The title of this post is really a misnomer because a stress-free life is nothing good. Stress helps us grow and it’s usually a good thing when there’s enough time to recover, recuperate and heal. Think going to a gym. You exercise, which is a form of stress, but after a recovery period you become stronger. Humans evolutionary evolved to thrive under this type of acute stress followed by recovery (catabolic and anabolic processes).
However there’s another type of stress which is called prolonged or chronic stress. This type of stress is detrimental because it does NOT allow for a recovery period. For example, thinking about an up-coming test for your final exam, a job interview or not being able to pay your mortgage because you got fire.
The best way to avoid this bad chronic stress is just to avoid thinking about it. Most problems are not even real. They are products of our imagination. The longer you procrastinate and overanalyze, the worse the overwhelm, fear and stress become.
What makes it worse is that our brains can’t handle more than 4-5 items in our conscious minds. When you day dream or analyze in your mind (like in a shower or before going to bed), most likely later you’ll forget whatever the ideas, steps or details you thought about. This will add to stress.
Have a dedicated time to think. Mark it in your calendar. Write the steps, details and questions in a notebook or in an application. Looking at a todo list or a high-level outline will bring you calmness and clarity.
In addition, you can take action which will clear and dispel the fears and imagined problems. All you need to complete a big task is just to know what are the next actionable steps, and take them.
One of the best way to deal with procrastination is to tell yourself that you’ll just start on a task or see how to write the first page (for a book) or create the first file (for a program). The mind will want to continue by inertia once you get into the flow and pick up momentum by seeing results. So you can trick it by just starting.
Pomodoro technique uses 25 minute chunks to trick the brain into starting by limiting to “exposure” to a task to 25 minutes which will typically turn into another 25 minutes and then to another 25 minutes until you get to some milestone on a project.
The last tip, don’t load your mind with tasks or problems unless you can either solve them right away or make a note to work on them later. Doing so will occupy your mind but you can’t accomplish the task right away. Remember, your brain can hold only several items in the conscious mind at the same time.
For example, don’t check your email on your phone in a metro, because there would be emails which will require you to use a computer. It’s easier to read an email and do the task right away, than to read it, mark as “todo later” or unread, then come back to it, read again and do the task.
To sum up, avoid chronic stress by taking action and avoiding over thinking especially thinking without taking notes. Planning and taking action beat any overwhelm and procrastination. At the same time, indulge in acute stress once in a while to continue to grow.