Whenever I get stressed, I exercise. Usually this is the last thing I feel like doing, because stressful events exhaust me. However, I force myself to put on my walking shoes. Then I set off for a long hike, without my phone.
If it’s summer, and too hot to hike, I go to the gym, or swim at the local pool.
After an hour of exercise, I’m much less stressed. My mind’s stopped buzzing. So I’m ready to stretch and relax with a yoga session. Once that’s over, I have a calming bath, while listening to music.
Over the years, I’ve learned to pay attention. As soon as I realize that I have a tension headache — for me that’s the first sign of stress — I go for a long walk. By the time I get back, my headache’s gone.
Recognize stress for what it actually is: fiction. Worse: it’s really crappy fiction. If you can do that, stress becomes a lot easier to ignore. Here’s what I mean.
One evening I was driving with my wife to an event. Crawling, actually. Traffic was awful. I was engaged in my normal routine for these situations — curse, whine, scream, whimper, repeat. Finally my wife (who was sitting beside me and yet had somehow managed not to kill herself) said calmly, “Yes, we’re stuck in traffic and we might be late. Your reaction to that fact will have no effect on the outcome. So, do you want to be miserable for the whole drive, or do you want to relax?”
Light bulb! That’s when it finally hit me: stress is all made up. In that traffic jam, stress wasn’t something I was “suffering from.” It was something I had created in my mind. In fact, it was something I had to continually recreate in my mind, over and over. Because the second I stopped worrying about being late… or feeling angry about being late… or playing these scary what-if-we’re late (fictional) scenarios in my mind… I would stop creating that stress.
Always remember: stress is not your reality; it’s only your perception of your reality. And if you can make it up, you can also not make it up.
When I am going through a stressful time, or feeling overwhelmed by a stressful situation, I take some time for myself, away from the chaos, and eat a nourishing meal, watch something funny and/or get a little sweaty, hiking in nature, or going for a long walk in my neighborhood. I find that walking it out can help me significantly. It helps me put things into perspective and release negative energy. Afterwards, I can return to the issue with a new-found strength and ability. I make a to-do list, connect with those I trust, and start dealing with the bigger picture by turning the details into swallowable bits, instead of trying to take care of everything at once.
I suggest to clients to write. When you are stressed it is usually because you are trying to juggle too many things at once and keeping it all in your head. Instead of just thinking about problems and possible solutions over and over; get it out on paper. Yes, real paper. The act of writing it down longhand allows the brain to catch up with the pen, making you slow down enough to breathe a little more normally and work through the issues that are freaking you out. The idea of writing three pages a day, usually in the morning, is probably one of the best business practices that you can get into. You can start your day fresher and get rid of the constant tape of worry rattling around in your brain. Take out your favorite pen, get a notebook or piece of paper, and let yourself write three pages with no editor. The feeling of relief is often instant when you just get it down and out of your head.
As a stress coach who regularly lectures about managing or reducing stress most effectively, I have a confession to make: we all get stressed.
Even those of us who are “stress experts” still throw our knowledge out the window and turn into raving lunatics from time to time.
So, personally, I follow a simple approach when I realize I’m under the gun:
If it’s stress I can use, like increased focus to meet a deadline, or nervous energy to make my workshop more lively, then it’s productive stress. And I use it to my advantage. But that same fight-or-flight instinct is less helpful when I’m stuck in a sea of traffic. So I first differentiate if I can use it to propel me forward, or just sit and scream.
Stress is just a physiological response to a thought or emotion. So unproductive stress means we’ve got some unproductive thoughts. Instead of beating myself up over being stressed, I’m thankful for the help in identifying a problem area. Maybe I’m not giving myself enough time (hence the traffic), taking on too much, using the wrong strategy, or stuck on my limiting beliefs. Whatever the case, I can learn from the stress.
We have that fight-or-flight response for a reason. And whether we’re in a real emergency or just a perceived one, our body doesn’t know the difference. So I like to exercise to use up some of that stress energy. In fact, one of my favorite techniques if it’s work-related stress is the walking meeting. You get to use up that stress, get your daily exercise, and engage a colleague or client in a new way. Of course, spontaneous office dance parties don’t hurt either.
