There is a very simple recipe for slowly destroying a human life on all levels – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The only thing you have to do is to put a person under severe stress and pressure for a longer period of time. It can happen at work if a boss is an asshole or incompetent, at home if family members are acting abusively or even on both sides of life.
Longer periods of pressure and not knowing how to manage stress in a very efficient way lead to slowly dying on the outside and the inside. It’s extreme agony where you have to face more and more health issues, severe negative emotions, loss of vitality, low energy levels, and all that leads to an exhausted body, isolation, irritability, unhappiness and drowning in self-pity.
There are absolutely many different ways how other people can put you under a lot of stress; or life itself does with all its potential problems and shocking events. But many times, you put additional stress on yourself even if there is no need for that or you do nothing when other people put unproductive pressure on you, hoping that things will go away by themselves. And sometimes they do, but more often you get additional gray hair or a gastric ulcer or an even worse kind of illnesses. That’s definitely not efficient stress management.
Even more ironically, the most popular ways for coping with stress only make everything even worse with time. I’m talking about things like smoking, drinking, isolating yourself, using pills, overeating etc. With that kind of an approach, it doesn’t take long to completely destroy your life. Stress is a nasty and insidious animal that you have to learn how to make your friend, working in your favor.
Trust me, I know. I’m the type of guy who was put under stress a lot in my youth (tough upbringing circumstances) and later I always loved to put myself under inhuman amounts of stress at work and in personal relationships. Because it was something familiar to me.
The result were two severe burnouts in 10 years, many sleepless nights, more grey hair than I would like (well, it’s not that bad :)), not to mention problems with stomach acid, poor posture, pinched nerves and an absence of a smile on my face. Now, knowing things better, I definitely regularly practice proper stress management and it’s a completely different life.
Your health should always be your number one priority and stress management is one very important way of taking care of your well-being. A life under constant stress is a shitty life. Period. In this blog post, you will learn how to relieve stress and anxiety quickly and efficiently. We will cover topics like:
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- Different types of stress you should know
- Four different approaches to stress management and stress relief
- More than 50 methods that help with stress relief
- All the best and advanced techniques to deal with stress, described in detail
- Proposed action steps you can take to manage stress better in the future
At the end of the document, you can also download a free PDF with the list of all the techniques to manage stress better. You can print the document out and put it in a visible place somewhere, so you will always have a reminder that you shouldn’t let stress destroy your life, but take immediate action to release tension. We have a lot to cover, so let’s overview some of the best techniques that will help you overcome stress once and for all.
A life under constant stress is a shitty life. Period.
Two types of stress
First you have to distinguish between two different types of stress – acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress usually occurs when something shocking, unexpected happens or you are facing a one-time challenge you aren’t sure how well you will handle. The amount of stress can be in smaller dosages for smaller shocks and challenges, or in much higher quantities for much more stressful and shocking events.
Examples of acute stress are giving a public speech, death in the family, moving to a new home, a breakup, losing a job etc. There is a thing called the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, ranking the most stressful life events that can happen to you.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, means that you are constantly under stress. There are activities, people and tasks that constantly irritate you, put pressure on you and that you are stressed about. It’s a never-ending story of torturing yourself. Constantly being under stress slowly makes you a more and more bitter, depressed and unhappy person.
It can be doing a job you hate, being in an abusive relationship, being afraid of life or having dozens of different fears that block you, having low tolerance levels etc. Interestingly, I was always under a lot of stress, because it was something familiar to me from my upbringing.
So over and over again, I put myself in a position where there was an abundance of stress. If there wasn’t enough stress, I made sure I overcomplicated things or made them more stressful in some way.
Different approaches work best for different types of stress. For acute stress, knowing a few stress management techniques can help a lot. But if you are constantly under stress, there is no better solution than changing your lifestyle and investigating why you are doing such a thing to yourself.
To better cope with chronic stress, it also helps a lot if you frequently repeat all the different stress-relieving activities (preferably daily) and in that way, you slowly develop more resilience to stress.
With a little bit of search and discovery, you have to find what works best for you in different kinds of stressful situations. Nevertheless, there are a few universal rules that apply more or less to everyone. Here’s an example:
If something just led you to lose your temper and you’re completely beside yourself, it’s going to be hard to calm yourself down with meditation, but a visit to the gym would probably do the job of releasing some tension. On the other hand, regularly meditating will definitely help you manage stress better in the long term and make sure that you don’t lose your temper so easily.
There is a whole toolbox of different stress-management techniques and by experimenting and testing you must find the ones that work best for you in different situations. It’s a fun exercise and a very rewarding one. Now let’s open the toolbox and start discovering stress management tools.
