09 May Experiments in Removing Stress (or 16 Ways to Live Longer)
“Smile, breathe and go slowly”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
A close friend of mine recently got diagnosed with a severe case of Psoriasis (a brutal skin condition you don’t want to have). The doctors told her stress was the most likely cause.
She happens to be the least stressed person I know.
This terrifies me.
Especially since I have a hard time slowing down.
Surprise, surprise, eh? I am notorious for trying to get too much done each day and for over-planning like crazy. In the last 30 days I’ve spent 17 of them out of my own bed. I’m not proud of it, but it’s the reality I created.
I love being around people, getting new ideas, trying new things and doing small experiments. But it can feel endless (I probably need this post more than anyone…).
There’s a very fine line between being totally fulfilled doing what you love and feeling strung out with all your obligations.
But it’s hard to know what’s too much. We constantly approach the limit, sometimes finding ourselves on the wrong side of it. It’s a continuos process of learning and adjusting. The nice thing is that in theory stress is super easy to remove…
Stress reduction in 2 steps:
1. Learn what casuses it. Stress triggers are different for all of us. For me it’s being rushed, trying to do too much and not having enough time between trips (to name a few). Perhaps for you it’s spending too much or getting behind. Notice every time you find your stomach in knots. Pay attention to where it came from. Keep a list.
2. Do everything you can to avoid that list.
Obvious? Yes. Widely practiced? No.
Why do we constantly engage in the activities that cause us stress? Very rarely will something happen where it’s a surprise that it stressed us out. If you want to stop feeling like a tight wire then stop doing things that add the tension.
But what if you’re already stressed?
Now that the ridiculously obvious is out of the way, let’s get practical. We all get stressed, it’s likely killing us and we ought to do something about it.
By no means is the below list inclusive. It’s just a few things I’ve learned work well for me over the years. They often make an immediate difference. I hope you’ll share some of yours in the comments.
“Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness.”
How I De-Stress:
1. Do something that doesn’t matter. Pick something you don’t have to do and something that leads to no direct accomplishment. We need to train ourselves that it’s not all about checking things off a list. It’s also important to show yourself that you have the time. Some examples below…
2. Read. I’m talking about a real, paper book. Ideally something that isn’t personal development-heavy. This way you won’t feel like you need to create a huge list of things to do as a result. Any book will do though. Don’t worry about how fast you read or how many pages you get through. Few things beat soaking in a book. An impactful poem also works. Slow Dance is my favorite.
3. Drink some wine (or tea). You’ve heard me say this before. How often do you see someone pounding a glass of wine or cup of tea? Both require a slowed pace. Better yet, grab a buddy to join you. A good friend started a killer tea house in San Francisco just for this reason.
4. Write. Jot down whatever’s on your mind. I don’t care what it is. Just write. Don’t worry about showing it to anyone. You don’t even have to ever read it. The power is in the process. You may not know where to start but once you do, the thoughts start to flow.
5. Plan less. That means today, this week or this year. Look at your calendar or today’s list. I almost guarantee if you added up all the things on it, you’d find you’re trying to fit 27 hours worth of tasks into an 8-hour day. Limit to a few things that matter. Don’t underestimate The Power of Less. Notice how many events in a row are too many. My wife and I try to stick to 2 events during the week and no more than 2 weekends away a month (although with 12 weddings this year, we’re not doing so well on this front…make exceptions when appropriate).
6. Plan more time. Give yourself two hours for something you think will take one. Humans are notorious for dramatically underestimating how long things take. Ever wonder why you always feel behind? Lower your expectations a bit.
7. Say No. Overplanning = stress. You can’t do it all so stop trying. Tell people no. It’s not that difficult once you realize it allows you to happily do the things that actually matter.
8. Find things that slow you down. I just spent Mother’s day at my parent’s house in a little town outside San Francisco. Every time I go out there life becomes mellow. What things slow you down? Start making them routine.
9. Sit still. Some call it meditation. Others call it relaxation. Call it whatever you want. Sit alone somewhere quiet and just breath. Maybe even throw a smile on your face. If you’re looking for something structured, perhaps check out Transcendental Meditation (too many people have sworn by TM for me not to check it out – I plan to in the next couple months).
