02/18/2014 02:22 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

The ABCs of Stress Reduction

Stress. We see it in others. It can affect our appetite. We talk about it. Heck, we even smell it. But for all these physical symptoms, stress is still lumped into the category of the psychological instead of the physical. Combating something internal, something you think you can't see or touch, may seem like a daunting task, so let's flip that idea of stress on its head. When you break a bone, what do you do? You notice the symptoms, assess them, and put a cast on the break to heal. A stressful situation can be unnecessarily exacerbated simply because nothing was done to help it heal, no "cast" put on it. If you can associate a physical symptom to your stress, you can work from the outside in, making your outside feel better first, which will then help you internally and reduce your stress.

Think carefully about your body's first reactions to stress. Headaches? A rush of heat? Quickened breath? When your mind is racing, be aware of what your body is doing. Connect to just one of the physical symptoms and make a choice to reduce it. You'll begin to feel better or at least think more clearly. I offer you these ABCs of stress symptoms in hopes that you can use them at the onset of anxiety to identify a problem, and thus, a solution!

1. Appetite
It may be the first on our list, but this physical manifestation of stress is often the last on our minds! Think on your last week. Have you been eating as you normally do? Have you been consistently overeating/undereating? Maybe you all of a sudden can't leave the house without an "emergency" bag of Skittles. Your body is telling you something. It's time to listen.

2. Breath
I'm always reminding my clients to connect to their breath, and I often have to remind myself to do the same in times of stress. Your breath could quicken, or it could become shallow, causing even more physical tension. Try to take three deep, even breaths. Whether you can/can't, or whether it makes you feel significantly better is information you need to combat your stressful situation!

3. Can't Sleep
Does your body crave rest, but your mind won't let you relax? Racing thoughts may be a mental symptom, but even your exhausted body can be preventing your rest. You might be jittery, have a crunched up neck or even a headache. And any of those symptoms combined with, for example, any of the appetite symptoms above could be setting you up for a rough week!

4. Discipline
No, not the "slap on the wrist" kind of discipline. I'm talking about your own self-discipline. We all have it to some degree. Under times of stress, you may find your routine gets out of whack. Your typical early bird nature falls to the wayside, as you hit the snooze button with increasing frequency. Or maybe you've been surfing the web more often at work and are barely making (or missing!) your deadlines, which then causes you to work late and you miss more than a few of the regular family dinners. Yikes! This domino effect needs to be curtailed.

5. Environment
I live in New York City (where this has been particularly true this year), but I think I can speak for most of the country when I say that this winter has been a little wild! And as a result, it's so easy to fall into the "trap" of going to work and going straight home to get cozy and warm. That lack of fresh air (and likely exercise) could be contributing to your stressed out state. It's time to beat the winter blues and get outside.

How many of the above symptoms apply to you? Whether you're at just 1 or 2, or feel like you could add an "F, G, H, I, J, and K" onto the list, there's always tricks for stress reduction. The first step is in stopping a negative feedback system from forming. For example: You're overeating, so you feel gross; you feel gross so you don't go out; you stay home, which makes you feel lazy, and feeling lazy kills your motivation to work out. All of these combined cause you anxiety. Wow. Feeling better may seem like a giant task, but if you eliminate just one factor from that system and replace it with another, you'll see immediate results.

Connect to your body to ease your mind. Based on the symptoms you tracked in the above "stress alphabet," choose one of the following to start heading in the right direction. Commit to a healthy breakfast that will jump start your day. Take a five-minute mini-meditation to regulate your breath and thoughts. Learn a basic yoga sun salutation to stretch out your aching muscles. Get outside for at least 15 minutes a day (even if it means picking up your dinner instead of having it delivered!). You'll likely notice a chain reaction: Your body feels better, your thoughts are more clear, and your stress reduces. Just like you fix that broken bone, building an awareness of your body and treating a physical symptom of anxiety can be the "cast" that heals your mind.