Different approaches to stress relief
Much like different things are causing stress to different people (one is devastated by job loss, while the other immediately finds a new job, without a single drop of worry), in the same way there is no single cure for everyone when it comes to stress. So as mentioned, what you have to do is experiment what works best for you. Most often, approaching stress management from your body is the best way to begin, and then you can slowly add other techniques that deal with your thoughts, emotions and lifestyle.
That is to say, there are four main ways of approaching stress relief:
- Focusing on your body
- Focusing on your emotions
- Focusing on your mind and thoughts
- Focusing on your lifestyle
There are many different techniques known for each approach (listed below) and that adds up to more than 50+ different techniques for managing stress better, which is a lot. In this blog post, I will describe the most advanced ones that absolutely work the best and aren’t described in every other stress relief article. Nonetheless, I’ve listed almost all the techniques I could think of, so if a particular technique not described in this article interests you, you can simply do your own research online.
Stress relief toolbox at your disposal with 50+ different methods to decrease stress levels in your life (you can download free PDF version at the end of the blog post):
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Described top techniques in this article:
|Focusing on your mind and thoughts||
Described top techniques in this article:
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Described top techniques in this article:
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Described top techniques in this article:
Taking an appropriate action is always the number one way of dealing with high stress levels.
Focusing on your lifestyle to manage stress better
Especially the chronic type of stress is most often caused by a poor lifestyle or poor time management. So the best and the only way to de-stress your life is to permanently change your lifestyle. That means changing your life strategy and with it your beliefs, values, personal management system, and consequently your decisions about spending your time, energy, money, skills and other resources. You have to consciously decide to put less stress onto yourself or to disengage from situations that make you feel stressed out and anxious.
If you want to change your lifestyle you have to stop doing some things and start doing other things. You have to shape new healthier habits. At the bottom line, if you don’t do things differently, you haven’t changed your lifestyle. Here are a few ideas for what you can do to live a less stressful lifestyle:
Increase your margin
The number one thing you can do to get rid of chronic stress in your life is to increase margin. Increasing margin is like a miracle solution for chronic stress. But first, what is margin? Margin is nothing but the space between your workload and your limits.
Margin is kind of the opposite of overload.
Whether you like it or not, you have physical, mental, emotional, and financial limits that are more or less fixed at a certain point (in the long term, you can increase those limits by constantly growing). When you exceed these limits, it leads to overload and consequently to more stress, intensity and unhappiness.
The wrong underlying assumption is that by taking more onto yourself, you will have more in life, and that will lead to a higher quality of life and more happiness. But most often it doesn’t. You are only feeding your greed and destroying your life at the same time.
The right solution is quite simple. Leave some space between your maximum capacity and how much you take upon yourself. That will lead to you restoring your emotional, physical, time and other reserves. By restoring your reserves, your stress levels will immediately go down. It’s that simple, you just have to become aware that you are feeding your greed (and fears) when you take too many responsibilities on your back.
Leaving zero margin for yourself is an emotional issue caused by fears, greed and other damaging underlying beliefs and wrong assumptions. Here are a few additional examples:
- If I work myself to death, people will finally respect me and I will get the love I deserve
- If I don’t buy this new thing, I will miss out on so much
- If I don’t keep up with the Joneses, everyone will think I’m a loser
- If I’m not the best, people won’t notice me and I will be forever forgotten etc.
Dealing with underlying toxic beliefs and assumptions takes time. But since you want to relieve stress immediately, you have to simply force yourself to increase margin. You just have to be aware that with some toxic subconscious beliefs, you’re causing yourself big damage and if you continue like that, your fears of being sick, missing out and not being loved will come to life, but only because you put too much on yourself. Your life will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Being aware of that, just take action, increase your margin, and later you can deal with self-analysis and better understanding what drives your self-destructive behavior. Here are examples of actions you can take to increase your margin:
- Sell that thing you can’t afford and is causing you to drown in debt (car, house, yacht …)
- Cancel a project or two, or commitments you know you can’t keep
- Cancel that business dinner, Friday-night party or whichever social obligation that you don’t have time for, or you can cancel unnecessary meetings (oh, meetings are such a waste of time)
- Take a few days off and make sure you take regular breaks
- Exercise less if you are over-trained and can’t live normally because of it
- Hire an assistant or somebody to help you with household chores
- Simplify your life wherever possible
There is always a way how you can increase your margin. If you put too many things on your back, unload a little bit. Usually all you have to do is to send a few honest emails to the people you work with.
Choose your battles very carefully
A concept closely connected to increasing your margin is to choose your battles very carefully. Actually by doing that, you increase your margins by a lot. Choosing your battles very carefully simply means that you proactively and consciously decide whether you will engage in something or rather not give a f*ck. In many cases, the latter is the best thing you can do for your stress levels and your quality of life.
