My 6 Tactics for Reducing Stress Immediately
Contrary to what your body might tell you, not all stress is harmful. You definitely need some stress on a regular basis in order to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Psychologists even have names for “good” or “bad” stress: Eustress and Distress, respectively. Eustress builds your character, improves your health, and improves your well being in the long run. Distress, on the other hand, taxes your body’s resources without making it more resilient in the future. However, any type of stress, whether Eustress or Distress, when present in excessive quantities, will negatively affect your health, productivity, and general well-being. If you find yourself in that situation, then please read about the following 6 tactics I use to curb a temporary spike in stress:
Method 1: Drugs
No, not the kind of drugs you’re probably thinking. You want to use L-Theanine, which is also found naturally in Green Tea. L-Theanine increases your brain’s alpha waves which are responsible for the relaxed and meditative state you find yourself in when daydreaming or watching light television. Unless taken in unreasonably large doses, L-Theanine will not likely affect your judgement in significant ways unlike alcohol (although it may still be prudent to avoid it before operating heavy machinery.)
Definitely read the Wikipedia article and possibly consult with your doctor before using L-Theanine to treat stress. Although I’ve never seen it sold in large drugstore chains, health food stores like Sprouts or Whole Foods will sometimes carry it over the counter. Or you can order it from Amazon as well. If you don’t like the idea of taking drugs or medications, try some decaffeinated green tea. (Make sure it’s caffeine-free or else the caffeine will counteract the calming effects of the L-theanine in the tea!)
Method 2: Take a Walk
Walking outdoors will get your mind away from your source of stress, at least long enough for you to recharge and recoup. The key is to get up and remove yourself from your home or office and go some place that bears little resemblance to either, such as a city park. As an added bonus, walking also makes you more conducive to creative thought. But keep in mind that the main objective of walking is a time to reduce stress; if you also try to force yourself to think creatively while taking a walk, you might find your efforts to be counterproductive. So just relax and let go, but if an interesting idea happened to materialize in your head, feel free to Speedwrite it down if you have your phone or pen and paper on hand.
Method 3: Drop the Ball on Less Important Tasks
If you’re overwhelmed, it may be prudent to put less time and effort into the tasks and obligations that don’t matter too much, relatively speaking. This is basically the gist of prioritization, according to Tim Ferris in the 4 Hour Work Week. Try to get over the instinct that everything that you do needs to be done well or that the oldest item on your To-Do List needs to be done first. If your resources are stretched thin, then it’s impossible to succeed at everything, so you might as well choose to let the least important tasks fail.
Method 4: Outsource
When most people think of outsourcing, their first reaction is something along the lines of “why do I need to spend money on something that I can do myself?” If your end goal is to spend as little money as possible at the expense of everything else, you may want to avoid outsourcing. (And even then, there are times when outsourcers may actually reduce your costs in the long run if they are less prone to errors and can create a higher quality and longer lasting solution.) The whole point of outsourcing is to pay others to get important tasks done that either you’re not that competent at or take too much of your time. It’s also a viable alternative to completely dropping the ball on some lower value tasks (as per Method 3.)
Try reframing your mindset to the following: “how much stress will I reduce if I were to pay the outsourcer to accomplish this task for me?” or “if I pay an outsourcer to do this for me, can I put the time that I’ve reclaimed to much better use?” For example, suppose your local housecleaning service will charge $200 and take 1 hour to clean your home, but you will require 5 hours to accomplish the same. Are the 4 hours and the corresponding stress worth the $200? If you’re an entrepreneur running a six figures a year home business, the answer is likely yes. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re an unemployed person on food stamps, the answer might be no.
Method 5: Stop Worrying About What You Can’t Control
Worry is one of the most insidious energy and productivity vampires that every one of us experiences on a regular basis. Ever since prehistoric times, worry has been an effective mechanism to alert us of impending threats. But worrying about what’s beyond our control, by definition, doesn’t add any value to our lives nor does it further improve our survival. In fact, it saps our limited energy that could have been put to better use. This fact has been as true for cavemen as for modern people today.
Now, forcing yourself to stop worrying about what you can’t control is easier said than done and I confess I’ve not completely eliminated this toxic habit either. But one exercise that I’ve found quite effective for reducing this type of worry is known as the Circle of Control. Draw 2 concentric circles on a sheet of paper and list every major worry going through your mind at the moment in the space between the 2 circles. Then in the inner circle, list everything that you have control over (preferably in a different color.) Strive to focus on the things in the inner circle and stop thinking about the things in the outer circle. Cut out, cross out, or scribble over the outer circle if you have to in order to signal to your inner mind that it should not spend much attention on those things anymore.
Method 6: Live in the Present
It seems obvious but it bears repeating: You can only take action in the present. It usually does you no good to repeat worrisome thoughts about the future over and over again or to replay past failures on repeat. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan for the future or learn lessons from the past. Instead, write those past lessons and future plans in a journal which you will review periodically (I recommend Evernote as a platform for your journal.) In addition, use calendar reminders in Evernote or Google Calendar to automatically notify you via email or your smartphone of impending events and appointments instead of constantly worrying about missing them.
If something is causing you lots of stress and worry, then break it down and ask yourself: “what can I do NOW to alleviate it?” Doing not only distracts you from worrying but it also brings you closer to solving the issue that’s causing you worry in the first place! So the next time you find yourself stressed and worries running rampant in your mind, ask yourself “why am I worrying so much and doing so little right now?” Some possibilities you might come up with:
- “There’s nothing I can do about that.” – Therefore, you should stop worrying about it. PERIOD. (see #5)
- “I can’t do anything about it now but I have an opportunity in the future.” – Start taking action NOW to plan ahead. Make sure to write or record your plans down rather than keep it in your head and play it over and over again (which defeats the purpose and perpetuates your stress.)
- “I’m too tired (or lazy) to do that now.” – Go take a walk and reset your mind first and see if you’re still too tired or lazy. Sometimes we’re genuinely tired and there’s nothing wrong with procrastinating in that case if it’s not extremely urgent and important. Jotting it down in your To-Do List will at least take it off your mind while you try to fully relax your mind.
Stress is one of those things in your life where an ounce of a prevention is worth far more than a pound of a cure. But once stress hits, these long-term solutions for prevention, like Yoga, are of little use when you need to beat your stress NOW. While it’s important to be proactive in keeping your long term stress levels at an acceptable level, you still need a Plan B in case stress becomes overwhelming. If you have any other tactics that you use to mitigate a temporary spike in stress, please let me know in the comments!