Almost all of us are superstressed for many good reasons. So I decided to round up some of the methods I remember to reduce stress. Unlike most of my articles, I will not provide in-depth analysis. Please use the keyword search on my site for specific issues you like to explore. You are also more than welcome to read further here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Avoiding stressing jobs and times
The best way to fight stress is prevention. Certain things are inherently more stressful than others. The most stressful jobs may include salesperson with one of the highest suicide rates of all professions, medical doctors whose job literally means someone’s life or death, and lawyer who need to please morally ambiguous clients and face their competition every day. To be frank, the list of stressful jobs is very long, and every resource has its own list. For example, being in the military is often considered to be stressful, yet generals have a very high life expectancy. What is interesting: being a researcher or professor in an institute, research lab or university is considered to be a low-stress job with a great work-life balance. So if you are freaking out as a doctor, you may find a research position both a blessing and relief.
Stress also is a part of our life cycle. Each period of life can be stressful differently based on our sensitivity. If young children get stressed, there is something wrong with their parents. However, teens are often stressed based on their popularity ranking. Young people are stress about their grades and chances of getting a job. Probably the most stressful time in lives, of most of us are 30th and 40th when we need to juggle household issues, job demands, small children, and missed opportunities. Our fifties bring the mid-life crisis and understanding that some things will never be as they were, and are often considered the most depressing times in our lives. In their sixties and seventies, most people will lose their jobs and social status, resulting in very high suicide rates. And after that, very few people can say they are in good health.
Most of us are more sensitive to some specific kind of stress. For me, the most stressful time was getting married and having two boys during a period of three years. I am still not sure how I survived that. The decade I spent in University as a student and professor, and the time of my military service where the least stressful periods of my life. I am sure for many others, the stress levels would be very different from mine. As you reduce your expectations and choose less competitive opportunities, you also reduce your stress levels.
A healthy lifestyle
The lifestyle issue is about as obvious as it gets. Healthy food and enough sleep alone will reduce stress levels dramatically. The best diet for mental health is probably the Mediterranean diet, and for low stress, you might also consider a vegetarian diet. Enough sleep is typically around 7 hours of quality sleep or at least 5 hours of sleep and siesta with a 20 min naps.
Avoiding any sort of substance abuse is pretty obvious. This means not just alcohol and cigarettes, but even some nootropics including various stimulants. Up to 6 cups of coffee per day is healthy and may help against some aging issues, but for stress reduction maybe it is best to avoid caffeine at all. A cup of red wine per day or around 100g of chocolates are also healthy, but not necessarily good for your stress.
You might draw your line somewhere since some small amount of stress is actually good. So if you happen to like beef, chocolate, and coffee, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Certain types of physical activity are good for you. Different sports are good for different things, and it is generally good and healthy to move.
For reducing stress, I think long walks, cycling and swimming are considered some of the best sports. While martial arts might be healthy and great for dealing will all the testosterone-related aggression, there is a certain level of stress in facing an opponent.
Horse riding is not always considered to be a sport, but it is probably very good for reducing stress. Pets in general, are very good for dealing with stress, and horses offer further advantages.
Some group sports, like football and basketball, might be very intense and possibly increase the stress levels, especially for the spectators.
While seriously overhyped, mindfulness is good for us on many levels, including stress reduction.
The umbrella of mindfulness includes many techniques. Relaxation can be used by everybody, and it definitely reduces stress. Breathing exercises may be very effective for reducing stress. Various stretching exercises are probably more effective for dealing with health issues than reducing the stress levels. Meditation requires more focus and dedication, and unless you are searching for enlightenment or some meaningful insights I am not sure it is more effective than other techniques.
Simply being able to stop a hectic routine and screen time, spending some time in a peaceful environment, possibly in nature, is enough to reduce the stress levels significantly. What we choose to do in that time-out might be less important than the time-out itself.
We know that religion is helpful when dealing with anxiety. It does not really matter which religion. Several mechanisms may play important roles: there might be some sort of “placebo effect”, placing responsibility on something else, transcending the ego, social community, rituals and so on. If you are not a religious person, you can still benefit from these effects.