As soon as you want to engage in a fight that has no positive outcome or in a battle that isn’t yours to fight or in something completely nonconstructive, instead take a deep breath and move on, without any kind of reaction or engaging. Just move on like nothing happened and continue enjoying your day instead. All you have to do is manage your ego for a second and not engage.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you are passive when injustice is happening or that you don’t care or don’t do any social good. It’s about (1) accepting the things you cannot change, (2) having the courage to change the things you can, (3) moving on from things that don’t really matter in the greater picture, and having the wisdom to know the difference between these three different situations. Examples:
- Somebody posted a hateful comment on a social network, ignore the hater
- Your coworkers are gossiping about the boss, don’t engage
- Your spouse is having a bad day and needs time for themselves, let it be
- A friend canceled traveling plans, accept it and find a new travelling companion without holding a grudge
- Road rage? Come on, just don’t give a f*ck, and go back to listening to an audio book
The “good enough” concept
There is one more trick that can help you with stress relief and keeping your margins high enough. It’s a concept called good enough. This concept will especially help you if you have many unrealistic expectations towards life, if you are a perfectionist or if you want to achieve crazy high goals. You see, unrealistic expectations and wanting too much too soon lead to nothing but anxiety, stress and disappointments.
I know many people who want to have a perfectly shaped body, high-paying job, beautiful spouse, oh and they have to be rich, with PhDs and a crazy party lifestyle. Like Tony Stark or some other dude from an ad. I know many people who want it all, and they want it now.
I was one of them. And that only brought a lot of stress and disappointment into my life. Never ever was anything good enough, and you always want more. The perfect formula for being under stress all the time.
The best cure for that is defining what is “good enough” for you. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t need to have it all, all you need is to know what’s good enough for you. When you know exactly what that means for you, you can accept more realistic goals and surprisingly, you can start taking small steps towards your goals, you can focus on measuring your real progress, and you can stay more flexible in the process of achieving your goals. And most importantly, you can stop stressing out.
- You want to be a successful digital entrepreneur and millionaire. Okay. But what do you say about focusing on making the first online sale. Is that good enough? Yes! What about focusing on covering all your costs after making the first sale, is that good enough? Yes! And so on… until someday you maybe become a millionaire. But even if you don’t become a millionaire, is owning your own home and having 100k EUR on your bank account good enough? I guess so.
- You want to have a six-pack? What about losing 1% of body fat per month. Is that good enough? Yes! What about first being able to run 10 km. Is that good enough? Yes. What about eating 20% less at every meal, is that good enough? Yes. And that will probably lead you to a six-pack. On the way to getting a six-pack, you may find out that it takes too much work and stress to have a six-pack, so it may make sense to stay flexible. Is getting to a normal weight and looking a little bit ripped without man-boobs good enough? I guess so.
The “good enough” concept is not about lowering your standards, not thinking big and giving up on your goals. It’s about removing the pressure of wanting too much too soon. It’s about trusting the process and focusing on small daily progress that amounts to great results over time.
Build up the tolerance threshold
In the long term, you only have only two options for better stress management – (1) taking fewer and less demanding challenges or (2) building up your tolerance threshold step by step. But you have to do the latter in the right way. A big wrong underlying assumption is that if you are exposed to high levels of stress for long enough, your tolerance threshold will increase and you will be able to manage more stress and achieve more. That’s rarely true, more often you will only break at some point or catch a deadly disease.
Building tolerance threshold is a long and demanding process that usually consists of:
- Building up your self-confidence and emotional stability
- Building up your competence level
- Consciously deciding not to get annoyed by certain things
The first two things are far too complex and comprehensive for this blog post. But we can say a thing or two about consciously deciding not to get annoyed by certain things. Practicing not getting stressed about some things you can’t change or that are as they are helps a lot in increasing your stress tolerance.
- Accept that you get sick few times a year and don’t beat yourself up over it, rest.
- Don’t stress out if an unexpected expenditure occurs, like if you get a parking ticket or something, it happens all the time to all people, just stay stoic.
- You can’t change the weather, so don’t stress out over it, take an umbrella and dance in the rain.
- Not following your goals or discipline every day? Don’t worry, tomorrow is a new beginning.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you break something, make a mistake or forget about something, clean it, say sorry, correct it immediately and move on.
- From time to time, you simply have to stop because of a red light on a road.
- Remember the saying that there is no use in crying over spilled milk.
You can train yourself to build up the tolerance threshold with behavioral conditioning. If something pisses you off that shouldn’t, because it’s a normal part of life, practice to accept it and stay calm rather than stress out. In such a situation, take a deep breath, smile and choose not to beat yourself up about it.
