Stress plays a major role in your overall health and well-being. It’s something I always bring up when someone asks me how to live longer, because it’s a key contributor in the cause and prevention of cardiovascular disease: the leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
As on of the main contributors in these diseases (along with inflammation and oxidation), what’s special about stress is it’s something that we can control, but if left unmanaged, it most certainly can control and consume you.
A highly mental concept, stress quickly can lead to anxiety and cause a variety of physical symptoms such as: an accelerated heart beat, sweating, tension and headaches, nervous fidgeting, hair loss, premature graying, fatigue, depression, alcohol and drug use, and even physical illness.
Tip #1. Build up a Strong Defense
Developing healthy habits – performed consistently both daily and weekly – are one of the best ways to equip yourself to conquer future stressors that come your way.
What we are doing here is building up a strong foundation for ourselves, to better be able to deal with future stress. Not only are we setting the stage for combating stress as it comes in, but also to experience less stress going forward.
Basic Defensive Strategy
Performing these basic habits daily will allow you to successfully set up a solid defensive bedrock against even the toughest stressors:
- eating healthy foods
- going to bed early
- spending time with friends and loved ones
You can easily incorporate these things into your life, and most of you will find that you are already doing them.
It’s always a good idea to move beyond the basics, and try to incorporate some more advanced maneuvers and tactics.
Also performed daily, these next-level habits will help you maintain a low-stress lifestyle, and will really solidify your defensive foundation:
- Spend time on yourself. When’s the last time you spend 10 minutes on yourself? Is that even a thing in your life? Happiness and health really starts and ends with you. The choices you make, the habits you create, and the time you spend on you. Start by journaling or doing Morning Pages, go on more walks, just sit outside in nature for 20 minutes, take a class, or go on a retreat.
Whatever you decide to do, do it for you – and keep doing it. Don’t just go on one retreat, incorporate it into your life as something you do every 6 months or every year. Have a daily step goal, or aim to spend at least 1 additional hour in nature per week.
And don’t just stop with my suggestions. Come up with your own, come up with more, and experiment. Keep the one’s that work best for you and make them a priority.
- Remove the backlog of stress from your body and mind. Develop a daily routine to siphon out the stress that has built up from the previous day, or previous years even. This is a necessary habit, no matter how much stress you encounter in your daily life. Some of my favorite methods of doing this are:
Reduce screen time. Less access to your phone and social media can really help brighten your mood. It will also help you to be able to go to bed early, and more easily get up early to focus on you. Build in your daily habits into your morning before you go to work, because a win in the morning just sets the stage for the rest of the day.
Do this every single day and you will thank yourself later.
Learn how to slow down. Meditating and incorporating healthy habits into your day will automatically get you part way there to slowing down, but it’s going to take more than that.
I talk about this more below in the “Battle Only When You Have To” section, but simply we’re not letting the rush of daily life take over the best part of our day. That email/person/text message/social media alert/news story can wait. It’s not more important than you, or your priorities, so turn it off, let it go, and do the things you really care about.
Once they are out of the way, it’s your choice whether you are going to give your time to the minutia of life. I think you’ll find that by adopting these strategies your tolerance or interest in the unimportant will drop, and you’ll more intuitively gravitate away from the trivial many, and towards the critical few.
Biofeedback. This is probably the most advanced technique by far. Biofeedback is just a fancy word for measuring or monitoring one or more aspects of your biological readings, with the purpose of improving them in some way. I was first introduced to this concept by Dave Asprey, when he mentioned using a device to improve your Heart Rate Variability (HRV).
- Oura Ring. Not to be confused with the Nuva Ring, which is for birth control, the Oura Ring is use to track our resting heart rate, recovery, and HRV. I like this over the Fitbit because, frankly, it does more. The FitBit, at this time, does not have a device that can monitor HRV, which is a more advanced method that involves EKG technology. The Oura Ring, although expensive, can be a replacement for the HeartMath device above, as it monitors your HRV too.
- Cold Therapy. I have Wim Hoff to thank for this one and the next. Taking cold showers, or ice baths can provide many benefits including an increase in energy, boosting the immune system, improving circulation, and reducing inflammation.
- Deep breathing exercises. Another Wim Hoff convention, performing breathing exercises can help bring presence and awareness into your daily life, and also can help boost the immune system.
Tip #2. Choose Your Battles Wisely
The second thing you can do to win the war on stress, is to take on less stress battles – therefore battling only when you have to.
What is a stress battle? A stress battle is simply any stressful event you might encounter.
While it’s not possible to completely eliminate future stress, there are things you can do to minimize the amount of stress that comes into your life. Put another way, there’s a certain amount of stress that you can control, and prevent from entering your stress inbox in the first place.
There is no way to eliminate the influx of stress into your life, but certainly ways to reduce it.
