You may have noticed that I didn’t write as much as usual here. There’s a good reason for this: I’m moving out. I left behind my house in the suburbs, rented a small apartment downtown and I’m one step closer to a full digital nomad lifestyle. The causes and effects of this move have much deeper implications that I can cover in only one blog post. I think I may talk about some of them in the upcoming weeks. For now, it’s enough to tell that life is rapidly settling in a new shape for me.
The process of moving out wasn’t without complications. And, since it’s, well, a process still unfolding, I can safely tell that it’s still filled with complications. From the moment I decided to look after a new place until this very moment, things rapidly changed their peaceful course to a roller coaster one. And, during this process, guess what I experienced the most (a part the normal joy, exhilaration, excitement and deep transformations created by a life changing experience)? Yeap, stress 🙂
As usual, when I stumble upon some unusual situation, I try to extract as much meaning and learning as I can. And here are 5 things I learned about how one should manage stress in the last 2 weeks.
1. Never Take A Decision On An Empty Stomach
I bet you were waiting for something smart and, possibly, hard to understand as the first tip. Sorry to disappoint you, but this proved to be one of the best rules of coping with stress that I learned in the last 2 weeks. And there are serious reasons for that.
From a physiological point of view, unless you’re feasting for a while now, and your metabolism is already adapted, hunger will adversely affect your brain. You won’t be able to send the correct information to your brain nor to get the correct answer. Your biology will literally be changed and our biology is directly affecting the way we process information.
From a psychological point of view, when you experience a major shortage in your mental ecosystem (like a fundamental need still unfulfilled) you’ll instantly try to compensate. You will be pressured to take the best short term decision, so you can get back to your meal. In other words, you’ll trade the long term benefits of your decision for a short term improvement in your satisfaction balance.
2. Never Take A Decision When You Didn’t Have Enough Sleep
That’s pretty much the same as above, but with a few important differences. Sleep deprivation can act as a double edge sword. On one side, it can give sudden insights, intuitions or it can make you a better problem solver, but on the other side, it can really fog your conscious field. The better problem solving abilities are created because of the shift in perspective you get when you’re lucid for more time, but at the same time, your biology can’t really cope with these prolonged intervals of sleep imbalance.
Won’t get into body chemistry details here (do a search for serotonin, if you’re really into it) but it’s enough to let you know that you should definitely postpone any important decision for a time when you’ll have the minimum hours of sleep under your belt.
Not to mention that the mere ability to negotiate and postpone important decisions for a better moment will be in itself an important stress relief.
3. Establish Clear Exit Points
Stressful situations may spiral for ever if you don’t establish clear exit points. There are only 24 hours in the day, and you can’t possibly finish every thing that you want to in order to bring back order into your life. Chaos will have this tendency to feed itself with the very raw energy you spend to beat it, if you don’t apply short corrections. So, instead of playing the hero that stays up all night packing furniture, just create some mental milestones and, as you reach each and every one of them, get them out of your mind.
If you don’t establish clear exit points, the result will be that you will soon be out of fuel. In your desperate attempt to get out of the stressful situation, you will sink more and more, simply because you didn’t establish when exactly you’re “out”.
This happens more often than you think, and I’m not talking only about stress spikes, but also about more peaceful periods of our life. How do you decide when to relax and when to work? How do you put these mental stops between doing stuff and analyzing what you did?
4. One Thing At A Time
Set short term goals that have to be met in order to move further. During stressful situations, because we’re still acting on the flight or fight impulse, we want to solve everything in one move. In my experience this isn’t happening. Never. Instead, we can improve several parts of the situations and gradually approach the rest of it.
It really goes hand in hand with number 3, when you have to establish clear exit points, but here it’s more on the “break it down in edible chunks” side. Regardless of the size of the stressful situation, it can always be broken down in smaller pieces. Do this process as often as you can and focus only on the next milestone, not on the whole process.
If I’m not doing this I’m almost always paralyzed by the size of the task that I have to solve and the end result is that I can’t move on. On the other side, when I’m breaking it into small chunks, I move forward.
5. Be Flexible
It’s crucial to look around and take advantage of any opportunity that may arise. Especially when we’re stressed we tend to turn inside and completely ignore the outside world, as a mechanism of protection. Instead of doing this, try to keep your eyes open, things may not be as ugly as they seem, as long as you’re ready to act upon your opportunities.
For instance, as I was getting ready to move all my stuff in the new apartment, I completely ignored what would have happen to the house. My focus was only ahead, ignoring what was behind. But as I stepped back for a while, I remembered that somebody, a few months ago, asked if the house was for rent. It wasn’t, at that time. But it could be, now. Called the guy, set up a meeting and in less than 12 hours we reached to a deal.
So, every time you’re getting too trapped in your own battle, do this effort of stepping out of your own skin and look at yourself from the outside. It’s not an easy process, I agree, but it’s one that pays back big time.
So what are your tricks on fighting stress?