Freaking out? Here are 5 ways to lower your stress levels immediately.

Help!! I’m freaking out, overwhelmed, completely stressed out and about to lose it!!!

Do you ever feel this way? Life can just get overwhelming at times. Managing our emotions while navigating careers, relationships, health, and the uncertainty of the world around us can take its toll.  Every now and then, we might feel like we’re going to lose control of our temper, break down, or just get so overwhelmed we feel like we can’t do anything.

This is our brain’s Fight – Flight – Freeze mechanism (sympathetic nervous system) kicking in when it senses immediate danger. It’s there to protect us, and these feelings – tension, increased heart rate, changes in breathing, anger, tears — are important signals telling us to stop, take a time out and examine what’s happening in our minds and bodies.

Guess what? Even mental health professionals can lose the plot too. Yeah, I’m talking about myself. :-)

My kids and I recently travelled back to the U.S. for the first time in years. With the ever-changing airline routes, restrictions, COVID testing requirements and quarantine hotel bookings, it was the most stressful travel planning ever. But we did it, and had an amazing time. We returned to Hong Kong, relieved to have made it through all the admin hurdles, forms and PCR tests.

And then my worst travel fear came true – I tested positive for COVID on the Day 3 PCR, and we were sent to the Penny’s Bay community isolation centre. The kids also turned positive, and I felt progressively physically and emotionally unwell. I knew this was the risk of overseas travel, but the confinement felt inhumane.

By the third morning, I felt like I was really losing the plot. I was overly anxious, snapping at the kids, frantically trying to call and text help lines with no answer, and finally burst into tears. I realized that I needed emotional support and I needed to immediately employ some techniques to bring my stress levels back down.

Here’s what I did:

  1. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique. This technique is great for immediately bringing you out of a reeling anxious mindset back to the present. And it’s easy. Look around the room and name 5 things you can see. Then 4 things you can touch. Then 3 things you can hear. Then 2 things you can smell. And finally, 1 thing you can taste.
  2. Breathing Technique – Lengthen your Exhale. A longer exhale is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to calm down. Researcher John Gottman discovered that when pulse rate exceeds 100 BPM, people lose all ability for empathy – we become “flooded”. To get my heart rate down, I use a 4/6 breathing method – breathe in for 4 seconds; breathe out for 6 seconds. It’s simple and effective. Sit, breathe, relax.
  3. Get support. Now is the time to phone a friend, a counsellor, a relative, someone who you can trust to help you unload what you are feeling. The benefit of just talking it out is immense. I messaged my Momentum business partner, the very able counsellor Patricia Toh and said “help, I’m losing it.” We spoke for an hour and by the end I was able to laugh again. (She’s good!)
  4. Exercise. Due to space constraints, we paced the room, and did YouTube workouts to move and have some fun. Research has shown that 30 minutes of cardio activity a day promotes stress management, and boosts mood and energy. Exercise is necessary for mental health. It’s easy to make excuses that we are too busy to exercise, but a daily 30-minute swim or walk has changed my mindset so much that I put it on the “non-negotiable” list now. We must care for ourselves first to be able to care effectively for our loved ones.
  5. Practice Gratitude and Self-Compassion. Write down 3 things that you are grateful for today. This practice doesn’t diminish that the situation you are in is stressful nor invalidate those feelings. But remembering what we DO have also reminds us that we aren’t helpless, that the discomfort is temporary, and helps shift the mindset. And remember, be kind to yourself — it’s okay to feel what you are feeling!

Need extra support for overwhelming stress or chronic anxiety? Please reach out to us at Momentum Counselling, we are here to help.