It’s happening again.
Your heart is racing. Your chest is tight. Your lungs feel full of cotton balls.
Stress has you in its claws again.
And you don’t see a way to get free.
But it’s okay. I’ve been here before, and I know the way out.
I’m here to give you 15 ways to slaughter unwanted stress that you’ve probably never heard of before.
1. Get Creative
Sing a song. Paint a picture. Sculpt some Play-Doh. Make a snowman. Color a mandala. Do something, anything, that sparks your creativity, because a creative mind is a less-stressed mind.
One of my therapists suggested that I take up a creative hobby that would keep my hands busy and force me to focus on what I was doing. She also wanted it to have a tangible output, so I could say, “Look at that thing I made. It’s fucking awesome.” I took up English paper pieced quilting. I made a fun, quirky pillow for my daughter, and I’m working on a quilt for my son.
2. Help Other People
When you’re stressed out, one of the best things you can do is to help someone else. Mow their lawn. Help them carry groceries. Chat with them on a peer-to-peer support site like 7cups.com. Lend an ear to a friend in need.
Helping someone else has two benefits that battle stress: First, it gets your attention on something other than the thing you’re so stressed about. Second, it makes you feel good, helping someone else. It kicks off dopamine in your brain, making you happy. And happy people experience less stress.
3. Get Serene
You may be familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ”Whatever serenity looks like in your life, get there.
That could mean meditation. It could be making a Zen garden. It could be rocking your son to sleep. It could be washing the dishes. Whatever it is that gets you into a headspace where you’re perfectly content and calm, do that thing to get there and away from the stress.
4. Focus on Core Beliefs
Core beliefs are those moral values you hold so strongly that they define who you are. They’re the rules of life you live by. It’s your code of conduct. They’re things like:
- Loving yourself
- Being there for your family
- Supporting your friends
- Honoring your parents
- Protecting your health
- Being a force for positive change
- Concern For Others
Whatever you choose as your core values, go back to them when you’re feeling stressed. Remind yourself that you embody all these wonderful characteristics. Remember that your core values are stronger than any stress you may be feeling.
Because they are.
5. Reframe the Situation
To reframe the situation you’re in, you have to be aware of your thoughts. Notice what’s going on when you start feeling stressed. What thoughts are running through your head?
Your next step is to challenge those thoughts. Are they true? Accurate?Honest? Realistic? Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you notice these thoughts:
- If my best friend was feeling this way, what would I say to him?
- If my sister knew I was thinking these thoughts, what would she say to me?
- Is there any evidence to support this thought?
- Have there been times when I’ve been in a similar situation and had different thoughts?
- Am I missing some pieces of the puzzle?
- Am I ignoring my strengths?
- Am I taking responsibility for things that are out of my control?
Make sure you’re not confusing thoughts or opinions with facts. I may think I’m worthless. But is that a fact? Where’s my evidence of that/What’s the proof? Are there times in my life when I have believed the opposite to be true? The answer, of course, is that there is no evidence, there is no proof, and there have been (MANY) times when I’ve believed the opposite.
6. Find a Role Model
Role models are everywhere, you just have to open your eyes and look for them. One of mine is Jon Morrow, a guy who can’t move anything but his face, but through his words, he’s become a millionaire, running the top website in the blogging field. So what’s keeping me, in my wheelchair, or using my walker on good days, from doing the same?
Another is Frodo. Yes, that Frodo. Menschy little guy, planned to live an ordinary life. But when he was asked to undertake a great task, he stepped up. And he won.
And then there’s Wonder Woman. A powerful female who’s invulnerable to physical harm. Boy, could I have used some of that when I fell on my ass roller skating the other day. Bruised my tailbone, which is going to take weeks to heal, and gave myself a concussion. I’m getting a new walker for my next roller adventure — one with hand brakes!
Your role models can come from any walk of life, fictional or non-fictional. They just need to have qualities or traits that you admire and wish you had more of. For example, when I’m feeling stressed, I think of my dad, who’s the calmest person I know. Even when he’s livid, he’s still calm. I don’t know how he does it. But I’ve got a voicemail saved on my Google Voice of him telling me that this, too, shall pass. This, too, shall pass.
7. Fall Back on Religion or Spirituality
Whatever your beliefs are about a deity or lack thereof, they can help you in times of stress. Me, I’m a quirky pagan whose personal deities are named Fred and Ethel. I got tired of referring to them as Lord and Lady, or God and Goddess, so I gave them more relatable names. And that’s been working for me for 25+ years.
Faith in something larger than yourself can help you when you’re going through hard times, especially stressful ones. Source, or God, or Buddha, or YHWH, or Mammon, or the Universe, doesn’t matter. They give you a soft place to land when you fall, and they’re 100% behind you when you need their strength.