11. Take a walk. Go slowly. It’s not only a great de-stresser but also a fun way to clear space and get yourself thinking big.
12. Be in nature. Get as deep as you can. I recently got back from 3 nights backpacking with a few friends in Big Sur, California. It was the ultimate reset. Even if stressful things came to mind, there was nothing I could do about them so they quickly faded. Nature has a magic about it. Whether it’s a few days or a few minutes, get outdoors.
13. Run through grass barefoot. One of the fastest ways I’ve found to feel free (and like a 5-year old). Run around a bit with no real direction. One of my favorite ways to get present.
14. Nap. I’m talking 20-30 minutes, not 2-3 hours… Stay out of your bed (makes it too easy to sleep half the day away). Find a spot on the grass or on your couch. Ideally with sunlight and fresh air close by. Whether you fall asleep or not isn’t as important as just lying down.
15. Get lost in something. We all have things we simply love doing. Painting, cooking, dancing, gardening – it doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you enjoy it.
16. Work Out. Don’t tell me you dont have time. Everyone can find at least 20 or 3o minutes for moving and breathing. It will make the rest of your day magnitudes better (and more effective). When time gets tight, fitness is usually the first to go. It should be the last. When working in Santa Barbara the first thing I’d do when assigned an overwhelming project was hit the beach for a barefoot run. Things always seem less intimidating after a workout.
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
~Sydney J. Harris
There is always time
Have you ever had a packed week and then something unexpected happened (like a family member in the hospital) and you had to take a day off? Did the world fall apart? No. Everything worked out more or less ok. Remember that next time you can’t figure out how to get it all done.
This stuff doesn’t have to be difficult. Most important is to realize when stress hits and immediately do something towards remedying it. It won’t get better if you keep on the same path.
You will never do it all
There will always be more ideas to pursue, people to meet and mountains to climb. Stop trying to do it all. It’s a fool’s errand.
How about adopting a few new beliefs:
- You will never get it all done
- You will never meet everyone
- You will never pursue every idea
- You will never read every book
Besides, why would you want to do all of this stuff anyway? If you’re busy meeting every new person then how are you able to spend time with those already close to you? If you’re flipping through books at light-speed, when do you plan to actually put the new knowledge to use? If you’re always starting businesses, how will any of them get the attention to become successful?
Doing too much = accomplishing less.
Don’t be so focused on what’s next that you lose site of right now. We all need reminders. The practice of slowing down will never end.
I am notorious for packing my life full of seemingly-awesome things. But even if they’re awesome, there’s only so much room. Stress starts as soon as you begin feeling full. As soon as I feel it I dig deep and cut things out so I’m back to a manageable level. A few months later it may pile up again. So I tear the walls back down. So the process goes.
I am not perfect. I’m far from it. But I know enough about myself to be aware of it, to notice it happening and to know what to do about it.
Use stress as a reminder
Stress exists to help us. The moment we do something to cause it, we feel it. It’s an almost instantaneous alarm (think fire siren) to remind us to take a step back and understand where it’s coming from. A lot of times it’s pretty obvious.
We create the pressure we put on ourself.
We create the stress.
We can also create the calm.
“Life is not a race. Do take it slower.
Hear the music. Before the song is over.”
What’s your biggest cause of stress? How do you deal with it? Give us your best trick in the comments, because one simple idea can be a huge help. Thanks!
Alex | Perfecting DadPosted at 21:32h, 09 May
Nice list. My own advice on this tip, perhaps number 17 and 18, is Don’t Care So Much and It’s Not As Bad As It Seems (like your “Adopting New Beliefs”).
Coincidentally, I just wrote a post All-In: How I Made $800,000 in a Lifetime and $15,000 Last Week documenting the huge amounts of money I lost over the years, but still managed to come out better off than others because I am not stressed by losing money, taking calculated risks, being robbed and swindled. That is to say, I’m stressed for a short while, but it shakes off quickly as I realize that the problems are not that bad and seek about taking the path ahead again.
I learned in negotiation that when I am worried, I lose. When I am un-stressed and don’t care, I slay. It’s magic. You do way better when you just relax. The best way I learned to relax is to have really bad things happen to me and then notice that I’m still alive.
