I'll cut to the chase straight away. Flashy marketing, scammy books and courses might suggest you that you can achieve a stress free life, but in reality, that's not possible.
In this article I'll talk about why do I believe firmly this to be true and suggest 5 goals that you should actually aim for instead of making yourself worry that you are not 'stress free'.
Why do we want to be stress free?
Pretty much everywhere you look in the media, there are ads suggesting you that stress is bad, being stress free is the ideal thing. You see young people freely running around, not feeling stressed, living at the moment, enjoying their day with their friends and family.
In real life, you are usually not running around with your friends and family freely the whole day. You are working, commute to work, arranging your financials, going to the municipality, doing your taxes, etc.
All these things can cause you to feel stressed and that's actually fine. As long as you learn how to manage these stressors and the stress they are causing.
On the other hand, if you just ignore the stress that you are feeling and try to mask it, it will just build up inside and burst out once it gets too much. It's a bad mentality to just ignore stress and pretend like it's not there.
Same as with your health in general.
There are some healthy habits that you should pick up, like eating well, getting enough sleep, taking care of your body and mind.
Instead, people like to use short term and easy solutions likes pills and 'magic bullets' to try to keep them healthy and remove the signs of tiredness, stress etc.
Like this Nivea ad here in the Netherlands. It tells you that you don't have to go to bed on time anymore, coz 'hey just use this awesome cream and your skin will look pretty enough'. Nice.
I don't think I am exaggerating that much here. Here another gem:
Maybe instead of running around the whole day in your restaurant, take a break every now and then. Do some breathing exercises, go outside, maybe go into your office and meditate for 10 minutes to calm your mind.
You are having backaches and headaches, because your body is signalling you that it's too much.
Look at the amount of people getting burnouts, using different sleep pills, stress pills, pain relievers etc. We want to get instant solutions a relief from stress, just like we do with anything else.
Why is being free of stress is not realistic?
You are not living your life as secluded person in a monastery, where all you have to do is getting up, eating, meditating. You are working, managing your family, your financials and everything else in between.
You are interacting with other people, with your environment and you are conducting an internal monolog where you continuously evaulating life around you.
Things in life are not constant. They are ever-changing, which leads to unexpected situations, both good and bad, which can trigger your stress response.
In such a turbulent, emotionally rich environment, it's futile to aim for being stress free. You will set unrealistic expectations for yourself, which are impossible to meet.
Settings these unrealistic goals, will lead to disappointment, loss of motivation and in the end, ironically more stress.
Stress can actually be good
The truth is that aiming to be stress free is also unnecessary because stress can actually be good. There is a reason you have a stress response.
It is an alert system, which notifies you when something dangerous is happening. At least that's the original purpose of it.
Probably you noticed that when you get stressed, you heart rate increases, you get more alert and focused.
Your body is getting activated to fight or flight. In old times, these were usually the two options when you got into a dangerous situation, such as fighting a mountain cougar. This was your body's way to protect yourself and give you the extra boost that is needed to get rid of danger.
In today's world we have to fight with mountain cougars less often, luckily, however the stress response is still there. When your brain gives the sign to your body that you are in a dangerous situation, perceived or real, your stress response kicks in.
It can still be useful sometimes. The typical example I always mention is imagine the last time when you were preparing for an important deadline. When the deadline was getting closer and you started to feel more stressed you got the extra push that helped in focusing better, be more concentrated and finish things up on time.
If your body has time to recover after this stressful event and your bodily functions can turn back to normal, that's fine.
However the problem with more and more people is that they experience this stress daily, they think they are stressed, they think this is bad for them and their body and mind cannot recover properly.
The better way of addressing stress
Most of usually deal with stress in some of the following ways:
- Drugs, medication, alcohol, smoking, parties for quick relief
- Ignoring stress and trying acting happy all the time
- Ignoring responsibilities, avoiding things to do
- Blaming others for the things happening to your life
- Doing 10 minutes of meditation/yoga/chakra cleaning or whatever the newest hype is
- Doing bursts of stress relief activities, like sporting every now and than and going to the spa
While some of these activities like meditation or a relaxing day at the spa is great (I do both of them as well), they are not at the core of achieving a lifestyle with less stress.
It all starts with a change in mindset and a new way how you organise your days.
What do I mean by this?
Change how you see stress
Like we discussed above, stress is not always bad. Stop looking at stress as the big scary monster that you have to avoid at all costs and worry about if you get stressed.
Stress is part of life, it's something that you should be conscious about and learn to manage.
It's very important what type of mental games are you doing in your head. What plays in your head has direct impact on your body and it can have serious consequences for it.
Kelly McGonigal talks about this in her TED video. According to her, the way how you see stress and the way how you think about it, can already have negative or positive effect on your body. In a study they saw how people who believe that stress is not that harmful and cared less about being stressed actually had lower chance of dying from stress related issues.
Really interesting video, highly recommend to listen to it. (Doesn't cost more than 14 minutes and 28 seconds of your life. If you are only interested in the study, fast forward to 1:20. 😉 )
This makes total sense I think. Your brain is a very powerful device that tries to serve what you are thinking about and want to achieve. The problem is that your brain cannot make a difference between real and perceived stress or danger.
