5 Strategies to manage Stress and Anxiety

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
Category: Life Skills | Stress
Struggling with anxiety can be painful but it doesn’t have to be. We can all benefit from making friends with our anxiety and trying these strategies to use it in a way that is positive.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, she became a butterfly. [BARBARA HAINES HOWETT]

Recently, I watched a 20-minute video by Josh Freedman, from Six Seconds (see it at the end of this article), that focused on, “How to stop feeling anxious about anxiety”. I found it very insightful and thought I would share it in an effort to assist those who are feeling anxious on a daily basis.

The video itself focuses on how anxiety differs from stress, the neuroscience behind it and the sharing of strategies to manage anxiety and use it as something positive. We often find ourselves asking if the anxiety we are feeling is normal? This can be confusing because anxiety can be seen as a feeling but also as a brain illness.

It is important to realize, if an anxiety disorder is negatively affecting your daily life, that you should get professional help. Either way, strategies can help us to manage our anxiety which, as a feeling, is telling us that there is a threat. Humans are social animals and basically at the top of our food chain so the dangers we face are not whether we are going to be eaten but rather about being outside of the social group – not knowing if people like us, etc. If we are not connected with the ‘group’ it is dangerous for us. Loneliness is at an all time high and so people are not feeling connected. Loneliness may be reaching epidemic levels with 61% of adults reporting being lonely. This was before the pandemic, so I’m sure it is even higher now.

Stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably so what are the basic differences: 

People under stress experience mental and physical symptoms, such as irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle pain, digestive troubles and difficulty sleeping.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even in the absence of a stressor. 


  • Triggered by something outside us.
  • Physical condition.
  • Specific.
  • When causes reduce, stress reduces.
  • Chronic stress triggers anxiety.


  • Triggered by something within us.
  • Emotional condition.
  • General.
  • When causes reduce anxiety persists.
  • Anxiety is a by-product of stress.

In a nutshell, anxiety tells us we need to find out what the problem is. It can help mobilise us into action. So there can be benefits to it if we can understand it and work with it.


What are some of the strategies for managing anxiety?

Remembering that anxiety is connected to the social brain functions, the strategies are therefore related to that. Because of this, relationships are an important part to reducing anxiety and making it work better for you.

Strategy 1 | Validate your feelings

You have probably seen me mention this before. It involves recognizing your feelings and understanding that they may be there to help you, so don’t push them aside. Suppressing the feeling doesn’t work so rather try naming it to tame it. Acknowledge and make friends with these feelings. Yes, this includes anxiety too. In this way you can have a better relationship with them. By validating your feeling you acknowledge it but also recognize it is there to help you. Anxiety tells you there is some problem and you need to figure out what it is.

Strategy 2 | Narrowing focus

One of the challenges is that anxiety isn’t connected with a specific problem – it is more general. So we often start to have a sense that there are threats all around us and we worry about everything and try to to control things. This can lead to a power struggle and working on something which isn’t where the problem actually is. So you should be asking – Is this even my problem? If it really is, you can ask, “Is it in my sphere of concern or in my sphere of control?” Then you can do something about it. Understand which part of this is yours and which part you can actually take action on.

Strategy 3 | Suspend Judgment

This involves gathering data and not falling into the trap of awfulizing our situation and becoming pessimistic. When anxious we tend to awfulize to protect ourselves. This involves saying to ourselves, “If I think how bad it is I won’t get caught off guard.” What this actually does is make us miserable. Instead what we should be doing is suspending judgment – We don’t really know how bad it will be. Instead, stay in a state of data gathering and become curious

Strategy 4 | Shrink the feeling

This involves visualising the feeling getting lighter. Imagine it getting lighter and smaller and further away from you. You are not trying to get rid of it. To help you with this you can go for a walk, use breathing exercises, drink more water, laugh, smell flowers and just appreciate what’s good in the world. The goal here is not to get rid of anxiety but to move away from it for it to become clearer and to be able to start making sense of it, to understand it better. Anxiety does not need to be negative but if you are experiencing too much of it, you need to step back from it to hear the message.

Strategy 5 | Clean up the clutter

When in a cluttered environment one gets distracted by the clutter and the brain cannot focus on what is important. Here we are talking about both physical and mental clutter – this increases anxiety. Make a list of things that need to get done and where you need to de-clutter. This could include mending relationships, figuring out what we should be paying attention to, letting some things go, cleaning up your desk and space and organizing things, to name a few.


Struggling with anxiety can be painful but it doesn’t have to be. We can all benefit from making friends with our anxiety and trying these strategies to use it in a way that is positive.

In these stressful times, “it is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it”. [HANS SELYE]