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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 09, 2017

10 Actions for an Anti-Stress Protocol

By Mark Sisson
28 Comments

Inline_Stress_ProtocolIt almost goes without saying: Stress is at an all-time high. Not the kind of major traumatic stress we see elsewhere, sure. At least in the Western world, there aren’t any horrific sectarian conflicts scouring the landscape and generations to come. Our infrastructure is built to withstand most natural disasters. Our world is safe and predictable and sterile. But we’re stressed out just the same, afflicted with the kind of pernicious, low-level, unending stress that drives people into substance abuse, that promotes depression and suicide and broken relationships. The type that never quits. The kind you just want to drown out with Netflix and Facebook and anything at all to take your mind off the churning within.

Most people address stress in one of two ways. Either you build up your resistance to stress, so that it doesn’t hurt you so much, or you play triage, developing tools, tricks, and strategies for countering stress and dealing with it when it occurs. This assumes that stress is a given. I tend to agree. Stressors arise; it’s what they do. The most effective way to minimize the impact of stress on our health and wellness is to engage both perspectives—to establish baseline health practices and life management that build resilience and to equip oneself with tools to fight stress when it strikes.

Before anything, get the basics down. Good sleep, good food, regular exercise, and steady exposure to nature are all prerequisites for healthy relationships to stress. They’re necessary, but rarely sufficient.

What, for instance, can we do to pause and hit reset when under duress, when the furnace just conked out, the oldest child barfed at breakfast, and a looming work project is suddenly due today? And what can we do so those crises either don’t happen as often or hit us quite as hard?

Seek Meaning, Not Happiness

Happiness is a real thing, but it’s fleeting. You can’t grab it for long—it’ll just flit away. It’s part of the journey. If your goal is to get back in shape, happiness happens along the way—when you hit a squat PR, when you plop down on the couch with a good book and a bowl of meat and sweet potatoes after a tough sprint workout. You don’t hit a specific point of fitness, attain happiness, and remain there in a state of bliss. Happiness emerges from the pursuit of meaning. Think ongoing instead of endpoint.

What does this have to do with stress? Chasing something that’s impossible to catch is inherently stressful, if not defeating. You’ll be wondering why “you’re not happy.” Find meaning, find purpose, and that existential stress will melt away. You’ll know what to do and, most importantly, why to do it.

It seems to work for residents in Tamil Nadu, where having a well-defined purpose to life reduces psychosocial stress.

Stay Uninformed

Being informed about the world at large is overrated. And impossible. I’m not advocating putting your head in the sand, but there’s only so much a person can effectively absorb (let alone process and act on). The 24/7 news cycle means the news (bad or good) never stops. It’s always plowing ahead, and if you want to stay apprised, you can’t ever stop checking the updates. Being informed is a full-time job. What good does it do to know the nuances of every mishap, outrage, and tragedy that plays out in the world? A politician’s every social media post? Every dismal statistic? Every horrifying image of war and calamity?

That sounds cold and callous. But it’s just reality: We’re not built to worry about billions of people, or even the tens and hundreds of thousands of strangers living nearby. And we stress (and often suffer) as a result.

In a recent survey of people who reported feeling stressed out on a regular basis, one of the most common triggers for their stress was consuming the news.

If this is anathema to you and you honestly enjoy reading about current events, pick up some history books. Instead of obsessing over the 24-hour news cycle, read up on the history of Syria, the Sudan, and the American Civil War. Read a biography of Lincoln. Study Venezuelan history. The lesson may be more than informative. It may give your nerves a break.

Rethink Stress

The stress response isn’t trying to kill you. It’s not trying to make you miserable and unable to function. The stress response is preparing you to do battle, to act, to perform. Those nerves? The flutter in your stomach? That’s your nervous system impressing upon you the monumental nature of the task at hand. It wants you to step up, and it’s increasing the heart rate to promote better blood flow so your tissues can perform.

Understand that and the stress becomes an ally, not a hindrance. One recent study suggests this, finding that although high amounts of stress increase the risk of dying, it does so only in individuals who perceive stress to be harmful. In people who don’t see stress as a health threat, stress does not appear to increase mortality.

Take a Relaxing Lunch

Lunch is rarely lunch anymore. At lunchtime in offices around the world, people scuttle off to procure/heat their food, rush back to the desk, and wolf it down while continuing to work. What if you did things differently?