Eliminate the source of stress
There is a little bit of masochist in all of us. I’m not sure why but often you prefer to stress out and destroy your life rather than do something about it. Even more, you add additional pressure and stress on yourself because you don’t do anything about it. Twice the damage. I guess it’s often much easier to suffer in pain than to change things.
Nevertheless, eliminating the source of stress is often the best if not the only thing you can do. There is always a limit to how much you can take and if it’s too much, it’s simply too much. There’s nothing wrong with regrouping, resetting your life or organizing it in a different way. That’s not a defeat, it’s being smart.
The hard thing is, of course, to gather the courage to really do something about the stressful situation.
You get used to abusive relationships that stress you out. You get used to constantly being overloaded with work. You get used to being unhappy, bitter and morbid, because you live a zombie life. Until everything breaks, a collapse happens and you just can’t take it anymore. But by then it’s usually already too late. You have to know that with time, it only becomes harder.
So one of the best things you can do is to eliminate the source of stress permanently. It’s your life, you only have one, and constantly spending it under stress doesn’t make any sense. Prepare a plan and in a very smart way, strategically eliminate stress from your life. With no rush and stupid decisions.
Having a plan and only doing the first step that’s written in your plan will already release some of the tension; then all you have to do is to trust yourself and follow through with the whole plan. With every step, you will feel the tension going away.
When we talk about eliminating the source of stress, we usually talk about key relationships in your personal and professional life. Career and abusive intimate relationships are the most frequent cause of severe chronic stress. But you have control over both of them, there is always something you can do. Innovate your way out.
- Change a job or a department in your company to work under a new boss
- Start working on your next career as a part-time business and disinvest yourself from the job
- Break up an abusive relationship or start socializing more
- Kill that commitment that makes you nervous and doesn’t benefit you at all
- Downsize your spending and work on additional income, if financials are the source of stress
Organize or clean something
The outside environment kind of reflects what’s going on inside us. We influence our life circumstances and our outside environment by changing our inner processes (thoughts, emotions) and we can change our inner processes by changing our environment.
Now this is no magic, but a simple fact that we are partly a product of our environment (outer -> inner) and that by changing our inner processes, we make different choices about out outer environment (inner -> outer).
Not to be too abstract, here are two examples. If you start spending time with people who are more ambitious, you will become more ambitious. If you move from a busy city to the countryside, you may also become calmer inside.
Or if you decide to take better care of your health, you suddenly have to buy exercising equipment and clothes, the type of food in your fridge changes, and so on (your outer environment changes). An organized person (organized internal processes) usually has a clean and organized desk, and a messy person has a messy desk (but can be more creative). It’s a reflection.
When you’re under stress, your inner processes are out of balance. They’re like a volcano, erupting with many different types of negative emotions. Since the outer environment influences your inner processes, one way to bring at least a certain level of balance and organization back to your inner processes is to organize something in the outside environment.
If you are under stress, clean your home or your car. Tidy up your drawers, throw away the things you don’t need or clean the devices you care about. You will see that after cleaning or organizing something in your home environment or in your office, you will also feel calmer, more focused and organized inside.
There’s an additional benefit to it. Besides calming yourself down, you will also be able to cross a chore off your to-do list. Try it, it really works. Maybe you already know that, because you are instinctively driven to organize or clean something when you are a little bit more stressed out.
Stop repeating your past mistakes
One quote that was a big epiphany for me goes something like this: It’s not the future that you are afraid of. It’s repeating the past that makes you anxious and stressed out. When I read this quote for the first time, I immediately knew that I’m stressed the most when I don’t trust myself to be strong enough to make better decisions in the future and thus repeat my past over and over again.
Here are a few examples of such behavior:
- Not being able to say no
- Not having the guts to quit a project you don’t like and follow your true north instead
- Taking too much on yourself just to feel more respected and be seen as a nice person
- Having the same (unproductive) conversations with a person over and over again, without any real changes being done
- Not standing up for yourself and setting some strict boundaries
- Overtraining yourself and getting an injury again, just because you're too competitive
To immediately decrease stress levels, stop repeating your past behavior that makes you anxious. Trust in yourself and stay strong. Don’t be like a monkey that has to learn only by repetition again and again, even if it’s painful like hell. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, what are the self-sabotage behaviors you are performing and why you are enforcing them. And then just STOP.
- Put it on a not-to-do list
- Do the opposite a few times to enforce new behavior
- Set strict limits and boundaries
- Say no, no and once more no
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” ― Lao Tzu
Focusing on your mind and thoughts
Now you have many ideas for how to change your lifestyle to make your days way less stressful. But many times, changing your lifestyle is not enough, you have to dig deeper into the real cause of stress. The fact is that you are often under severe stress only because your mind is going crazy. Instead of making wise and sound decisions with a calm and positive approach to whatever you are facing, your mind starts acting like it’s driven by a drunk crazy ape.