8. Inoculate Against Stress
When you were little, you were inoculated against a bunch of diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and chicken pox. When that happened, you were injected with an inactive version of the disease — it’s now done without even that, just the blueprint for the disease — so your body would produce antibodies to those diseases. That way if you’re exposed again, your body already has in place what it needs to successfully fight it off.
It’s the same way with stress as it is with disease. The more you practice stress, the better you’ll get at fighting it off. For example, Tim Ferriss recommends lying down in the middle of the grocery store to practice getting uncomfortable.
Jia Jiang, another of my role models, set out in search of rejection so he would become immune to it in the future when he was doing important stuff like making a living. He started by asking people ridiculous things like asking a stranger to loan him $100. Or another stranger if he could play soccer in the guy’s backyard. Or if a Krispy Kreme shop could make him an uber-doughnut in the shape of the Olympic rings. Here’s the crazy thing: He got more yesses than he did nos — including the soccer game and the uber-doughnut.
So whatever stress triggers you have, start practicing putting yourself in those situations. Have a friend nearby to lean on if it gets to be too much. Think of cops. They train and train and train some more to run into dangerous situations when the normal human reaction would be to run away from them. They’re inoculated against domestic violence and gang wars because they’ve done all that preparation. So, when bullets start flying, they’re ready.
9. Do Hard Things
One of the 200+ sticky notes I have on my walls says “I can do hard things.” It’s there to remind me that, well, I can do hard things. I can walk the length of the hallway. I can take a challenging course on writing. I can accept a full-time job when I haven’t had one in nearly a decade because of health issues. Here are some other hard things people do all the time:
Run a Marathon
Some people will train for years to be able to run a marathon. There’s one guy I read about who ran a marathon every day in 2022. Every. Single. Day. If that’s not doing a hard thing, I don’t know what is! Bonus of long-distance running: Runner’s high is an actual thing that happens.
Play in a Scrabble Competition
If you’re intellectually inclined, a Scrabble match can be a ton of fun. It can also challenge you to reach into the depths of your vocabulary for words like jo, ka, qi, glycyls, and syzygy. Plus, matches are timed, so you have to be fast as well as smart.
Read an Original Poem at a Poetry Slam
Reading anything you’ve written in front of anybody, also known as public speaking, is a fear shared by about 75% of American adults. Doing it in a format like poetry, in a venue like a poetry slam, just ups the ante that much more.
Climb a Mountain
One of my fondest childhood memories was when my family, including my grandparents, climbed the Peaks of Otter in the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. As far as mountain climbing goes, it was an easy one, since steps had been carved into the mountainside. But still, we climbed a freaking mountain’s worth of steps. One of my bucket list items is to go do it again.
This one plays to the same fears as public speaking, only 100 times worse, because you’re singing. And people are more likely to boo singers than speakers. What if you forget the melody? What if you forget the timing? What if you forget the words? WHAT IF THE WORDS ARE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU BUT YOU CAN’T REMEMBER TO READ THEM?
Take on a Tough Project at Work
This one’s hard because everybody is watching you to see if you’ll succeed or fail, and your job is on the line. At least, that’s what it feels like. You’ll be judged by your boss, her boss, his boss, your peers, and your direct reports who are waiting to see exactly how you’re going to screw this up.
Kayak the Colorado Rapids
Hell, kayaking anywhere is a hard enough thing. But when you can take on the Colorado Rapids, you know you’re good.
Train to Scuba Dive
Talk about taking your life into your own hands! There are SO many things that could go wrong if you’re scuba diving. The mix of oxygen in your tank could be wrong. Your hoses could leak. You could be eaten by a jellyfish. But if you can conquer those fears, you’re a true badass.
Attend a Boot Camp
When it comes to physical toughness, nobody beats the U.S. Armed Forces. Boot camps trained them to be the best of the best, so why not try one yourself? Not for the full 12 weeks that the Marine Corps does, of course. Maybe a week or two would be enough. By the time you’re done, you could scuba dive, kayak, run a marathon up a mountain, and still have time to write your poem.
10. Change Your Story
For nearly eight years, my story has been, I’m in a wheelchair. But now, it’s that I’m in a wheelchair sometimes, and sometimes I can walk. The day is coming when it’ll be, sometimes I can jog. Then it’ll be, I can run a 5k. That’s one of my big goals for the year. I’ve got my sights set on one in late November. That gives me 10 months to get there. Is it stressful? You betcha. But changing your story is powerful and will eventually reduce your stress levels.
Your story might be, I’m afraid of leaving my home. Or I’m afraid of confrontation. Or I’m afraid of spiders. But by changing your story to I can tolerate leaving my home, confrontation, and spiders, you’ll slowly become that stronger, less-stressed person in your new story. It’s one of those “speaking it makes it so” things.
