Reducing Stress and Anxiety – 3 Things That Work For Me

Over the years, probably brought on by being a startup junkie and always having poured myself unreservedly into work my entire professional life, I’ve developed several bad habits or things that are harmful to health, and perhaps also to relationships.

On the one hand, there is this insatiable passion and seemingly endless energy to take on challenges, get stuff done, being an engine that is always on. Sadly, on the other hand, there is fatigue, irritability, loss of focus, and low quality sleep. Undeniably, according to both ancient wisdom and modern medical know-how, the latter set of things affect one’s health dangerously. And with equal importance, the closest relationships are exposed to occasional bouts of irritability and other forms of negative energy. Broadly speaking, there is a general feeling of stress and anxiety as a result.

Three things I have either changed or started recently are personally helping me a lot without taking away from my productivity, and seem to be helping cut out the bad set of things.


1. Turn off all audible alerts and lock-screen notifications on devices. (Except calendar reminders and text messages.)

This was a surprisingly welcome change. Sounds simple, but do you really need to be suddenly interrupted from your flow or zone, with a ding and a lock screen message that “Your Facebook friend so-and-so just joined Pinterest.” – and other irrelevant, unnecessary crap? I started going into my iPhone’s Notifications setup each time anything came up (Mail app alerts, Google alerts, Facebook, