Everything You Know About Stress Is Wrong (And 20 Ways To Beat It)

Life…it can get really messy. We live in a world that makes most of us feel unsafe and stressed out multiple times a day.

Look at our new normal. From mass shootings to the #MeToo movement, to immigration, to the drug crisis, to runaway coronaviruses.  Not to mention the every day stress from health, work and family.

We’re more stressed now than we’ve ever been. We’re more advanced but somehow we’ve gone backwards.

So how do we go about changing this? How do we kick this level of stress to the curb, stop worrying, and live our best lives?

Chronic stress is dangerous, there’s no denying that. It has seriously negative health impacts on many areas of our lives. From our mental health, relationships, and productivity to . It erodes our ability to enjoy life.

Many people believe that getting rid of stress is the goal. But recent research shows avoiding stress is not the way to go.

Stress will always be here. What we need to do is learn how to adapt to it in a positive way. In fact, some stress is actually GOOD for us.

Here are 20 ways to reduce, eliminate, or transform stress into relaxation or excitement.

1. Say "I'm excited" To Engage Your Opportunity Mind-Set

There was an experiment to test how people's mindset related to stressful events influenced their performance and experience of it.

The researchers recruited 3 groups of students to the experiment. 2 minutes before they had to participate, they were told what the experiment was: They had to sing Karaoke in front of a judge, and they would be rewarded for how accurately they sang.

When the judge asked, “How are you feeling?“ 1 group was told to say “I am nervous“ aloud before entering the room. A 2nd group was told to say “I am excited" aloud. And the final group wasn't asked.

The group that said “I'm Nervous“ failed miserably and felt it was a stressful experience compared to the silent group. The "I'm Excited" group outperformed the other two by a wide margin in terms of how well they sang, and how many words they got right. Plus, they actually ENJOYED the experiment.

The difference between EU-stress, something that's challenging, and fun, and DIS-stress, the type that will slowly kill you, is perspective. You don't need “less stress“ in your life. You need more of the good kind of stress. And what you think is good stress and what you think is bad stress is up to you.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a quick exercise to help rewire what your subconscious brain thinks is “bad stress” into “good stress”.

  • List Step 1: Think of something that is going to stress you out tomorrow. It could be something at work or at home. Just something.Element
  • Step 2: Visualize it happening and say to yourself "I'm excited" 3 times.
  • Step 3: Try to sit in a feeling of excited curiosity, like you don't know what's going to happen in a movie, but you're at the edge of your seat.
  • Step 4: Before this event occurs the next time, say aloud to yourself "I’m excited" and try to get back to that feeling of being excitedly curious.
  • Step 5: After the event has concluded, repeat “I’m excited” to yourself.
  • Step 6: Repeat this with at least 1 thing every day and you should experience more spontaneous instances of excited curiosity.

That's it. Seriously. Everything else on this list will help your brain and body process stress as a "good thing" or to help you be prepared to enjoy life instead of worrying about it.

The difference between anxiety and excitement is a perception of safety. Basically, do you believe what you’re experiencing is a threat or an opportunity?

We live in a world that makes our brain feel unsafe, and when we're unsafe, we're terrified. By reframing that fear as an opportunity, we unlock the opportunity to be excited and have fun.

As someone with chronic anxiety, I never understood why some people love roller coasters.

That was until I really got myself to internalize that I wasn't going to die (using the next trick I’m about to show you). Now I love roller coasters. It’s an opportunity to feel like I’m cheating death.

Source: https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xge-a0035325.pdf

2. The Build-In Biohack that transforms stress.

Speaking of how to calm yourself down with anxiety, when your brain is yelling “You’re going to die!”.

When we start to stress out, one of the first things that changes is how we breathe. Fast erratic breath signals to your brain and body that you're in danger.

By practicing slow deep breaths, you can reverse the dis-stress and let your body and mind know that you are under no immediate threat.

It’s simple to do.