According to a new study, taking an actual lunch break outdoors that includes a short walk or a 15-minute relaxation exercise session reduces workplace stress, improves fatigue, and increases well-being. Consider it a wise buffer for every work day.

Stop Taking Everything for Granted

We ignore the predictable. We don’t appreciate the dependable. On paper, things are great these days. The lights work, we have hot water, the streets are mostly safe. We can communicate instantly with people halfway across the world. Access to all the world’s knowledge rests in our pockets. Everything is amazing. Yet, we don’t notice it.

Instead, we focus on everything that’s going wrong. It’s understandable. That’s how we’re built—to detect novelty. But it makes the world a very stressful place.

Force yourself to take in the good. You can call this showing gratitude. Or being thankful. Or maybe just opening your eyes and taking stock of your life as objectively as possible. Life isn’t so bad. In fact, it’s great in many respects. Start acknowledging that!

Live a Life That Embodies Your Full Personality (as well as Potential)

I’ve written before about the value of knowing yourself and the sabotage  inherent to comparison. Whether it’s following your passion, your introversion/extroversion, your personal values, or other identity-based facets, living who you are fully and authentically matters in the grand scheme. Feeling like you have to “stuff” or shrink your individuality throughout your day may be more than just a drag on joy—but a genuine threat to health.

What matters is what’s natural to you—in your work, your relationships, your daily routine. Be honest with yourself about what you really need from life, or risk fragmentation. There’s nothing more stressful than a civil war inside one’s identity each day.

You have to dig down deep, sift through the layers of conditioning, and  build a life that’s congruent with what matters to you. Discover what that is. Then go be that.

Drop Everything and Get out into Nature

We need to get out of the habit of white-knuckling life and calling it discipline. If the proverbial stress typhoon has touched down—the kids are screaming, the pressure of a deadline is mounting, your brain is churning with indecision and confusion—drop everything, grab what/whom you need, and get the hell out of there. Go to the nearest green/blue space: a park, a forest, the beach, the desert, the meadow.

You can take your work with you. Bring your laptop, turn a rock or tree stump into a standup workstation, and finish the work. If it’s dinnertime, have a picnic; let the kids run around and tire themselves out. Just go!

Work It out on Paper (or Keyboard)

A lot of stress is ridiculous and unfounded. We often don’t even know why we’re stressed out. If that’s the case—if your stress takes the form of a swirling amorphous cloud of racing thoughts you can’t parse—sit down with a pad of paper or other writing tool and figure out what’s vexing you. Ask yourself: “Why the hell are you so stressed out?” Get specific. Once you discover the culprit or culprits, determine why those stressors are affecting you.

Talking yourself through the timeline can help you discover if it’s worth stressing over. It may just melt away with exposure.

Introduce an Acute Stressor

Step outside into the bracing cold. Splash cold water on your face or hop in the cold shower. Do as many bodyweight squats and pushups as you can manage. Drop and give me 20 burpees.

These acts shock you into focusing on the present moment. They take you out of your mind and away from whatever swill might be currently occupying it. You can’t ignore cold water on your skin.

The stress may still be there after the shock, but having that break can give you a foothold back in reality.

Take an Anti-Stress Supplement or Herb

I honestly created Primal Calm for those times I just needed a fast-acting damper on the rising stress that was getting to me. I wanted an easy to swallow capsule of all the best stuff out there, so I made it. It’s got L-theanine, magnolia bark, phosphatadylserine, rhodiola rosea, and beta sitosterol. The L-theanine reduces anxiety and attenuates the rise in blood pressure in adults subjected to psychological and physical stress. The magnolia bark enhances the activity of soothing GABA receptors in the brain. The phosphatadylserine works on both mental and physical stress, improving mood and blunting cortisol after physical exercise. The rhodiola rosea lowers cortisol, increases mental performance, and lowers fatigue in stress-related fatigue. And when it’s incorporated into cellular membranes, beta sitosterol protects against oxidative stress.

It’s certainly not the only option. You can find any of the constituent ingredients as separate supplements, or you can check out the various pieces I’ve done on other anti-stress supplements and herbs. My point? Keep something on hand you can immediately administer.

Stress is a many-headed beast. You can’t beat or eliminate it, nor would you want to, as it’s through overcoming stress that we improve and get stronger. We can’t let it beat us either, or walk all over us. After reading today’s post, you should have at least a few more strategies for devising your own potent anti-stress protocol.

