The Seven Habits of Stress-Resistant People

The World Health Organization calls stress the health epidemic of the twenty-first century. Most people can probably relate, especially after all the things that happened in 2020.

Moving into the new year, my goal with this article is to help you become an effective stress manager. Stress management isn’t a nice-to-have skill, it’s a must have. Doctor Rangan Chaterjee explains that poor stress management will lead to illness over the long-term.

As a GP (General Practitioner), about 80% of what I see on any given day is in some way related to stress.” -Dr. Rangan Chaterjee

Dr. Chaterjee then gives many examples of problems from his patients, such as anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, poor memory, inability to focus, poor digestion, obesity, and high blood pressure. He states that all of these seemingly separate issues have stress as a root driver.

The big question is: How can we manage our stress better and be more stress-resistant?

This article will explain seven habits of stress resistant people:

  1. They eat healthily
  2. They exercise consistently
  3. They sleep well
  4. They reframe stress stories
  5. They meditate
  6. They nurture relationships
  7. They connect to a strong purpose

Habits 1 to 3 manages stress physically. Habits 4 and 5 approaches stress mentally. Habits 6 and 7 overcomes stress spiritually. The more of these habits you can implement in your own life, the better your stress management will be.

Habit 1: Eat Healthily

There are lots of different opinions out there about what constitutes a healthy diet, such as vegan, paleo, keto, and intermittent fasting. Each diet program also has scientific studies to back them up. While there are lots of different advice for what we should eat more of, pretty much everyone agrees on what foods are unhealthy, and that’s highly processed and packaged foods. Examples include

  • frozen meals
  • boxed foods like cereals and pizzas
  • wrapped foods like bread, pastries, candy
  • reconstituted meats lie sausages, nuggets, and fish fingers
  • sodas and other sweetened drinks
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These super processed foods have added sugar and salt, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats. As a result, they taste great, but they increase inflammation in the body, and inflammation is basically stress for the body. You might feel happy while eating processed food, but shortly after, you might feel drained with little energy because your body is using energy to heal from the negative effects of that food.

Dr. Chaterjee gave an example of one of his patients, who was a teenager named Devon experiencing depression. He asked Devon what food he eats, and Devon replied with lots of processed junk foods. Dr. Chaterjee told him,

You tell me you’re hungry every two hours and you need to eat. But because of the foods you’re eating, because you’re on a blood sugar roller coaster all day, when you feel you’re hungry, that’s not just a hunger issue. That’s your blood sugar falling rapidly. At that point, your stress hormones are going to go up (cortisol and adrenaline), which in turn will have an impact on your mood hormones.”

The solution? Eat more natural foods in their whole forms. For example, eat raw or steamed vegetables instead of canned vegetable soup. Eat real fruit instead of a fruit pie. Cook your own dinner from raw ingredients instead of microwaving a packaged dinner.

As Michael Pollan said,

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant [factory], don’t.” -Michael Pollan

Habit 2: Exercise Consistently

We all know exercise is good for us. But many of us think we need to work out for 30 minutes a day or 3 hours a week to get any benefits. While it would be great if you could do that, the reality is that most people feel like don’t have that much time or motivation. Here’s the great news: Even 5–7 minutes of exercise a day can have tremendous benefits!

In his book, Feel Better in 5, Dr. Rangan Chaterjee gives many 5-minute workout routines involving simple exercises like push-ups, lunges, squats, and yoga. Here is an example of a 5-minute exercise video that you can do it your kitchen without changing your clothes or getting any special equipment:

There’s also a famous program called the 7-minute workout, which you can easily find videos on YouTube for.

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Exercise also helps us improve our sleep, which brings us to the next habit.

Habit 3: Sleep Well

Getting enough sleep is key to restoring our body’s energy and balance. According to Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter and host of The Model Health Show, long-term sleep deprivation is a catalyst for disease since it weakens the immune system. Here are seven tips from Stevenson for improving sleep:

Tip 1: Avoid blue light from screens 60 minutes before bed.

Blue light keeps us awake and reduces the quality of our sleep. We also get stimulated from the activities we do on our devices, so we should stop using our devices 60 minutes before sleep. If you really have to use your device, then at least install a blue light blocker app like f.lux.

