Before I went on my journey to America I sometimes suffered from stress. Being an entrepreneur means that you have to think about a lot of things. It’s not simply working from nine to five, but it goes always on, at least in your mind. Going on a real vacation helped me breaking free from that and when I got back I noticed that one thing was different: I didn’t have any stress anymore. Now I’ve been back for three weeks and there have been moments that stress tried to get back into my life, but every time I notice it, I take a break and be in the moment.
This morning I thought about writing a blog about dealing with stress and a while later when I was in the train and listened to the latest episode of one of my favourite podcasts. It turned out to also be about stress. You can listen to it here. I don’t believe in coincidence, so without further ado is here my advice on dealing with stress.
We seem to be living in a faster time than ever before. We multitask a lot and there are hundreds of things each day calling for our attention. If you’re like most people, the first thing you do in the morning is checking your phone for messages, then rushing to get ready to go to work, trying to fit in sports and a social life somewhere before or after dinner and checking your e-mail while going back to bed. And I didn’t even mention the extra things that are added when you’re getting a family with a couple of children, because I don’t have experience with that. That probably adds a few more things that are literally screaming for your attention. All with all does this sound like a perfect recipe for stress and I’m not surprised that many people of our generation are at home with a burnout.
I believe that life isn’t supposed to be lived stressful, so here are five tips for removing stress from your life.
1. Phone away
Let’s start with the hardest one that has a lot of impact. For already a long time I’ve been amazed by how we live with our mobile phones. Whenever you go to a public place, nine out of ten people are staring at that little box in their hands. If our great grandparents would have seen us, they would have thought we’ve all gone crazy and perhaps they would be right. There has been written so much about how we should spend less time on our phone, but maybe this video titled Look Up says it best. I’m not saying you should throw your phone out of the window, but don’t let it control the best moments of your day. When you wake up in the morning, don’t overwhelm yourself immediately with all the information and notifications on your phone. When you’re eating a meal with family or friends, put your phone away, be really there. Not only will this improve your relationships, but it will minimise the demands for your attention all day and that will lower your stress. By putting your phone away from time tom time, it’s easier to be in the moment and to be fully there.
That brings me to my second point: meditation. When I was younger I always thought that meditation was something vague that Buddhist monks would do in their temples. Over time I’ve learned that it’s much simpler and more down to earth than that. Meditation is mainly focussing on your breath or any other thing that can keep your attention and help you letting go of the continuous stream of thoughts in your mind. These days there are many apps to teach you meditation. Calm.com is my favourite, they give a free course of seven days in which you learn how to meditate in just a couple of minutes per day. What meditation can do for you is helping you let go of all the thoughts that ask for your attention. I’ve learned that most stress actually comes from your thoughts, so if you can leave those aside for a while each day, it can help you be more at peace and less stressful.
Your first reaction might be: I don’t have time to workout. I get that. We have so many things on our todo list that we’re already stressed that we don’t have time to do it all, let aside having time to workout. But here is the thing: working out doesn’t need to take a lot of time. The seven minute workout was a hype a few years ago and shows that you can work on your health in less than ten minutes. My personal favourite workout app is Runtastic Results. Their workouts take about 20 minutes, which is still doable. Where to find 20 minutes each day? You may ask. The answer is quite simple: set your alarm clock a bit earlier. That might require some discipline, but it’s well worth it. Doing a workout is a great way to release stress from your body and it helps your mind focus on something completely different than all the things you have to do today. If you have more time available then more extreme sports like rock climbing or mountain biking can be very helpful as well. Those sports require your full attention and are therefore great to let go of your thoughts. When you’re hanging on a rock with one hand, you don’t worry about your work or errands, you’ll be in the moment and use your complete focus to climb. Doing sports is a perfect combination of working on your body and your mind simultaneously and working out everyday is a great way to get stress out of your life.
The same ‘having no time’ arguments as with working out might come up here, but taking time to do something you love is essential to live a joyful life and to let go of stress. Doing something you love each day gives you something to look forward to and a moment to let go of everything. I recently started learning calligraphy and besides that I enjoy it a lot, I’ve also noticed that I forget other things when I’m doing it. Even if it’s just ten minutes per day, it gives a break in between all other things and help you recharge. Need some inspiration? Here is a list of things that don’t require a lot of time and can be fun and relaxing to do: keep a journal, practice hand lettering, cook dinner at home, plant your own vegetables in your back yard, read books. I think those kind of things help you being in the moment and do something not stressful.
I saved the best for last: vacation mode. In the past couple of weeks several people asked me, “are you already back in work mode?” and I could answer them no with a smile. When I was on vacation in wide nature areas, sometimes without cell phone reach, there were no phone calls or e-mails I had to answer right away. I couldn’t always work and clients had to wait a day or sometimes longer. All turned out well without me stressing too much about it. That taught me a big lesson: stress is all about mindset. It’s not the situation you’re in that is stressful. It is what you think about it that makes you stress. These days we’re so used to instantly reacting. We get a text message and jump out of our seats and answer immediately. We get a phone call and almost always pick up the phone, even if we’re in the middle of a conversation with someone. You don’t have to do that, it’s perfectly fine to let people wait a while. If you don’t finish all the things on your todo list, the world doesn’t come to an end. Tomorrow there’ll probably be another day. I’m not saying you should be lazy. I believe in hard work at the proper times, but you don’t need to stress about it all the time. It’s easy to be fully occupied in the morning by all the things you need to do that day. It happens from time to time to me, but when I feel that it’s giving me stress I stop for a moment and think back about being on vacation. I didn’t need to stress back then and I don’t need to stress today. Stress is a choice and you can choose to be either occupied by it or to mentally lean back in your comfortable chair. While I’m writing this my dad just called to tell me that life is to be enjoyed. Something my parents often tell me and a lesson I’ve taken to heart a long time ago, maybe something to write about in another story. The lesson here is: whenever you feel like you’re getting stressed, stop for a moment and switch back to vacation mode. Unless there is an emergency, there is no need to instantly respond or take action. Be in the moment, be in vacation mode.