Everyone is so busy.
Some of my network claims to be so busy that they don’t have time for basics like getting more sleep, meditating, taking a yoga class, or spending time reflecting.
So, what are we doing?
We’re becoming more distributed and automating what we can. Cutting costs and testing new ideas. Figuring out if there’s enough of a market to justify our product, trying to scale a product. We’re raising money and we’re trying to change the world.
Which is all good and well. When we stress a system, we uncover innovation and fix real problems.
But nothing grows forever and if a system is stressed for too long, things start to break. Our bodies are no exception.
Chronic stress is simply staying in a stressed state, over an extended period of time. And it’s one of the scariest things I see for our future.
The U.S. and some other metropolitan areas across the world are known for the #hustle mentality. While there’s a time and place to hustle, there aren’t enough people talking about the burnout, disease, and poor mental health associated with prolonged hustling.
Not to mentioned the added stress of trauma associated with climate change, mass shootings, economic disparity, and the rise of authoritarian governments. Turn on the news, and you’re bombarded with stressors, urgency, and doom.
The mental, physical, and emotional degradation occurs when there’s no “rest” in the “stress + rest = growth” equation explained in Peak Performance.
The effects of chronic stress include depression, anxiety, physical pain, sleep problems, autoimmune diseases, digestive issues, heart disease, weight problems, reproductive issues, thinking and memory problems, the list goes on…
By living with chronic stress, we’re quite literally speeding up our own fatality.
What’s happening when we live with chronic stress?
Historically, our brains have been phenomenal at protecting us. Tiger approaches, our mind instinctively turns on fight-or-flight response, releasing stress hormones (including adrenaline and cortisol) and gets the body ready for action. Heart beats faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure increases, breath shortens, and senses become sharper. Now we’re ready to escape from danger.
Nowadays, we don’t have too many tigers to worry about, but we do have stressors that trigger the reaction as if the tiger was present. Deadlines, team conflict, meeting goals, raising money, payroll, traffic and other stressors of life can disguise themselves as emotional tigers.
So our bodies react to the stress in the way it knows how… fight-or-flight. We keep the heightened state of stress in our day-to-day, and before we know it, we’re addressing every decision from a standpoint of negativity. Our mind constantly scans the scene for ways it could be hurt.
With chronic stress we have cognitive problems like remembering things and finding it hard to concentrate. Poor judgement takes over, anxious thoughts race, and we worry. We experience emotional problems like unhappiness, agitation, irritability, anger, loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed. Our physical body warns us of this stress with aches, pain, diarrhea, nausea, loss of sex drive, frequent colds or flu. And our behaviors become less than ideal. More nervous habits, using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to help relax, withdrawing from others, sleeping more or less than average, forgetting to eat or overeating.
Over time, this stress accumulates in our body, our immune system weakens, and we end up with diseases that are sometimes irreversible.
We cannot perform at our best if we are living this way. We cannot serve our customers, teams, families, and communities if we do not serve ourself first.
So, if you’re someone that’s living with chronic stress, I know it’s not easy to step away from it. Most startup founders I talk to think they don’t have time or feel incredibly guilty to step away from their stress. I argue you don’t have time to NOT step away.
Allow this to be your permission to take a step back and rest.
Take a personal day for yourself and use it to begin learning ways in which you can relax and rest. Schedule time on your calendar for YOU first and then let the rest fall in between. Work on this as if it is the foundation of your business, because in reality, it is.
Often the first time someone tries to relax after months or years of constant stress, it’s very difficult to stop the mind and feel content doing nothing.
Be patient with yourself and know that your body, mind, and future self are thanking you.
Here’s a list of things I’ve tried to relax and have worked in some capacity. #1 has personally changed my life.
- Sit in the sauna, take a cold shower, lay down and relax (1 hour).
- Practice yoga in a social setting like a class or outside in a park (1 hour).
- Go somewhere that inspires you and makes you feel small, like the ocean, forest, mountain, etc (1 hour).
- Practice meditating (30 minutes). Here’s a great free course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that walks you through the science and techniques of mindful meditation.
- Go for a walk in nature and notice everything around you (1 hour).
- Call your #1 believer and share that you’re trying to find ways to relax (30 minutes).
- Get a massage (1 hour).
- Practice breathwork (15 minutes). A simple reminder to sit up straight and take a deep breath throughout the day can also help relieve stress.
- Drink calming tea (lavender, peppermint, green, or matcha tea) (10 minutes).
- Breathe in calming essential oils (lavender, rosemary, peppermint, lemon, or lemongrass) (10 minutes).
Not all stress is bad. In fact, stress can and should be our friends. However, living with chronic stress without the conscious awareness of how it affects us and never taking time to slow down and rest is a recipe for burnout and disease. Now, how will you use this permission to rest?