How do you handle stress or cultivate resiliency? If you could add to this post, what would you contribute?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

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28 Comments on "10 Actions for an Anti-Stress Protocol"

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EmilyS
EmilyS
1 month 18 days ago

This post couldn’t be more well timed for me. Currently undergoing IVF and found out a few days ago, that 1) it was unsuccessful and 2) I developed shingles (at 34 y/o) likely due to the steroids they had me on for the transfer and the overall stress of this process. I am printing this out and putting it on my refrigerator as we move into our next cycle in a few weeks.

wildgrok
wildgrok
1 month 18 days ago

Hi Emily
Check out Dawn, look for practicebalance site, incredible source of inspiration (she may reply to you herself)

EmilyS
EmilyS
1 month 17 days ago

Thanks, will check it out!

Lucas
Lucas
1 month 18 days ago

What helps me most is just not fighting stress, it seems to me that by doing that one just kind of demonizes it and then makes it into something bigger than it actually is. And even worse, something to be battled against. I just define my ground and let it wear off patiently and without me even noticing it just flows right into oblivion

Nocona
Nocona
1 month 18 days ago

I always remind myself that whenever I read or listen to the news, it’s already history…the past…not really gonna help me!

Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons
1 month 18 days ago
Love this creative, wide array of actions! Love too that you mention getting the basics dialled in first and foremost (nourishing food, sleep, movement and such). Those are key for me, as is getting out in nature and daily yoga practice. I also make a conscious effort to do one thing at a time (and follow through, before moving onto something else). And to avoid rushing (even when I need to move quickly and efficiently, there’s a tremendous difference between that and “rushing energy”). Meals are one place where applying the above is a priority for me. I savour my… Read more »
Susan
1 month 18 days ago

Great post. Is it possible to buy the Primal Calm in any stores in USA as I am travelling there from Australia in 2 weeks and would love to get m hands on some. ( The shipping to Australia makes it prohibitively expensive). Many thanks

Susan
1 month 18 days ago

Is it possible to purchase the Primal Calm in any stores in USA as I am travelling there soon from Australia. The shipping to Australia makes it prohibitively expensive. Thanks!

Suji
1 month 18 days ago

Re-Thinking Stress is money and the best adaptogen that’s worked wonders for me is rhodiola. Thanks Mark for another awesome post 🙂

wildgrok
wildgrok
1 month 18 days ago

Duly noted:
This describes my tendencies very well
“We need to get out of the habit of white-knuckling life and calling it discipline”
But I am getting better !

wildgrok
wildgrok
1 month 18 days ago

Adding my other two cents here:
For this part “Stay Uninformed” the best discussion I have seen is in the book “Virus of the Mind” where he puts the example of people living in several disconnected islands. When there is a tragedy (a shark ate a fisher) only the people in the island grieve. Now with the connection of all the islands everybody knows about all the fishers being eaten by sharks 24/7 (I am paraphrasing, the author tells it much better) (author is the guy from Microsoft who created Word)

Adam
Adam
1 month 18 days ago

Every tragedy we read about is like it’s happening again.

I like Dr. Covey’s take on this. Your circle of concern should be inside you circle of influence.

HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
1 month 17 days ago

We’ll have to agree to disagree. We are all connected on this globe, burying our heads in the sand and ignoring genocide and other atrocities is not the answer IMHO. I do understand it can be overwhelming and maybe picking one or two global causes is one way to go.

Joanna
Joanna
1 month 17 days ago

I’m with HealthyHombre on this one. The advantages of social media, the internet, and jet travel mean we are no longer disconnected islands. And our circle of influence IS global – you can influence policymakers, donate money, and share information and analysis at the touch of a button on numerous devices now. You don’t have to check the news every five minutes for the latest horror headlines – that’s superficial and stressful – but I think “seek meaning” has to include acknowledging one’s connection to the wider world and finding a way to participate in making it better.

