Millennials are the most stressed generation. (1) More Americans are stressed than ever before. (2) Stress can lead to a degradation of physical and mental health, including, most shockingly, a shorter lifespan and brain shrinkage. (3,4)
There are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is actually positive stress. It’s a response to a change in our lives that can also create excitement, motivation, has a short lifespan, and feels manageable. (5) Distress is what creates the statistics mentioned above. It causes anxiety, decreases our performance, is viewed as outside our coping skills, and can negatively impact mental and physical health.
Let’s say you’ve got a vacation coming up. Your bags are packed, your plane tickets are downloaded, and you have a taxi scheduled for the airport in the morning. You’re buzzing with anticipation, going over your packing list one more time to make sure you didn’t forget anything. You wake up a couple of times during the night, just to make sure you didn’t oversleep. You’re excited. You’ve been longing for a relaxing trip on the beach, and soon you’ll be there.
That would be eustress. It’s short-term, temporarily increasing your performance by boosting adrenaline, and is positive.
In a different scenario, you have trouble sleeping. You no longer look forward to nighttime because you anticipate flipping around in bed, your mind filled with thoughts and worry about how tired you’ll be the following day. You pick up your phone and start scrolling, knowing screens only decrease your chances of falling asleep, but it’s the only thing that takes your mind off insomnia. The cycle continues.
This is distress. It’s prolonged, creates a cascade of other emotions, and generally feeds off itself. When doctors treat insomnia, they often address the main symptom accompanying sleeplessness: stress. When we aren’t sleeping, we feel stressed about not sleeping, which continues to prevent us from falling asleep.
These two examples demonstrate the normalcy of stress. Both positive and negative events can be stressful, and many of our stressors can’t simply be removed. When we experience distress, it affects our emotional well-being just as much as it affects our physical well-being. We become irritable, impatient, angry, or experience a decrease of interest in things that used to make us happy.
The good news is, even though stress is inevitable, suffering is not. By changing our relationship to stress and removing what stressors we can, we return to a state of peace, and ultimately, relief.
The Stressors We Can Control – Time to Eliminate
One of the reasons millennials are the most stressed generation is we’re faced with an abundance of choice. Growing up, our caretakers exclaimed, with all the love and good intentions in their hearts, “You can be and do whatever you want!”
In theory, unfettered choice sounds great. The world is our oyster! No one to tell us what to do! In actuality, when faced with too many choices, not only are we overwhelmed and paralyzed, but we also make poorer choices. (6)
We’re floundering to discover our purpose, our career, what kind of relationship suits us, where to invest our money, where to travel for New Year’s, if we want kids, and which events we should attend over the weekend. We’re constantly faced with choices, and those endless possibilities we were promised as children haven’t lead to liberation. They have lead to entrapment.
Just because excessive choices exist doesn’t mean we have to consider every option. Here are a few things you can do to eliminate unnecessary choice from your life, and replace stress with a greater sense of well-being and love.
Be present with who you are and what you have right now. Consumerism is built on a lacking mentality. If we’re constantly stressed because we don’t think we have enough, or we are overwhelmed by all the choices presented to us that will define who we are to the world, it’s time to stop seeking.
Notice what you already have around you, what things you’ve already accomplished, and all you have to be grateful for. Settle into where you are right now, without the need to improve or change anything. This might not be how you approach things forever, but see if your level of stress changes by reducing choice. In the space where stress once existed, feel your heart fill instead with gratitude, appreciation, and love for the ways in which the world already supports you.
Prioritize your choices. Decision fatigue is a real thing. If we’re spending our days making choices, our focus wanes, and our performance diminishes.
With the emergence of life hacking, a lot of us are testing new ways in which we can alter our lives to make improvements. Ironically, upending multiple areas of our lives at once can decrease our stability, thereby increasing stress.
Make a list of what’s important to you and focus on the top three. For two weeks, put all of your energy into these three areas. This is where you’ll be dedicating your power of choice. Let everything else falls away.
For example, your top three things might be your relationship with your partner, your health, and becoming a better writer. Focus exclusively on these three things. Everything else isn’t important. This is why Obama had two styles of suits from which he chose every single day as president – he eliminated choice where it wasn’t important. This practice will inherently bring more ease back into your life. Your focus has gone from being diffused to unified on the three awesome things. What’s not to love?