  • Step 1: Find a place to sit, stand or lie down, where you won't be disturbed for a few minutes
  • Step 2: Put your attention on your breath
  • Step 3: Consciously start to slow down your breath by breathing more deeply
  • Step 4: Focus on taking smooth, consistent, slow, deep breaths (Bonus: Breathe through your belly for the best effect.
  • Step 5: continue for 3-15 minutes
  • Step 6: Return to life feeling less stress and more engaged

3. Natural Supplements That Heal Your Brain

One of the first things that negative stress attacks is our brain. It leads to anxiety, depression, memory problems, and much more.

Our brains create our experience of the world, and if they're not operating at their peak, that means it’ll be easy to mistake opportunities for excitement as stressful, life-threatening situations. Getting the right vitamins, minerals, and supplements can dramatically help with repairing the damage done by stress.

  • Step 1: Get your vitamins and minerals. Magnesium and Folate (vitamin B9) play key roles in our stress response. They're essential to allowing our cells, muscles, and mind to relax and recover.
  • Step 2: Proven Herbal Medicines. There are some herbal medicines that work really well. Ashwagandha lowers anxiety. Valerian root helps with relaxation. Rhodiola Rosea helps simultaneously reduce stress while improving your energy levels.                                                                                                                                                                                                  Disclaimer: SimpleSmartScience uses Rhodiola Rosea in our MindBoost Day formula because it's kind of amazing.
  • Step 3: Omega-3 Fatty Acids. There are certain healthy fats which are difficult to get enough of with our modern diets. Omega-3 is one of those miracle fats that just does wonders for your brain (and your stress levels). It’s literally a necessary building block for all of your bodies functions

These few supplements can go a long way to reducing your negative stress, enhancing your eu-stress, and helping your brain feel better.

4. Take a mental walk in nature

Being in green, natural environments puts our minds at ease.

If you can't get out to take a walk in nature, studies have found that taking a "mental walk" through nature and looking at images of green, natural environments produce the same effect.

  • Step 1: Take a mental moment away from your work (as little as 40 seconds will work).
  • Step 2: Open up google or YouTube, and find images or videos of green, natural environments.
  • Step 3: Look at these images or videos while imagining walking through them for 2 minutes

5. Reduce caffeine

From African farmers to Wall Street executives, billions of us have come to rely on the world's most consumed stimulant: caffeine.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant. It might feel like it helps you stay awake or feel like you're getting more done, but if you're already stressed out, it might be better to hold off on that afternoon cuppa joe.

Caffeine intake is a major contributor to anxiety, panic, and overall stress levels.

The military has also shown that more than 400mg of caffeine per day (basically 1 large Starbucks latte) can reduce performance and cause people to get less done and do it worse than if they just stuck to 1 normal cup of coffee.

Reducing caffeine intake can be challenging, but here are some easy ways to do it.

  • Step 1: Delay your caffeine intake.                                                                                               Consume your caffeinated drink of choice a little later each day until you're taking your first sip of caffeine at least 2 hours after you wake up. Doing this allows your body to get used to waking itself up and prevent caffeine from interfering with your sleep cycle. You'll probably get better sleep, wake up easier, and generally need less caffeine throughout the day.
  • Step 2: Consume no caffeine at night and afternoon.
    5 Hour Energy sold itself as a cure to the "2:30 feeling". However, it might be best to just relax and let your body and brain recover. Caffeine takes up to 15 hours to get out of your system. If you're drinking an evening coffee, it will disturb your sleep, furthering your dependence on the pervasive stimulant.
  • Step 3: Switch up your caffeine sources.
    Coffee and energy drinks are loaded with caffeine. 1 Grande coffee from Starbucks can have as much as HALF of what the FDA recommends as a "Maximum Safe Dose" of caffeine. After your first drink, switching from high caffeine to low caffeine beverages (like green or black tea) might help curb your caffeine intake.
  • Step 4: Take a weekly caffeine sabbatical.
    I know this sounds insane. But taking a 1-day sabbatical from your favorite stimulant every week might help your body recover from all the stress you're constantly under and prevent you from developing a tolerance to caffeine.

