addition to that, I also have quiet times where I do my breathing exercises.
Over time, lack of sleep will negatively impact your ability to combat stress and anxiety, so make sure you plan the time needed.
When trying to lose weight, I was strict with what I ate.
On average, here is what I literally ate each day for 10 months:
- 3 eggs with steamed spinach (breakfast)
- 4-5 skinless chicken breasts (baked)
- Unlimited green vegetables (steamed or boiled)
- 1 apple
- 1 orange
No added salt or butter.
For a cheat on Saturday and Sunday, I would get low-fat and sugar-free ice cream or have some unbuttered and unsalted popcorn.
I also reduced caffeine to one cup a day.
After I lost the weight (and continued exercising), I went back to eating other foods.
I keep an eye on what I eat now, make sure my salt and sugar intake is pretty low, and focus on eating smaller serving sizes. Otherwise, I can eat most foods.
Healthy habits are crucial in combating stress and anxiety. It also makes you feel better about yourself.
It is difficult to start, but it is also worth the effort.
My overall health is currently good, as is my ability to handle stress and anxiety. Knock on digital wood.
Most people handle stress and anxiety just fine. I used to be one of them. But, sometimes, we cannot deal with stress and anxiety for many reasons.
If you find stress and anxiety are becoming a problem in your life, don’t panic; many solutions are available. Just reach out to a doctor or support group and ask for help.
Remember, it is ok not to be perfect unless you are a perfect mess like me. I hope you found these ideas helpful; I swear by them.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Below is some footer stuff to consider.