“People are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing” – Epictetus
According to the latest U.S. statistics on stress, 77% of people report that they regularly experience some of the physical symptoms associated with stress.
Stress symptoms include lower energy, headaches, aches & pains, frequent colds and infections, and chest pains, to name but a few.
Pause and think about that for a second – almost 8 in 10 people say that they experience these symptoms regularly.
Stress is an epidemic, and this writer knows only too well that it can get on top of even the strongest among us.
The same statistics on stress reveal that the five most common causes of stress are job pressure, money, health, relationships, and poor nutrition – in that order.
So what can we do about stress on a practical level? What happens when we can’t eliminate the source of our stress because we need the job, can’t wave a magic wand to make our debts disappear, or when the relationship is worth fighting for despite its ups and downs?
As the CEO of a rapidly growing company, as a parent and husband, and as a human being experiencing the same day-to-day stressors we all face in modern life, I’ve experimented with several different ways to reduce stress and anxiety to a manageable level. I’d like to share these with you now.
Stress Buster One: Get Perspective
About 10 years ago, I experienced a massive shock to my system when I found out that the woman I’d been building a relationship with was married.
It hit me like a baseball bat in the face. How had I not seen this? Was I stupid? Why hadn’t I seen the signs? It was so obvious in retrospect! I went down a rabbit hole of over-analysis, sleepless nights, and general short-term psychosis. You know the drill.
After a few days, I met my good friend for a beer and a chat (I don’t drink any more, but this was back then). I knew that he’d been through much worse in his previous relationship, so I told him about my situation and how angry, confused, and stupid I felt.
He shared something with me which I’ll never forget. He put his lighter down on the bar and said:
“Look at that lighter. That’s this situation. The bar is your life. This is a tiny little blip that won’t even matter in a year, let alone 10.”
I swear to you, in that moment, I let go of the situation and started laughing uncontrollably. I felt the incredible lightness of being return to me.
We all have a habit of getting so bogged down in the day-to-day details that we forget about the bigger picture. We forget that there’s a huge world out there, and that time reduces even mighty mountains to dust.
Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s true, and remembering it works great for reducing stress. I sometimes imagine myself flying way up high above the earth in a jetpack, looking down on the world from above. I can’t help but feel relaxed when I do so. Nothing that happens down here seems to matter so much from that perspective.
I’m not saying that nothing matters. Clearly, there are real-world consequences, and some things do matter a great deal to us. However, we should always remember to see the bigger picture. Ask yourself: will this still matter in 10 years? If so, then perhaps it is genuinely worth stressing over – but not too much.
Stress Buster Two: Become a Stress Alchemist
Have you ever heard of alchemy before? It’s the ancient art of transforming base metals into gold. There are lots of people who try to literally achieve this, but I like to think of it as an analogy for turning bad situations into fuel for progress.
Sometimes, the source of our stress is inescapable, at least temporarily. In this case, it can be useful to focus on what we can do about the situation rather than feeling overwhelmed and overpowered by it.
The Dalai Lama once said “If there’s something you can do about it, there’s no need to worry. If there’s nothing you can do about it, worrying is pointless.” That pretty much sums up the essence of what I’m trying to get at here.
Stuck in a job that stresses you? Use online e-learning platforms like Udemy to upgrade your skills for free and build a side business or get another job. Facing financial worries and can’t sleep? Use the onset of worry as a trigger to go for a run, lift some weights, or do some yoga. Nothing busts stress quite like hitting it hard in the gym.
Whatever you do, the point is to turn stress into fuel for progress and take some action to change your situation. How can you use this to better your life? Could stress be harnessed, like electricity, to power you onto bigger and better things? After all, electricity can kill you, too, but it can also power your home if it’s channeled properly.
Start thinking about stress differently. Of course, you want to ultimately eliminate it, but in the meantime, see if there’s some way you can transform it into something positive.
Stress Buster Three: Take Care of Yourself Physically
We tend to think of stress as a mental phenomenon since it bubbles up into our minds in the form of stressful thoughts.
Yet, stress is actually partly physical. It’s your brain releasing adrenaline and your body going into “fight or flight” mode and pretty much staying in that state.
Stress manifests itself physically, too. Aches and pains, headaches, upset stomachs, and heart attacks are all symptoms of stress.
There’s some solid advice out there on what we can do physically to reduce stress. Minor changes in how we treat our bodies can have massive impacts on our mental and emotional states. Here are some tips for reducing stress which you can implement now:
- Get More Sleep – Dr Matthew Walker, one of the leading experts on sleep, isn’t buying your lies that five or six hours cuts the mustard when it comes to sleep. The science is on his side – anything less than eight hours is detrimental to your physical and mental health, even if you can’t detect it. See the video link above for more details.
- Change Your Diet – You wouldn’t put dirty, subpar fuel into a beautiful race car, would you? Start thinking of your body in the same way. Reduce the fast food, cut down on the sugar, and have a green tea instead of another espresso. Caffeine and sugar are both stimulants, which certainly will not help you calm down, and saturated fats and junk carbs will leave you feeling sluggish and blue after an initial rush. A slight tweak in your diet can have dramatic results. It can also save you money, which should reduce stress further. Water is free. Soda is not.
- Meditate – Meditation bridges the physical and mental elements of our lives. It’s actually an exercise for both our minds and our bodies. You don’t have to sit in the full lotus position for an hour, either. You can meditate while you walk, run, or clean the house. Consider getting the headspace app or use the Wim Hof breathing technique, which takes around five minutes, to blow the cobwebs of stress away.
One of the worst things about stress is that it makes you feel powerless. You are not. The above things are all 100% free ways to smash stress and regain mental clarity and wellness.
Don’t become another stress statistic. Either eliminate the sources of stress in your life, use them to propel you to greater heights, or do what you can to mitigate their effects. If you don’t, it will rob you of your vital energy, make you miserable, and eventually kill you.