Too Many Yes’s
How many of us have dugs ourselves into a deep well of stress by agreeing to everything? When we don’t put boundaries on our workload – social engagements included – it’s easy to over-book ourselves until we can’t fully follow through on anything.
Saying no is hard in our culture. We pride ourselves on being able to multi-task, pulling all-nighters, working beyond what any normal human should do, then pretending like it was easy. In order to change our culture of achieving more and more, and the stress it brings, we need to learn to say “no.”
This harkens back to your top three priorities. When faced with a choice outside those priorities, ask yourself these questions:
- Will I be able to comfortably accomplish this task without compromising the quality of my attention in other areas of my life?
- Is this going to create more stress?
- Am I willing to let a priority go in order to say “yes” to this commitment?
More often than not, we’re afraid to say “no” because we don’t want to let the other people down. In hindsight, saying yes and getting too stressed to follow through on a commitment is far worse than saying no.
Our relationships play a significant role in our happiness and our quality of life. If we’re hanging out with people who are always negative, it brings us down, too.
It’s time to remove toxic relationships. They only increase stress. If there’s a toxic relationship you simply can’t avoid, try talking with the other person. Let them know you love and support them, and you’d like to try something new in your relationship, like starting each coffee date with three things you’re grateful for, or not talking badly about other people. Make it seem like a venture you’re on together – a venture to relieve stress and improve the quality of both your lives.
The Stressors We Can’t Control – Time to Change Our Relationship
Our alarm clocks go off, high-pitched and annoying, and we fumbled out of bed to work. Traffic hits unexpectedly and we arrive late. Our calendars fill up with the kids’ summer activities and family visits, overlapping in contortionistic ways. We can’t eliminate all stressors from our lives. What do we do?
How we respond to stressors is one-part biology, one-part choice. Our bodies react in the typical way – heart rate increasing, mouth parched, body trembling, energy swelling. When this happens we can either get swept away by stress, or implement a practice proven to diffuse stress so we can carry on with our day.
Here are proven methods for reducing stress:
Create. It may seem counterintuitive to create something when you’re stressed, because we tend to feel creative when we're calm and peaceful, but creativity can reduce stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing, painting, sewing, dancing, anything! Feel yourself focus in on one task as everything else drop away.
Meditate. Our 30 Days of Mindfulness meditations are perfect for when you’ve lost your cool and want to come back to center. Step away, even for three minutes, and sit with your breath until you feel your heart rate return to its normal rhythm. Try taking the 30 Days of Mindfulness challenge series to experience this for yourself firsthand.
Yoga. Certain yoga poses are particularly effective for relieving stress, like child’s pose, corpse pose, or eagle pose. Find a quiet corner and get your yoga on for a few minutes. Notice how changing your body's state directly impacts your mind.
Talk to a friend. Just as toxic relationships can create stress, positive relationships can reduce stress. Call a trusted friend and ask if you can talk things through. Let them know you don’t need to find any solutions or be fixed, you just want to be heard for a few minutes.
Journal. Sometimes venting onto paper is all we need to free our minds of all we have going on. As you write your thoughts down, imagine them leaving your body. End your journal session by writing three things your grateful for. It’s always nice to balance out the light and the dark. Or better yet, try our 30 Days of Gratitude challenge series. All of our challenge series have a journaling component to them. That's why we say “Don't just journal, journey” because we turn journaling into a journey of self-exploration in a simple stress-free way.
Music. Listening to music, especially peaceful music, decreases our stress hormone levels. Grab your headphones, close your eyes, and allow the music to fill you up. Or, if you need something more upbeat, crank it up and dance!
Tea. Studies have shown that drinking green tea can actually reduce stress. If you want to avoid caffeine all together, try lemon balm tea or chamomile tea for their stress reducing properties. Tea also helped our co-founder Ebin Barnett escape alcoholism. He grabs a cup of tea now instead of the bottle when he's stressing out. (He says a little chocolate ice cream helps too ?)
Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy, or inhaling certain scents, has been shown to reduce stress. Lavender is a great scent for reducing insomnia, anxiety, and even pain. Place a few drops on your finger tip and rub it on your temples, chest, or wherever feels good. Inhale deeply.
All of these things and more are incorporated into our different challenge series. They take the work out of finding a daily stress reducer and make it fun! Try one out and see for yourself why so many people have made it part of their daily practice. You may be surprised at how much a few intentional minutes a day can do for you.