We all have stress, and we all want to manage it better.
We all want to be happy. We want stress-free lives. We want easy things. We avoid pain and seek pleasure.
We are all human, and thus, we all deal with stress. I don't think any adult human has the stress equation completely figured out.
So how can you deal with it so you can channel this negative into positive results?
Before we get to actual techniques, you must understand this law of stress: you are responsible for your stress.
My favorite stoic philosopher, Epictetus, said it best:
"It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters."-Epictetus
Bad things will happen to you. People will wrong you. You'll get into accidents. You may get hurt. You will lose people over the years. There is no way to avoid any of this. It's your destiny. It's our destiny as humans.
These are facts of life.
So why then do so few humans handle stress well? Why do we try to respond only when things catch us off guard rather than plan ahead?
Why do we go through life pursuing pleasure in a weak attempt at hiding from our pain and fear?
Great questions not easily answered.
I realize that even now, as my life is what I would define as "great," it's easy to write these words and get all preachy. I also realize that were I going through something difficult right now I'd probably have a different tone, or maybe these words would ring hollow.
I get that.
But I've dealt with loss, pain, suffering, and heartbreak. While much of this was years ago, it's still fresh enough in my mind to remember the despair and the going through the hell part. I kept going. I came out the other end. That's what they say you should do. What else is there to do?
The thing I remember the most is how each day gets a little bit better. One day at a time.
The other thing I've learned throughout each situation is my emotions and what I do with myself is 100% my responsibility.
No one is going to pick me up from bed each morning and force me to work, exercise, eat right, pay the bills, etc.
It's up to me to live my life, which includes dealing with pain, stress, anxiety, and trauma.
And the same goes for you. It's all your responsibility. No one will do it for you. No one even can if they wanted to.
The foundational principle of dealing with stress is to accept complete ownership of it.
After that, the process is much simpler—you take action because that's all you can do.
If you wallow in pity and woe is me, you'll only prolong your suffering while making yourself more fragile.
This is true of all stress, eve the minor stressors that show up in day-to-day life. Stress makes you fragile when you leave it unchecked.
- The First Principle of dealing with stress is accepting responsibility for all of it.*
Here are some examples to finalize my point before we move on to tangible strategies for dealing with stress.
If you are in a stressful, abusive relationship, the only person that's going to fix it is you.
If going to work each day is ruining your happiness, the only person that can quit is you.
If you feel bad about your weight, you're the one that decides what to eat and whether to move.
If you lose someone you love, it's up to you to deal with the grief.
No one can do any of this for you.
Got it? Good.
With that out of the way, what can you do to channel your stress into energy for good?Here are a few strategies I've developed over the years.
1. Study the Stoics. Read them over and over and over
The foundations of Stoicism are rooted in taking ownership and accepting the things that are outside of your control. To think this way long term requires a constant effort to main. Think of it as a philosophical exercise for the brain. So keep coming back to the teachings of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.
The guiding principle of Stoicism is this: you control how you respond.
Someone doesn't make you upset—you let someone upset you.
The Universe didn't wrong you. Something happened and now you need to deal with it. No one owes you anything. There is no morality in nature. Ask any gazelle as he's getting chomped on by a cheetah.
This marries well with the idea of extreme ownership, made popular by Jocko Willinks book of the same title.
The culture we live in today is a blame-based, victim culture. Those that win in business, relationships, and happiness today all have one thing in common: they take ownership of their lives.
To manage stress effectively, abide by the iron law of ownership.
2. Read a lot
I turned to reading when I lost my father, and then later when my 6-year relationship fell apart.
These were the hardest things I've ever deal with.
For me, reading psychology, philosophy, and stories and strategies for understanding what I was going through was a salve for the pain.
It wasn't an instant fix. Not at all. But it did feel like I was making progress. I felt like I was being productive rather than wallowing in despair.
It helped me ward off those feelings of guilt, despair, and anger. These destructive emotions overtake many, but I fought hard against this toxic energy, and I came out better and stronger for it.
I am now stronger and better prepared for loss in the future.
3. Find an outlet
This might be therapy or counseling or leaning or confiding in someone.
It's different for everyone.
I tend to go inward when dealing with my issues. I also don't like talking about certain things since it just fuels them. Of course, there is a difference here between grief and stress you deal with in your everyday life. It's the latter that I don't like talking about whereas the former is usually a good thing to talk about.
When it comes to grief, there is usually a benefit from talking about it. When it comes to stress, there can be a benefit to talking about it in some situations.
The key here is to find an outlet that is useful and not negatively focused.
4. Never complain
Sometimes the opposite of something is where you find the results.
If you want to turn stress into fuel, you first must adhere to certain laws. In this case, not complaining is one of the laws of successful stress management.
Complaining, and negativity in general, are unproductive and dangerous since they move you backward.
Instead, you want to think objectively about your stress and find ways to take action that can benefit you.
Self-aware is a broad category with no real step-by-step methods for achieving.
As Socrates said, "Know thyself."
The best way to know yourself is to question yourself. Ask yourself hard questions and give your best answers. Then do it again and again. And if you feel yourself lying to yourself—trust me, you will—take that as a sign to go deeper.
The more you can get in touch with your inner world, the better off you'll be in every way. This will be your superpower for channeling stress into fuel.
Without self-awareness, you respond emotionally. What' worse is you usually have no clue why. It's impossible to take ownership of something you don't understand. If you don't take ownership, you become a slave.
To reclaim control, you have to fight back the countless metal traps set by your human brain. It's unfortunate, but human biology is not designed for the complex world we live in today.
This is why modern stress short circuits and overwhelms the typical mind. It's why there are more stressed out, unaware humans than in-control, self-aware humans.
Your biology is not your friend. It is designed for an ancient world of living in the wild. It is maladapted for today, which is why it will be your greatest challenge to overcome.
When you do overcome your body and mind’s limitations and work with them rather than against them you'll see how amazing life can be regardless of what it tries to throw at you.