A dozen sure-shot ways to dissolve stress

Here are some practical, no-nonsense tips to eliminate the causes of stress and live a more fulfilling, peaceful life

Man enjoying in the beach sitting on the floats

1. Do more things live

Are you living life through the pixilated gauze of a computer screen? Are your conversations with others conducted mostly by keyboard? Does your travel consist of looking at photographs in a magazine? Are your adventures played out vicariously on a game console? Are you more familiar with TV characters than your own neighbours?

As ingenious as technology may be, it can’t replace flesh and blood, fresh air, natural sights, sounds, smells, and physical activity. And you need that. More than you think. Constantly living one step removed from reality, you can easily lose touch with it. And fall victim to the stress, anxiety and isolation of physical detachment. You’ve got to get out more. Be with real people, see real things, and experience live events. There’s no substitute.

2. Take a tech holiday

Spend a day unplugged. No cell phones, TVs, computers, video games, DVDs, personal stereos, [and this is tough] PDAs, or other digitally fed distractions. Instead, strive to have face-to-face conversations, read books, take walks, play with the kids, visit friends, or just sit quietly and think. Find out how soothing and restorative it is to be UNconnected once in a while. And how refreshing it is to take a break from our growing dependency on these devices, which are meant to be tools, not ends in themselves. Keep technology in its proper perspective. And your humanity first and foremost.

3. Lose an argument

That’s right, lose an argument. When was the last time you looked someone squarely in the face and said, “You know, you’re right. I’m wrong. Thanks for straightening me out.” Hard to do, isn’t it? We’d sooner cling to a worthless position than admit we’re in error. But a humbling concession now and then is a great relief. Because it removes the onerous pressure of trying to defend a flawless facade. An image that fools no one. And displays weakness rather than character. [Don’t we see it every day in our politicians?] Lose an argument. Show humility. You’ll gain a lot more respect and credibility.

As ingenious as technology may be, it can’t replace flesh and blood, fresh air, natural sights, sounds, smells, and physical activity

4. Spend time near the water

Whether it’s a stroll along the river, eating lunch by a pond in the park, weekending at a scenic lake, or vacationing by the sea… the mere sight and presence of water is a wonderful balm to a stressed-out soul. Let its naturally soothing effects ease your concerns and freshen your outlook. Let its shimmering expanse free you of the narrowed perspective of a frenzied routine. If, like most people, you’re drawn to water, follow those instincts. It’s nature’s very own tranquiliser.

5. Have more fun in bed

Man and woman cuddling in bedSo advised a popular mattress ad. And they had a point. You don’t need a study [like the one mentioned below] to tell you that a healthy sex life can reduce stress. As much as a lack of sex can aggravate it. But today, with our busy schedules and relentless ambitions, sex for many couples has become little more than an afterthought. Sometimes overlooked entirely. This is obviously unhealthy for the relationship. Which adds to even greater stress. Now, the study. According to the Royal Hospital in Edinburgh, a healthy sex life can make you look up to seven years younger, lead to greater contentment and help you sleep better. Why argue? Light the candle, draw the shades and…

6. Observe other people under stress

Notice how they rush things. How tense and wound up they can get. How they’re always apologising for falling behind or making mistakes. How they never seem to be in control, bouncing from one thing to the next, leaving loose ends and unfinished business in their wake. That may be YOU! Or where you’re headed.

So study people under stress and think about how they could improve their lives. [We’re always better at critiquing others, aren’t we?] Then apply that counsel to your own life. You can learn a lot about yourself simply by observing others.

Today, with our busy schedules and relentless ambitions, sex for many couples has become little more than an afterthought

7. Don’t put off that difficult phone call

You know you have to make that call. To appease an unhappy client. To confront another with a serious accusation. To solicit a donation from a skinflint. To ask someone out. To discuss a sensitive issue. To turn someone down. It’s not easy to do so. But it has to be done. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. And the more the anxiety builds. So take a breath. Bite the bullet. Make the call. You’ll feel a whole lot better when it’s done.

8. Entertaining is supposed to be fun, remember?

When you throw a dinner party or host a get-together, it’s not an audition, you’re not on trial and your guests aren’t judges and juries. Yet that’s how you might see it—something to fret about, even dread. Which, if you’re worried things won’t go well, will all but assure it. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about inviting people into your home and making them feel welcome and comfortable. If you’re tense and unsure, that’s what they’ll pick up on. [How many times have you attended a tautly wound event and had a perfectly lousy time?] So make it fun. Be casual, gracious, spontaneous. You’ll be a hit, and so will your party.

9. Don’t be a slave to your image

Man looking at his own imageHow much unnecessary stress, excessive work and lost time with loved ones do you incur in the name of how you look to others? Are where you live, what you drive, how you dress, and whom you socialise with, dictated more by what’s best for you and your family… or by the image you want to project? Carefully scrutinise your motives. You may find that a simpler lifestyle within your means might leave you with less of what impresses others… but more of what makes your life easier, happier and more fulfilling.

When you throw a dinner party or host a get-together, it’s not an audition, you’re not on trial and your guests aren’t judges and juries

10. Don’t trust yourself when you’re upset

You’re furious at someone. Flustered by an embarrassing thing you did. Or upset about a serious blunder you made. In that distressed state, you’re unfocussed, distracted, likely to make costly errors and thus compound the misery you’re feeling. In those situations, it’s wise to consciously slow down and proceed with caution, as if navigating a ship through perilous waters. Even better, don’t attempt anything important or complicated until you’ve had a chance to calm and collect yourself. You can’t see clearly when you’re seeing red.

11. Turn off the music once in a while

You don’t always have to have the radio going in the house and car. The constant drone of music, talk and noise can grow monotonous, be distracting, interrupt your thought process, and become a stressful irritant you’re not even aware of. Take a break now and then. Click off the radio and see how naturally relaxing, soothing and refreshing a little quiet can be. And how peaceful it is to hear yourself think.

12. Look beyond appearances to find the good in people

How callously we judge others based solely on superficial qualities! What someone wears, how they talk, where they live, or what they drive has little to do with their underlying goodness and the emotions they feel. But in our rushed and impatient dealings—to our detriment—we hastily slot people into categories and judge them accordingly.

Think of all the people you’re intimate with today you first estimated unfairly, maybe even joked about, based on outward appearances. Imagine what you’d have lost… when you can’t get beyond stereotyping. The easiest way to accept others is to know them, to discover the person inside. You’ll find that inwardly most people share similar beliefs and aspirations. You want others to understand who you are. At least afford them the same courtesy.

Excerpted with permission from 400 Ways To Stop Stress Now by G Gaynor McTigue. Published by Jaico Books

A version of this article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Complete wellbeing.

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