We're all likely to suffer from stress and anxiety at some point, but very few people take proactive steps to reduce the impact it has on them. Just mentioning these things can also lead to an extremely negative reaction from people.
There has to be a better way though right? Luckily for you there is, as The Simplicity System is designed to take a fresh approach towards dealing with these things we don't want to think about.
In this post, I'll outline my thoughts, share my concerns and provide solutions to the problems created by stress an anxiety. I think it would also help if I started out by describing the way I view the mind.
I think the mind is similar to a pet puppy, because with just a little training it can be a faithful and loyal companion that helps you enjoy your life. If you don't train the mind though, it's likely to seriously mess things up, lead you astray, keep bothering you for attention and really frustrate you.
Before we get to the training part though, I think we really need to acknowledge the elephant in the room. I'm very aware that even mentioning that I've suffered with stress and anxiety in the past will probably put a huge target over me, as people are likely to judge me as weak, fragile and unreliable.
So why do I talk about it? I talk about it because if these people take this view and overlook the steps I've taken to overcome and contain it, as well as my efforts to share my ideas with others, they probably aren't people I should be paying much attention to.
In my case, I suffered from stress and anxiety when I was recovering from a sudden, and largely undiagnosed, illness that left me disabled. With a home and job to protect, a lack of understanding from people and uncertainty over the diagnosis and treatment, it was hard to cope.
I was also in constant pain, as the nerves in my feet were being directly stimulated, and I could barely move. I needed two sticks just to walk a few steps and if I put a foot wrong, I'd be in a lot of trouble.
I'm telling you this so you can hopefully understand the sort of stresses that were placed on me and that if my ideas can help me cope with that, they should be able to help you.
Going though this also made me question the way these things were dealt with. It seems that the immediate response is to offer medication, recommend meditation and suggest counselling. I have some problems with these though for the following reasons, and I think it's really important to examine them before we look at my solutions (so bear with me as the good stuff is coming up afterwards).
The thing that really concerned me was that the immediate response from healthcare professionals was to offer medication. It concerned me more however that when I declined this, hoping to address the issues I was facing instead, they seemed extremely glad I had done so. This seemed very strange and it really prompted me to take action and find a better way.
Surely it's not good for anyone if doctors are prescribing medication they don't really want you to take?
At this point, I think it's wise to point out that I have no medical training. I'd also like to make it clear that I'm not saying you should refuse medication or not listen to your doctor. If you're ever in this position, I just think you should question it, suggest an alternative and then gauge their reaction.
To be clear, I never refused medication, I just asked if I could try another way and they were very relieved that I did. I assumed it was better to try and resolve the issues I was experiencing using natural techniques, like mindfulness, and all the doctors and consultants I've spoken to about it have all been extremely supportive of this approach.
I honestly believe that you should consider the proactive ideas presented on this site, and discuss them with your doctor, before you consider medication.
I'm also not aware of anyone taking medication proactively 'in case' they ever suffer from stress and anxiety, but you can do everything presented here to reduce the chances of it ever becoming a serious problem.
You may be wondering why I'm concerned about people recommending meditation when I actively promote it on the site, but it's the way it's introduced that bothers me.
I'm worried that some people are likely to close the door on the idea of meditation because they may think it's a religious practice, or even something supernatural.
They may also be put off because they think mindfulness is a complicated clinical procedure. What they need is an effective introduction, rather than a vague statement or a basic leaflet.
I'm really going on my own experience here, as it took the right introduction to get me on board. I'd actually been introduced to it years ago, but it was from a more spiritual source that I actually discounted. I'd also read an entire book on meditation, but just didn't 'get it' as presumed I had to 'do something' to make it 'happen'.
This is why I created something that would point people towards the right sources, right away.
I also think there's also a lot more to mindfulness than the simple act of meditating. These ideas also come through on the site and they can help you with things like sleeping and interacting with people.
When I was recommended counselling, I took the opportunity and used it to bounce ideas off of a professional. I'd found a lot of books and resources and really used the sessions to ask their opinion on them to make sure I was on the right track.
Luckily for me, I was and this is what started the journey that would lead to The Simplicity System. I was really surprised to find out that most people don't treat it this way though.
By all accounts, they usually go in expecting to be given all the answers and again, I was concerned that people are waiting for someone else to come in and help them.
Going back to the analogy of the pet puppy, I think it's safe to say that most people expect someone else to come in and train it for them.
This is why I've created a resource that introduces the things that helped me, so people can go out and help themselves. If necessary, they can then work with professionals to put it all into practice.
Now we've looked at what's wrong, let's look at how we can put things right.
