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How to Live a Stress-Free Life
by Jonathan Lockwood Huie
We feel stressed when we are pulled in two or more directions. Those pulls create tension, which is stress. It is very much like a guitar string being stretched too tight - the musical note of a string in proper adjustment turns to a high-pitched twang, and finally the string breaks as the stress becomes unbearable.
There are two ways to address the issue of stress in our lives - learning to relax even while life pulls us in multiple directions, and reducing the number and strength of the demands upon our time, energy, and resources. A combination of these approaches is most powerful as some demands are relatively easy to eliminate or manage, while other demands are better dealt with by accommodation.
Here are seven tips for stress-free living...
1. Be clear about your life-purpose. Once you can describe the purpose of your life, you can set life-goals, and once you have major goals in place, you can easily decide which of the calls upon your time, energy, and resources best support your major goals, and which demands are distractions.
2. Be objective in choosing which tasks to undertake. If one of your major life-goals is stress-free living - and I hope it is - the tasks you choose to accept, and those you choose to decline, should reflect that goal. For example, paying your taxes on time is essential to stress-free living. Taxes may not directly address your spiritual purpose, or your intellectual purpose, or your emotional purpose, but not handling your taxes in a timely manner will compromise your ability to achieve any of your life's purposes, as well as creating a stressful life. On the other hand, having lunch with Judy every Thursday may support your life purpose and may not. Learn that it is okay to say NO to those demands that don't support your life purpose.
3. Cultivate the ability to say NO gracefully. Even after you have decided that a particular demand is not aligned with your major goals, there is still likely to be stress associated with declining the demand. You may feel compassion toward the person making the demand. Your upbringing may cause you to feel guilty about choosing not to do what others ask of you. And, the actual act of saying NO may cause embarrassment or fear.
First, be firm with yourself that you do not need to cater to demands that don't align with your life-purpose. Then, set about practicing the art of saying NO gracefully. Don't fall back upon untruths or excuses. Don't even say, "I'd really like to, but..." if that is not a genuine expression of your feelings. Failing to be honorable with your word will make you feel guilty - plus you are likely to get caught at it. Tell the truth - with compassion. Do acknowledge the other person's point-of-view as fully and kindly as you can. Then state your choice not to participate. Try to avoid giving reasons for your decision that the other person could argue with.
4. Don't procrastinate. Do it now, or choose never to do it. Once you become aware of a demand, make the decision of whether that demand aligns with your purpose. If it does, begin the task as soon as practical. Otherwise, decline the request right away. Certainly there are many demands that can't be handled today, but do immediately classify each demand as "do" or "don't do." There is no benefit and much stress associated with keeping a mental (or written) list of "things to do when I have the time." If you have such a list now, rip it up and burn it.
5. Learn to re-negotiate commitments. The report is due tomorrow, the project requires an unexpected amount of research, and your child just broke an arm - big-time stress. For some of us, deadlines are generally useful for keeping focus, but deadlines are also one of the bigger unnecessary causes of stress. There is no shame in occasionally renegotiating a commitment. Your boss or your customer shouldn't want a report that you threw together just to meet a deadline. When renegotiating a deadline, as when saying NO, handle the situation as gracefully as possible - don't feel guilty, do acknowledge the other's position, and be completely truthful and kind.
6. Acknowledge your own humanity. You can't do everything - no one can - and that's okay. Allocate time for sleep and for play, then divide your time among your important projects - those that further your life purpose. If you still have more tasks than time, congratulate yourself on having a large life-purpose, and then narrow your focus. Being overburdened doesn't help you get more done - actually the reverse, plus it destroys your life with stress. So cut back until the tasks match the time. Easy to say and hard to do, but you must reduce your commitments to match your time and resources if you want to live a stress-free and healthy life.
7. Even after you implement the first six tips, you are still going to feel stressed occasionally. When you do, use the tools for managing stress such as conscious breathing, walking, spending time in nature, exeercise. Make time for these activities daily. Pause every hour for a minute of stretching and conscious breathing. Take time daily for a walk - preferably somewhere green and quiet. Of course you don't have the time for exercises to manage stress, that's why you really need to do them anyway.