By Pooja Lohana
“Problems are to the mind what exercise is to the muscles,
they toughen and make strong.”
~Norman Vincent Peale
I am a self-employed freelance writer and if you have ever worked for yourself (or worked at a demanding job), you can probably related to the sentiment that stress from work is one of the biggest factors that can cripple your mind and body.
As much as being your own boss is fun and it can give you the tremendous freedom, it can also be extremely demanding and emotionally stressful. You end up wearing many hats in your company: marketing, HR, the IT person, customer relations and CEO. If I stopped working, so will my business. All pressure is on me.
As the day starts, my brain races through the list of tasks that “must” be fulfilled during the next 10-12 hours. Sometimes, I’d get so distracted that I would completely ignore what my partner just said. Sometimes, I would rush through a whole day and not remember what I ate for breakfast.
Has this happened to you? Can you remember the last time you brushed your teeth or bathed mindfully?
Progress and stress seem to go together. There is hardly anyone who manages to glide through life with zero stress.
Frankly, I believe stress is there for a reason—and a good one. In terms of a simple equation, it is a negative motivation that if X doesn’t get done, Y will result. Y is not something attractive and you’d like to achieve Z. So X must be done at any cost.
But if we let stress take over our lives, we lose control and fail to achieve anything. It becomes a hurdle instead.
I have come to realize that more than getting things done, more than self-motivation, more than self-discipline and any commitment, I first must tackle one serious concern: the stress in my daily life.
It is true that we cannot completely eliminate stress from our lives. But we can minimize it to create a more controlled, productive and enjoyable experience here on earth. And it is possible irrespective of how “hard” your goals are to reach.
In other words, if you decide to beat stress, you will. How? We’ll talk about 5 ways on coping with stress. But first, a personal story.
Personal Story on Stress
Recently, I was beaten by stress left, right, center.
I felt like a squirrel running in a cage. I had several projects on my platter—a new non-fiction book to be ghost-written; a bunch of articles to be edited for a personal trainer; a press release to be written for a magazine; interview questions to be devised for an expert/scientist in the field of climate change and some editing work for Tina.
As you can see, the projects were pretty spread out and a bit all over the place. But this was nothing new. However, this time something entirely outside of my expectations happened.
I was starting to get furious because I couldn’t achieve things as scheduled and when I did, I saw my quality suffer. Tina asked me to relax, and write from a place of inspiration. I tried several recommended resources and tried to relax.
Yet, nothing much happened. I kept losing.
Then I was asked to take a break and come back to it when I felt inspired.
But I didn’t take a break. I continued to force the creativity out of myself. “Come out! Show me your face. I am waiting.” I pleaded my muse. I was not letting this go. The fight was on.
Needless to say, I was exhausted. Do you know why I lost? Can you figure why I couldn’t force the creativity out of me? Because I couldn’t give myself permission.
“What permission, Pooja”?
Permission to . . . fail. Permission to feel low. Permission to feel unmotivated. Permission to just be even if it meant being unproductive for a while.
Do you know what I mean? Can you relate?
Being a driven person, I’ve never missed a deadline—it was just “not me”. So I used the persuasion tricks on my body and mind.
“Come on you two, if you bring me fresh ideas I will give you a break. I will give you fresh air. I will love you more.” I’d try to convince myself.
The more I fought and forced my creativity to show up, the more it hid from me. The farther I ran away from feeling pathetic—well, you guessed it—the more miserable I was! In the end, I was more worn-out and stressed-out.
So what was happening? How was I, the sole member of my company, supposed to break this cycle of stress and keep myself going?
My Revelation about Stress
After about 2 weeks of this back and forth action, I realized I had to stop. Just be still and look straight at myself. No more pretenses, no more running away.
Finally, yesterday, at 5 am in the morning, I woke up, sat still in my bed, and just observed in silence.
There was a cry from my ego—it tried to distract me. Basically, it tried to prevent me from feeling pathetic. But I continued observing.
I felt every single emotion that was chained inside me. From a deep sadness to a feeling of bubbling enthusiasm for the future. I was overwhelmed with tears. I had just given myself the permission. And it didn’t suck at all.
