Stress is the unspoken epidemic of the 21st century. There's too much to do, too much pressure, too many people to please. We feel restless, tense and on edge much of the time. You can't relax. After a while, you begin to think that this is normal; the way you're supposed to feel all the time. You get addicted to your own adrenalin.
You never take the time to even breathe properly. You push, and push, and push as though your life depends on doing what you think you need to do. There's never enough time. And when your current project is done, there's always a new one to work on. The pressure never ends. You get headaches frequently, but push on regardless.
Left untreated, chronic stress will destroy your health and rob you of your zest for life. Eventually you burn out, give up, fall ill, get depressed and just don't care any more. It's important to learn how to manage stress before that happens. Here are some tips on how to do it:
Take Regular Breaks
Your body isn't built to handle the non-stop adrenaline rush of chronic stress. If you live in a constantly adrenalin charged state, eventually your health will suffer. This will almost certainly make you miserable, especially if you're used to living your life at a million miles an hour. So take regular breaks to allow you central nervous system to calm down.
If you work at a computer, take a break at least once an hour to let your eyes, mind and body rest and relax. You'll find you end up thinking more clearly and working more efficiently as a result. Don't neglect to take holidays. When you do go on holiday, leave your work and other troubles behind. Enjoy taking some time out just for its own sake, without pushing yourself to achieve all the time.
Spend Time With Your Friends And Family
Relationships with our friends and family are some of the most important things in life. When they are working well, they give us a greater sense of happiness and life satisfaction than what ever it is we are trying to achieve at work can ever do. On the other hand, when our relationships are not working well they can cause us more stress, and this is often because we've been neglecting them.
The most important factor in our relationships is to spend quality time with the people that are important to us. You can't really cheat on this. Time spent with friends and family not only you reduces the stress we get from these relationships, but also helps us handle general life stress more easily too.
For more on improving your relationships, especially with women, see Part 3 of Confident Man.
Learn To Let Go
Trying to control everything in our lives will cause us more stress than necessary. As much as we would like to be omnipotent, the reality is that we have relatively little control over many of the circumstances around us. It's good to set goals that match and needs and desires, but it's also important to learn to let go. Having high expectations diminishes our joy and causes us unnecessary stress.
The most powerful method I have come across for learning to let go is The Sedona Method. When you have a thought that causes expectation, desire, greed, anger or any other stressful emotion ask yourself the question "Am I willing to let this go?" The answer can be yes or no, it doesn't matter. Then ask yourself the question "Can I let this go right now?". Finally, let it go. Letting go of stressful emotions allows them to dissipate, while letting go of pleasant emotions allows them to intensify.
Take Up Meditation, Yoga or a Martial Art
Meditation has centuries of tradition at handling stress and anxiety. The physical body movement involved in Yoga helps to get you out of your head and calm your constant stress-inducing thoughts. Martial arts add self-defense to these defenses of the mind, further boosting your self-confidence, especially around conflict.
Long before the invention of modern psychiatric pharmaceuticals meditation, yoga and martial arts were dealing with mind problems for free. They all help improve your breathing practices, breaking the shallow breathing habit that many of us get into one under constant stress. Yoga classes are also an excellent way to meet women. Need I say more?
Deal With Your Emotional Baggage
Why you're pushing yourself so hard anyway? Who are you try to impress? Are you still just playing out some childhood emotional issue from your subconscious? Did your mother always seem to criticize you no matter how well you did? Was your father slow to encourage you, tell you how proud he was of you, or tell you that he loved you? Did your brothers or sisters make you feel inferior? Did the other kids at school bully you?
Take some time now to consider the reasons why you might be pushing yourself so hard and causing yourself so much stress in the first place. Often the cause will be some unresolved emotional hurt from the past. Lighten up on your subconscious stress by getting yourself some emotional healing and dealing with your stress-inducing emotional baggage.
For more on dealing with emotional baggage, see Part 2 of Confident Man.
Eat A Balanced Diet
No matter how important you think the project at work or the problems at home are, it's a vital that you look after yourself. You're no use to anyone in a box in the ground. When we're under pressure, the first thing to go is often our diet. You don't have to go Vegan, but you do need to eat enough fruit and vegetables, and avoid high fat foods that clog your arteries and sugar that revs up your central nervous system. It's not just kids that go hyper on red cordial.
Have a salad roll for lunch instead of a burger. Avoid fast food that's full of fat. Your body processes fat too quickly and the burst of energy makes your heart race faster. Calm down and replace that sugary afternoon pastry with an apple or orange.
Get Enough Exercise
Exercise is a natural stress reliever, antidepressant and burn-out preventer. It's the other thing we often neglect when we're under stress, which tends to just make the situation worse. Find a sport that you love, an exercise buddy, or a personal trainer to help keep you motivated. Exercise is also good for your immune system. Staying fit and healthy can help you avoid the extra stress of falling chronically ill, which tends to put all those other stressors we take too seriously into perspective.
For more on how to get the exercise you need see Skills 13 & 16 in Confident Man.
Avoid Alcohol, Cigarettes and Other Drugs
Using alcohol or cigarettes to manage stress is a recipe for disaster. Both have a brief relaxing effect which your body over-corrects against in an attempt to return to equilibrium. If you're constantly stressed, your body's idea of equilibrium is faulty and full of adrenaline which means that when you're not drinking or smoking, you'll feel even worse than if you'd never started.
Cigarettes in particular are a total disaster for your health and pretty much every adult who smokes wishes they could quit. The easiest way to quit smoking is to never start in the first place. If you need alcohol, cigarettes or any other kind of drugs or medication to manage stress then what you have is a lifestyle problem. Nip it in the bud before it turns into a full blown medical problem.
Lighten Up And Laugh
Laughter is a great natural stress reliever. Many of us tend to take ourselves way too seriously, and this just adds to our stress. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don't take everything so seriously. Go and watch a good stand up comic, or a funny movie when you're feeling stressed. Look at the funny side of your life and the problems that you blow out of proportion. Take a stand up comedy course or join a laughter club.