“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” ― Leonard Bernstein
Most of the times I do work, I do it with too much gusto. I furrow my brow, clench my jaw, intensely focus on the task and fry my neurons in the process.
If anyone were to pass by my door, they’d say, “Wow, he’s doing some serious work!” Of course, no one ever says that. They’re too busy being busy themselves.
I genuinely cannot think of any job I’ve had where I didn’t work quickly and intensely. From the time I was seventeen to now, I’ve been building up cortisol and adrenaline as some sort of shot of energy to power me through my activities.
And then I questioned why I felt so depleted when I was done. Isn’t it obvious?
Don’t get me wrong. There are times and certain jobs that are based on speed of completion. But even so, when the culture from work bleeds into one’s life, one loses perspective. We have to drive fast, talk fast, we get impatient with others, if something doesn’t hold our attention we switch to something more intense and we don’t give the necessary quality time in our relationships.
Fortunately, some of us are aware that we suffer from this. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to solve the dilemma. Maybe stress isn’t so much of an addiction; maybe a better word is that it is a habit. Either way, it would be nice to give ourselves the calmer life that we say we want.
Because after all, we can’t expect to live quality lives if we’re unconsciously choosing to be tense, impatient, anxious and worried. So here are some tips to improve:
1. Consciously intend to relax while working
We’ve recently planted some grass in front of the house but eventually some weeds will tend to pop up. Gardening was sometimes viewed as an interruption from things I’d rather be doing. On top of that, I’d go and hack away at the weeds.
While the more stubborn weeds will need some force or some deep digging to uproot — which will cause stress — I have to admit that the attitude that I approached the task could’ve been improved.
If I have to use force, I have to use force. There’s no other way around it (other than weed killer, I guess). But if I decided to be calm while gardening and constantly reminded myself to be calm, I could still use force and not add unnecessary stress into the equation.
As a matter of fact, I realized that I could use force and still be calm. So I highly recommend consciously deciding to maintain peace within.
I debated on whether or not to include this entry because mindfulness has become such a throwaway term that its meaning has been severely diluted. But I cannot give advice on how to relax and not include it.
Mindfulness is all about focusing on the task at hand. With this focus, you aren’t thinking about what is next or what was. You are only concerned with what is now. Mindfulness is so powerful that it transformed my hatred of washing dishes into perhaps my favorite household chore.
Washing up used to be an inconvenience, now I just love the process of having my plates, cups and cutlery clean and a clean sink.
3. What’s the root?
No, this isn’t another gardening metaphor. (Technically it is, isn’t it?)
Like any addiction, there’s a reason it started in the first place. Usually, we take up activities that block us from feeling negative emotions and from dealing with difficulties. Some introspection here will do you a world of good in order to get to the root.
I know for me I had pressure from an early age to look as if I was doing something. And if I didn’t I’d be harshly reprimanded. So in my case, even though feeling stressed never felt good, being stressed was rewarded.
Knowing the cause of why you do what you do can help to alleviate the problematic behavior itself. It’s as Rosemary Ellsworth Brown stated, “Addiction is the symptom.”
Also, you may have more than one root. You may have a network of reasons that give rise to a behavior. With steps one and two, you will be able to detect when your mood is shifting to stress. Take a look at your internal and external environment. Did something change? Is something not changing? Do you want to stop? Is something preventing you from continuing? Are you uncertain of something?
Retrace your steps and ask yourself questions to get to the new root that is showing itself.
4. Don’t beat yourself up if you get stressed
Remember that you have had a habit of getting yourself worked up and stressed out. If you fall back into old habits, accept it. It’s okay. Just decide once more to be calm and continue with what you were doing.
Beating yourself up is resentment and resentment is stress. There’s no need for it. But again, if you have the habit of beating yourself up or doing any other stress-inducing thing, cut yourself some slack. You’re a human trying to unlearn a way of being and adopting a new one.
5. Check your environment
No one really wants undue stress. Some stress is unavoidable like when we have to lift something heavy or we have a close deadline. But a lot of us are not seriously interested in cutting out the stress we cause ourselves.
As a result, you may find yourself among people who talk about or engage in stressful stuff. There are two ways to handle this.
The first option is accept what they’re doing without making it right or wrong. You simply take it as a matter of fact. This works well if you are in a situation where you can’t just leave the person or situation.
The second option is, of course, to leave the person or situation. If you ask someone to stop stressing you out, but they either don’t want to or they can’t help themselves, it is okay to leave.
Taking the first option is a bit advanced, especially if we are used to being reactive. So give yourself some grace and take a breather from the pressure.