How to Reduce the Number of Incoming Stress Battles
- Reduce clutter around the home, office (and even your vehicle). A messy place creates a messy, chaotic mind. And with all the things often going on in life, this is something you don’t need but is easy to control. I suggest getting rid of stuff you don’t need, combined with putting things away in their respectful places. And if such a place doesn’t exist, it’s imperative that you do so. Without a home, an object belongs both anywhere and nowhere.
- Unsubscribe from email lists and junk mail. You’ve most likely signed up for shopping magazines and email newsletters without a second thought for years, but over time these things can pile up and really bog you down – every single day. Do yourself a favor, and chip away at these burdens slowly but surely. Cutting down on the inflow of physical things entering the home (and especially your inbox) will give you more time and space to focus on other, more important things.
- Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. When something happens, decide to not make such a big deal of it
- Cut ties with friends and family that cause nothing but stress. A toxic person isn’t all that different from a toxic substance, and oftentimes can be worse. These types of people are challenging because they usually don’t go away on their own, and to do so requires a great deal of courage and strength.
- Say “NO” to activities. If you say no to new events or activities that are bound to come up, you are shielding yourself from distraction and potential time wasters. Now, you certainly don’t want to say no to everything, but you want to get in the habit of only saying yes to those things that really excite you. I’d be willing to bet that you probably say yes way too much, and running around to all of these things is – let’s face it – exhausting. Take a step back, and have a little “me” time or down time.
- Say “NO” to tasks.
- Consider getting a new job. This is probably the most difficult task of all, but only necessary if the people you work with, or the job that you do causes you undue stress. Take a cold hard look at your place of employment and your position. If you aren’t happy with where you are at, consider a conversation with your manager, or even look at other internal positions, if available. And if that doesn’t work, look outside the company for something else. Because let’s face it – you spend a significant part of your life at work, and life is too short to have to deal with a bad gig 5 times a week.
Tip #3. Have an Action Plan If You Experience A Stressful Event
1. Stop and breathe.
The first thing you should do is stop. No matter what you are doing: stop, step back, and take a breath. This will allow you to “rise above” the situation and become more present to what’s happening around you and to your body.
2. Continue awareness.
Force yourself to think about what’s happening to your body. By stopping or even slowing down, you start to notice that perhaps your breathing has become shallow, you are blinking less, and maybe your heart has started to race. Whatever the situation is, know that you can get through this.
Let’s say a coworker or boss is causing the stress. They said something that would cause a problem for you, and you start to notice stressful symptoms bubbling to the surface.
3. Act or walk away.
Making a decision based on logic, not emotion, is the correct path to take here. And sometimes, the best decision is to just walk away quietly. Not letting the situation escalate, but rather simmer or cool down.
By doing this, you have essentially nipped the problem by the butt, and prevented an explosive situation. If it’s not immediately solvable, and you need time to think, walking away can be a great thing for everyone involved.
Pretend that something terrible has happened in your life, causing you stress. Take some time to think about the situation, and then ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?
Oftentimes, realizing that the worst thing that could happen isn’t all that bad, and that you will be OK in the end, is enough to get you back on track.
After all, you will certainly learn and grow from the experience if you rise up by taking a deep breath, being aware, and acting on your wisdom rather than doing something that is knee-jerk and reacting based on emotion.
By performing the steps above, you are much better equipped to deal with the stress the right way.
Other Recovery Strategies: External Support
During recovery mode, you might need some external help to get over the hump – getting out of your emotional thoughts and into the present.
In this case, there are a few things I like to do, depending on my mood:
Listen to music
- If I’m feeling beat down: calming or relaxing music works best featuring classical, nature sounds
- If I’m feeling angry or just need to stop thinking: listen to your favorites at a loud volume
- Intense or prolonged exercise. The duration or intensity should be enough to shake even the toughest of stresses. I remember being scammed once for thousands of dollars in Vegas when I was 26, which was a huge deal to me back then (in fact, I still shudder just thinking about it). But what really helped was going for a super long run…just killing my body: half a punishment, and half to just get all that pent up sad and negative energy out. It did the trick – because
- Call or visit a friend or family member. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do alone to get you out of a funk. This is when talking to someone else – either seeking advice or distraction – is one of the only things that can work. Choose wisely, but really anyone close that you trust is all you really need here.
Bringing It All Together
I hope that you can consider some of my recommendations and let me know how it worked for you.
To recap, here are the biggest tips for reducing stress:
- Build Up A Strong Defense by focusing on you first, and getting that formidable foundation going.
Choose Your Battles Wisely, by cutting down on potential incoming threats, and getting a clean baseline going in your life.
Next time you experience something stressful (and you will), remind yourself to do these things:
- Stop and Breathe
- Continue Awareness
- Act or Walk Away
- Recovery Mode
And of course, seek external help if you just can’t get there on your own. There’s no shame in it, because we’ve all been there.
How Do You Manage Stress?
Do you have any suggestions or tips for how to best manage stress? I would welcome any thoughts or recommendations, as this is just what has worked for me.
Certainly any feedback you might have will not only help me, but also others who are struggling with something stressful in their lives.