That means you have to take back the control of the wheel (your mind), if you want to calm yourself down and de-stress your life. Let’s look at few ideas for how you can do that.
Analyze why you like stress so much
In your adult life, you seek relationships and life situations that are familiar to you from your early home environment and from relationships with authorities from your youth. If your home environment was stressful (fights, divorce, emotional manipulation) and if relationships with your parents were heavy, you are naturally drawn to such life situations and people when you grow up.
The thing leading to a negative spiral in life is not very fair – first you had to suffer as a child, and then you subconsciously search for the same suffering in your adult life. The solution is to get yourself familiar with calmer, more relaxed and less stressful environments and relationships. You have to become aware when you are making your life stressful on purpose.
It takes a strong analytical approach to analyze yourself and your environment, and to notice that maybe you are the one making relationships and life situation stressful, because those are the situations where you know how to survive. If peaceful times are alien to you, you can make them more familiar to you with practice. Sometimes you can do it by yourself with conscious effort, in more severe cases only work with a therapist can lead you to such a change.
If you are constantly under stress, even if you changed your job and your intimate partners several times, and you still land in similar situations, start researching more about this psychological phenomenon. It may be the only solution for you to live a more peaceful life.
See stress as your friend
There is one really interesting fact about stress based on scientific research, claiming that a simple mental shift can help you avoid the negative consequences of being under stress. To make sure you don’t suffer any negative effects of stress, especially health-related ones, you only have to stop believing that stress is bad for you and start seeing it as a friend who’s helping you deal with tough life situations.
When you start seeing stress as your friend, you’re focusing on the positive sides of stress. Here’s how you should see stress according to scientist Kelly McGonigal:
- Your body is helping you rise to the challenge by increasing your energy levels
- A pounding heart is preparing you for action
- Fast breathing is getting more oxygen to your brain
- Your adrenaline is high to be more focused and bold
To summarize the bullet points, your body under stress is more energized, preparing you to meet a challenge and undertake it with all your zeal. Rethinking your stress response in such a way can be extremely helpful. Test and try if you can make stress become your friend.
See reality more accurate
You are often stressed out only because you see reality distorted in a very negative way. Your negative thinking together with cognitive distortions makes your outlook on life or a specific situation too negative, and that consequently brings more stress into your life. So many times, it helps if you analyze the stress away, but you have to do it the right way, not getting caught in over-analyzing and overthinking things.
If you’re stressed out because you see only negative aspects of a situation or your life, it’s time for you to sit down, take a piece of paper and a pen, and open your mind to also see the positive sides and that things aren’t as bad as they may seem. In that way, you will have a more accurate picture of reality and quickly see that you are probably stressing out too much. There are a few simple steps that can help you open your mind and defocus from only the negative.
Open your journal or take a piece of paper, and do the following steps:
- In a few sentences, describe the situation that’s stressing you out so much.
- Identify and write down cognitive distortions that are causing you to see only negative aspects.
- Talk back to your inner critic with rational responses, also including the positives. Describe the situation more accurately than you see it.
- Write down the worst-case scenario and analyze how you can survive it with the least damage.
- Brainstorm actions you can take to be less stressed out in this particular situation. Only seeing reality more accurately and positively is not enough. You have to take action and get busy.
- Employ optimal thinking – ask yourself what the best way for you to lower stress levels is
- Select a small action you can immediately do to lower your stress levels and do it immediately.
- Write down the names of 3 – 5 people who can help you make this situation less stressful (like a mentor or somebody who went through the same crisis) and talk to them.
- Write down at least 50 things you are grateful for and add a new one every day.
- Repeat the process over and over again, until you dramatically lower your stress levels. Besides seeing reality from a more positive angle, make sure you take action!
With this steps, you should be able to reprogram your mind and worry less.
I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. Mark Twain
Ignore your mind
Many times, your mind is like apes going crazy, raving and trying to destroy everything around them. When you are fully under stress, it’s often a sign that apes in your head are going crazy. In other words, your mind is focusing solely on everything wrong and bad, magnifying it to the full.
We already mentioned several things that you can do. You can talk back to the apes (with emotional accounting or cognitive reframing) to make sure you see reality more clearly, together with positive aspects of a situation. You can try to tame the monkeys (your mind) with meditation, for example. Or you can simply ignore the monkeys.
Every time they go crazy, you gently bring your attention back to whatever you were doing and you don’t follow whatever dark place your mind is trying to lead you to. The best way to do that is to pay more attention to your body than your mind (how your body feels), and to focus on action in the present moment.