Tip 2: Sleep at the right time

Stevenson calls 10PM to 2AM “Money Time Sleep” because between those hours, humans get the most amount of restful recovery sleep. One hour of Money Time Sleep is worth twice as much as sleep outside those hours.

Tip 3: Avoid caffeine in the evenings

Stevenson recommends avoiding caffeine by 4PM, though the time could be even earlier for those more sensitive to caffeine.

Tip 4: Sleep in a completely dark room

Humans have evolved to sleep better in a dark environment.

Tip 5: Use your bed only for sleep

Many people watch TV in bed or play on their phones in bed. As a result, when they get into bed, they don’t feel like sleeping. Their body thinks it’s time to watch TV or play on the time.

Tip 6: Calm your mind

You can calm your mind using meditation, which has been proven to lower stress and inflammation in our bodies. See below under habit 5 for examples of relaxation meditations.

Tip 7: Wake up early

Humans have evolved to rise with the sun. That will help you tune into the natural sleep pattern and feel sleepy earlier.

Now that we’ve finished the three habits on managing stress physically, next we’ll look at managing stress mentally.

Habit 4: Reframe Stress Stories

When stressful events happen, we justify our stress by pointing to that external event as the reason. For example, maybe you have an important exam, presentation, or interview coming up, and your partner says, “ Geez, you’re so worked up recently!” You might respond by saying, “ Of course I’m stressed! I have an important test coming up!

But think about this: How come there are people with even more stressful things happening in their lives that aren’t acting all stressed and worked up like you are? The secret is that the root cause of your stress is not the external event, but the story you tell yourself about that event.

Stressful stories are focused on fear, perfection, and things outside your control. For example, a stressful story about an upcoming test might be “ I need to get perfect on that test or else I’m a failure,” then your brain will produce lots of stress hormones, making you feel very stressed and anxious.

The solution is to reframe that story to be focused on learning, gratitude, and taking action on what’s in your control.

Here is an example of a story rooted in learning and focusing on what’s in your control:

I need to do my best on that test, and here is my study plan. If I follow this plan, then I know I’ve done my best, and I won’t be unhappy with myself. If I don’t get the result I wanted, I will ask for feedback and improve for the future. I will judge myself based on learning from mistakes, not on the test score.

Here is an example of a story rooted in gratitude and focused on what’s in your control:

I am grateful for the opportunity to go to this job interview because I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good education that prepared me for jobs that can support a family. I’m grateful that I GET to apply to jobs, because there are many people who weren’t as fortunate to have a good education like me.

To show my thanks for my family and teachers, I will do my best for this interview by following this preparation plan I made. If I get the job, that would be amazing. If I don’t get the job, that simply means I’m not the most qualified person for the job, and I will ask for feedback to improve, and I will look for other jobs that are a good fit for me.

If you find it hard to reframe a story, journal about it over multiple days.

By reframing the story we tell ourselves about external events, we can change our response from stress to gratitude and humility.

Habit 5: They Meditate

Tim Ferriss has interviewed hundreds of the world’s top performers in all areas ranging from business to sports to science to writers. He noticed that 80 to 90% of the world’s top performers all have some sort of meditation practice.

Ferriss explains meditation as training the mind to have control over emotions and to reduce emotional reactivity. He says,

“I find that meditation is very helpful for avoiding anxiety and it’s the reset button for the rest of the day… it’s basically a warm bath for your brain.” -Tim Ferriss

Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, viewed by many as the most successful investment company in history. As of April 2020, the company has 1500 employees and manages US$138 billion in assets. Being the leader of such a company is surely stressful! Dalio attributes much as his billion dollar success to mantra meditation, saying,

“Meditation more than any other factor has been the reason for whatever success I’ve had… It’s the ability to be centered and to approach things in a calm, centered way without all those fears.” -Ray Dalio

There are many different ways to meditate, such as mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, breathing exercises, and visualization.

Mindfulness meditation is when you focus on being aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without judgment. It helps center the mind on the present rather than thinking about the past or future. For example, a mindfulness meditation you can do before bed is to lie down and really notice the sensations in your body from toe to head, then mindfully let each body part relax.

Mantra meditation, also known as Transcendental Meditation (TM), is when you repeatedly recite a series of sounds called a mantra. There’s usually a meaning behind the mantra. You can recite silently in your head or out loud with your voice. People often do it for 15–20 minutes twice a day while sitting with their eyes closed. For example, a popular mantra in Buddhism is to recite Amitabha (ah-mee-tah-bah), which means infinite life and infinite enlightenment. When you understand the meaning, you’re more willing to recite it. Who wouldn’t want to have more life and enlightenment?

