By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D., Newportnaturalhealth.com
I spend a lot of time in my practice—and in these pages—talking about effective ways to deal with stress. After all, stress is incredibly bad for you—and it’s unavoidable. That said, sometimes the best way to deal with stress is to avoid it altogether. Cutting stress out of your life isn’t easy. It requires you to make changes—in some cases, big ones. But there’s no surer way to quiet your soul, your mood, and your health.
So today, I’m going to talk about the biggest stresses my patients talk about when they come see me. Everyone’s life will be different, of course—some people have huge financial stresses, while for others it might be all about health or work.
For most of us, it’s some combination of them all.
Whatever your major stresses are, I hope that seeing how to eliminate these particular problems can be applied to your own situation.
Dealing With Toxic People
We’ve all got someone. That person who—well-meaning or not—is just a drain on your energy.
Perhaps they corner you and won’t let you get away. Maybe they are just full of negative energy, and constantly dump it on you—either through whining, or through more aggressive techniques.
Or maybe it’s just a perfectly nice person that happens to rub you the wrong way.
Whatever the case, your toxic person can be a real source of stress. So learning how to deal with them will make a world of difference for your well-being.
Set limits. Whoever you’re dealing with, and in whatever capacity, remember that your time is your own.
And there’s no reason you have to let someone else monopolize it.
If you aren’t dealing with a recurrent pattern, you can just find a polite reason to excuse yourself from a conversation—like visiting the restroom or making a call. But if this is a problem that happens over and over, you should have a frank discussion about your boundaries.
Give clues. If talking about your needs doesn’t work, you can also give strong social cues. Things like angling your body away from the person, no longer making eye contact, or giving monosyllabic answers usually does the trick for those with any sensitivity to those around them. You’ve already told them that you don’t have the time/energy right now, so you don’t need to feel bad showing them that very thing.
Ignore away. Sometimes, a person just can’t take a hint, and you can’t get away.
Or sometimes, someone you love needs support—but more than you can emotionally handle at the time.
In those instances, it’s fine to emotionally detach. You can still nod and participate in the conversation, but you don’t have to truly engage.
In fact, you might find any related stress melting away if you stop focusing on what the person is saying, and instead feel sympathy for the state that drove them to this monopolizing, energy-sucking attitude.
Or go over your grocery list.
The point is, just because someone is talking to you, that doesn’t mean you owe them your undivided attention if you’ve made clear that they’re asking too much. In most cases, the person just wants to vent anyway—you are nothing more than a convenient excuse not to talk out loud to themselves.
Disengage, or selectively engage. Your health is worth it.
Commuting To Death
No one likes to sit in traffic. And the average American spends 51 minutes a day—or 204 hours a year—sitting in the car getting to work.
That might sound annoying, but it’s actually much worse than you think. Commutes increase anxiety—the longer the commute, the greater the effect.
Commuting increases your blood pressure—especially if you’re dealing with lots of traffic.
One study in Sweden even found that women who commuted 31 miles or more had significantly shorter lifespans!
Some of that is probably attributable to related health-risks, like sitting still for too long. But some of it is surely related to the stress of the commute, and the heightened anxiety and heart risks that come in the same package.
If you’re commuting every day—especially during rush hour—it’s almost certainly introducing a background stress to your life that’s doing you no good.
And if you aren’t commuting daily, the times you do drive may be stressful, just because you’re out of practice.
But there are things you can do to alleviate the worst of it.
Work from home. Most jobs require office time. But there are only a few that require your presence all the time. See if your company will let you work from home a couple days a week. In general, working from home is good for overall productivity, creates cost savings for your place of work, and relieves the stress of your commute. It’s a positive for everyone involved, and more and more jobs are encouraging it.
Take An Uber. If you’ve got a particularly nasty drive on the way—and it isn’t too far—Uber is a great way to avoid the stress.
It doesn’t cost very much—usually, much less than a taxi. And you’ll save all the stress—let your driver deal with it.
Shift your hours. When you do have to go into the office, changing when you go in can make a world of difference. Get out of the common 9-5 rut, and you’ll avoid the stress of heavy, congested traffic—while saving commuting time in the bargain.
Again, some jobs require rigid schedules. But many others will be perfectly happy if you show up at seven and leave at three, or if you get in at ten and go until six. And those sorts of small changes can save you hours on the road every month, along with untold amounts of stress due to congested roadways.
Change your commute. If you live in a city with good public transport, you can skip the headaches of the road, at least some of the time. If you can walk or bike to work, it’s worth doing at least some of the time, to switch things up.
All those other modes of transport come with their own stresses, it’s true. But varying your routine can at least keep one type of stress from building, and eventually becoming a big problem.
Change your location. If you’ve got to be in the office right at nine every day, then where you work should have a major say in where you live.
The longer your commute, the bigger the stress involved. If you’re driving too much each week, it’s worth it—for your quality of life, along with your health—to investigate locations closer to the office.
This may sound drastic. In some cases, it may be drastic. But it’s hard to overstate just how damaging a long commute can be for your physical and mental health. Not to mention, how much time you lose when you’ve got a commute that takes many hours out of your week.
Time, after all, is your most precious commodity. And it’s worth protecting, along with your health.
Change your job. If none of the above suggestions work for you, then it’s worth asking if your job really works for you either.
Of course, this advice won’t work for everyone. But too many people forget to factor in their commute and quality of life, when deciding where to work. Or they give it short shrift.
Most of us will have many jobs through our lives. And most careers aren’t rigidly tied to inaccessible locations with inflexible hours.
If your current job is, you should examine whether it’s worth it or not. The stresses that come along with your job might indeed be secondary to the important things you do or the fulfillment you get. But if that isn’t the case, give your health a high priority. There are plenty of jobs out there right now. There’s no reason to stick with one that’s hurting you.
Most people find it very hard to say no to others.
That leads to overextension—whether at work, or in your social life.
Luckily, there’s a simple solution. Instead of having a default “yes”, unless you can think of a good reason to refuse, make your default “no” unless it’s something you really want or need to do.
It sounds simple. And really, it is. But it requires that you change your mindset entirely—which, of course, is no easy feat.
So practice with little things, and work your way up. If someone asks for a small favor, let them know you’re busy. If you’re invited out for the fourth night in a row, tell them that you need a quiet night in.
It will feel weird at first. But, once you get used to it, you’ll find it exceptionally freeing. And you’ll feel a release of an enormous amount of stress that you didn’t even realize you were carrying.
It’s not possible to cut out all the stresses in your life. Indeed, that would lead eventually to a sad, hermitic existence. But not all stress is necessary. The more successful you are at cutting out the fat, the happier—and healthier—you’ll be.
- Todd, Michael. Commuting To An Early Grave. Pacific Standard Magazine. Published Apr 12, 2013. Accessed Dec 4, 2016.
- MacMillan, Amanda. Why your commute is bad for you. CNN. Published Apr 6, 2015. Accessed Dec 4, 2016.
- Novaco, Raymond. Commuter Stress. Access Magazine. Published Fall, 1992. Accessed Dec 4, 2016.
- Kylstra, Carolyn. 10 Things Your Commute Does To Your Body. Time. Published Feb 26, 2014. Accessed Dec 4, 2016.
- , Jennifer. Gracefully exiting from conversations. Captain Awkward. Published Aug 27, 2012. Accessed Dec 4, 2016.
- Babauta, Leo. 20 Ways To Eliminate Stress From Your Life. Zen Habits. Published Jun 9, 2007. Accessed Dec 4, 2016.