John
John
1 month 17 days ago
I think there’s a middle ground here. I firmly believe that disengagement from what’s happening in the world is wrong. But one can immerse oneself in other people’s misery to no practical end except to make oneself miserable as well. Instead seek a middle ground. if one has a faith tradition, pray for those whom you cannot help directly. For all of us, directly help those you can. That can include getting involved in efforts that seek to end genocide, the sex-slave trade, and other atrocities. But then let it go. For those who believe as I do, we give… Read more »
Adam
Adam
1 month 10 days ago
I don’t think we disagree at all. Sticking ones head in the sand shrinks our circle of influence and focusing on actionable items inside of it (or concern) grows it. Covey covers this misconception well. Take genocide as you point out. I can chose to focus on the wrongs perpetuated by another in a far away land. I have a very small chance of directly influencing their decisions on that matter. This causes turmoil and “woe is me” and generally pessimism…or I can work inside my influence. I can write a paper in collage on the matter. I can learn… Read more »
Jane
1 month 18 days ago

I love this post. Everyone deals with stress differently, however, I am a firm believer and instil in my children that if they eat well, sleep well, drink plenty of water and exercise they will have a good strong base from which to tackle whatever life throws at them. Beyond that, I try to practice mindfulness while undertaking tasks and not focusing too much on what awaits me.

John Wilder
1 month 17 days ago

My favorite is the immediate stress (or focus) – you can’t be upset about what might happen (or what has already happened) if you’re focused on the here and now. Anything that fully engages mind (and or mind and body) pulls me to a place where my perspective is on the now.

Joe Searle
1 month 17 days ago

I can definitely relate to getting everything down on paper! I like to do a “mind dump” before bed writing down everything in my head that just doesn’t seem to stop swirling. Seems to make me feel like I have more control over my never ending to do list :/

Pineapple Deficiency
1 month 17 days ago

Strangely I rarely feel stressed I love to live by the moto ”can you fix it, ya than I do it, No than there is no use to worry about it” . Though I have a pretty spoiled life so I can’t really relate to people with kids or depth as I have neither. Most of the things you mentioned to relax are part of my life style so I guess my life is stress free haha :3 great post enjoyed reading it

John
John
1 month 17 days ago

I especially love the first one: Seek Meaning, Not Happiness.

When pursued directly, happiness is a chimera. Most parents say they wish happiness for their children’s lives. I have always said that I wish for them lives of meaning. With that, they will have happiness. Happiness — true contentment — is a byproduct of a life well lived. It is obtainable in no other way.

Excellent post, Mark.

Andrew H
Andrew H
1 month 17 days ago

Anyone have solutions for laptop work outside? I’d love to work outside more, but the sunlight makes screens impossible to read.

Katie
1 month 17 days ago
Such awesome recommendations- I practice most of them and rarely feel stressed. This year I decided to give up on the 24-7 news stream. I felt *guilty* about it at first, but why do I need to know Trump’s every tweet? I don’t! If something really important happens I will hear about it from a real person. This was one of the best decisions I’ve made in lowering my stress levels. I would add the tip that when I start to feel stress I observe it and try to detach from the emotions that typically accompany stress. I acknowledge the… Read more »
His Dudeness
His Dudeness
1 month 17 days ago

A good knowledge of history certainly helps put current events in context. Just like the Cylons said, “all this has happened before, and will happen again”. People haven’t changed, things aren’t “different these days”. As long as no one hits the red button, we’ll carry on as always.

TheMadRoot
TheMadRoot
1 month 15 days ago
Yes, meaning, not happiness. Joy, not happiness. Like some believe I do, happiness is elusive, temporary. If you seek it though the wrong means, it’s an endless chase. Meaning, when you find it, is permanent, and grows. And living a life that embodies your personality and uniqueness helps you give it meaning. For those in spirituality works I suggest the latest book written with the help of the Dalai-Lama’s help: The Book of Joy. The contrast between happiness and joy is clearly marked and explained, and if you have any dept of mind some passage will just make you cry… Read more »
2Rae
2Rae
1 month 13 days ago
I do most of these naturally so it was a stress relief to read this article. I quit watching the news and try to limit any tragic news on social media because I realize that my empathy for people in general would feel their pain and it was harmful in the long run. So I limit that to just those I can help for the most part. I work with a person who is rather addicted to news so I hear some from her when we are not too busy. I feel happiness daily and try to focus on the… Read more »
Caitlin Lee
Caitlin Lee
1 month 12 days ago

I get it, step away from the news and you’ll feel better. But his applies to only the privileged few. For those that have their lives and liberties on the line, it’s a luxury they can’t afford.So, my question for you is how do you still stay politically engaged and active while mitigating stress?

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