One of the biggest issues facing most people in 2019 is stress. Women, men and even kids are feeling the pressure. Physically, emotionally and psychologically stress creeps in and reduces the quality of life significantly. While it may feel like there is a million-ton brick on your shoulders, there are strategies and protocols you can implement into life to let those boulders go. Feel light and happy. Stress free…
The ultimate source of stress
We all have stress coming in from all sorts of places. Kids, school, homework, bosses, husbands, wives, cooking, laundry, insurance, taxes, friends and more. The possibility of stressful situations is everywhere.
What if I said stress is inside us. What if we could irradicate pretty much all of our stress? Would you want to become immune to situations that would ordinarily make you split at the seams? Stress and anxiety are not inherent qualities of any situation, they are a product of our thinking. We expect something to go one way, but it goes another. That difference in expectation is the stress and anxiety we feel. That principle can be applied to most of life. Feel happy? Your expectations were met. Feel depressed? Your expectations were not realised the way you wanted it to and now you don’t feel good.
One absolute guarantee in life is that shit is never going to go as planned. Getting overwhelmed and crunched by the situation is not going to solve it. In fact, getting stressed and overwhelmed reduces your capacity for creative thinking, ie – problem-solving.
Ok ok yes I know it is so much easier said than done. But with practice, it can be done. You can live life with all the”stresses” but come out unscathed and joyful. If you master your response to stress, that is if you manage your expectations. It means that anything can happen and your head will always be above water. It means you are that guy that always looks happy and the sun is literally shining out your face. As annoying we like to make perpetually happy people out to be, we all want to be that person. Perpetually relaxed and joyful, no matter what.
A little suffering is not so bad
Stress and the near-obsession with things having to go the way we imagine it to creates a lot of anguish and suffering for us. Think about the job you want, that women you want to be with or the body you idealise. Think about all those things and situations you wanted for yourself that never happened.
It’s not to say you shouldn’t desire things for yourself. But in order to feel happy and joyful in life, you have to sometimes settle with something you didn’t necessarily envision in the first place. Practice flexibility and positive opportunity. If you can learn to turn your perspective around to view all situations as inherently full of opportunity then a lot of suffering, anxiety, stress and anguish will disappear.
The physiological impact of stress
The body and mind are linked. So linked that the smallest of thoughts can impact us on a physical level more than we can imagine. Having physical trauma can also impact your mind. For those who troll on women for being down during their menstruation, that time can really mess with their ability to respond well to stress. One of the things I hope to see happen in the future is more open communication in the workplace about menstruation. But that’s a whole other thing.
It’s important to recognize that our bodies are sensitive to stress and when we don’t support it properly, our ability to cope reduces significantly.
Without getting too involved in all the science behind what stress does to our bodies let me explain: When you are stressed, you affect your ability to digest food and absorb certain nutrients. Your body stores fat more readily. You experience sleep problems, mood disorders. Your libido suffers as well as your self-esteem. Your skin and hair will look dull and you will probably get sick more often.
The flight or flight response in your body us activated by stress. Flight or flight mode requires the body to divert all its resources and energy to your muscles so you can deal with whatever is in front of you. The resources and energy are diverted from bodily processes that fight off disease, sickness and ageing. However, flight or fight is a short term response. And up until the new century, was working just fine.
However, with modernities fast pace and ever switched on world, long terms stress aka long term flight or flight coupled with poor diet and lifestyle choices have profoundly negative effects on your body and experience of life. Resonate with any of these?
- Anxiety/depression/ feelings of overwhelm
- Digestive troubles (GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon)
- Heart disease
- Weight Gain
- Sleep Issues
- Skin and hair issues
- Food sensitivities
- Afternoon dips
- Menstrual irregularities
- Lack of libido (men and women)
- Mood disorders
- Lack of sustained focus
- Reduced desire for life
- Strained relationships
- Overeating/ undereating
What can we do about it?
Reducing your stress externally and internally is vital. An organized and planned life is a great strategy. Reflecting and accepting that a lot of life is not in our hands is also a great step at minimizing stress. We seem to think that life should always go as we want it to. We think we have so much control over what happens. The reality is that the most control we actually have is pretty much only the way we respond to situations. Here are a few strategies that you can apply to reduce stress and start enjoying life.