It’s kind of saying to yourself: okay mind, you can try to go crazy, but me and my body will continue doing this cool creative task now; we don’t have time for nonsense you are trying to take us to. And then stretch, put your inner smile on your face, and continue working in the flow. Sometimes the best thing to do when monkeys are going crazy is to simply ignore them.
Get yourself in the flow and start creating
You probably know the image of an artist suffering in pain and transforming it into a masterpiece of art, be it a poem, a painting or any other kind of craft. Creating and doing art can heal stress in a big way. You just have to find the one that works best for you.
When I’m under too much stress, writing or designing in Photoshop helps me a lot in relieving stress levels. By organizing thoughts, expressing myself and sharing what I know with the world, my tension levels go down, the negative energy transforms into something more beautiful and permanent.
When you find the right kind of art to express yourself, a creative urge often naturally pulls you in front of an empty canvas or any other medium. The moment you start creating and working in the flow, stress slowly starts to fade away.
The main challenge here is that you may not see yourself as an artist or a creative person, so you may avoid any kind of art. That’s nonsense. Anybody can be creative and there are so many types of arts that you can try out to see how well they suit you. It’s impossible not to find yourself in one of them and transform your inner tension into something beautiful.
All you have to do is experiment a little bit (when you aren’t under stress) and don’t have unrealistic expectations that you have to be next Picasso.
Stay flexible and free like a bird
Some of the best advice to cope with stress is to stay flexible in your mind and in general. You shouldn’t optimize your life only for being productive and efficient, you also have to optimize it for staying as flexible as possible. That’s an important part of the AgileLeanLife framework. High flexibility, low levels of stress. But why is flexibility so important in releasing stress tensions? Well, here’s the secret.
High flexibility, low levels of stress.
You can only stay flexible if you keep the abundance mentality and see all the options you have in life. If you want to have many options, you must keep your mind open and focus on innovating, thinking out-of-the-box, being interested in many different things and exposing yourself to many opportunities. And if you have many options, there’s nothing to stress about. You have nothing to lose, you can always switch to another option.
Yes, it’s that simple. Having many options means more freedom (also more responsibility, but that’s for another post). If you have the freedom to do many things, there is no point in stressing yourself out, because you can always immediately change your settings and commitments.
- You planned to exercise in the afternoon, but it started raining. Well, go to the gym or do a creative task at home instead of stressing yourself out about why the weather is messing with your plans.
- Are you stressed out because a friend is giving you a hard time by bitching, whining and complaining all the time? Well, find a new friend, there are 7 billion people on this planet.
- Stressed out about a relationship, overly expensive car or a too demanding project? Switch to something more manageable and less resource-consuming.
- You had a goal that became currently unachievable for some reason out of your control (financial crisis, an accident, job loss). Follow some other goals and get back to that when outside trends become more beneficial to you.
One very damaging concept that causes a lot of stress in life is the so-called “oneitis”; it’s a concept taken from the dating sphere, but you can use it in many other cases. Oneitis means having an obsessive attraction towards only one person or thing, while completely excluding any other potential alternatives.
It’s the most toxic kind of all-or-nothing thinking. One spouse. One job. One car. One house. One type of holiday trip. One sport. Exactly one kind of thing you must have in life or you will drown in misery, unhappiness and permanent suffering. That is the exact recipe for high levels of stress in your life.
Because that one thing you want will always slip, just at the moment you almost caught it. You will assume you just have to work a little bit harder or smarter and then you’ll have it back again. But then it slips away again. And then you get it, but lose it at some point. And you stress over that thing over and over again. Don’t get too obsessed and too attached to anything or anyone in life.
See all the options you currently have. Work hard to have even more options in the future. Expose yourself to new opportunities. Keep the abundance mentality. Be curious and have many goals, just don’t follow all of them simultaneously, but rather go for the ones for which the time is ripe. And if something doesn’t work out, go to the next thing on your life vision list.
Keep positive outlook about your future
During my travels to 40+ countries in the past 15 years, I’ve noticed one very interesting thing. No matter how developed a country was, if the economic outlook and forecast were positive (expected economic growth), people were much happier, calm and positive. And in a much richer country with only a negative economic outlook, people were depressed, anxious and stressed out.
Hope is rarely a good life strategy. It doesn’t pay high dividends. Nevertheless, hope for a better future is an important part of being calm and not stressed out. When you have basic trust in yourself and your environment, you can hope for a brighter future and you can fight for it. That gives you additional focus, strength and resilience, because you know why you fight (for the better future).
On the other hand, having no hope, having no trust in yourself and in life, and not believing that things can get better causes you to give up, become a zombie, and puts an enormous amount of pressure and stress on your shoulders. I visited Greece before and in the peak of the financial crisis, and there are no words to describe the difference in moods, vibes and stress levels.