Learning from the unproductive stress is all well and good, but it’s not getting me out of the immediate panic attack. So I like to use my B.E.D. method:
I hope my personal stress methods are helpful. My thinking is–some form of stress is inevitable. And it doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. So we might as well figure out how to make friends with it.
I run anti-stress workshops and I advise people that there are only events – it is how we react to them that determines whether we are stressed out or not. Consider what you would do if you were to wake up to find that a tree had fallen on your car in the night. One person might moan about how awful it is, how much money it will cost to fix, how his insurance premiums will go up, how he’ll be late for work today, how three other dreadful things happened this week, and how unlucky he is generally in life. Another person might thank his lucky stars that it happened when he wasn’t in the car, be grateful the tree didn’t fall on house, and think what a lucky person he is generally.
Most of the time people feel stressed because they’re focusing on the negatives when something happens, or are ‘adding on’ other events that they see as negative, to make this incident push them over the edge. They tell themselves stories – like “This sort if thing always happens to me!”
Another thing that generally makes us stressed out is ‘time-traveling’ – worrying about the past or worrying about the future. If I ever find myself doing this, I bring myself back to the present moment by doing Mindfulness Meditation, where you focus on your breathing in the present moment and let all thoughts of the past and future go. It is only in the present that we have any authority to deal with issues.
I ride my motorcycle. Since the art of safe motorcycle riding requires my full attention, I’m forced to clear my mind and focus on the present — my motorcycle, the road, the beautiful Colorado scenery, and my surroundings. Usually, when I’m done riding, I’m so exhilarated and extremely appreciative of my beautiful life that all of my worries appear small. Riding brings a lot of tranquility to my life. That being said, I’m anxiously awaiting warm weather here in the high Rockies!
Oh Lord… I dance. I work out, I move my body because it helps quiet my mind. I’m not a graceful dancer by any means but when I’m angry and stressed out, putting on some high-BPM, blasting dance and electronic music can help block out the miscellaneous in my head and help me work through my anger and stress.
Calming down, weirdly, doesn’t work me if it’s conscious – I won’t go to yoga if I’m angry or stressed because I get caught in a feedback loop of exhaustion and stress and it ruins the experience. Adrenaline rushes and gym training and dancing help to control the stress and give the endorphin rush afterwards to see my problems and act on them right away. The right soundtrack, as stated, helps – save the soothing Enya and ambient stuff and opt for dance-pop, EDM, and rock to power through stressful times. And when it’s over, then indulge in the hot bath, candles and Jonsi album, not before.
I was a high-stress kid. At 12, I would stay up gawking at the ceiling, stressing over whether I should be a doctor or a lawyer and if I had detailed the pros and cons to both enough. So yeah.
As I grew older I started to let some things go. Stress, in large part, is seeing things not go the way you had planned. It comes up when you’re off plan, when surprises arise, or when complications that you don’t feel prepared for are now sitting in front of you.
I’ve learned a lot about how to deal and prevent stress, and I’ll write a more comprehensive post on that soon. For now I want to share two things that have helped me better deal with stress.
The first one is reframing how you view stress. The second is a simple trick that can help you lessen the stress you already have.
I learned this from Kelly McGonigal during her TED Talk. We think of stress as a terrible, crippling thing. And it can be, because that’s what it can do to your body if you let it. But she found that people who reframe the idea of stress from a negative to a positive face almost none of the negative side effects we associate with it. Instead of thinking of stress as a horrible ailment, think of this way:
“This is my body preparing me for the challenges in front of me. My heart is racing so I can have enough blood in my brain to react quickly and well. My body is sweating to cool me down from overheating. I am being prepared to be ready for this.”
Saying this to yourself may lessen the feeling of stress, and it will definitely help you avoid the catastrophic consequences of being stressed.
If you are already stressed and a reframe is crazy talk, do this:
- Step away from the situation (work, problem, fight) as best you can
- Go outside, go for a walk
- While you are walking, focus on your breath. Take deep, full breaths. Hold them, and slowly breathe out
- Finally (and this is the most important part) do this in sequence: breathe in, look down, close your eyes, slowly lift your face so you are now looking at the sky, and open your eyes and gently release your breath
There is something about expanding your surroundings that eases the burden of stress. Do this is as much as you need to. When you go back to the situation you’ll have renewed energy to do the necessary reframe. Cheers!