Start at home
First of all – TAKE A BREAK. And by taking a break I do not mean on your phone. Or talking to someone or watching tv. I mean by yourself, in silence. I had a chat with an accomplished meditator and he said something that simplified meditation for me profoundly. It was this: Just enjoy the fact that for the next 20 minutes, you have nothing else to do other than to relax and breathe. And that was it. If anything, just sit down for ten minutes and feel your body relax. Take some deep breathes. Just get your shit together for a moment. Get out of autopilot and connect with your brain instead of your emotions running wild and making those decisions that you, later on, cringe about.
Secondly, and this goes out to all the women I meet who say they can’t take breaks because they have kids. I don’t have kids but I worked with kids for many years and I am in a relationship where we have made open communication one of our most important values. SET BOUNDARIES with your partner and your kids. There will be a teething period but everyone will soon adjust. And better yet, once the new boundaries and respect for space are honoured, you will feel like a new person. Your partner will be relaxed. Everyone will respond rather than react. Another beautiful outcome of setting out boundaries between partners and family is opening up communication. Being able to honestly express that you need time to relax and restore fosters trust and respect between all involved. Who doesn’t want that with your partner or family?
What do boundaries mean? Boundaries, in this case, is talking openly with your partner about making time to relax a priority. None of this autopilot shit where you do daily life in such a way that the days melt into one another and before you know it 5 years have passed. Make time to relax. Alone. With each other and with your kids. Bring quiet moments into a life where you can catch yourself up. Take time to recoup from busy weeks or days. Take time to feel your own thoughts. Not those of your family6, kids, friends, jobs, and coworkers. Make time for you.
What does this look like? Once a week take a self-care evening where he watches the kids. Once a week he gets to go out with his mates or do what he wants to do to relax. And on top of that, once a week the kids stay at a friend or with family so you guys can have a date night. Time will never magically reveal itself for you to “get time to relax”. You have to make that time.
Lastly is some of that philosophical wisdom. If you don’t like it. Change it. If you can’t change it, accept it and change your perspective. Everything serves a purpose. Either in life or as an opportunity for growth. Even that narcissist boss. He is priming you for success. If you choose for it to do so. Part of reducing internal stress is letting the fuck go. It’s so scary. It’s hard to let go of all those things. But really, how many of them do you really have that much influence over? – let go of the potential stress that lies in other peoples decisions. You can’t foresee what they will do or how a situation will unfold. Relax and deal with problems when they are happening.
One of the reasons people get flustered, overwhelmed and stressed out is that they are simply not organized. Work smart, not hard. Plan goals you want to achieve for the month and then filter it down into weeks. Plan your week at the end of the current week. For example, Fridays are the last day of the week. Nobody is feeling super productive and they are winding down for the weekend. Set aside an hour or two to review what you got done over the week and what you still need to do the next week. Set achievable tasks each day and watch how you achieve bugger goals.
The Eisenhower Matrix Model is a great way to filter out what is urgent and what is important for when you are planning for your week. Each week I plan for things that are urgent and ones that are important. As I get through urgent tasks I then move over some of the important into the urgent. Don’t get too rigid, however. Things come up and things change. Allow for some flexibility in your planning. Tick tasks off as you complete them. The psychology of ticking things off are small achievements that make you feel positive and moving forward.
Another hack that I love is from non-other than Tim Ferris. This guy is all about working smart. He talks about batching(I like to call it blocking). So I block 3 hours at a time as this is my ideal duration of productivity. I look at my task list for the day and set out a time to do that task. In that time I will not deviate to social media, coffee, snacking or anything else (well, I go in prepared with coffee and snacks). That time is devoted to that task and that task alone. Blocking means you can effectively finish tasks rather than half finishing tasks. 3 finished is better than 10 half-finished.
There is no time constraint
One thing that was crippling me at the start of my career was a sense of urgency in everything I did. I had to complete it all now or I would fail. My fear of failure was driving me into the ground but it also drove me to understand productivity and how to work smart. My to-do lists work for me now, not the other way around.
Don’t think that the to-do list will be finished once you get through this one and then you can sit back and relax. On the contrary, things you have to do will always be there! It’s never-ending. Once you can consolidate this understanding the urgency to get them all done as soon as possible fades away.
Work smart not hard: Organize what you need to do as a matter of urgency and move through your list. Getting 1 or 2 done a day is still an achievement. You are still moving forward. Relax and work through them with a calm and steady focus.