Rituals reduce stress. Having some daily routines reduces stress. Religious people pray. Often several times each day at fixed hours. You may use a gratitude diary, relaxing visualization, breathing or eye exercises and so on.
Socialization of people with similar interests that are not job or home-related can be helpful. Learn more about the people in your life and find common interests, e.g. hobbies. Nothing fancy, just the things you both enjoy. You can talk about TV shows or computer games and have a relaxing effect.
Gamification may generate a sort of placebo effect. If you decide that by holding your breath for 40 seconds, you cause something good to happen, you may hold your breath. This will increase the chances of success. Do not really understand how. There are many brain hacks that work this way.
Transcending the ego is tough, but once we find something bigger than us we become significantly more resilient. What in the world is so awesome that you will gladly risk your life for it? Everyone has a different answer. Often it has to do with our legacy.
Art, music, literature
Art or music can reduce or increase stress. Unfortunately, people prone to stress choose stressful artistic representations as they represent them better. Do you love jazz or heavy metal rock, French impressionists or American abstract expressionism?
The state of mind in a heavy rock concert is similar to war. This has been checked using brain imaging. The best artists of American abstract expressionism, unfortunately, took their own lives. You do not need that in your life.
The relaxing kind of art and music can be defined by haters as boring or pop or cliche. If you want something more interesting yet still relaxing, you can increase the complexity of the art form. However, something that is too complex for you will be tiresome. Personally, I love jazz music and paintings by Kandinsky to reduce stress.
The effect is multiplied if you create the art. Being able to paint or play a musical instrument can often be good therapy for a wide range of stress-related issues.
Literature can be helpful too in several ways. If you write journals or a blog, you can process your feelings through writing. Fantasy or fiction may allow you to “escape” into a kinder or simpler universe of the author’s creation. Great literature helps to transcend the limitations of your own life, feel a deep unity and compassion with the characters.
Smiles, hugs and kisses
You should avoid toxic people if you want to release stress. We do not choose some of the members of our family. Spending time with your loved ones is a piece of great advice, as long as your loved ones are not toxic for you.
There are many experiments of mammals dying simply because they are not touched by their parents. The role of human touch for a baby cannot be overestimated. The role of touch for an adult is more complex, yet typically positive. We do not even need to touch other people. Cats and dogs might be better partners for physical contact. Even the blood pressure is reduced as we pet an animal we like.
We know that humor reduces stress. Laughter is a physical response that pumps the body with oxygen and releases cortisol into the bloodstream.
Even the presence of people we feel positively about reduces stress. Smiles can be contagious in a good way.
A word of caution: the stress is reduced primarily by selfless love. Romantic love may have opposite effects, increasing blood pressure, pulse, and stress levels.
In the case of chronic stress, vacation may be the best solution. Changing the environment we remove the regular stressors. People who live in a cold climate may be in dire need for sun. If you happen to live in a warm climate, you may look for a calmer environment and greener less arid nature. In either case, when we travel we often look for something directly opposite to what we have at home. City dwellers want to meet nature. Suburban dwellers may enjoy both city and nature, and typically need to travel more.
Vacations may help against not just stress, but also depression and burnout. You might even want to relocate. Relocation may be the perfect cure for your chronic stress, but it is a huge and somewhat unpredictable step. Living anywhere is very different from visiting the same location as a tourist.
In case of focused and severe distress, professional help may be needed. There are many forms of therapy intended to deal with specific situations. Some methods require simple coaching, other methods use complex methodologies like CBT or NLP. In more severe cases hypnosis or drugs will work.
There was a social stigma against people asking for professional help. Today the stigma is almost gone. We do have the opposite effect of addiction to prescription drugs and the legalization of cannabis is still a question. Quite possibly this is better than the alternatives. Too early to tell.
You may ask yourself what unique tools can we offer for the readers of this learning-related blog. Here is a short list:
- Improving productivity may provide you more time to rest and recreate.
- Better learning skills will open up new job opportunities, especially in research.
- Advanced visualization skills will help you improve your mindfulness and relaxation routines.
- You will be reading more and faster, so you get more access to the literature and other art forms.
- If you follow Anna’s training you will be able to create funny visualization any time you want, creating a lot of opportunities for humor.
- With the knowledge and experience you acquire, you will have more to give to your loved ones.