11. Write a Mission Statement
Companies have mission statements. Why not you, too? A mission statement is a consolidated version of your “why.” Why you do what you do, why you are who you are, why you believe what you believe.
Sit down and brainstorm your why. What are your values? What benefits do you bring to your job, your community, or the world? Look for power words that exemplify who you are and what you do. Influence. Strength. Audacious. Badass. Master. Seize. Conquer. Empower. Strengthen. You get the idea.
Next, narrow down your choices. You don’t want a huge mission statement. You want a curated list with the best words and phrases that describe you and your purpose here on this Earth.
Then turn your words and phrases into sentences. Here’s an easy fill-in-the-blank for you: NAME helps WHO with WHAT PROBLEM by SOLUTION because WHY. (The WHO can even be yourself!)
Having a mission statement to fall back on when you’re stressed is like having the best version of yourself in your back pocket. That mission you’re on is the provenance of the best version of you that there is.
12. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation
One of the most painful things about stress is that when you’re experiencing it, your muscles contract. It’s part of the fight-flight-fawn-freeze response. It’s why deer in headlights just stand there, letting themselves get hit by a car. It’s in a highly stressful situation, so its muscles seize up.
But you’re not a deer. You have free will and thought processes. Start practicing progressive muscle relaxation. First, consciously relax your toes. Then your feet. Then your ankles. Calves. Knees. Quads. You get the idea. If you have to go back and re-relax something, that’s absolutely fine. It takes some practice to be able to do it all in a row without backtracking.
Another variant is to purposefully contract all your muscles at once. Squeeze them as hard as you can. Then let go of everything all at once. Your muscles will be more relaxed than they were before you clenched them.
13. Use Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy, or scent therapy, has been used for centuries. It employs various pleasant odors to help you relax, or energize you, or whatever you want to experience. For stress, try these 10:
- Clary sage
- Ylang ylang
You can use the essential oils of these fragrances in an oil diffuser, in oil diffusion sticks, or by adding a drop to a carrier oil like coconut oil, then massage into your pulse points, so you can smell them all day long. Don’t use them directly, they can cause nasty reactions like rashes or blisters. They need to be diluted to be safely applied.
14. Evaluate Your Priorities
This may sound really stupid, but I’m willing to risk it: Your priorities are your priorities. Stick with me here. They shouldn’t be your parents’ priorities. Your professors’ priorities. Your BFF’s priorities. They must be your priorities.
And here’s why: It’s your life. You have to live it the way you see fit. Does that mean you may lose people from your life? Yep. It does. And that can suck. But what sucks even more is the stress of trying to live up to someone else’s expectations of you. Ask me how I know. I’m no longer in contact with a couple of close relatives because I didn’t live up to their expectations of me. And some days, it really sucks. But at the end of the day, I’m the one who needs to make me happy. And I do.
So now that you know they have to be your priorities, how do you figure out what they are? Look back on your mission statement. That’s always a good starting place for figuring out what you want to live your life for or why you’re doing what you’re doing.
If your mission statement says Brad helps newbie surfers with staying on their boards by buddy-surfing with them because he wants to help them experience the sheer joy and rush of adrenaline surfing brings, then your priorities should probably include marketing your buddy-surfing business, finding potential clients, explaining why buddy-surfing is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and doing it safely so nobody gets hurt.
15. Reassess Your To-Do Lists
James Clear tells the story of Ivy Lee and the affect he had in the steel industry in the early 1900s. In 1918, Charles M. Schwab was the 13th richest man in the world, with a fortune that today would be valued at nearly $1.3 billion. But as the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, he wanted his employees to be more efficient, so he hired Ivy Lee, a noted productivity consultant, to work with his key employees.
The story is that Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”
“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.
“How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.
“Nothing,” Lee said, “Unless it works. After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”
What Ivy Lee taught Schwab’s executives was how to use a short list of the six most important things they had to do at work. They were to write the list at the end of the previous day, and they had to prioritize the list. Then the next day, they had to concentrate only on the first item on the list. Only when that was done could they move on to the second, and so on. Anything left undone was moved to the next day’s list.
Just as important as your to-do list: Your to-don’t list
Schwab brought Lee back into his office three months later and wrote him a check for $25,000 — $491,385 in today’s money.
This six most important things to do list is now taught at companies all over the world. You don’t get seven things. Only six. Of course, if you only have three important things to do tomorrow, you only have to write the three, but if you have seven, you have to pick which one to drop until the next day.
It’s happening again.
Your heart is racing. Your chest is tight. Your lungs feel full of cotton balls.
But this time, it’s different.
Now, you have new tools, new coping mechanisms, new techniques in place to help you slaughter the stress.
This time, it’s going to be okay.
This time, you win.