The Simplicity System
I've identified some key practices and ideas that will help people deal with stress and anxiety. As well as introducing resources to help you and writing articles like this, I've also provided some practical exercises on the site. This is to help you do the things I've identified as the most effective ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
If you want to move forwards you should:
- Get organised
- Stop thoughts spiralling out of control
- Start moving
- Eat well
- Improve your interactions
- Understand your mind and body
- Take responsibility and draw a line in the sand
Here's how you do it..
I think one of the best, and most overlooked, ways of tackling stress and anxiety is to get organised. This is why I place so much emphasis on creating your own productivity system on the site.
The basic idea is to stop you worrying about things you really don't need to be concerned about.
I think the most effective thing you can do by far is to implement the '4 Folders' ideas. I go though this in detail in the 'Plan & Organise' section but to put it simply, you just divide your to-do list into Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Yearly folders. This should automatically help you focus on what needs to be done.
It should also help you stop worrying about remembering that bill that's due at the end of the month, or what might happen if you don't send that important letter next week.
This, along with the other ideas on the site, will help you get all of that clutter out of your head, but give you the security of knowing that you will be reminded about important tasks when you need to do them. You'll then start to feel assured that things are in place and your focus will be on the next step, rather than the whole task.
This should then begin to really change the way you think about things and hopefully bring about a more practical way of viewing the world.
If you nail it, you should also experience the added benefit of getting more done and look very impressive. The Plan & Organise, Own Information and Be Ready sections of this site are full of ideas and resources to help you set up your own system.
Stop Thoughts Spiralling out of Control
The next step is equally important, and it's essentially there to do the same thing. A lot of stress and anxiety is caused by negative thoughts spiralling out of control, so we need to do something about it.
Learning how to meditate can help and it's as easy as simply sitting still and focusing on the present moment, or even just counting your breaths. Being mindful is similar, as it's really just about focusing on the present moment whenever you can. You'll also start leaning how to observe your thoughts and start detaching yourself from them.
Just simply remembering that your phone bill is due could escalate into extremely negative thoughts relating to your finances and future security. This could then snowball into all sorts of unpleasant areas, and leave you feeling drained and frustrated.
Being mindful really just helps you put on the breaks and stop all of this. It also helps you recognise these sort of negative thought processes before they get going, so you can shift your focus to what's important.
Like being organised, it's really about focusing on what you're doing right now and the practical steps needed to get by and move towards your goals.
Being mindful is the start of a shift towards a far more practical way of thinking, where your mind is used as an effective tool that pushes you forwards. Surely this is far better rather than have a constant critic that's a disruptive source of negativity and effective roadblock?
To get to this point, you really need to discover the basic principles of mindfulness and it's also helpful if you start to meditate regularly. It's very easy to do, and the advantages far outweigh the tiny investment of time and effort.
Getting enough sleep is also a huge problem if you're suffering from stress and anxiety, but just a basic understanding of mindfulness should make a difference.
Remember the analogy of the puppy, this is how you train your mind.
Oh, and it's not about escaping problems or shutting them out. When we're organised AND mindful, we have solutions, know that they are in place and focus on what we need to do to put things right. It's really just a matter of eliminating all the time consuming thoughts about things that might not happen.
The Clear Mind & Focus section of this site should help you start off and point you in the direction of some great resources if you need them.
This isn't just about getting fit and working out, as long walks can really make a difference if you're dealing with stress and anxiety. They're a great way to help you put things in perspective and hopefully provide some answers.
You could even incorporate mindfulness into your walks to help you feel better.
Walking in nature is particularly effective, as it's likely to trigger some very primal feelings of security based on being close to plants and trees (and more specifically, the food sources of our early ancestors). It also helps if you walk in a curvy and unpredictable path if you're stressed.
Exercise is an extremely effective way to deal with stress and anxiety. The natural changes in the body will help you feel better and you'll be working towards something constructive.
If for some reason you've lost your temper or feel agitated, you'll probably feel the adrenaline flowing though your body so a good workout is a great way relax.
I appreciate that it's not an option for everyone, but I strongly recommend getting as active as possible. The Get Active section should have some great ideas for you.
I think it's safe to say that a lot of people aren't happy with the way they look, and this can lead to a lot frustration. I've included some ideas to help you start turning things around on the site and on the whole, it should really make the benefits of getting in shape and getting eating under control very clear.
I think you're probably likely to put on weight when you're stressed or anxious if you don't have effective measures in place.
You'll also feel better when you're eating healthier and not feeling so full and bloated. It also helps if you can see the danger signs before they happen, and put things in place to help you keep control.
It really feels horrible when you allow yourself to lose control, overeat and undo a lot of hard work.
Getting into good habits can also help you manage your own natural willpower, and this should really make a difference. You might even find other things a little bit easier.