ScottPosted at 15:52h, 12 May
Awesome additions for sure Alex. Thanks for those. It’s never as bad as it seems. Anytime it seems bad, go do something else to get your mind off it so you can step back a bit. Once you get things a little more in perspective things become a lot more relaxed.
It’s too bad it takes the brutal experiences to show you things will be ok, but so it goes. When you are unstressed and relaxed, you also come across as confident. Whether it’s doing a deal or getting a date, confidence is huge.
Keep crushing it!
ScottPosted at 15:52h, 12 May
Confidence is attractive, stress is not…
JemPosted at 22:57h, 09 May
I was told to start taking a magnesium supplement in the evening to decrease my stress and anxiety. I have always been a supplement sceptic however this actually really works well – I feel more calm than I ever have. It has certainly curtailed my addiction to chocolate!
ScottPosted at 15:54h, 12 May
Fascinating Jem. Never heard of that!
BrianPosted at 23:57h, 09 May
Some people claim that they can cope with stress or that it doesn’t affect them. Even if you think you are tougher than it, there are many possible negative health effects (most of which aren’t typically blamed on stress like your friend’s case of Psoriasis). Stress in animals is a good thing, it keeps them out of harm’s way and stops them from doing stupid things. Can you imagine if we weren’t stressed overlooking the edge of a cliff? However, the human body was not designed to continually operate at these levels. Here’s a short intro to what goes on: http://www.stresscentral.org/article/the-physical-effects-of-long-term-stress/
ScottPosted at 15:57h, 12 May
The more I learn about stress, the more it blows my mind. It seems to be behind a ton more than anyone first thought. Drs. Andrew Weil and John Kabat-Zin are the pioneers with this massive mind body connection. They are doing significant studies that are pretty tough to ingnore. Very worth checking out. Thanks for the link.
Tony MilanoPosted at 03:10h, 10 May
Awesome list. Going on my favorites. Thanks for Sharing.
ScottPosted at 15:57h, 12 May
Drew D'AgostinoPosted at 07:36h, 10 May
Telling people no is probably the hardest on that list, because it forces conflict. We naturally avoid conflict.
I don’t think there’s much more that the modern human being fears than awkward silence, like the kind that happens after a no. Unfortunately, yessing the world to death leaves you an unfocused mess.
ScottPosted at 16:00h, 12 May
It is brutally tough Drew, no question! For me the hardest part about it is not really telling someone no (although I hate to do that) but more so the fear of missing out if I say no to something that could end up being life changing. I’ve had too many experiences at random events and such that have changed the course of my life, that it’s tough to not wonder what I’d be missing. The more important place to focus is what will I certainly miss (that I know means a great deal to me) if I say no.
Joe @ Not Your Average JoePosted at 07:52h, 10 May
I take advantage of a few activities on this list, but there are some other great suggestions here as well. One thing that frees me from stress a little bit is just to notice the world around me, watching others combat their stress, and asking myself, “Do I need that?” I’ve done very well de-stressing myself over the last few years (removing myself from a toxic job helped). But modern American life can be stressful, so there is always more to be done!
ScottPosted at 16:04h, 12 May
Congrats on firing yourself from a brutal job – That’s gotta be the biggest stress reducer out there! One thing I’ve recently discovered is that if I ever find myself stressed, anxious or dreading a certain situation (maybe a tough conversation, scary sales call or really long day) all you have to realize is that no matter how brutal you think the day or event is going to be, 1. it’s usually not that bad and 2. the day will over much faster than you want it to anyway. So stop worrying about it!
“Don’t worry about what’s difficult today. Tomorrow will be here faster than you want.” – Scott Dinsmore 😉
John BeadlePosted at 09:24h, 10 May
Great list Scott. That tea house you mentioned looks great. Any recommendations for which house to visit (looks like there are three locations)?
ScottPosted at 16:05h, 12 May
Samovar is my favorite establishment in SF. No joke. You really can’t go wrong with any location. The one at Yerba Buena garden downtown is pretty hard to beat with the view and everything though. Try that as your first stop. Enjoy!
PatricePosted at 11:44h, 10 May
Biggest stressor for me: negative thoughts or fast moving mind monkeys – I amaze myself how fast I can jump from one worrisome tree branch to the next!
What helps me is what I call “My shoes are black.” statements. The minute I catch myself worrying about something, which really is less and less than ever before, I simply create a statement about it such as: “I am worried.” “I am scared.” I am afraid that . . .”
