299: How to Live a Life with Less Stress & Why It’s Vital for Good Health
Monday January 18, 2021

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“The lack of meaning in our lives stresses us out, but too much stress makes it harder to find meaning.” —Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, author of The Stress Solution

Yesterday, for the entire day, aside from letting my pups outside from time to time and feeding them, I wallpapered. I turned on old British cosy mysteries (Poirot with David Suchet), and went to town (hopefully) transforming my primary bedroom from a gray space to a French/English Countryside cottage space.

After such focused projects, I sleep deeply. Stress? Nonexistent.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee explains in The Stress Solution how when you’ve found something you love “time, and even you sense of self, will seem to vanish when you’re busy with it.” Yep, this is the ‘flow state’ we’ve heard so much about. Your emotional brain finds it difficult to grab your attention as your rational brain is being fully encouraged to grow he further teaches. All of this is to say, any negative thoughts, cannot grab hold because you are intently engrossed in something your full attention needs to be engaged with.

Dr. Chatterjee shares more specifically as psycholoist Mihaly Csikszemtimihalyi (who coined the phrase – flow state) found, flow is only fully reached when we are challenged. Which makes it all the more important to find something to give your attention to regularly you not only love doing but also steadily gives you the opportunity to grow.

All of this is to say, we can alleviate and solve the problem of unnecessary stress in our lives. And when we do so, not only will our overall health improve – in the short and long term, but we will deepen the daily contentment we experience and improve our everyday lives.

Part of struggle in America with eradicating stress is whether the culture will admit it or not, it (and I am choosing a non-human pronoun intentionally as we unhelpfully give the culture control over our lives as though we cannot change it – as though it is concrete) thrives when we are stressed. Economically, when people need something, or feel they need something (remember ‘false needs’ from episode #298), they feel inadequate or lacking, so they do or buy or change which requires ‘something else’ which keeps us out of the present moment.

Back to the pronoun of it to describe the culture which we think we don’t have control over. We do.

Morrie Schwartz, the man of insightful wisdom about living and dying well introduced to readers through Mitch Albom’s book Tuesdays with Morrie, expressed and beautifully exemplified the need to cultivate your own culture if the one presented by the world does not work for you.

“Morrie, true to these words, had developed his own culture—long before he got sick. Discussion groups, walks with friends, dancing to his music in the Harvard Square church. He started a project called Greenhouse, where poor people could receive mental health services. He read books to find new ideas for his classes, visited with his colleagues, kept up with old students, wrote letters to distant friends. he took more time eating and looking at nature and wasted no time in front of TV sitcoms . . . he had created a cocoon of human activities—conversations, interations, affection—and it filled his life like an overflowing soup bowl.” —Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

Alleviating our lives of stress will take courage – in grand, but many seemingly small ways, practiced every day until they become a healthy habit of being present.

So how can we resolve the stress problem? Dr. Chatterjee has created an acronym L.I.V.E.

  • L —Do Something You Love, find your flow state and engage in it regularly (often)
  • I — Do Something With Intent, be present fully in each day and revel in the pleasures of the little details of life which are everywhere if only we’d look. Being present enables our sight to improve and thus elevate the quality of our everyday experience. (I share an example of one such everyday moment in the conclusion of this post.)
  • V — Develop a Long-Term Vision, Chatterjee sites Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist whose approach to psychiatry, the world of psychiatry calls the third school following Freud and Adler. Frankl’s theory is that “the primary motivation of an individual is the search for meaning in life and that the primary purpose of psychotherapy should be to help the individual find that meaning.” Frankl, having survived Auschwitz, found the key difference was the ability to focus on what needed to be done to live because he had a sense of purpose, a long-term goal. Chatterjee sums up, “When we know the ‘why’ of our lives, we automatically reduce our stress load. Research indicates that we’re able to endure short-term struggles with much more resilience if they’re helping us achieve our long-term goals.”
  • E —Do Something That Makes You Engage With Others, the engagement need not be a large social event, in fact, the engagement Dr. Chatterjee references is of giving to others – doing something that is helpful, useful, contributing positively in some way that is meaningful to someone else, someone who may really need what you can give.

Of course, there are MANY other choices and habits needed in our daily lives to reduce our stress and Dr. Chatterjee details them all with helpful specifics to incorporate into your routine. Below is a general list:

  • First and most important: Find your purpose and meaning. How? “Find periods of calm space to stop and think and then pursue one or more new activities that you are passionate about . . . People with a strong sense of purpose enjoy significantly better health compared to those who don’t including less likelihood of developing heart disease, strokes and depression. Research also shows that they sleep better and live longer . . . and live happier lives.”
  • Discover your raison d’être (reason for being). Give yourself the time to come to understand your true purpose, not society’s, not your parents’, not your spouse’s, not your boss’s. (explore TSLL’s 2nd book to unearth your unique journey and direction)
  • Get enough sleep each night (what is ‘enough’? what you need to leave you refreshed and rested when you wake up)
  • Prioritize regular exercise – aerobic, strength and mental (yoga, meditation, etc.)
  • Eat a diverse, rich, whole, unprocessed diet of food – Eat the Alphabet he emphasizes on p. 144 in the book
  • Find time to be intimate with those you love and care about – put down your phone more often and have 3D connections – eyes, touch, voice.
  • Exercise your gratitude muscle every day – journal at the end of every day or anytime for 2-3 minutes, and ponder the 3-Ps – Person, Pleasure and Promise (someone who you are grateful for from your current day; something that brought you pleasure – a cup of tea, a beautiful memory made with someone; think about something that holds promise for a beautiful tomorrow/future)
  • Attentively select the soundtrack of your days – relaxing music, silence, turning down the ‘noise’
  • Let yourself feel your feelings – have a good cry if that is what you need and then follow with deep breaths afterwards to move through whatever needs to be released.
  • Find healthy ways to release stress – becoming self-aware and strengthening your emotional intelligence will enable you to notice when you are stressed. Often, it is simply paying attention to how you are breathing. Have ready practices which help you to reduce or release what has built up (such as the item mentioned above – have a good cry). Having a good uncontrollable laugh for example or coming back to your breath and breathing deeply.
  • Create healthy rhythms in your daily life – sleep, eating, exercising, connecting, winding down
  • Limit your time on your smart phone and especially social media sites – Dr. Chatterjee explains how with constant exposure to social media sites, he calls it ‘Facebook Brain’, our emotional brains become overreactive. “Your brain starts to sense danger even when there’s no danger present”. But keep in mind, this is not just for FB. Come to understand how social media is designed (building the uncertainty addiction, so we keep ‘checking’), and put yourself in the drivers’ seat. Turn off notifications, set phone limits, remove your phone entirely from social time with others (out of sight), take notes in an actual small notebook rather than putting it in your phone, try using ‘greyscale’ on your phone to make it less desirable to view, consume less news – remove those apps, respect others personal boundaries of weekends and work hours and don’t fill their inbox or their incoming texts except during hours reasonable for the relationship you have with them, and when it comes to music – buy a record player or CD player to step away from the tech, but still enjoy your time with music.
  • Delay gratification – exercise your self-control muscle – the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain. Doing so will reduce impulse decisions when temptations appears. How to strengthen the muscle? Engage in tasks that require effort and practice – learn a new language – French perhaps? :), be inspired by The Queen’s Gambit and learn chess, and yes, even play a computer game that requires skill and patience.
  • Welcome more nature into your daily routine – step outside to walk, to gaze at the sky, to feel the sun’s warmth on your face and let yourself feel it. My dogs are my constant destressors and their companionship is priceless.
  • Switch off regularly and without apology.

“Your world is defined not by the books you’ve read but by your actions. That simple intervention is your first step. Take it.” —Dr. Rangan Chatterjee

Sunday morning, five am. The boys ask for their first outdoor exploration while I prepare their breakfast. Tapping and trotting back into the house, they dine. I turn the stove top burner on to full heat to boil water. I select a teapot, the tea and wait while music from a favorite playlist transports my mind to beautiful memories of France. The beloved old copper tea kettle rattles and steam rises from its spout. Pouring the hot water into my teapot, I simply delight in my boys, their presence, their good health at such advanced ages, and I smile.

Savoring the everydays, finding peace in knowing the direction I have chosen for my life and being grateful for the opportunity to immerse myself in activities I love has given my life the strength to purge the stress which used to weigh it down. Understanding how stress presents itself and whittles its way into our lives is crucial to being able to free ourselves from its pains. I highly recommend The Stress Solution for clear, easy to understand insight into stress and what our lives truly need to feel good and buoyant and fully human as we live our one and only life.

Step one – find your raison d’être and travel forward from there. 🙂

~explore Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s The Stress Solution: The 4 Steps to a Calmer, Happier, Healthier You

Petit Plaisir

~Recipe for Brown Butter Lemon Sugar Crêpes

~explore Martha Homberg’s cookbook – Crêpes: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes

~Watch how to flip a crêpe here in episode #6, season 3 of The Simply Luxurious Kitchen

~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #299
~Subscribe to The Simple Sophisticate:  iTunes | Stitcher | iHeartRadio | YouTube | Spotify

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4 thoughts on “299: How to Live a Life with Less Stress & Why It’s Vital for Good Health

  1. Your content and recommendations are as refreshing as a breath of fresh air. I always look forward to everything you do, it is like a therapy session, meditation, and mini-vacation all in one lovely place.
    Thank you!

  2. Dr. Chatterjee always has such good stuff and his podcast is so enjoyable and informative. For a good giggle(actually laugh-out-loud, belly laughs), clips of Graham Norton and his guests on YouTube never fail. If you are not familiar, I highly recommend the clip with Ryan Gosling and Greg Davies to start your journey. And being able to exhale deeply and fully also does much to alleviate stress ?

  3. Such valuable advice .I think that we probably know some of this ourselves but it’s good to be reminded especially as stress levels these last few months has increased. Not all stress is bad though. It’s how we react to it

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