Reducing Anxiety and Stress From The Ground Up

I have always been stressed my whole life.

I was thrown into the game of competition and race since I started attending school.

When I entered secondary school I had been more stressed than ever. But back then I wasn’t quite aware of it. I transitioned from a Cantonese-speaking primary school to an English-speaking secondary school. 80% of my classmates were from the same English-speaking primary school and I surely felt like an outsider. I spent most of my days playing catch up and trying to fit in. Our stress level reached its peak during the public exam. Since the education system was changing we would be competing with our lower grade for university places. But then I decided to go to Uni in Sydney so I quit the local Uni game. Throughout my whole Uni life I was doing alright. Probably because I didn’t even set goals and such. I was just paying minimum effort to get by (not a proud moment I know).

The worst kind of stress happened when you became a grownup and entered into the “real world”. I encountered a quarter-life crisis as I felt more confused than ever about what to do with my life. Why was I pursuing a CPA? Why was I stuck in a job I hated? How could I quit without explaining to anyone? All these questions kept me up at night. I knew that trading 5 days of cubicle grind to 2 days of freedom didn’t work. At that time, I seriously doubted if “4-hour work week” ever worked. Long story short, after 5 years of working as an accountant I finally quit this year and am now a full time student.

The Wrong Chase

I had been always escaping from problems. I jumped to another company once the problems were too much to handle. For some reason, I quit every 1 year and 8 months. That wasn’t intentional, but I realised that one day going through my LinkedIn profile. Something was definitely wrong with me. Until last year I was still thinking when I achieve my end goal and vision I would finally be stress-free and happy.

I was so wrong.

Happiness does not lie in the end goal. There will still be problems in the future when I am doing what I love doing. I would still be stressed when I am living my dream life because my mindset never changed. Heck, I am sometimes stressed now when I don’t churn out enough content every week. This is the problem. If I saw my situations in a different angle I could be happy and contented even in sh*tty scenarios. I could be happily grinding, knowing I was taking baby steps towards my vision. I could enjoy the process. I don’t want to ruin my dream life. But my mind is where all the negativity starts.

Once I flicked the switch, my whole world changed.

Stress and Anxiety

I could talk about toxicity all day long but that is beyond the point today.

I want to confront myself, and I encourage you to do the same.

First of all, acknoweledge one thing: 90% of your worries only happen in your mind. Quick example: I was worried I would get coronavirus back in late January. It’s July now, I moved from Hong Kong to Sydney, and I’m still healthy.

Obviously, life isn’t all sunshines and rainbows. Last year I was worrying about the Extradition Law and few weeks ago, the bloody National Security Law was enacted. My worst nightmare became reality.

Don’t get too discouraged. Human beings are resilient and we always find a way to survive and adopt.

So once you realised most of your worries are just monsters inside your head, it is time to move onto the next step.

Acknowledge what you can control.

Why are you even worrying and stressing about things that are out of your control anyway?

You will realise that there are only a few things you have control over in your life.

Your mind being the first thing you can take complete control of.

Be mindful about your thinking.

Journalling works, trust me.

Things I do to reduce stress

This list is going to sound cliche, but I just want to share the activities that help reduce my stress level. Everyone operates and reacts differently, so feel free to take whatever you like from the list below. This is also a good reflection for me since sometimes I am not aware how these little things help uplift my mood. Some even became habits.

1 Exercise

I have mentioned this many times. This is the ONE habit that is going to change everything. Not only are you going to lose fat and build muscles, but also to relieve mental stress, get better sleep and start to eat healthier.

Recently I started going to boxing class combined with strength training. It is a complete game changer. There is just something so satisfying when you keep punching the waterbag, and feel the blood running in the veins. I’m able to concentrate on my work since I started exercising regularly. Just start with something, anything today if you haven’t. You will live longer and happier.

Check out my blog post here if you want to look into the scientific research behind how exercising can literally change your life.

When I’m not engaging in heavy workout (during my rest days), I go for a 30-minute walk before sunset. I can easily unwind when I stroll through the park and watch the sunset.

Bonus tip: use a tailor-made music playlist to accompany your movements. Certain rhythm, tempo have stimulating or relaxing qualities in music. Read more about this here if you are interested in knowing more. Music is proven to decrease physiological stress markers and reduce stress an anxiety through regulating the body. 

2 Music

Why are you surprised? Of course I’m going to talk about music here.

Not just listening to music, but also making some.

Don’t stress. I am not suggesting you to buy Logic Pro and start sampling tracks.

I play piano, guitar and handpan on a regular basis. I also make sound tracks. I have satisfaction playing instruments and it help me relax and wind down.

Don’t worry if you don’t have any instruments at home or not knowing how to play sonata. You already possessed one of the most powerful instruments in the world – your voice.

Yes. Mind-blowing moment when I first heard of that in my first music therapy lecture.

Singing is a good way to relieve stress. The best thing is you can do it anywhere, anytime, without a care in the world.

If you would like to play some instrument objects however, I suggest starting with some basic percussion instruments. I personally love this wooden spoon:

it’s fun and easy to play with.

3 Pamper yourself

Not gonna lie sometimes I am a bit skeptical about all the “self-care” tips I find on Pinterest and Instagram.

Who has that giant bathtub and 10 different essential oils anyway?

While the best “self-care tips” lie on changing your mindset and doing a digital detox, there are still some activities I do regularly to reduce physical tension.

These days I use 3 things before sleeping to help me wind down and destress.

1 Tea

I am a sucker for green tea and anything matcha but recently I found out that I can’t sleep if I drink too much of that. So I tried other calming tea to improve my sleep quality. This is the one I’m using:

I have somehow trained my brain into thinking once I made myself this cup of tea I would have to sleep soon. No screen time.

2 Steam warm eye mask

Get the product here:

I discovered this product few years ago and it was a game changer for me. The subtle smell helped me relax. Pop this on 10-15 minutes before you sleep (sometimes I fall asleep wearing this) and you are all set for a great sleep journey. Personally prefer the lavender than the rose flavour.

3 Facial mask

I put on facial mask regularly (like every night for different purposes) and for me, sheet masks don’t help me wind down as much as wash-off masks do. These days I’m loving the ME TIME fresh face mask from LUSH (it’s no longer available). It smells absolutely divine and I literally look forward to the end of the day just so I can put this on and lie on bed. Try this out, you won’t regret it.

I have never tried using essentials oils nor burning scented candles. Can’t say if it’s helpful or not. However I do know that a spa treatment or a trip to some hotspring definitely helps relax your body. Tried that earlier this year in Osaka and I’m a goner. I need something like that in my dream hosue one day.

4 Journalling

Journalling is the best alternative to finding yourself a psychologist or therapist.

This is big coming from a student music therapist.

I don’t care if you ramble or do a brain dump.

Your thoughts will be organised and analysed better once you get them all out.

I recently listened to this podcast episode from Hal Elrod and I tried his suggestion of writing 2 lists: first, all the thoughts that consume you on a daily basis and second, a list of new, upgraded reality. Both lists are things that exist already but they come from different mindsets and angles. Stop focusing on the negativity. Manifest the new positive reality and create a new future for yourself.

This takes time. But there are so many benefits of journalling that you don’t want to miss out in your life.

Start today.

Final thoughts

It does not matter what methods you use to help reduce anxiety and stress. Nothing would work unless you first change your mindset and be more aware of your thoughts.

Take small steps and change one thing at a time.

Happiness is a journey.

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