Tossing and turning? Here are stress busters to help zap anxiety in the bud

Do you wake up at three or four in the morning, disturbed by thoughts of what’s ahead? Or you’re about to buy a condo that you’re not sure you can afford? Or your significant other has been diagnosed with an illness and you must care for them when you work full-time? Or you may have a work deadline looming and you must get up at 4 a.m. to meet it?

Who can count all the challenges that we face daily? Not us. 

Stress. Stress. Stress. What exactly is it? For us it’s feeling out of control, being overwhelmed and very unhappy. For some it’s the equivalent of adrenaline that kickstarts action and overwhelming upset. 

Every day we—and we’re using the royal “we” in all these cases so we’re including you--face stress even when making little decisions about our lives whether it’s asking for plastic or paper, straw or no straw, how to recycle the right way, figuring out directions to a new doctor’s office, how we’re going to get home in time to pick the kids or grandkids up from school. These decisions may seem small, but they have real consequences for the health of our planet… and for us. Making even small decisions adds one more layer to our demanding schedules and ways to navigate them. 

And as one of our parents used to say, “The only people who don’t have any stress are those in the cemetery.” In other words, we’re alive, standing vertically and we’re going to have some stress. 

Here are some more typical stressors both minor and major:

  • Remembering to take meds or forgetting if we have already taken them. Sometimes the stress is trying to find where we put them.
  • Eyesight is waning. We can’t see the TV well, and we can’t find our glasses as we scramble to do so, getting more and more frustrated. Maybe, they’re with the meds? That would solve everything!
  • We said, “What’d you say” more than 20 times a day. Get a hearing test. But hearing aids are so expensive and our expenses right now are out of the stratosphere.
  • We have not exercised since 2019 and keep meaning to start a new routine.
  • We must be at the DMV to take a driver’s test in the morning; we sadly, inadvertently, allowed our license to expire. We still can’t find those glasses. A problem if we’re going to drive.
  • We are about to get on a plane and are terrified to fly with turbulence; we never did like riding roller coasters. Have a drink or take anxiety meds? Which would stress us less?
  • We were waiting for a subway that is running late which means we’ll miss an important appointment with an orthopedist; now what?
  • Our credit card debt is out of control; we need help with credit card consolidation, something we’ve been avoiding for months.
  • We’re moving after living in our home for 35 years; how do we get rid of all the stuff before we list and show and move? 

Wouldn’t it be great if when stress attacks, we could zap it away like ghostbusters Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi did with their high-tech nuclear-powered equipment, resembling a backpack, to battle ghosts—and now stress?    

Wouldn’t it be great if when stress strikes, we could hide from it under a table, in a basement or windowless bathroom like during a natural disaster, such as the recent earthquake in New York City or during a severe storm in Florida? 

Some people tackle stress head on if it’s minor. Many people tell us, breathe or think Zen. Really? Fine in the short term.  But as stress moves up the continuum, much like a fever reading rising on a thermometer, it can be harder to shed that awful sinking feeling. And one deep breath or yoga pose won’t do it. Some may obsess over it, lose their appetite while others can’t stop eating. We may have stomach aches and headaches, even migraines. Our heart may beat faster signaling a panic attack may be imminent. Our blood pressure rises. We can’t sleep. 

We thought we’d rate stress from mild to severe and offer some ideas to modify stress or zap it in the bud.

Category One Stress, Mildly Upset (nervous stomach, headache, you’re annoyed, short tempered and irritable)                                          

--Go for a walk; get out in nature for nature can be healing.

--Call a bestie or relative who will listen and not offer advice or interrupt. That can be stressful in itself to find the right person.

--Indulge and pamper yourself with a hot shower or bubble bath.

--Get a massage, facial or pedicure that will help calm you down.

--Make a list of why something is upsetting you, that old pros and cons list on a yellow pad or on a computer.

--Watch the Hallmark channel where each mindless film has a happy ending, and the girl always gets the guy, and the girl is often a baker living in a bucolic town and there’s always someone older to offer sage advice.

Category Two Stress, More Angst (not sleeping, playing it over and over in your head on a loop and getting even angry)

--Call a therapist and don’t stress if you don’t have one, there are many. Good luck, however, getting in since everyone has a therapist these days.

--Have some wine or a drink with dinner but in moderation.

--Go work out vigorously, even twice a week or up it to three or four times. Add music, which can greatly help.

--Go buy something to make you feel better, shoes, lipstick, pastries or all of them! But watch those dollars.

--Before bed, learn how to power down. What calms you down before you go to sleep at night? Is it watching a good movie for escapism or reading a book that might put you to sleep? We could recommend a few boring tomes.  

--Fuel up with fatty foods (like salmon), not fattening foods (eat your grains, fruits and veggies).

--Go to church, a synagogue or mosque. Religious practice has been linked to mental well-being. These places offer solace in community.

--Commune more with nature, dig in the soil, plant flowers, go to a nursery or park and smell those roses.

Category Three Stress (greater upset, crying, unable to function shaking, angry/yelling and using bad language/ it feels like a war is going on in your head)

--Book a longer session with a therapist or doctor if you are physically sick.

--Schedule a vacation for when you know you will be out of the woods. Don’t stress over long lines and crowded airports until you go; otherwise you might not go.

--Take a break from the news and thoughts about the upcoming 2024 election.

--Avoid toxic friends who tell you about themselves and their stress, don’t take it on, you have enough of your own.

--Owe money? Don’t ignore it. Contact your landlord, business or bank and work out a payment schedule.

--Start a stress support group or find one that might exist. Share strategies to tamp down stress.  

--Find a happy quiet place. Examples: go to the library, look through the new releases, find a cookbook, take it out, sit and read through it while eating your favorite ginger cookie from your town’s adorable candy shop! And find recipes for a super Caesar salad and a perfect apple pie. The book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, which dissects how to cook well and provides the science behind it, has adorable colorful images. And pouf, the stress dissipates as you shift gears to something that triggers dopamine production. You don’t even have to cook; just pretend you are.

--Play nine holes of golf though if a novice that could be stressful, learn bridge and that could be stressful too so beware, start a big 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle but don’t obsess about finishing it fast or more stress, go do something for someone else such as a volunteer project whether feeding the hungry or tutoring underserved kids. It takes your mind off your woes.

--Get enough sleep or learn to take a nap.

You have choices. You can obsess over these thoughts and continue to toss and turn or try to concentrate on something fun. More suggestions: Think swing dancing, go for a soft serve ice cream with a chocolate coating, try a dip in a pool or the ocean (though getting into a bathing suit can be stressful) and a picnic, bake cookies, sing at the top of your lungs in a group, spend precious time with a child or grandchild, and if stress is keeping you up at night, you can always try counting sheep, jellybeans, cookies or whatever will help rock you back to sleep.

De-stressing takes some effort but try not to get too stressed about shedding it. And though it might upset you, for some of us remembering the world’s bigger problems—and now there are plenty—helps keep our stress in perspective. 


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