Breathing exercises use conscious breathing to center the mind. A simple one is to breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and then out through the mouth for 4 seconds. Do that 10 times, and then you should feel much calmer and centered. Another one you can do to relax before bed is to breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and exhale for more than 4 seconds. You can even skip the hold part and just exhale for longer than you inhale.

Another well-known breathing exercise that I’ve used is the Wim Hof breathing method, which has been proven to reset stress hormones and improve focus and health in just 10 minutes. You can easily find a guided breathing video on YouTube.

Visualization is when you imagine a positive emotion in great detail. For example, you can close your eyes and visualize love and gratitude for someone you love as a ball of energy, and then imagine sending that energy to that person. Another example is to imagine the future event you’re anticipating and how you will act as your best self in that event. Then when the actual event comes, your mind will feel calm and prepared like it did during the visualization meditation.

Those are the four common types of meditation. If you don’t meditate yet, why not pick a method and try it? If you don’t like the idea of sitting still with your eyes closed or trying to recite a mantra, then I suggest try the Wim Hof breathing method. It’s very active and it leaves you feeling calm and focused after just 10 minutes.

Now that we’ve looked at how to approach stress mentally, next we will look at how to overcome stress spiritually, which is arguably the strongest way.

Habit 6: They Nurture Relationships

Professor Robert Waldinger is the fourth and current direct of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which tracked the lives of 724 men over 75 years. It is the longest study done on researching what makes a happy and healthy life, and Waldinger shares the results in his TED Talk.

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” -Robert Waldinger

The study found that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community, are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than those who are less well connected. But it’s not about the number of social connections, but rather about the quality.

Waldinger explains that good relationships aren’t necessarily relationships where people never have conflicts. Some healthy couples do bicker with each out a lot. The important thing is that you feel you can really count on the other person to be there for you when things get rough. That’s a good relationship.

On the other hand, relationship conflicts are extremely stressful and toxic to the body.

Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.” -Robert Waldinger

If you have great relationships with family and friends, you can turn to them to help you during stressful times. If you have bad relationships with them, then they will be a source of stress, and you should work on improving those relationships. If you’re looking for advice on how to improve relationships, you should not look for tactics and quick fixes, but rather start by improving your character.

Habit 7: They Connect to a Strong Purpose

In this context, purpose means serving others. When we use our strengths to serve others, we are living a life with strong purpose. When we only think about satisfying ourselves, or worse, only expecting others to satisfy others, then we will live a stressful life.

Dr. Viktor Frankl went through enormous amounts of stress in the concentration camps of World War II, and he studied the differences between those who survived and those who didn’t. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, he explains that those with a strong purpose in life survived. He says,

“If you know your why, any how is possible.” — Dr. Viktor Frankl

In other words, when you have a strong purpose, you can endure more stress.

Dr. Karl Menninger was a leading psychiatrist in the US, and one time, he was giving a keynote speech to 5000 psychologists and psychiatrists. After the presentation was the Q&A period. Somebody asked,

“Dr. Menninger, if you were to meet a person about to have a nervous breakdown, what would you advise them to do?”

The audience all thought he might say get some professional help since they all are in that profession. But Dr. Menninger surprised them. He said,

“Well, if I were to meet a person about to have a nervous breakdown, I’d tell them to go out and help somebody because they almost always get healthy.”

In other words, when you take the focus off yourself and your own problems, when you focus on your purpose and making a difference in the world, you almost always feel less stressed.

To combine the advice from Dr. Frankl and Dr. Menninger, connect to a strong purpose linked to helping others.

Conclusion

In conclusion, highly resistant people manage stress physically, mentally, and spiritually. From a physical standpoint, they eat healthily, exercise consistently, and sleep well. From a mental standpoint, they reframe stress stories into stories of gratitude and humility. They also cultivate inner peace and emotional stability through meditation. From a spiritual standpoint, they nurture relationships and connect to a strong purpose of serving others.

The more of these habits we implement into our own lives, the more stress resistant we will be. Which habits will you try?

Originally published at https://www.weeklywisdomblog.com on January 1, 2021.

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.