If you’re feeling a bit (or a lot) on edge lately, you’re not alone. Study after study is finding that anxiety and stress are skyrocketing and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. When you’re feeling restless or tightly wound, it’s incredibly tempting to push those feelings away or distract yourself and carry on with your endless to-do list and your myriad of obligations. Short-term, this approach might seem effective because you’re staying on top of what you need to do (or at least falling less behind than you would otherwise), but in the long run, this might not be the best solution. The following will explore several things you can do to help alleviate some of this discomfort, as well as some reasons why you might want to address your tension rather than ignore it.

Understand That All Feelings Have A Purpose

Contrary to popular belief, stress, tension, and anxiety are not things you’re supposed to “cope” with, nor do you simply have a “hypersensitive response to ordinary stimuli.” Recent studies are finding that both of these ideas are not only wrong, but they are also harmful.

When you feel stressed, that is your body sending you a message. It’s saying: there’s a lot going on, and I’m not sure I can manage it without experiencing some level of harm. No, it doesn’t matter that someone else isn’t stressed by the same thing. Perhaps you’re experiencing a build-up of several minor stressors, and this is the last straw. Or maybe, you have past experiences that have led you to be more aware of the potential dangers of a given situation.

If you had a friend who was in a nasty car accident and they got stressed whenever they got in a car, you wouldn’t think: oh, they’re just being overly-sensitive, would you? Of course not. You’d understand that their stress is a completely appropriate reaction to their current circumstances, given the information their brain has about what can happen in a car.

If you don’t know why something seemingly harmless puts you on edge, chances are the experience that you’re associating with your present moment happened early enough in your childhood that you don’t remember it. Never assume your stress is unfounded. It is always a completely natural response to a signal of danger. Remember, as pack animals, we perceive social difficulties like being disliked or distrusted as danger—anyone who lived your life and had the data inputs that you had would feel the same way.

Understanding this point is critical, as often when we get anxious, we experience an additional level of stress because we’re frustrated with ourselves for being so tense. Reminding yourself that your stress is 100% appropriate, given your situation, can alleviate this second level of stress.

Rethink Caffeine, Nicotine, And Sugar

Yes, often, when we’re overwhelmed, we crave these things. We’re tired and have a long day ahead of us and want a little help. The only problem is that stimulants add to the symptoms of stress and anxiety, resulting in more intense, sometimes overwhelming situations.

Understand Your Weed

Many people experiencing stress will turn to marijuana, and this can be an incredibly effective solution (particularly compared to over-the-counter medications as there are minimal side effects). This being said, not all weed strains are the same—some are stimulating while others are soothing. Read through some testimonials on cannabis-centric social media and pay attention to your body’s response to the different weeds that you smoke. Lean towards calming strains that are high in CBD.

Keep A Stress Journal

If you’ve been ignoring feelings of anxiety for a long time, you might not be cognizant of the root causes of your stress. Many people have been suppressing emotions since early childhood. Think back—how many times were you scared and told that there was nothing to be scared of? We learn to ignore our own internal warning signs early on, and this can make it hard to address what is causing our feelings of nervousness (which, as we’ve stated above, is completely appropriate). Some people find it helpful to write down either on paper or on their phone whenever they’re feeling anxious. Think about what happened just beforehand. What did you eat? Who were you talking to? What were you trying to sort out? Quickly, you’ll begin to discover patterns, and you’ll get some strong hints about what is causing your stress. Removing the stressors or interacting with them differently can help. 

The above tips should help you listen to and work with your stress instead of against it. Remember, anxiety is a message from your body about feelings of danger. Never ignore these feelings even if you aren’t perceiving what could be causing them. The more you suppress, the louder these signals are going to have to be heard, and since your body is designed to keep you living as long as possible, feelings of danger are one of its top priorities. Anxiety that is ignored is anxiety that lasts.