So with the goal of managing stress better or relieving at least a bit stress from your life, always put yourself in position where you have a positive outlook about your future. Always find something you look forward to.
I know it’s easier said than done, but if you think hard enough, if you plan hard enough, and analyze a little bit what is going on in your surroundings, you can find a position (a) that leads to a better life and (b) you can have something to look forward to, no matter how difficult the situation is.
Saying that, here are a few rules I committed to that help me a lot with avoiding stress in life:
- No negative people in my life, no bozos and crappy people. A negative outlook is contagious. Strategically choose people you spend time with. Never go against the human nature. Expect that people will disappoint you at some point and don’t stress over it.
- Never ever go against the markets. Small markets give you headaches. Saturated markets give you even more headaches. Markets in a free fall kill everyone in front of them. A rising tide, on the other hand, floats all boats. Strategically choose the markets you operate on.
- No matter how difficult a situation is, always have something to look forward to. A hug. An adventure. A summit. A meal. A ritual. Always fight for a better future and never, ever give up. No retreat, no surrender.
Emotional approaches to managing stress
High stress levels are, of course, closely connected to negative emotions. If you focus on dealing with your mind to see reality in a more positive manner, you are already consequently influencing your emotions in a constructive way, transforming them into more positive and gentler energies.
Nevertheless, sometimes coping with stress is easier if you deal directly with your emotions. There are many ways how to do that, from expressing emotions more directly to influencing them by changing how you operate your body.
By far the best techniques to manage stress with an emotional approach are to use stress as a trigger to emotionally deepen your connection with life currents (surrendering yourself) and deepen connections with other people (finding support).
Sometimes the only thing you can do is to surrender yourself and let life lead its course. In many cases, especially when there are many factors outside of your control, that’s the only way to de-stress yourself and let it go. Now, that doesn’t mean you give up and it doesn’t mean you start making stupid decisions that lead to an average life, it only means that you let go of things you can’t control and accept the course life wants you to go on.
It kind of means that if you can’t beat something, you join it. One of the hardest decisions you have to make in life is when to persevere and when to let go and pivot. Surrendering to life means to let it go and open yourself to new options and possibilities or to open a new chapter in your book of life.
If you are in debt and you “surrender” with even more overspending or playing the lottery, that isn’t really surrendering yourself. That simply means being stupid. But if you are stressing out because you can’t follow your training goals and a regime because of an injury, then surrender, stop, take a deep breath and make a new plan.
Surrendering yourself means completely accepting things as they are (facing the truth and not lying to yourself) and having faith that things will turn out well in one way or another, maybe even without your additional struggle. Sometimes you have to let go completely to de-stress yourself, sometimes you only have to surrender to find a new path and innovate more easily, sometimes you have to stay on the same path and only surrender to enjoy life more.
Surrender your anxieties and allow things to happen. You will find a way.
Get out and hug or talk to people
If we go back to McGonigal’s research, you probably know that feeling when you are under severe stress and by instinct, you want to meet more people and talk to them. It’s because of oxytocin, a hormone that’s released when you hug someone or when you are feeling emotionally close to a person, but also a hormone related to stress.
Oxytocin encourages you to socialize more with your friends and family, to deepen your relationships, ask for help, and help others. That’s exactly what you need when you are under stress. That’s why oxytocin gets released into your body when you are under stress, to seek the support you need to overcome life challenges.
So when you’re under stress, make sure you’re surrounded with loving people who support you. Go out, talk to people, open yourself or make new connections. In that way, your stress response will be much healthier and you will recover from a stressful situation much faster. When you see stress as your friend and a helpful aid from your body to cope with life challenges, you create a biology of courage, resilience and connection.
Caring creates resilience. Spending time with the people you love helps you cope with stress.
I’m not an expert in meditation but when I see someone meditating, I immediately know whether they are doing it the right way or not. It’s because of an inner smile. When a meditating person is frowning or puts on a tortured kind of face, they rarely benefit from meditation a lot. The right way to do meditation is with an inner smile.
The inner smile is not a big smile on your face. The inner smile is not laughing all over like someone just told you a cool joke. It’s different. When you have an inner smile, the corners of your mouth are only slightly elevated. But it can be easily seen from your facial expression that your soul is shining as bright as the sun. That is probably the most mindful state possible – not extremely happy or sad, just peacefully bright.
Proved by science over and over again, our mind influences our body language and vice versa. Heavy thoughts lead to poor posture and suffering facial expressions; and light positive thoughts lead to open posture and a happy face. But it also works in the other direction. Straighten your body posture and your thoughts will also get more optimistic.
Besides improving your posture, you can also add an inner smile on your face. It does miracles. Many times when I’m stressed, I just say “f*ck it” to myself, put the inner smile on my face and get myself in the flow and start creating. Nothing is permanent in life and this too (stressful situation) shall pass.
