299: How to Live a Life with Less Stress & Why It's Vital for Good Health
"The lack of meaning in our lives stresses us out, but too much stress makes it harder to find meaning." —Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, author of The Stress Solution
Yesterday, for the entire day, aside from letting my pups outside from time to time and feeding them, I wallpapered. I turned on old British cosy mysteries (Poirot with David Suchet), and went to town (hopefully) transforming my primary bedroom from a gray space to a French/English Countryside cottage space.
After such focused projects, I sleep deeply. Stress? Nonexistent.
Dr. Rangan Chatterjee explains in The Stress Solution how when you've found something you love "time, and even you sense of self, will seem to vanish when you're busy with it." Yep, this is the 'flow state' we've heard so much about. Your emotional brain finds it difficult to grab your attention as your rational brain is being fully encouraged to grow he further teaches. All of this is to say, any negative thoughts, cannot grab hold because you are intently engrossed in something your full attention needs to be engaged with.
Dr. Chatterjee shares more specifically as psycholoist Mihaly Csikszemtimihalyi (who coined the phrase - flow state) found, flow is only fully reached when we are challenged. Which makes it all the more important to find something to give your attention to regularly you not only love doing but also steadily gives you the opportunity to grow.
All of this is to say, we can alleviate and solve the problem of unnecessary stress in our lives. And when we do so, not only will our overall health improve - in the short and long term, but we will deepen the daily contentment we experience and improve our everyday lives.
Part of struggle in America with eradicating stress is whether the culture will admit it or not, it (and I am choosing a non-human pronoun intentionally as we unhelpfully give the culture control over our lives as though we cannot change it - as though it is concrete) thrives when we are stressed. Economically, when people need something, or feel they need something (remember 'false needs' from episode #298), they feel inadequate or lacking, so they do or buy or change which requires 'something else' which keeps us out of the present moment.
Back to the pronoun of it to describe the culture which we think we don't have control over. We do.
Morrie Schwartz, the man of insightful wisdom about living and dying well introduced to readers through Mitch Albom's book Tuesdays with Morrie, expressed and beautifully exemplified the need to cultivate your own culture if the one presented by the world does not work for you.
"Morrie, true to these words, had developed his own culture—long before he got sick. Discussion groups, walks with friends, dancing to his music in the Harvard Square church. He started a project called Greenhouse, where poor people could receive mental health services. He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with his colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. he took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms . . . he had created a cocoon of human activities—conversations, interations, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl." —Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Alleviating our lives of stress will take courage - in grand, but many seemingly small ways, practiced every day until they become a healthy habit of being present.
So how can we resolve the stress problem? Dr. Chatterjee has created an acronym L.I.V.E.
L —Do Something You Love, find your flow state and engage in it regularly (often)
I — Do Something With Intent, be present fully in each day and revel in the pleasures of the little details of life which are everywhere if only we'd look. Being present enables our sight to improve and thus elevate the quality of our everyday experience. (I share an example of one such everyday moment in the conclusion of this post.)
V — Develop a Long-Term Vision, Chatterjee sites Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist whose approach to psychiatry, the world of psychiatry calls the third school following Freud and Adler. Frankl’s theory is that “the primary motivation of an individual is the search for meaning in life and that the primary purpose of psychotherapy should be to help the individual find that meaning.” Frankl, having survived Auschwitz, found the key difference was the ability to focus on what needed to be done to live because he had a sense of purpose, a long-term goal. Chatterjee sums up, "When we know the 'why' of our lives, we automatically reduce our stress load. Research indicates that we're able to endure short-term struggles with much more resilience if they're helping us achieve our long-term goals."
E —Do Something That Makes You Engage With Others, the engagement need not be a large social event, in fact, the engagement Dr. Chatterjee references is of giving to others - doing something that is helpful, useful, contributing positively in some way that is meaningful to someone else, someone who may really need what you can give.
Of course, there are MANY other choices and habits needed in our daily lives to reduce our stress and Dr. Chatterjee details them all with helpful specifics to incorporate into your routine. Below is a general list:
* First and most important: Find your purpose and meaning. How? "Find periods of calm space to stop and think and then pursue one or more new activities that you are passionate about . . . People with a strong sense of purpose enjoy significantly better health compared to those who don't including less likelihood of developing heart disease, strokes and depression. Research also shows that they sleep better and live longer . . . and live happier lives."
* Discover your raison d'être (reason for being). Give yourself the time to come to understand your true purpose, not society's, not your parents', not your spouse's, not your boss's. (explore TSLL's 2nd book to unearth your unique journey and direction)
* Get enough sleep each night (what is 'enough'? what you need to leave you refreshed and rested when you wake up)
* Prioritize regular exercise - aerobic, strength and mental (yoga, meditation, etc.)
* Eat a diverse, rich, whole, unprocessed diet of food - Eat the Alphabet he emphasizes on p. 144 in the book
* Find time to be intimate with those you love and care about - put down your phone more often and have 3D connections - eyes, touch, voice.
* Exercise your gratitude muscle every day - journal at the end of every day or anytime for 2-3 minutes, and ponder the 3-Ps - Person, Pleasure and Promise (someone who you are grateful for from your current day; something that brought you pleasure - a cup of tea, a beautiful memory made with someone; think about something that holds promise for a beautiful tomorrow/future)
* Attentively select the soundtrack of your days - relaxing music, silence, turning down the 'noise'
* Let yourself feel your feelings - have a good cry if that is what you need and then follow with deep breaths afterwards to move through whatever needs to be released.
* Find healthy ways to release stress - becoming self-aware and strengthening your emotional intelligence will enable you to notice when you are stressed. Often, it is simply paying attention to how you are breathing. Have ready practices which help you to reduce or release what has built up (such as the item mentioned above - have a good cry). Having a good uncontrollable laugh for example or coming back to your breath and breathing deeply.
* Create healthy rhythms in your daily life - sleep, eating, exercising, connecting, winding down
* Limit your time on your smart phone and especially social media sites - Dr. Chatterjee explains how with constant exposure to social media sites, he calls it 'Facebook Brain', our emotional brains become overreactive. "Your brain starts to…