I am pretty sure that you also experience sometimes how your palms or armpits etc. can get sweaty, or your heart can increase, just by thinking on a stressful situation.
Super silly if you are thinking about it. The stressful situation is not even happening to you, you are just imaging it, but your body is reacting to it. You are effectively putting your body into a stressful state even when the stressor doesn't exist at the moment.
If you have the power to put your body in a stressful state, you also have the power to relieve it from stress.
Take control of your stressors and daily life
Once you changed your attitude towards stress, the next step you should take is understand your stressors.
Like I mentioned, I believe many of us are trying to use quick fixes and wants to do some type of relaxation techniques to relieve stress.
This however fundamentally flawed and it's only easing the problem but not actually fixing it. Fixing the problem would be to go to the source and eliminate and learn to manage your stressors as much as possible.
Prevention, in one word.
I hope that makes sense to you as well. How do you do that you might ask? Well it's rather simple really.
This journaling exercise can help you to identify and rank your stressors in order of importance. In short, you will monitor for two to four weeks when you get stressed, what stressing you etc.
With the help of this simple exercise, you will figure out what causes you headaches (literally) and identify the real issues in your life.
Structure your day for relaxation
I think one of the biggest flaws of our modern lifestyle is that we live an overly busy life. Funnily enough, I think many of us don't even realise it anymore.
We take it as given.
Well, thinking that it's standard that our life is super busy is not the best approach to stress management. If you would like to relieve stress, you should build up a lifestyle, a daily schedule, that concentrates on relaxation and peace.
Might sound fluffy and unbelievable, or even too obvious, but it's really not that difficult.
If you do the exercise above with the stress journal, you already have made the first step (or second if you read the paragraph before as well 🙂 ).
If you try to eliminate your stressors as much as possible and manage the rest, you will notice already how your days are becoming focused less on stress and more peace.
Further, you should make sure that relaxation is embedded in your daily routine. Here are some typical examples how you can make this happen:
- Create a morning routine, involving some sort of exercise, and/or self-reflection and healthy food. If you can't create a morning routine, create an evening one.
- Make sure to take two-three breathers during the day. Like literally, learn breathing exercises, stop during the day and re-focus on peace and relaxation.
- After work spend some time with someone or on something that you love. Be that your family or hobby or whatever.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Tiredness is a sure way down on the road of stress.
- Learn to prioritise and manage your to-dos and time. Stop over cluttering your day with to-dos. You don't have to solve everything today.
These habits might take some time to develop. Something that you can start with right now however is...
Develop a healthy f*ck it mentality
Before you skip this paragraph... It's really not that bad as it sounds.
Developing a healthy 'I don't care' mentality doesn't mean that you become this anarchist who let's the world burn to ashes. It doesn't mean you become an unlikeable person, who others will try to avoid.
It simply means that you ask yourself the question:
'Will I remember this problem, or will it have a major impact on my life in 1 year?' - If not, stop stressing.
If you won't remember this problem, or it doesn't have a major impact on your life, stop stressing about it. Who cares, why does it matter?
Stop trying to make things look and feel more important and more dramatic as they are.
Some things are just bound to happen, and some things you won't be able to change. In these cases you just have to...
By all means, if you think you can change the outcome of an undesirable situation, please do so.
I mean there are so many famous stories about people who didn't take no for an answer and who faced all odds to improve their lives.
I am a huge believer of positive thinking with concentrated action. I believe thinking that good things will happen and visualising stuff is great, but that alone won't get you far. You have to take action.
That being said, there are moments in life when you cannot change a situation because an event happened or maybe the laws of nature are in play.
In those cases, you have to learn acceptance. You need to learn to let go, because there is nothing you can do. Thinking about a negative situation is only constructive up until the moment where you take the learnings from it.
That's all that you should do. Think about what happened, take the learnings, so next time you can be smarter and afterwards let go.
Acceptance is not only handy however in situation that you cannot change but also in general when you are facing a challenge or a possible negative outcome.
What you can do in a stressful situation like this is to ask yourself: 'What the worst thing that can happen?' Once you think about it, you can compare it to the very worst thing that can ever happen to you (that you might die) and see that the worst that can happen is not that bad.
Obviously this doesn't work in all situations, but I am pretty sure it will work more than 80% of the situation when you are worrying about silly small things.
If you have also been trapped into the illusion of trying to create a stress free life, you can forget about this myth. Stop stressing about trying to create some picture perfect advertisement life that isn't there.
Instead spend your time on learning techniques that can help you minimise stress.
Change your lifestyle in way that focuses on relaxation and peace. Re-think how you see stress, identify your stressors, develop a more positive lifestyle and learn to care less and accept things that cannot be changed.
I hope this short article will help you in realising your ideal lifestyle!
Let me know in the comments if you are using any of these tips or if you have anything else you would like to add. 😉 Curious about your experiences!
Relax and be well,