We are tired, stressed executives. We are overloaded parents. Even students, young people and children, who should enjoy their stage of life with freedom and lightness, are feeling the impact of a stress epidemic.
WE HAVE TO SIMPLIFY THINGS
A study with North American and European women analyzed the emotional experiences they had over a 24-hour period. One of the conclusions of the study was that when these women were with their children, they didn’t feel happy, but not because they didn’t like them. What actually happened was that when the women were with their children, they were also solving problems at home, answering calls, thinking about what to cook for dinner and the report they had to submit the next day at work; that is, they were performing tasks that could be pleasant when conducted individually, but all together, they purely and simply became stressful. This study teaches us that when we talk about having experiences, the quantity affects the quality. One example: you probably have two favorite songs. Enjoying each song separately is a very pleasant experience, right? Try listening to your two favorite songs at the same time and together they become noise, and that’s exactly the noise we experience in modern life.
WE HAVE TO KEEP FOCUSED
To reduce this noise, we need to change our habit of doing many things at the same time.
It is very difficult to eliminate our multiple tasks considering we have so many screens and demands. But it is necessary to reduce this, even if for a while. The dedication to a single task involves much more than an attempt to reduce stress, it also improves your productivity and makes you use all your cognitive skills. A common task of stopping your work to check your e-mails will have exactly the opposite effect. These kind of interruptions affect our brains, as if we’ve been awake two nights in a row. The impact is bigger than working under the influence of a narcotic substance. Doing fewer things with more quality is powerful. Studies highlight that one or two hours of focused work, with no distraction, increase the sense of pleasure, productivity, and creativity during the rest of the day.
WE HAVE TO FEEL THE TIME
We spend most of the time concerned about time, but without really feeling it. We have the constant sensation that we are running in circles, at work and at home. We have to stop and feel time as our wealth and manage it as such. The key is to divide portions of it for our pleasant relationships and tasks, spend it with people and things we like and that make us feel good. But it should be quality time, without checking your cell phone, without worrying about what will be done in the other portions of time during that day. We even need to spare some time to play. How long has it been that you haven’t played?
WE HAVE TO EMBRACE STRESS
The point is that we unnecessarily demonize stress. Researchers have found out that stress alone is not a problem. It can be good for us! We can compare stress to a workout session in the gym: sparing some time to practice exercises moderately and consistently is a wonderful thing. We are tired after the practice, but we feel energized and stronger. The problem is when we exaggerate. When we perform training after training, and insist on doing it, then we don’t get stronger, we get hurt. In short, stress is not the problem; the problem is the poor recovery.
That’s because we are biologically able to cope with stress. Millions of years ago, stress helped us survive predators. Today, it helps us survive a job deadline or a demanding boss. The stressors have changed, but the principle is the same. And so much time fighting against stress has taught us how to deal with this feeling. We’ve learned the lesson through evolution: we needed to rest.
The difference between the stress of old times and the contemporary stress is that we used to rest between one peak of stress and another. We sat around around a fire after hunting or at a dinner table after arriving home from work. But today, it seems the predator is following us around the fire or our boss is demanding things at the table (in fact, when we check our cell phone and answer messages, it’s literally the same). We never rest. Then, we remain stressed.
Healthy and happy people have the same amount of stress as any regular human being. The difference is that they can balance stress peaks with rest – and a real rest, without stressful distractions. The way we see stress is very important in this scenario. Studies have demonstrated that people who see stress as a major problem to be avoided will ironically become more stressed. One who views stress as a useful trigger to encourage and focus and uses the right tools to include it in his or her life will live well with it and with himself or herself. If embraced correctly and balanced with moments of recovery, stress will help us do what it has allowed us to do in the history of mankind: adding strength and health for a longer and more pleasant life.