Today we live in societies that really don’t talk enough about how to naturally alleviate stress. Instead, pharmaceutical companies in conjunction with seedy licensed professionals, have taken it upon themselves to indoctrinate us into the newly fashionable cult of psychotropic meds. Every time you turn around some new class of anti-anxiety or antidepressant meds are being advertised and shoved down our throats with an implicit message that says: you can’t do this on your own. And, really, right beneath that message is a subtext that reads: give us your money because we’d all like to have matching yachts by next quarter. Absolutely silliness.
This article is really about giving you a jumpstart on how you might relieve stress in your own life without extreme measures and therefore empower yourself with the confidence to tell stress, “I RUN THIS SHIT, SO BACK THE HELL OFF!”
TURN DOWN THE SALT, SUGAR, AND CAFFEINE
There was an experiment done in the middle of the United States where the formally salty and sugar ridden lunches of a behavioral reform school were traded for fruits, vegetables, and other home cooked meals low in sugar and fat. The results? Despite being in a school that was notorious for behavior problems, the students’ behavior and moods changed dramatically. The percentage of fights and disciplinary actions dwindled and test scores rose. The power of food is truly underestimated. That being said, try switching out some of your sugary snacks for dried fruit, unsalted nuts or almonds, or even fresh carrots. Also, do your best to refrain from eating any fast food period. Keeping your blood glucose levels from constantly spiking and crashing can do wonders for your mood and clarity of thought.
Not so surprisingly, this principal works for caffeine as well, and though I know giving up daily coffee seems impossible, I’m hoping you’ll take my FIRST HAND experience into account. I personally stopped drinking coffee because it began to bother my stomach at some point and so one day I just quit cold turkey. Like most of us who work, I would drink shots of coffee throughout the day to give me a little pick-me-up, if only just to get me through the morning and the last remaining hours of the work day. In consuming coffee regularly I noticed that while I was an effective worker, I usually felt pretty sluggish and tired throughout the day. But, what I found after ditching coffee was amazing. Suddenly my energy seemed to last until the end of work, I felt more focused at work, and my mood felt more stable throughout the day. This doesn’t mean to say that I don’t feel tired sometimes during the work day, but what I have noticed is that the nature of the fatigue is very different. Though I may still feel physically tired, what has changed dramatically is my mental condition; my mental focus stays sharp the whole day. While on coffee, my mood seemed to swing up and down—I’d feel irritable and reluctant and my mental focus would become quite fuzzy throughout the day. All of these negative mental effects made it difficult to engaged fully with my working life and my creative life. Now I don’t experience any of that.
I do offer a warning of caution: After ditching coffee you will go through about a week and a half to two-week period of lethargy. However, after the caffeine is out of your system and your body learns to function without it again, things pick up fast and you’ll notice right away. I suggest replacing your caffeine intake with fruit juice or a sport beverage with low sugar.
CLEAN YOUR SPACE
I once read that you can tell a lot about a person’s mental state by how clean or messy their personal living space is. This means to say that the status of one’s mind affects their surroundings. I think that’s absolutely true. I also believe that it works the other way: the condition of your surroundings affects the status of your mind. Now, it might sound crazy, but sometimes crazy just works. Take it from me: making your immediate surroundings a more enjoyable place to be is an excellent way to start changing your mood. From that, a better mood contributes to a clearer state of mind that can help you see your sources of stress with a fresh perspective. Even more interesting are the implicit affects generated by cleaning one’s space, as the process is a task-oriented one. The act of cleaning itself requires a systematic step-by-step approach that can set the tone for when the time comes to tidy up your mind. Additionally, the confidence derived from accomplishing an organized apartment or room can really help to keep you motivated to take action against your biggest sources of stress.
STOP MAKING IT UP
Do you know why schizophrenics can’t really work, or why some people with high anxiety can’t function well in society? It’s because their conditions force them to focus on things that aren’t completely based on reality. A schizophrenic is bombarded by voices and other implicit messages from their brain that are largely a culmination of fantasy. Similarly, some people with high anxiety cannot help but ruminate over imaginary scenarios that haven’t even happened. The human mind has an incredible capacity to imagine things that, well, don’t actually exist. This single unique attribute is what often enables us to solve the most difficult of problems. However, all of that infinite creativity can also serve to make solving problems more difficult, and in turn, punish us under a mountain of stress. The most salient example of how our imaginations cause us more stress is when we begin to insist on what other people are thinking; essentially, we “think” for other people. In this way, all too often we find it so easy to imagine that someone hates us, that people think we are ugly, or that our boss thinks we are lazy. Let people think for themselves, and even if it should turn out that you were correct in your negative assumptions, there’s little—if anything—that you can do to change the minds of others anyway.