6. Don't rely on alcohol to “release stress”

Alcohol kills your energy levels in a more sinister way than caffeine does. Caffeine can disrupt being able to sleep. Alcohol changes HOW you sleep.

Having a high level of alcohol (in this case, about 2 drinks), less than 2 hours before you go to bed can disturb your sleep, making you feel groggy in the morning, and like you need a nap all day.

This isn't from the hangover, it's from the disturbed sleep.

Like with caffeine, there are easy ways to enjoy your drink in a healthy way.

  • Step 1: Stop drinking late at night.
    Like with Caffeine, timing is key with how alcohol influences your ability to sleep and to recover from stress. Make sure you've stopped drinking well before you need to hit the hay. If you only have a few drinks, stopping a few hours before bedtime is good.
  • Step 2: Drink a 16 oz glass of water for every drink.
    This helps reduce the amount of alcohol you consume while helping your body flush your system.
  • Step 3: Find relaxing, non-drinking hobbies and activities to reduce stress. Look through this list and find a group of new friends who don't drink as much.
  • Step 4: Join a social support group that supports not drinking (example: 1 Year No Beer)If you ever feel like you can't stop drinking, or your hangovers increase in intensity, that means you've started to develop an addiction.

7. Meditation

Meditation is one of the most powerful things you can do for your brain. And it's one of the most effective ways to reduce the stress you're feeling.

There are over 11,000 studies on meditation now. It's not some woo-woo hippy stuff that hasn't been tested. It's science, it works, and it's easy (really).

Let me show you how easy it is.

  • Step 1: Find a quiet place to sit, or get an app like Brain.fm, or just put on some white noise.
  • Step 2: Focus on your breathing
  • Step 3: Feel the air move in and out of your nostrils
  • Step 4: If your focus wanders away from your breath, just bring it back by feeling that cool sensation as you breathe in and out.
  • Step 5: Don't pass judgment on when your mind wanders, just bring it back.

Do this for just 2 minutes per day. After your first week, increase it by 1 minute a week until you reach 15 minutes of meditation.

This may seem a bit hard at first. The more you struggle, the more your brain is growing and the better you'll be able to handle stress throughout your day.

If you already meditate, you can improve your meditation by practicing meditation in more uncomfortable and distracting situations. This will train your mind to only focus on 1 thing, and be able to ignore everything else, even stuff that normally stresses you out.

Sources

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Marchand, W.R. George E. Wahlen VAMC and the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA. Journal of Psychiatric Practice 2012 Jul;18(4):233-52.
  • A randomized, controlled trial of meditation for work stress, anxiety and depressed mood in full-time workers. Manocha, R., Black, D., Sarris, J., et al. Discipline of Psychiatry, Sydney Medical School, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney University, St. Leonards, Australia. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011: 960583.

8. Exercise

Regular exercise has been shown to have many benefits. The exercises that reduce stress the most is easier than you think.

Getting just 5 minutes of exercise 6 times a day dramatically reduces stress while boosting your energy, focus, and positivity. Taking frequent breaks (about once an hour) can dramatically increase productivity too.

  • Step 1: Decide on what you'll do in your 5 minutes
  • Step 2: Decide on when you'll do it, What will trigger you to do so? For example: “Every hour, I will work out for 5 minutes.”
  • Step 3: Set yourself up for success. Make sure you have space, alert your boss you'll be taking your own version of a "smoke break" to boost your productivity, get any equipment you want to use (exercise bands are great for this), etc.
  • Step 4: Practice your new exercise habit for a week
  • Step 5: Whenever you "fall off", think about (or better yet, write down) why it happened, and what you'll do next time to make sure you get your exercise in.

9. Stretch

Our bodies build up tension throughout the day, especially when we don't move much.

Stretching helps us release that tension, and by doing so, release our stress.

