Stress Reduction for Overachievers

“The better work men do is always done under stress and at great personal cost.” – William Carlos Williams

The easiest way to reduce stress is to reduce your ambitions, expectations, and standards. But that’s an option you don’t have. As an ETR reader, you are determined to excel in life. Excellence requires challenging yourself, and challenges mean stress.

Can you keep the challenges and reduce the health risks? I think you can. Here’s what I do:

1. Exercise regularly.

Studies show that regular exercise strengthens your heart and immune system and makes you better able to fight off the health problems that usually come with a stressful life.

2. Have a relaxing hobby.

As you know, I’m a big believer in having several hobbies to enrich your life. And of the many hobbies I enjoy, several are good stress-reducers.  Chief among them is painting. Although I have some ability to render realistic figures with my brush, most of what I do is very abstract. (I like to call myself an “action painter.”) Splashing gobs of color on canvas for a half-hour now and then gives me an amazing sense of relaxation.

3. Practice yoga.

Yes, yoga works. At least it works for me. I do yoga every day. I take 45-minute classes three mornings a week and spend five minutes on off-day mornings doing “sun salutations.”

4. Talk to yourself.

When things get tough, remind yourself that things could be worse and spend some time formally counting your blessings. (Say them out loud or write them down.) When worried about the future, imagine the worst possible outcome and find a way to be at peace with that. Then figure out a “plan B.” Remind yourself that when you get through your current problem, it won’t seem so bad. Tell yourself that this is a great chance to prove to yourself and the rest of the world that you are a survivor.

5. Surround yourself with — and learn from — low-stress people.

If you are a Type-A personality, you probably already do this. Highly ambitious, high-stress personalities are normally drawn to their opposites, and vice versa. This is nature’s way of preventing human combustion. When you are going through stressful situations, you may not want to dump your problems on your low-stress loved ones because their tempered reactions will seem disturbingly indifferent to you. Instead, imagine how they’d react in your situation and try to follow their lead.

6. Play with your pet.

If all else fails, a romp with Fido will do the trick.