By naming and claiming it, I immediately shift my attention and my brain waves from fast forward to neutral. My next thought is usually, “Oh yeah I am worried, that’s what this is.” I’ve learned to attach no greater significance to the statement than if I was telling someone the color of my shoes. (This takes practice, but works way faster than you’d think. Just being aware of what I am doing is a huge de-stressor.)
I don’t add anything to the statement and I create as many of these simple “truth statements” as I need to. “I am worried.” “I don’t like when I am worried, it makes my heart race.” “Usually by the third statement, my head is somewhere else – I have broken the worrisome cycle and my “monkey brain” subsides. Hope this helps!
ScottPosted at 16:08h, 12 May
Love this pattern interrupt Patrice! Thanks. Very cool that you developed it on your own. I’m glad to have it in my back pocket. Hopefully I won’t have to use it much though ;). I’d love to see a longer writeup on it if you ever put one together.
Living the Balanced LifePosted at 12:18h, 10 May
Great list of tips Scott! We are not meant to live at a hihg level of stress, our bodies can only tolerate it for so long. Your tips here give us ways to reduce or remove the stress in our lives. I would add to make sure you are getting enough sleep at night as well. Sleep deprivation can do bad things to you!
Thanks for sharing!
Are you stuck in a rut?
ScottPosted at 16:10h, 12 May
Good call on sleep. My personal challenge last month was to get an average of 7.5hrs/night. Other than Summit Series, my average was almost 8. Felt great. I am notorious for getting more like 6.5.
I am still trying to find a good resource on how much sleep actually makes sense. I know it’s dependent on the person but I see a lot of different things. All fall between 6 and 9 hrs.
Chad CoveyPosted at 15:50h, 10 May
Well done. We’re wired similarly. Breathing is essential.
ScottPosted at 16:11h, 12 May
The simplest tend to be the most powerful…
George MihalyPosted at 21:41h, 10 May
Great list-A perfect de-stresser for me is…yoga. I think I’m the only one :). The minute I step on my mat all my “priorities” get put in place. Namasté -George-
George MihalyPosted at 21:43h, 10 May
Great list-A perfect de-stresser for me is…yoga. I think I’m the only one 🙂 The minute I step on my mat all my “priorities” get put in place. Namasté -George-
side note-Scott, what are your thoughts on eustress vs distress as a motivator for getting important tasks done? (& tips to identify it)
ScottPosted at 16:15h, 12 May
Yoga is tough to beat. My wife teaches it and it’s been a huge help to be along for the ride. Such a powerful way to slow down (and get a kick ass workout).
Great point about eustress–the good kind of stress is incredibly important to living a fulfilled and epic life. For those not familiar, this is the type of stress that one gets when giving a speech or negotiating a deal or running a race. Anything that involves getting out of your comfort zone–this is the stuff that makes life so damn exciting! Do all of it you can.
On the other hand, avoid the distress like the plague.
PatricePosted at 03:42h, 11 May
Another great stress reliever is Yoga Nidra. I was bad at meditating, but Yoga Nidra helped me get a handle on your #9. Yoga Nidra means sleep, and you get to practice Yoga Nidra lying down, I loved that part – I could never find a comfortable pose for meditation!
Yoga Nidra is actually a state of consciousness, which takes time to achieve, but the steps to getting there are relaxing and are great stress relievers. There are many web sites explaining the practice.
ScottPosted at 16:17h, 12 May
I’ll definitely have to check it out Patrice. Sounds like my type of meditating! Sitting up straight for so long has always been super tough for me too. I just assumed that was part of the ‘challenge’. Perhaps I was mistaken. Looking forward to learning more.
Cheril N. ClarkePosted at 09:15h, 11 May
Great list. I really needed this today.
ScottPosted at 16:17h, 12 May
Glad I could help. When you have a second, let us know how you used it!
Logan MarshallPosted at 20:17h, 11 May
Great list Scott.
The number one way I’ve found to relieve stress is number 12 : Be in nature. Its amazing how even a short exposure to the natural world can invoke a deep sense of calm and wellbeing. I believe this is because we as humans have lived in nature for thousands and thousands of years and only recently have we assumed our role of city dwellers, growing more and more disconnected from the world that has supported us throughout history. I actually run a blog based primarily on this philosophy.