Along the same lines, people also insist on using their imaginations to try and predict the future. You know how it goes: you’re laying in bed, unable to fall asleep because you keep imagining how terribly something MIGHT turn out. It even happens that sometimes people become so fixated on playing out these imaginary endings in their minds, that they begin to believe that thinking about them hard enough might will such fantasy into reality. You can only do by doing. You cannot do by thinking. Unless you have the ability to do something in that moment, it’s out of your hands. Let go.
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS BE THE GOOD GUY
We’ve all been to the movies and watched the good guys die. Remember Titanic? “I’ll never let go Jack!” Friggin’ guy stays behind to try save some first-class chick from her pampered life and gets killed. Now if he had just banged some girl in third-class and kept the relationship casual, his head would have been on straight and he might have found himself alive on the floating door instead of Rose. Lesson: Good guys tend to get the shaft, ESPECIALLY when they go too far out of their way for a rather trivial outcome. Who cares if Rose lived? She threw the diamond in the ocean and no one got rich. What a waste.
But seriously, look: you can’t be everything, to everyone, all the time; it’s impossible. Actually, more pointedly, it’s really an insane idea. You can’t be everyone’s hero and save the day all the time. This means that you’ve got to stop trying to rescue people from their own feelings. They’re adults. Let them handle their own feelings. A lot of people come under stress in social situations for fear that someone they are playing host for is bored, hungry, nervous, or not having a great time. Relax. That person has made the choice to hang out with you and do something with you. If they aren’t happy with their decision, that’s their problem, and UNLESS they ask you for something they want, don’t believe it’s your duty to rescue them out of some misplaced guilt. Similarly, especially in romantic or familial relationships, people often feel stressed when someone around them is angry or sad. People who feel stressed about other’s emotions tend to alter their behavior or feel that they must try to avoid making someone upset. Seriously, stop that shit. Anger and sadness are natural emotions and are a part of everyday life. If spending time worrying about how to save someone from their own emotions means sacrificing your own peace of mind and making more stress for you, let it go. People heal; People get over it. You should too.
WORK YOUR BODY
Remember how good it felt to tackle your friends on the playground or run around at recess until you couldn’t breath anymore? No? That’s because it’s been too long. You couldn’t wait for recess because it was the purest example of freedom from the oppression that institutionalized learning had imposed on you. It didn’t matter that you had failed the last spelling test or that your parents were being called in to have that parent-teacher conference later in the week; for those 40 minutes of fresh air and space, nothing could hold you back.
So we’ve all heard this a million times: exercise reduces stress. Well, a cliche isn’t a cliche for no reason, and in most cases, they’ve withstood the test of time and emerged as a near truth if anything. That being said, exercise does reduce stress. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that your body and mind are connected. Working the body up into a sweat can clear your mind and focus your mental and physical energy on something with a goal as simple as, “run to this location and back”. Whether you’re beating the shit out of a someone at a Muay Thai gym, or simply doing a few push ups in your room until you pass out, getting your heart rate up works. But it doesn’t even need to be that complicated. Stretching be a very powerful and underrated de-stressing technique in contrast to even the most ambitious of gym regiments. It’s well known that mental stress builds up in the body and can be expressed physically as tension and aches in various areas like the lower back, shoulders, and neck muscles. Stretching every morning or before bed can allow those areas of the body to release that tension and help restore good blood flow to those locations.
JUST SAY F*CK IT
Sometimes you have to just say “F*ck it”. When that dude down at the craps table or the roulette wheel decided that they wanted to roll or spin one more time, you can bet your ass they said “ahh f*ck it” right before they hit it big. Think about it.
Face it: nothing you planned ever worked out exactly as you wanted. Sometimes it worked out better; other times it worked out worse. The point is that nothing will ever be as you imagine. It’s really just a fundamental fact. Outlines which roughly represent how you want things to happen may certainly be useful as a guide. However, the second you begin poring over every detail, you’re doing it wrong. Being anxious about uncertainty is a constant battle and trying to plan for every unknown event is a death sentence, both to your sanity and your hopes. Just go with it. If not for the prospect of having less stress, try embracing uncertainty for a more practical reason: allowing yourself to be surprised. Nearly all great and terrible things occur under the flag of surprise. Sure, you might encounter the bad stuff—everyone does. Yet, allowing yourself to accept uncertainty also means opening yourself up for great things to happen too. Meticulous planning measured by arbitrary yard sticks of “success” means setting yourself up for disappointment after disappointment.
I hope this post has sparked a little insight and motivation within you to take care of yourself better, and to make your life much more enjoyable beyond what limitations you have imposed upon yourself. I wish you all great health and happiness.