Follow these steps to get a total body stretch in just a few minutes. Bonus, this can double as one of your five minutes of “exercise” from the last tip!

NOTE: If you experience significant pain during this process, stop immediately.

  • Step 1: Stand up and make sure you have enough space to bend forward.
  • Step 2: Tuck your chin and begin to slowly roll down towards your chest.
  • Step 3: Try to imagine that you’re rolling yourself up. Feel the stretch in your spine. Keep dipping lower and lower until you can put your hands on the back of your thighs. Feel the stretch through your back.
  • Step 4: Pull against your legs to keep a slight tension on your back and walk your hands slowly down your legs. At this point, think less “roll” and more “fold”. Keep going until as far as you can with no more than slight discomfort, or you reach your ankles.
  • Step 5: Once you've gone as far as you can, take your hands off of your legs, and lean a bit farther down, relaxing your spine and hips to stretch your legs. Hold this for 30 seconds.
  • Step 6: Reverse the process. Put your hands back on your legs where you released them, and walk slowly up your legs, keeping a slight tension on your back.
  • Step 7: Slowly unroll your spine until you are standing straight up again
  • Step 8 (Optional): Lift your arms as high as they will go, pointing your fingers to the ceiling. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
  • Step 9: Feel how much looser and more relaxed your body is.

10. Yoga or Tai Chi

Yoga and Tai Chi are like a combination of exercise, meditation, and stretching.

They’re based on using mindful movements to stretch your body.

  • Step 1: Decide on what you'll do in your 5 minutes. Yes, you can do a few Tai Chi or Yoga moves in 5 minutes (or less). Decide on a few moves or a very short routine you'll follow as you're beginning.
  • Step 2: Decide on when you'll do it, What will trigger you to do so? It could be before your morning coffee, or just before you leave for work or when you get off of work. Decide on a specific time or preceding event that will let you know it's time to do some movement.
  • Step 3: Set yourself up for success. Have an instructional video ready to follow. I find this is the easiest way to get started.
  • Step 4: Be mindful about your practice, triggers, and rewards for the first week.
  • Step 5: Whenever you "fall off", think about (or better yet, write down) why it happened, and what you'll do next time to make sure you stick to your routine.

Sources

  • Science
  • Yoga breathing, meditation, and longevity. Brown, R.P., Gerbarg, P.L. Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009 Aug; 1172:54-62.

11. Soothing music

Feeling relaxed lets your body recover from stress. Humans have been using music to relax and enjoy life for thousands of years.

If you feel like a robot slaved to your laptop, it might just be time to pop on some relaxing tunes and reconnect to the human side of life.

  • Step 1: Set aside at least 15 minutes to really enjoy some music.
  • Step 2: Have a playlist of music that relaxes you. It might not be the most "relaxed" music. If you feel most relaxed with Thrash metal ringing in your ears, then go for it. If the beetles are more your thing, then that's great too!

12. Do something relaxing that you enjoy

Taking downtime isn't just about sitting around and doing nothing.

The goal is to focus on something that relaxes your body and mind, and lets you recover from stress.

  • Step 1: Brainstorm a list of things you have found relaxing in the past.
  • Step 2: Pick a few of those activities you want to do over the next few weeks.
  • Step 3: Schedule in time for those activities.
  • Step 4: Treat those times like meetings with your boss (or your best client). After all, who's more important than YOU?

13. Spend time with friends and loved ones

Time together with friends and family allows us to reconnect, unwind and relax.

It also gives us a boost of powerful stress-relieving hormones like oxytocin, the trust hormone.

  • Step 1: Create a list of people you feel great connecting with.
  • Step 2: Put them on a list to reach out to regularly.
  • Step 3: Schedule in 5 minutes, at least once a week, to message them to let them know you're thinking about them and invite them to do something with you.
  • Step 4 (Optional): Invite everyone to go do something together, at the same time every week. For instance: 7 PM on Friday.