I love your site by the way.
ScottPosted at 16:21h, 12 May
Thanks Logan! Great to have you along for the adventure.
Nature is probably my favorite on the list as well. Even in San Francisco I make it a point to get as far out as I can at least once or twice a week.
I think I’m headed up to Lake Tahoe next weekend for three days of relaxing and writing. It’s the perfect place to crank out my next eBook (or anything for that matter!). And it’s time to get moving for next month’s launch!
Your site looks really cool by the way. Love the design. One of those pics looked like what I saw hiking through Machu Picchu a couple years ago. Love it!
PiaPosted at 18:32h, 12 May
Transcendental Meditation looked interesting to me, so I looked it up. The site has some outrageous M.D. statements and seemed a little pushy. So I looked further and found this link explaining its cult-like qualities: http://www.suggestibility.org/ Interesting.
PiaPosted at 18:42h, 12 May
I love your site — glad I found it!
AmandaPosted at 15:32h, 13 May
Great de-stressing tips Scott! I can relate to the need to have to accomplish ‘something’ in every little thing we do. I find myself jumping from task to task at work, which doesn’t make me more productive. Or, I’ll focus on burning as many calories as possible when working out instead of enjoying it and feeling my body actually perform movements. I’ve learned (and am still learning!) how to slow down and take things as they come, and it’s made a huge difference in my stress level. Turns out, nothing bad actually happens when you’re not always busy!
Katie KingPosted at 18:51h, 13 May
I just spent Mother’s day at my parent’s house in a little town outside San Francisco too 🙂
AdiPosted at 03:29h, 14 May
I read a very useful blog post (well, useful to me) that said stress is all in our mind, stress is fear. So whenever we feel stressed we are fearful of something. For example, you feel stressed when you are rushed, so the question is what are you fearful of in that situation? Not getting the job done, or forgetting something important, or not keeping promises, or not attaining your desired standards, etc etc? Once you find that the fear is you can take steps to deal with that, and the stress reduces.
You might like to read the post:
DominicPosted at 05:05h, 15 May
Thanks for sharing this post with us! Although it’s important to be ambitious and keep the spirit of excellence going as we push the envelope and challenge the status quo, it is also crucial that we do not over-do ourselves. This helps by understanding that while pursuing anything is possible, pursuing everything is not the best thing to do.
Sometimes, I do feel like I’ve been doing too little, even though I’m (over-)pushing the limits of my mind and body. Pacing ourselves and taking regular breaks not only makes the journey more enjoyable, but also more sustainable.
Lori GosselinPosted at 14:47h, 16 May
I love this: “There’s a very fine line between being totally fulfilled doing what you love and feeling strung out with all your obligations.” SO true!
Your suggestions for de-stressing are great! My favourites -running barefoot in the grass aimlessly(!) and drinking wine, though I’d substitute port. We have a chair swing hung from the big maple in our back yard. There’s something about sitting there and swinging that feels so good!
Great reminders Scott! So important to keep that balance. Something else I’m remembering that helps to de-stress is sea salt baths with essential oils and candlelight!
AaronPosted at 09:23h, 21 May
Appreciate this post, very timely and intelligent advice. My biggest cause of stress is work related when I have multiple issues going on which all need to be resolved ASAP. I know I’m stressed when I my head starts to break out in a cold sweat! Normally, I do two things to”deal” with the stress – first, I mentally focus like a laser on what I’m doing in the moment and “ignore” the other issues going on. The second thing I do, which seems a little strange, is I force myself to smile. Yes, smile, when all I really want to do is either grit my teeth or scream! When I smile and tell myself that this will pass, I usually “manage” my way through the stressful situations going on. I think the key for managing stress is to not put yourself in stressful situations in the first place, but that is next to impossible in this day and age.
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AliPosted at 20:03h, 03 December
Very useful article Scott, thanks a lot. loved the simplicity of it.
Actually i also came across this article that was suggesting to use some alternative medicine and meditation techniques in order to reduce stress in a way that actually doesn’t come back: http://pranaworld.net/how-to-reduce-stress-15-incredible-ways-to-overcome-stress/ I hope it can help.
thanks again for your awesome post 😀