Stress is a part of life, and it doesn't discriminate. It doesn't matter if you're a founder or a monk, successful or struggling, stress finds its way into everyone's life. The ugly truth is, stress is a natural response to change, and our world is continually evolving.
This got me thinking; the goal should not be to prevent stress but to learn how to keep it in check. In many ways, stress can actually be positive. It keeps us alert, focused, motivated, and ready to tackle challenging situations. It's when you can't flip the switch and take a break from what's causing stress in your life that it becomes harmful.
This excerpt from a Cleveland Clinic article describes why:
The body's autonomic nervous system has a built-in stress response that causes physiological changes to allow the body to combat stressful situations. This stress response, also known as the "fight or flight response", is activated in case of an emergency. However, this response can become chronically activated during prolonged periods of stress. Prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body -- both physical and emotional.
We've all felt the side effects of this wear and tear -- migraines, chest pain, depression, and anxiety are just a few.
In the words of Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, chronic stress is often self-induced. It's a byproduct of "a rugged individualism mentality where we think we must go it alone."
If you've ever tried to deal with stress by yourself, then you know that the thought of stress often causes more of it. It's a vicious cycle that pushes many into dependencies with unhealthy vices. It made me think about my own stress-fighting behaviors.
I don't know how or why, but I'm grateful to say that I don't suffer from unrelenting stress. Don't get me wrong, I feel the pressure build every-once-in-a-while. I have three jobs, a wife who's a doctor, two kids, and a lot of bills. But it seldom causes any of the symptoms above.
I attribute my stress-stopping ability to these three habits:
1. Being around other people.
In an interview Dr. Sanjay Gupta did with Ryan Seacrest, Gupta discussed his new HBO documentary One Nation Under Stress and revealed that the healthiest country in the world is Italy -- an answer that may surprise most. If you're like me, you first thought of Italian food and wine. Not working out.
Gupta goes on to say that Italy is the healthiest because of communal living. They have a culture that's rooted in living and experiencing life together, sharing interests and values, and socializing -- and as a result, they are less stressed and healthier.
I know, it sounds warm and fuzzy, but the truth is, humans are social creatures. There are tangible benefits for both the mind and body when you make social engagement a priority.
Luckily for me, I have great relationships at work and at home where I have multiple people that I can reach out to and confide in when situations get stressful.
2. Practicing prayer/meditation/mindfulness.
Call it whatever you want, but the truth remains the same, stress is an emotional and metaphysical response and should be treated as such.
The French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, was famous for saying, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings have a human experience."
Whether you're religious or not, there is still something about this quote that resonates at a very primordial level. Unfortunately, many of us try to prevent stress with physical remedies. They may work short-term, but the indefinite solution lies with calming our inner spirits. If not, you'll leave a void that induces stress responses.
I make time for prayer and meditation every morning. It helps me hit reset, calm the inner voice, and put things in perspective.
3. Being grateful for the present moment.
It's easy to lose our sanity in pursuit of "winning." Often, we derive our value and sense of worth on things that in the long run don't matter. In the meantime, we stress about what we haven't achieved and take for granted the blessings all around us.
In business and in life, it can seem paradoxical to balance a commitment to excellence and contentment. It is possible to reconcile these concepts if we focus on what we can control right now -- our contribution, growth, progress, and gratitude. Being content is very different from being complacent. Focus on what is working and what can be improved. Set goals and recognize progress. This will create a greater sense of positivity and peace.
Don't get me wrong, I have goals, but I don't give them the power to control my happiness.
Life is full of stressful situations, but they are just that -- temporary. These three stress-stopping habits will help you keep those moments of stress and anxiety in check.