An inner smile is a technique to help you better cope with stress, where you influence your emotions by focusing on the changes you can do to your body (smile on your face -> positive emotions -> positive thoughts -> no stress). So let’s move on to the last way of how we can approach stress – through the body.
Beating stress by focusing on your body
The best approach to deal with acute stress is to focus on your body. Sweat it out, breathe it out, take a cold shower, go for a walk or climb a mountain. It will immediately decrease your stress levels, guaranteed. You just mustn’t be lazy and take action.
The good news is that if you perform these kinds of exercises daily, your ability to cope with stress in general improves to a great extent. You develop much higher resilience and tolerance levels, and you intuitively know exactly what to do when a new stress peak arrives into your life – you go out and exercise.
You are always only one exercise away from a good mood. To better deal with stress in general, exercising helps a lot. So if you have a sudden stress attack, sweating it out usually works the best. Go for a walk or a run. Get your ass to the gym or do any other kind of sport.
The biggest problem with exercise is, as always, getting started. If you are stressed out, operating on low energy levels and heavy thoughts, it’s hard to force yourself to exercise. The only solution is to make it an automatic reaction when too high stress levels occur. Like when you’re hungry and you start eating. W
hen you feel too stressed out, you just grab your sports bag and start moving. It takes a little bit of effort the first few times, but then it becomes a natural reaction.
For me personally, aerobic exercise (running, biking, climbing a mountain) works the best when I am under stress. Actually, doing any kind of anaerobic exercise, like lifting weights, is very dangerous for me in stressful times. It’s because I easily lose focus, I perform the exercise poorly when my mind wanders off, I have a tendency to push myself too much in stressful times and all that dramatically increases the chances of injuring myself. It happened a few times.
So experiment a little bit with what type of exercise helps you with stress levels the most, the acute and chronic one. And make sure that when you are under stress, you don’t push yourself too far and injure yourself. If you become too tough and rough on yourself when life hits you with problems, instead go for a walk or do any other kind of sport that won’t help you hurt yourself or do any other kind of self-sabotage.
When you are stressed out, be gentle with yourself. Take action, but don’t additionally sabotage yourself.
A wonderful exercise that immediately releases tension and decreases stress levels is belly breathing. It really does wonders so I encourage you to do this exercise daily as part of your morning or evening habits and every time you start feeling too much tension in your body.
What works best for me if I want to relieve stress with breathing is to lie down on the floor, belly and head facing the ground, lean my forehead on my hands, palms also facing ground, and take 10 really deep breaths. When breathing, you make sure that you breathe in and out with your belly and not with your upper body.
When you inhale, you make sure you inhale as much air as possible. Everything around your belly should be filled with air. Then you exhale very slowly and when you exhale all the air, you try to squeeze even more air out of yourself with hissing. Repeat that 10 times and you will feel like new.
Make fun of the winter with a cold morning shower. It’s a great way to build up frustration tolerance. Life isn’t easy, it’s often extremely hard and painful. You have to be strong, resilient, patient and persistent, fighting for your goals and overcoming obstacles. A cold shower is a good reminder of that.
A cold shower will evict any wussiness from you, it will make you more present and alert, and you will immediately get more relaxed. Science says that there are many other benefits to taking cold showers, like a testosterone boost, better skin and much more.
Cold shower is not pleasant, it’s not easy to do it, but it takes stress out of you in seconds.
An alternative may be taking a hot bath. It can also relax you a lot after a stressful day, but I’m sure you already know that.
Don’t let stress destroy your quality of life
We do live in awesome times with all the technology, safety, mobility, possibilities to create and material abundance. But we also live in very uncertain, volatile and fast-changing times, which makes life quite stressful. If you don’t approach stress management strategically and systematically, it can slowly decrease your quality of life or even kill you. You obviously don’t want that.
You always have to be one step ahead of life. Hoping that stress will just go away is not being one step ahead of a problem. But having a superior stress management strategy and using different techniques for different types of stressful situations is what it takes to successfully cope with stress. Now you know how to relieve stress from your life, so it’s time to apply the acquired knowledge.
- Print out the stress management toolbox that you can download for free (PDF)
- Experiment with different techniques in different situations that cause you stress
- Find the techniques that work best for you
- Share how you’ve overcome stressful life situations with others
Remember, the best way to overcome stress is to take action. So make sure you start doing something new. Find a way to do things better. Repeating the same thing over and over again will not relieve stress from your life, it will just make everything harder. If you are under acute stress, see it as your friend, and if you are coping with chronic stress, it’s time for a new, better life design. Change your lifestyle and stop torturing yourself. Good luck.