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When and How to Make Stress Good for Your Body and Mind

When and How to Make Stress Good for Your Body and Mind

Today, more than ever, we are experiencing record levels of stress at work, home and in our everyday lives.

We are bombarded with messages from the media telling us that, as a society, we are more stressed than ever before. Sitting in commuter traffic is making your blood levels rise. Thinking about your credit card debt makes you break out in a sweat. The state of the economy has you concerned, and you’re anxious about losing your job/ partner, health or any other important thing in your life.

What’s more, we have become conditioned to think that stress is a bad thing, that’s it’s harmful to us and toxic for our health. And it is true. While the ‘fight or flight’ mode is a physiological response that can save our lives, being in a state of constant stress, where your adrenal levels are raised can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain and eventually wear and tear on your organs.

When you’re chronically stressed you’re more likely to experience irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia. But what if I told you that not all stress is created equal, and certain forms of stress can actually be very beneficial for you?

The Three Levels of Stress

According to Professor Bruce McEwen’s article in Aeon, there are three levels of stress:

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  • Good stress’ involves taking a chance on something one wants, like interviewing for a job or school, or giving a talk before strangers, and feeling rewarded when successful.
  • ‘Tolerable stress’ means that something bad happens, like losing a job or a loved one, but we have the personal resources and support systems to weather the storm.
  • ‘Toxic stress’ is something so bad that we don’t have the personal resources or support systems to navigate it, something that could plunge us into mental or physical ill health and throw us for a loop.

So how do you handle your own levels of stress and use them as a force for good, or better yet avoid the ‘toxic’ stress and welcome in more ‘good stress’? Most people have heard of the “fight or flight” response I mentioned above, a vital part of our nervous system, the way in which the body reacts to stress or danger. Many, however, have never heard of the “rest and digest” response, where the nervous system activates the more tranquil functions of the body; those that help us maintain a healthy, long-term balance.

Using Stress for Positive Good

While a little bit of stress can help motivate you to achieve things like hitting a deadline for an important project, and bungy jumping off a bridge can raise your adrenal levels through the roof and make you feel on a high afterwards, the less time we spend in this mode, the better. Although it makes us alert and better able to respond to the challenges ahead, it takes a huge toll on our bodies after a while and can lead to adrenal fatigue or burnout.

I came close to having a mild form of burnout in 2013 when I was self publishing my book, The Suitcase Entrepreneur. At first it was exciting to work on the launch of my first ever book that I’d worked so hard to write. I used a positive stress to achieve so much and be ridiculously productive. I felt on a high and in flow. As time wore on, I was juggling so many facets of publishing the book that I simply couldn’t switch off. I was working really long days and forgoing exercise and time out just to make this thing a bestseller. As a result, mid way through my book tour, I realized I was only getting a few hours sleep a night, I wasn’t handling the project as well as I could have, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying or laughing as much as I should have been.

Once I recognized this and started to take more time off, get plenty of fresh air and exercise and set boundaries, I felt better. But my body took months to recover, and for some people it can take years. So anything we can do to keep ourselves in the “rest and digest” mode as much as possible is worth the effort, since our long-term health may depend on it!

Three Practical Ways to Reduce Stress Today

The best way to stay on top of your game and feel less stressed is to learn what truly makes you feel relaxed. For you this may mean spending time on a hobby you love like building train sets or gardening. Or it might be hanging out with your favourite friends, going on a bike ride or getting out into nature.

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I personally love starting the day with by writing down three things I’m grateful for and easing into 15-30 minutes of yoga which makes me feel like a million dollars. Throughout the day I make sure to take lots of breaks – cuddling and playing with my puppy, going on a spontaneous walk in nature, doing a gym workout or relaxing with a book.

Whatever method you choose has to be one you enjoy. To help you out, here are three ways to ensure you reduce stress in your life on a daily basis.

1. Free Your Mind

There’s no better time than now to start meditating, if you’re not already. Even five minutes a day can make a world of difference. There are all sorts of meditation including walking, guided, visualization and chanting meditations to suit your needs.

I like the Insights Timer app for offering you up guided meditations from one minute to several hours, or the choice to just set a timer that plays a gong when you’re done with breathing and focusing on the present moment.

Or simply mind your mindfulness – practice the art of being aware of the present moment.[1] It sounds so simple yet is much harder (initially) do to than you may think. But it can melt away stress by getting you to focus on the present moment, and just soak in how lucky you are to be alive, and all the beauty that surrounds you that you may be oblivious to.

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Trust me it’s there. Put down your pen, switch off your mobile and look up from your computer screen and just observe. And breathe.

I personally love Dr Libby’s advice on doing 20 deep abdominal breaths each day for instant relaxation (around 3pm is a great time to re-energize through this insanely simple technique). Want to learn more? Read 8 Mindsets Which Prevent Success And Happiness

2. Move Your Body

Rather than getting all pent up and stressed out, release that toxic energy with exercise. Even a brisk walk can help, especially after a frustrating phone call or meeting. Walking not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension.

It might be that techniques like yoga or tai chi help you more. These combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.

Or you can head off to crossfit, jump on your bike, dance around your kitchen like crazy or run after your kids and play with them. All of this will pump oxygen through your veins, and produce oxytocin – commonly known as the love drug, whilst reducing your stress levels.

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3. Get Social

I am not talking about jumping on social media here. I mean calling or meeting up with your friends, family, spouses, co-workers and mentors.

Anyone who brings you joy, motivates you, nurtures and supports you is going to help increase your longevity. Close relationships with family and friends gives you the emotional support to sustain you, especially at times of chronic stress.

Take a Deep Breath

At the end of the day, when it all feels like too much, take a few DEEP breaths and no matter how hard it is, state one thing you’re grateful for right now.

You’ll be surprised how diverting attention away from the negative, to the positive can instantly shift your stress levels and put life in perspective.

Buy Natalie’s best-selling book The Suitcase Entrepreneur on Amazon

Reference

[1] Natalie Sisson: Mind Your Mindfulness

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Natalie Sisson

Best Selling Author of The Suitcase Entrepreneur, CEO, Speaker, Global Adventurer

How to Break Free From Your Own Constraints And Live the Life You Want How to Free Yourself from Unfinished Goals in 2018 When and How to Make Stress Good for Your Body and Mind

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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