I've included some very effective ways to lose weight in the Eat to Live section and also introduce some handy resources.
Improve Your Interactions
This is a tough one, but it can really make a difference. A lot of people feel awkward around other people, worry about saying the wrong thing or leaving a bad impression. This can be even worse when you're feeling a bit low, and really make you feel awful.
You'll probably start to feel bad about yourself in time as well and lose confidence in yourself.
There is an answer though, and it's called the 'As-If Principle'. I think the best way to introduce it is to guide you to the video below from Richard Wiseman.
On the site, I introduce several of Richard Wiseman's books and I consider them essential reading.
I honestly believe that using these ideas and implementing practices based on the As-if Principle is one of the best ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
I believe in the As-If Principle, I've seen it work and I know it can help you.
Adopting mindful practices will also help you move passed mistakes and accept those that other people may make. You should also become less judgemental and essential gain a whole new perspective when dealing with people.
On the site, I've included my own exercise to help you act 'As-if' in the Connect section. There's an also introduction to mindfulness in the Clear Mind & Focus section.
Understand Your Mind and Body
When you're feeling low, it can often be related to what's happening inside you rather than around you. Although your body can do amazing things, it can't always let you know directly when it's low on fuel or needs recharging.
While feeling hungry is an easy one to spot, we're not always aware that we're low on glucose, our natural energy bar, and may not notice the behavioural changes this causes.
We may also get frustrated when we can't quite concentrate on a task, and not realise that this keeps happening in one of our natural low points throughout the day.
Just gaining a basic awareness of these things, in addition to an understanding of mindfulness, can really help us move past these natural mood swings.
This should also get you used to identify natural 'triggers' and avoid the risk of serious escalations like panic attacks. If you do ever suffer from these though, a sound understanding of the body, and the natural processes associated with it, should help you minimise the impact and be aware of what's happening.
I introduce some great resources on the site to help you get to this level, but I think the best two are the books Willpower, by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney and The Productivity Project, by Chris Bailey. These cover everything from tips on caffeine intake, to advice on managing your natural levels of glucose.
I'd also suggest reading everything you can from Tim Ferriss and Richard Wiseman.
Take Responsibility and Draw a Line in the Sand
I've saved this one to last because it's by far the most important, and the only essential thing you need to do.
Everything above is great, but it's pretty much useless if you don't recognise and accept that you have a problem. You then need to look at how you can get help. If you're facing a particular stressful situation, you also need look at ways you could distance yourself from it in order to regroup and recover.
The most important thing for me is that you take responsibility. I'm sure we've all seen or heard some people complaining, and looking for external gratification from places like Facebook, and got a bit frustrated, as it comes over as a bit self-indulgent.
The sad truth is that this behaviour is unlikely to bring about positive changes or even get to the route of the problem. It's like an endless cycle and that can't be good for anyone.
Imagine for a second that someone is constantly complaining that they are unhappy with being unfit. You could introduce them to the best gym, join them up and provide the best workout plan possible, but they need to go along and actually get on the treadmill themselves.
The bottom line is that it's down to that person to take responsibility for their recovery, but that doesn't mean they should ever decline any offers of help and support they receive. I know it's hard, but there really isn't a choice here. All I can do is put a resource like The Simplicity System in front of people, I can't force them to use it.
So so sum up everything I've spoken about so far very simply, it's really a matter of getting organised, getting your thoughts under control, being aware of things and taking responsibility.
You do this by identifying the best resources, establishing effective practices and putting in the work required to make this happen.
The Road Ahead
Thanks for sticking with this post and I hope you're already feeling reassured that you can overcome stress and anxiety when you need to. I really care about this subject and I desperately want to move away from the current, unsatisfactory situation.
I really feel we need to move beyond the post-war, 'stiff upper lip' mentality of not acknowledging or talking about how we feel, or the paradoxical trend of indulgent and cryptic attention seeking on social media.
I want people to accept that anyone can suffer from this and know that everyone can do something about it. There is a better way, and it's all within reach.
In the same way that someone out jogging probably hasn't suffered from a heart attack or has diabetes, I look forward to seeing people adopting the practices I've outlined proactively to reduce their chances of suffering from stress and anxiety.
I'll leave it to you to either head to the rest of the site and start your journey, or head to Facebook and declare that you've 'really had enough now' and 'can't believe what's happening'.
In closing, I'd just like assure anyone reading this who's experienced mental health issues that it is not my intention to criticise anyone or imply any sort of judgement. I'd also like to make it clear that I'm only focussing on stress and anxiety here and not depression, as there are more clinical aspects to this that I'm not qualified to address.
However you feel, I'd love to hear your thoughts as I'm always open to change. Hopefully we can all do something to help people be happier, healthier and more productive.