How I Got Better at Handling Stress

world-without-me

I’m a chronic procrastinator. I procrastinate over everything.

Procrastination (which is a kinder word for “inaction”) was the biggest reason for my previous startup’s failure. Instead of working, I binged on TV and social media.

This turned into a tiring (and disgusting) cycle. Soon the tap dried up and I had to take up a job.

But in the last three months, I’ve launched a new venture, found clients, grown my newsletter subscribers by 25 percent, met interesting people, fixed my motorcycle, and taken a trip.

I could manage all this because I changed one not-so-tiny aspect: how I responded to stress.

Is Stress Always Bad?

Stress comes in two forms — distress (negative) and eustress (positive).

Distress causes anxiety and decreases performance. It’s perceived as outside our coping abilities. Eustress feels exciting and improves our performance. It motivates us to focus our energy on what we enjoy doing.

Most people want to do stuff. It makes us happier than consuming content all the time.

But when it’s time for action, we end up watching Netflix and browsing social media. When we become aware that we’re not doing what we should, we feel even more guilty.

The result is anxiety that shoots through the roof even before we begin.

But why? What stops us from doing what makes us feel pumped?

The answer lies in our perception of stress. Most of us experience distress even in eustress.

This distress stems from worrying about the size of the outcome even before we begin. Do we have what it takes to achieve it? How much effort will we have to invest? Will we succeed or fail?

This stress turns excitement into anxiety and puts fear in command. And we block our own paths even before we begin.

how to feel less stressed

This stress held me back for as long as I can remember.

I would plan to do something. But I would start thinking about the outcome. Its magnitude — no matter how large or small — would overwhelm me. For no reason, I would doubt my ability to achieve my goal.

The result? Stress that paralyzed me and pushed me into the welcoming arms of instant gratification all the time. Guilt, stress anxiety, guilt, stress, anxiety… life became a vicious circle.

So What Did You Do, Vishal?

Like I mentioned before, I just changed the way I handled stress by following three steps.

One, I became aware of how I felt.

For instance, last month when a client proactively mentioned that they wanted us to do more work for them, I felt anxious at first.

But when I observed the anxiety, I realized that it stemmed from being in unchartered territory. The client had faith in our work and there was no reason why we couldn’t exceed their expectations. This would stretch our limits and help us grow.

And just like that, anxiety turned into excitement.

Next, I focused on Minimum Viable Progress (MVP).

The only way I wouldn’t repeat mistakes of the past was by taking constructive action.

Earlier, I faltered at this step because I doubted my ability to do it all at once. But I realized that no long-term goal gets achieved in a day or two. It’s called long-term for a reason.

So I began to break each goal down into small actionable steps, assign dates to them, and put them on my calendar. That turned into my to-do list.

Each morning, I look at this list and start doing the tasks on them.

Minimum Viable Progress helps me in three ways:

  1. I identify what’s important and say no to what’s not.
  2. I stay in the action habit.
  3. I don’t waste mental energy on deciding what to do each day.

Now each time I feel anxious, I ask myself, “What action should I take?” If I’ve already taken action, I stop worrying. If I haven’t, I finish the task and stop worrying.

Step three is to switch off.

Switching off is an important part of de-stressing.

When I’m not working, I don’t think about work. I workout, read, ride my motorcycle, play the guitar, meet people and do interesting stuff. This refreshes my mind and lets me give 100 percent at work. It also teaches me to live in the moment.

Switching off has another benefit: it places limitations on me.

Working eighteen hours a day makes me ineffective. I keep thinking that I have more time and end up doing many things that I should avoid. But when I have fewer hours at my disposal, I become better at prioritizing, focusing, and taking action.

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Summing Up

I want to make one thing clear: I’m not a superhuman. In fact, I still suck.

I still waste time and feel guilty on those days. I still feel anxious. But the gap between such days has widened compared with the past. That gap has been filled with productive days.

And that’s what matters.

You cannot build Rome in a day. So stop worrying about what the city will look like when it’s finished. Focus on laying one brick after another. When you feel anxious, ask yourself which brick you should lay right now, and pick it up.

Everything takes time. Accept it. Do what matters and you’ll move forward in spite of stress. With time, you’ll learn to handle life better. Then doing stuff that makes you happy becomes easier.

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