14. Get to know your extended social network

Oxytocin is released when we trust someone and feel like we've created a connection.

You can reach out to your larger social network, those "Facebook only" friends and LinkedIn connections to find new people to create relationships with.

Who knows, you might just find your new best friend!

  • Step 1: Pick a time and a place to meet up with people, like a coffee shop. By doing this, you keep control of your time and schedule. Let people come to you. No need to stress about logistics.
  • Step 2: Take 5 minutes once a week to scroll through your phone contacts, Facebook Messenger or your LinkedIn contacts, and send a message inviting them to meet up with you.
  • Step 3: If people can't make it, and you really want to connect with them, offer a few times you're free.

15. Express gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful force in the brain. Gratitude reduces stress.

It allows us to be OK with the challenges we have in our lives. Gratitude helps us reconnect with people we love.

  • Step 1: Find a place to write down your gratitude (It works better that way), or someone to express gratitude to.
  • Step 2: Write down (or say) 3 things you're grateful for.
  • Step 3: Repeat this daily and use new things every day.
  • Bonus: If you find yourself expressing gratitude about someone, send them a message or email letting them know you're grateful for them, or something they did.

16. Practice Acceptance

In life, there are some things we cannot change.

We can stress and worry about these things until it drives us crazy, but it won't change anything. Accept the things you cannot change, and focus on the things you can.

  • Step 1: Think about 1 thing that stresses you out
  • Step 2: Think about an aspect of it you cannot change which you can be Okay with.
  • Step 3: Sit in this okay-ness for 30 seconds.
  • Step 4: Repeat a few times with bigger aspects.
  • Bonus: Repeat this as part of a daily meditation

17. Practice a habit of positive self-talk

How we talk to ourselves can dramatically change how well we’re able to assess potential threats and opportunities.

If we’re always negative, then we’re never really able to take on the opportunities for fun, excitement, and growth that surround us.

By focusing on what we don’t like about ourselves, or embarrassing, or frustrating experiences that sometimes go along with life, we blind ourselves to what’s good and positive around us.

This is a quick exercise to appreciate the most important person in your life: You.

  • Step 1: Get into a mindful state. If you don't know how to do that, just focus on your breathing and think about what you're feeling, and what you're saying in your head. Congrats, you’re being mindful!
  • Step 2: Think of something that you like about yourself.
    If you can't think of anything, don't worry, we've all been there. For some of us that lasts moments, hours, days... even years. You're here, reading this, trying to improve your life. Why? Because within you is hope for a better tomorrow, and that's something we all can appreciate. So just focus on that.
  • Step 3: Focus on what you like about yourself for 30 seconds and say what you like about yourself in your head. When your mind wanders, just bring it back by repeating what you like about yourself in your head.
  • Step 4: Feel good about doing what you just did.
  • Step 5: Decide on a time and place to repeat this process every day.

18. Use the magic word to take control of your opportunities and eliminate stressful situations

Often we're stressed because we're in a position that we never wanted to be in. Maybe it was our boss, or our family, or our teachers that started us down the path to stress and overwhelm.

You're about to re-learn a magic word that can let you take control of your path and steer you away from the things that cause you dis-stress and towards the challenges that excite you.

Now, say this magic word with me: NO.

Here’s an exercise to help you say “No” when it matters most.

  • Step 1: Think about situations in the past week where you felt pressured to say "Yes", but wanted to use your magic word.
  • Step 2: Pick one and imagine what would have happened if you had deflected or summoned the magic word from your lips... "No, I can't take on that project right now.", "No, I can't take the children to soccer practice, you need to.", "No, I don't need that 4th drink."
  • Step 3: Imagine saying "No" to these requests and imagine a similar scenario where you'll need to say "No" again.
  • Step 4: As always, this might help in a moment, but the real impact is long term. Pick a time and place to repeat this process, or re-read this article.

19. Work on what's important before it becomes urgent

Feeling overwhelmed can shut us down, and cause us to procrastinate.

