Apr 25 2008

Why More Stress Is Not Inevitable

During my morning routine (90 – 120 minutes of catching up on email, reading my "daily" folder in Firefox, reading my RSS feeds, and blogging) I came across Alex Iskold’s post Faster – Why Constant Stress is Part of Our Future.  It was ironic to me that I read it shortly after posting my last blog about my Q1 vacation.

Alex makes the argument that constant stress is part of our current reality and that it is accelerating.  I don’t buy the argument that it is inevitable – I believe that it is a choice.  And I reject it.

If you knew me in the late 1990’s, you knew that I was always online, always on the phone, always interruptible, always available (except when on an airplane), and constantly traveling all over the place to save the world (or at least my little version of it.)  By the time we hit mid-2000 I was pushing 240 pounds, exhausted, strung out, and almost manic.  One weekend Amy told me she was "done" and when she defined that (e.g. "if you don’t change, I’m out of here") I listened.

Over the next 12 months I rewired all my patterns.  I stopped checking email before I went to bed at night.  I started taking a week off the grid every quarter.  I actually treated the weekends like weekends and had some downtime.  I started running marathons. 

2001 was a brutal year for me.  I helped wind down 10 companies that year.   There was very little about work that was fun.  At one point I was on the boards of four public companies where if you multiplied all of their stock prices together you got a smaller number (e.g. they were all sub-$1 stocks.)

While I put a huge amount of energy into the very unsatisfying work I was doing, I made sure that I carved out time for myself away from work.  I still got worn out periodically, but the stress started to melt away.

As I look back over the past decade, my intensity level hasn’t changed much since the turn of the century.  However, my stress level has changed dramatically.  I reject stress.  While it creeps up on me (and is usually an indication that I am tired and need a break), I make sure that I control (and choose) the pace of my work and life.

You can do this also – if you want to.  Start by taking small steps.  Exercise five days a week for at least thirty minutes.  Turn off your computer at 8pm and don’t look at email until you wake up in the morning.  When you eat dinner – eat – don’t try to do something else (like email) at the same time.  Go to a movie and turn your cell phone off.  Go outside and play with your kids (or your dogs.)  Decide that you aren’t so important that the world can’t wait 24 hours for you – and give yourself a short break.

Reject the inevitability of stress.