Wake up. Glance at the display of your screeching alarm clock. Panic at how late it is. Run into the kitchen and brew your coffee. You consider grabbing breakfast, but end up just pouring scalding hot coffee all of yourself, and running out of the door in order to make it to work on time.
Does any of that sound familiar?
We are in a weird situation these days. Things are as comfortable as they’ve ever been before in human history, food is plentiful in a way it never was before, leisure time doesn’t just mean “Christmas afternoon off from your job of working in the local coal mine,” and there are tons, and tons of entertainment systems, devices, and options out there.
And yet, even in spite of all those blessings, polls report that people are consistently rating themselves as more and more stressed-out than ever.
Of course, this stress isn’t coming out of nowhere, and it’s not happening for no reason. Despite the good things about modern life, there are plenty of sources of despair, frustration, and confusion, thrown into the mix.
And, really, who can manage to avoid feeling stressed with TV, radio, and news websites, constantly pumping out messages of doom and gloom, at all hours day and night.
Relaxing more may not always be straightforward – but whether you take an opportunity to unwind by visiting Borgata SPA, or by curling up with a good book on a regular basis, here are a few reasons why relaxing more may genuinely transform your life for the better.
1. Because stress and adrenaline kill your willpower
When most people think of adrenaline, they think of action. Overcoming obstacles, avoiding danger, making things happen, and being totally “switched on.”
Sure enough, adrenaline is at the heart of the “fight or flight response,” and that response is primarily concerned with getting us to take action and make things happen as quickly and forcefully as possible.
This is the same state that we find ourselves in when we down a pot or two of coffee, and race to meet some looming deadline that threatens to spell doom and gloom for our professional careers.
The thing is stress and adrenaline don’t just charge you up to get over the morning slump and get your work done. They also kill your willpower in pretty dramatic fashion.
In the book, “The Willpower Instinct,” author Kelly McGonigal looks at research findings and comes to the shocking conclusion that our willpower is far lower when we are in a wired and stressed-out state than it would be otherwise.
In fact, she goes as far as to say that the “willpower response” is essentially the diametric opposite of the “fight or flight response.” Willpower involves pausing, taking stock of the situation, making a decision, and acting in a cool and deliberate manner.
An adrenaline-dominant fight or flight state involves manically taking action with little if any thought, and jumping back and forth between actions at the speed of light.
One of the best ways of rapidly boosting willpower in a fix, according to McGonigal, is to slow and deepen your breathing. It’s not just a coincidence that this is the same advice given to people who are highly stressed out and need to calm down.
The better able you are to stay calm, as a rule, the more willpower you can expect to have. And – just in case there was any doubt – more willpower means you’re more likely to succeed in everything you do in life, to be true to your principles and values, and to feel good about yourself, as well.
2. Because to really thrive, you often need consistency and “Deep Work,” not frantic bursts of activity
When you are really stressed out, do you think you’d be able to do a good job of sitting still and working consistently on a given project, for a prolonged period of time?
Or, does it seem more likely, all told, that you’d find yourself really struggling to focus on any one thing, and jumping back and forth between different tasks, and different attention-grabbing objects, in frantic bursts of activity?
According to the professor Cal Newport, succeeding in business – particularly in today’s world – largely comes down to being able to apply deliberate and consistent focus to one task at a time. It’s about managing to work deeply, as opposed to shallowly. It’s about being specific and precise, as opposed to “multitasking.”
When you engage in “deep work,” you allow your full skill set, and insights, to come to bear on a problem. You learn more effectively, and solve problems more effectively. And you are most likely to do the kind of work that actually has a positive long-term impact on your life, when all is said and done.
Sometimes, in life, it may be useful and necessary to run around frantically putting out fires and trying to micromanage an assortment of different tasks. But it’s not useful or necessary half as often as we seem to think it is.
Mostly, if you are constantly panicking and shifting your attention back-and-forth, that’s likely to be because you’re overly stressed out and are going about handing things in the wrong way.
3. Because chronic stress literally does ruin your health, and kills you
The hormone cortisol is typically referred to as “the stress hormone.” Although that name sounds ominous, cortisol is essential to your survival, and it plays a vital role in different systems and functions in the body.
Here’s the issue, though: when cortisol is chronically elevated – such as when you are dealing with long-term enduring stress, it actively damages and breaks down your muscles and your organ tissue, in order to free up the “emergency fuel” it thinks it needs, in order to give sustenance to your brain.
Needless to say, this can cause all sorts of extremely severe health problems over time – and can contribute to many more. A little bit of stress in small bursts every now and then is natural – and the body is adapted to deal with that. But if you’re too stressed, for too much of the time, it will ruin your health, and may well kill you.
Keep that in mind next time you are pushing through with an all-nighter or passing up an opportunity to get some much-needed R&R.
4. Because the entire world seems like a radically different place when your anxiety levels are lower
Stress and anxiety go hand-in-hand – not least of all because the same hormones are involved in both conditions, to a dramatic degree.
When you are moving through life in a constant state of anxiety stress, the world ends up looking a certain way. Threatening. Cold. Hopeless. And you begin to act in accordance with those fearful perceptions of yours.
Whereas you might once have been dynamic and outgoing, you suddenly find yourself turning into a hermit and virtually never leaving the home. And although you used to enjoy hanging out with your friends, you’re now convinced that they are all plotting behind your back.
By the same token, however, when you manage to significantly lower your anxiety levels, the whole world suddenly seems to become a much more positive place – and you develop a much more flattering and optimistic sense of your own potential within that world.
When you can significantly reduce your stress response to everyday life, such as through a nourishing whole-foods, carb-heavy diet, plentiful sleep, and by cutting out caffeine and other stimulants, don’t be surprised if you feel like the world becomes your oyster practically overnight.