This procrastination puts more pressure on us to make things happen, which causes us to feel more overwhelmed, which causes us to... I think you see the pattern.

Telling you "If you don't procrastinate, you'll be less stressed out." isn't really helpful, even if it's true. So, here's a process that helps you quickly break out of procrastination.

  • Step 1: Think about what you need to get done and assign yourself a confidence score on a scale of 1 (I'm confident I'll fail so hard my underwear end up backward) to 10 (I'm confident everything will go exactly as planned).
  • Step 2: Think about the reason why what you're doing is important. In a few words, describe both what you want to do, and why it's important to get it done.
  • Step 3: Now imagine the most positive outcomes you could get from completing this task.
  • Step 3A: If your confidence level is 7 or greater then continue. If it's 6 or less, skip to step 5.
  • Step 4: Think about a likely challenge you'll experience from yourself. How will you stand in your own way? If that happens, then what will you do to overcome that? Describe this in a few words.
  • Step 5: Decide on 1 small action you could do to get started, and commit to taking that action as soon as possible (As in, right now).
  • BONUS: Apply this method to anything you want to apply from this list!

That simple exercise has been shown to reduce procrastination by up to 400% if your confidence is high, and 200% if your confidence is low.

Source: Big thanks to Gabriela Oettingen and the other researchers who have put 20 years of researching into this deceptively simple practice. Find the 20+ studies on this method here: http://woopmylife.org/further

20. Get a good night of sleep - How to sleep like a baby in minutes

Sleep is the most important piece of our day. Getting depth and quality sleep can add years to our lives, and let all the stress in our lives melt away.

But there’s a problem with that. If you’re super stressed out, I’m guessing your nighttime routine goes something like this:

  • Head hits the pillow
  • You close your eyes
  • Your brain starts pointing out everything you did wrong today
  • You tell your brain to shut up and go to sleep
  • It then freaks about out everything you need to do tomorrow or what you could have done better today.
  • You reassure your brain that it can wait while you lay comatose for 6 hours.
  • It then starts obsessing over every embarrassing memory it possibly can.

If this sounds remotely like you, you’re not alone. Most people in the USA, and around the world, don’t get the recommended 8 hours of sleep.

In fact, sleep deficits were such a problem in the US military, that it was considered a threat to national security.

They funded a big project to find out how to get people to go to sleep quickly and easily, and stay asleep, even in extreme situations (think sleeping in a cockpit on a 36-hour flight). This method is based on their findings:

  • Step 1: Start by limiting your screen time before bed (Also, install a blue light blocker like Twilight or Flux on your phone and computer). Make sure you have about an hour or two without a screen in your face (including TV).
  • Step 2: When you lay down, follow these instructions:
  • Step 3: Imagine yourself relaxing in a relaxing place.
  • Step 4: Start repeating this phrase in your mind: “Don’t Think… Don’t Think…”
  • Step 5: Next start putting your attention on the top of your head and feel it relax.
  • Step 6: Move your attention slowly down your body, rest on each area of your body (like the top of your head, ears, face, neck, shoulders, biceps, etc) for a few seconds and feel that part of you relax.
  • Step 7: Continue this process until you’ve reached your toes.
  • Step 8: Keep repeating the “Don’t Think…” mantra until you fall asleep.
  • Step 9: Repeat this process every night when you go to sleep.
  • Step 10: In the studies, after 6 weeks of training, 96% of participants were able to get to sleep in under 2 minutes.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, stress can either fill you with excitement, or dread. Excitement comes if your body and mind are in the right state and fully recovered from the last bout of intense experiences.

Treating your body and mind right can go a long way to making life feel more exciting, more often.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve learned a ton. How to transform stress into excitement, the easy way to meditate, how to bring more energy and focus into your day, how to stop procrastination, how to build new relationships, how to get to sleep in just 2 minutes and more.

Which of these tips did you find most useful? Which of these can you see using in your life?

About the Author Miguel Pasqual

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