I realized that it was . . .
- okay to not be perfect every single time
- okay to take time off
- okay to accept the highs and lows of your productivity
- okay to love and hold your inner child
I understood the most important thing for me was not finishing everything on time, not producing exceptional work, not even prioritizing things—no.
The number one thing for me to do, as I realized in that moment, was to accept my present state of mind. After I did this, I was truly let free.
5 Ways of Coping with Stress
I am not going to pretend these methods will make you stress-free for life. But they will prove to be your armor against stress and help you minimize your everyday tension. If you’re looking for a once-and-for-all kind of solution, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Progress and stress tend to alternate like ebb and flow of life’s waves, so let’s just accept it before we move further, shall we?
In those two weeks of coping with stress, I employed some ways to gradually feel better. And I did.
Stress Coping Method #1: Banish the Media
It is not surprising—most of the negative information comes from various media.
I don’t ask that you completely disconnect from the external world or that you don’t stay abreast with the latest happenings around. But while you do so, remember that what sells is always what’s broadcasted.
Stay away from the toxicities of news. Choose what you’d like to feed your psyche and reject the rest. Be mindful while you engage with the media and consume information.
Stress Coping Method #2: Move Your Body
Life is movement. If you go beyond the atom level in a human body, you will find what remains is pure energy. And you will notice a beautiful movement in this energy. Our bodies are meant and made to move.
Make sure you exercise in regular doses—even 15 minutes of simple stretching exercise everyday will help you stay rejuvenated for hours. Also, make sure you take ample breaks from your home-office desk. Get up, drink a glass full of water, stretch and come back afresh!
Stress Coping Method #3: Don’t Panic
That morning I realized that even though I was blessed with a lot of loving people in my life, not everyone will choose to remain a part of my life forever. It’s harsh and gave me the shudders. But it was ultimately a truth.
Another truth I realized was that there was just one entity who will always be there for me—always. No strings attached. And that’s my inner self. In good times, and in bad, it is there to comfort me.
So what’s the point to panic? None. Whatever happens, always remember you are not alone. Don’t panic.
Stress Coping Method #4: Morning Rules
Being a work-from-home gal, I didn’t have any restrictions of waking up early. However, I noticed that no matter what time I woke up, there were some “morning no-no’s” that when followed led to a more peaceful and more clear state of mind. Some of the things I stopped doing first thing in the morning were:
- Reading newspaper or watching TV
- Worrying about what problems I have
- Trying to be perfect
- Check my email or facebook
Our brains are most receptive in mornings. It is therefore best to avoid the above items. In the same way, there are some morning routines I’ve started to do:
- A 5-minute silence first thing I wake up
- Being easy on myself
- Having a proper breakfast
- Treating myself well—jumping into shower with rich aroma oils that leave a lasting feel-good effect
- Choosing a new place to write, like a café or my local library, if the desk doesn’t invite my creativity
- Taking a walk in the park near my house
Stress Coping Method #5: Become Financially Aware
I left this for the end because I wanted to highlight the other stress coping methods more. Still, I cannot deny finance is one huge source of stress for many people.
Are you aware of your expenses? Do you do your own taxes? Even though you hire someone else to do them, do you understand the whole thing? Do you strive for a better and improved financial independence? Do you have a mental block when it comes to wealth?
Money has earned a bad name but it is important even though you have a great house, relationships and marriage. Lack of money is a stress accumulator. Therefore, it’s important we remain aware of our finances all the time.
~ ~ ~
I have one last thing to ask of you: Listen to your inner child when it is feeling low. Accept that stress is there and focus on dealing with it rather than on it. Once you give yourself the permission to feel bad, that too shall pass and everything will look brighter in the morning.
About the Author
Pooja is a writer and editor residing in Melbourne, Australia. She is the rock-star Editor on our brother site Work Awesome. She is also on the team of editors for several Australian publications.
In March 2010, after fully awakening to her passion for writing and publishing, she left a successful software engineering career to pursue her love for writing.
Today, she works from home in her jammies, while enjoying a view of sunny Melbourne from her balcony. Read more about her at her blog– Of Parchments & Inks.
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