This seeming oxymoron is my north star.
I interviewed for physical therapy school a few months ago. In one of my interviews, I spoke of the value I place on a low-stress life. Having an invisible illness, I have noticed that stress is the single biggest offender in spiraling me out of health. So in answering questions honestly, I naturally talked about the wonderful impact that living a life with less stress has had on me.
The professor immediately launched into a ten-minute lecture on how much hard work was required in physical therapy school. He spoke about the large course load and the pressure placed on students. He spoke about many students suddenly not showing up during a particular week because the program had “burnt them out.” I listened. And listened. And thanked him for his time. And left.
I didn’t leave because the program was hard work. I love hard work. Bring it on.
I left because I didn’t want to learn from someone with the message:
To work hard, you must be stressed.
I heard an inherent assumption that hard work necessarily means high stress.
While this is our cultural story, why?
When did we begin to value a high-stress lifestyle?
When did we begin to assume that if you want to work hard, you must be stressed?
This is an outdated inference. Over the last seven years, and probably for the rest of my life, I have been finding balance.
A balance between performing my best and not throwing my body, health, or relationship under the bus. A balance between self-care and being selfless. (I call it being self-full.)
My dad has been a “hedge fund guy” for a while. The notorious high stress, burn-out career. But somehow, he has found peace amongst the chaos. He recently told me that when issues arise at work, his co-workers have been asking him, “Why aren’t you stressed about this?”
His reply was that whether he is stressed or not, they are going to get through whatever seeming “fire” arises. So why be stressed?
I used to believe that I had to be stressed in order to achieve something (whatever THAT means!). While this may have been true evolutionarily in a “run away from that tiger” scenario, I have learned that is not the case. Michael Singer’s book The Surrender Experiment is a wonderful testimony to this.
We can lead fulfilling lives without being stressed. The craziest part is how that has become a revolutionary statement.
I have no choice but to live under less stress. My body peaced out from that high stress life and simply won’t let me return. So I’ve learned a few strategies that have helped me thus far.
I am so open to learn more, so please share in the comments below!
Do not let your job be the point of your day.
Even if you have tremendous amounts of work to complete, do not let the purpose of your day be your work. Listen to a podcast, bike to and from work, go to yoga or dance at night, visit a park or an ocean or a tree… and let that time, your “you” time, be the purpose of your day.
My boyfriend taught me this one: Build your work around your life, not your life around your work.
And I don’t mean phone breaks. When you go to the bathroom at work, take a few breaths or a quick stretch. Do you use your breaks for mindless consumption? Or can you use them to refill your cup. Your “you” cup, not necessarily your coffee cup.
Find movement wherever and whenever you can.
Movement is a tremendous stress reliever. Take the stairs and go to a bathroom on another floor. Roll your feet out under your desk. Go on a walk or run during your lunch break. Walk home. Get a standing desk and alternate between sitting and standing. Drop something on the floor every half hour that you have to squat down and pick up. I mean come on! EVERY moment is an opportunity for movement ;)
Meditate whenever you can.
At a wedding last weekend, a friend’s mom told me that to deal with the mental noise of working in New York City, she heard you would have to meditate every five minutes.
While this seems ludicrous, the best part about meditation is that you do not have to be “doing it” to feel its effects. Like exercise, the benefits of meditation carry over into other activities.
Remember why you are where you are.
Most importantly, why are you here?
In remembering this, I consult Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.
I’d love to hear from anyone in the comments — what does your Low Stress Hard Work look like?