Take breaks throughout the day
This is profound people! Why on earth we created a culture of no breaks is beyond me. Creativity does not flourish when you cant relax.
How do you know when to take a break? When you start fidgeting or itching to get on social media, go do laundry or do that task you have been meaning to do for the last 5 years. Your brain will let you know when it needs a change of scenery. And it really doesn’t need to be a 30-minute nap or a 3-course meal. It’s as easy as a 10-minute walk or a cup of tea outside. It’s literally just a moment for your brain to chill out and reboot.
I can say with 99.9% confidence that this will not only increase your productivity but reduce your stress significantly. You know sometimes you sitting at work and you feel like you have to push through 6 hours of “hard work”. More often than not you come out cranky and probably didn’t get any much more done had you taken brain breaks.
The biggest obstacle to people taking brain breaks is the guilt and concern about what others will think of you. Well… Fuck em! There is no scientifically proven correlation that the more hours you work the more you get done. On the contrary, anyone that has ever studied productivity will tell you that working in high powered small batches is far more productive… and… stress free.
Feeling strung out and tense is also caused by some peoples inability to let go. They see the world through their own eyes and everything should flow as they expect it to. People make plans and expect everyone to fall in line. They predict according to what they assume. This will inevitably lead to stress. A lot of stress. Why? Because life is the most random set of events and we really only have a small influence on some of those events. Resistance is the power word of feeling stressed out.
This is not suggesting to not make plans or like to have things in a certain way. I am saying when it doesn’t go your way or plans change, just go with it. A common theme amongst successful entrepreneurs will say is when things don’t go the way you expected them to or hoped they would, there is usually a hidden opportunity to develop what you originally wanted but in a whole new way.
Let go. Let flow. Less stress.
Get enough sleep
The effects of sleep deprivation are more serious than you could imagine. It has disastrous effects on overall wellbeing. Sleep deprivation leads to irritability and mood swings. It can impact your productivity at work and your social relationships. Sleep deprivation also affects how well you make decisions. This can be huge when millions are hanging on the line. Sleep deprivation also affects your appetite, either you overeat to sustain energy or under eat from a lack of motivation. This can ultimately lead to undernourishment or gaining weight. Sleep deprivation also has a massive influence on your immune system. All of these side effects compound into a grumpy stressed version of you.
Treat sleep like you would one of your most prized possessions. Take sleep seriously. Sleeping when you are dead is not cool. Sleep deprivation is positively associated with early mortality, infectious diseases and metabolic syndrome. If you want to live well until the day you die, then sleep should be on the top of your priority list.
Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Sleep in a dark room with no bright lights from electronics. Get a good breeze going. Try white noise apps. Turn down the lights to a more ambient feel at least an hour before bed. This signals your brain that bedtime is coming. And lastly, avoid being on any technology at least 2 hours before bed. These are small strategies that can have profound effects on your well being.
Support your body
My absolute passion. And why is it my passion? Because this one thing has power over so much of our life experience. Food. What we put into our bodies is so important. The food you eat breaks down and literally comes together to become you. It is estimated that it takes roughly 7 years for your body to go through a full cycle of cells. So in 7 years, you will essentially have grown a new body. And from what? The food you eat. Essentially, if you eat crap, then in 7 years, you will be made up from that crap. And will take another 7 years to fully detox from that crap.
What does this have to do with stress? A lot. Food, especially processed foods contain chemicals and a lot thereof. They mix and react and respond to different molecules in your body. Undernutrition (not getting the rights amount of micronutrients) can have a serious effect on your wellbeing.
Moreover, food can also have an impact on your mental health. Have you ever met a depressed person who eats healthy fresh food? Unlikely. Have you ever met an unhappy healthy person?
Eat a well-balanced diet of fresh whole foods cutting out all processed foods, sugar and red meat. Focus on a plant-based diet with sustainably sourced fish at least 3 times a week.
Stress is a multidimensional problem
Resolving stress has many benefits. You can enjoy life on a day to day basis. You will experience an overall life satisfaction that many people strive for. Thousands of books are written on to be happy and enjoy life. Understanding and overcoming stress is a sure way to improve your quality of life.
Apply as many if not all of these aspects over time and start to see the benefits. The sun will slowly come back and shine in on your life. You will feel more positive and inspired for life. Creativity will flow as will a sense of flourishing opportunities.
Being happy is not a given. Its something you have to work for and actively choose. What do you choose?