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Stress Management

Learning to Unwind

· Stress Management

Learning to Unwind

Red container with teddy bear in box of glass "BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF ANXIETY"

Have you noticed an increase in marketing advertisements targeting people with sadness and anxiety promising, “a way to a happier and more fulfilling life?”

A picture of two young men in jackets smiling holding glass soda bottles.
Woman hugging man, both are smiling.

This is because a growing number of studies show self-reports of Americans feeling lonely, anxious and unhappy. Major depression has risen 33% in the United States since 2013, and 47% for millennials.

Fetzer Institute Self Report Measures for Love and Compassion
Graph of General happiness, U.S. adults, General Social Survey, 1973-2016

Data from the National Institute of Mental Health mirror these findings with surveys demonstrating an increase in mental health diagnoses and suicide rates. The evidence makes it hard to ignore the root of an increasingly mentally ill society.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In 2018, 48,344 Americans died by suicide. In 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts. In 2015, suicide and self-injury cost the US $69 billion.

Appropriately, marketing campaigns are following the trends of what is happening in the mental health of the population at large, recognizing the market for anxiety disorders and depression treatment is rising. A number of brands are tapping into the market by integrating stress management into their industry through various wellness methods.

Facts and Statistics of wellness marketing. $4.5 Trillion Market.

global market for anxiety disorders and depression treatment. are estimated to reach $18.6 billion in 2025.

Stress: The Root of the Problem

As a mental health counselor, I work with clients that have been diagnosed with major depression, multiple anxiety disorders, complex PTSD, and many other mood disorders. In our sessions, I see the need to teach essential yet straightforward stress management skills but one cannot help but question, why is our society sadder and lonelier than before?  

The fast pace of our modern society has made it difficult for us to slow down and listen to our emotions. The business of everyday life has become a way to ignore our most inner emotional states and needs. The reduction of leisure time and the increase of working hours has made it difficult for us to maintain meaningful relationships with our friends and community. We are often left with feelings of loneliness and a sense of a meaningless life.

Our modern society emphasizes profit, work, the acquisition of material things, achievements, and efficiency. It doesn’t leave space for afternoon naps, a two-hour dinner with family, or relaxing hours of play and exploration with loved ones.

Column chart of paid vacation and paid holidays, OECD Nations in working days. Trends of increase in working hours in the United States.

Humans Need Meaningful, Social Connections

When we have to work long hours and move at a fast pace from one place to the next, our cortisol levels increase, making all of us more prone to chronic stress and an increase in illnesses.

Weakened immune system. Heart disease. High blood pressure. High blood sugar. Digestive issues. Nerve problems. Anxiety depression headaches.

When looking at a healthy brain, neuroscience has shown the impact deep social connections have and our basic need to feel part of our community. If we care about our mental wellbeing, we have to focus on learning to slow down and be more intentional about connecting to others in a meaningful and nonjudgmental way.  

Cortisol neuroscience deep social connections.

Stressing Less; Relaxing More

The big question is, how do we slow down? How do we unwind? To slow down is to relax and be fully immersed in the present moment. Many people have experienced how difficult it is to sit down and do nothing, so many of us will feel restless at just the thought of staying still and trying to listen to our inner bodily experiences.

Besides the high consumption of drugs and alcohol, over-scheduling ourselves has become the modern defense mechanism to avoid processing difficult emotions. If we continue to do that, we will perpetuate the status quo of a lonely, sad and anxious society.

CDC map showing prevalence of binge drinking among US adults in 2015.

Stress Management Tips I cannot guarantee that the increased awareness of mental health will cause our society to change overnight, but I can propose that we at least take care of ourselves and learn a few strategies that can help us maintain lower levels of stress in our everyday lives. Throughout my career as a mental health professional, I have studied and taught a few simple tricks that can help you manage the quick pace of life a little better.

Relaxation technique how to perform an effective body scan.
A sign on the side of a road to slow down

Slow Your Pace One of the strategies is to slow down your pace. Learning to notice your body and scanning it can help you be aware of its needs. Slowing down what you are doing sends signals to your autonomic nervous system that everything is alright. So the next time you are at work, slow down your movements or after work, walk to your car at a slower pace than usual. If you are having dinner after a hard-working day, take time to thoroughly look at your meal, look at the different colors, smell it, and take your time chewing the food and try to capture the taste of the ingredients. Really enjoy what you have prepared!  

A woman holding her hand to her chest breathing deeply

Practice Deep Breathing Another strategy is to take long, intentional breaths. When we practice deep breathing, we again send signals to our nervous system and brain that we are safe, and we can relax. Practice deep breathing as a preventative measure for at least 5 minutes to 10 minutes for better results.

Some quick tips: have a quick hold between inhalations and exhalations, and make sure that your exhalations are longer than your inhalations, that makes the difference. 

Woman sitting on bench at a lush green park with swans ducks in lake

Connect with Nature Now, when was the last time you spent time at your neighborhood park? Humans are primed to enjoy and deeply connected to nature. Prioritize walks outside and slow down by paying attention to the sound that nature makes. Notice the warmth of the sun on your skin or the coolness of the breeze. Look at the sky or trees more often, notice the shapes of the clouds and shapes of the branches.

Two women exercising on a beach on a mat

Exercise Exercise has shown to reduce anxiety and stress levels. Try to work out at least 30 minutes 3 times a week to better your mental health.

A family around a table eating pizza and toasting drinks.

Connect with Loved Ones Prioritize spending quality time around those that care for us has shown to raise our levels of serotonin and make us feel safer and happier. Schedule fun activities with your family and friends at least once a week. Learn to ask for help and reach out when life gets too hard.

I hope that the list of strategies to reduce stress and learn to unwind are simple and easy to fit in your day-to-day routine. The more you practice them, the more comfortable they will become part of your schedule, and the faster you will see the results!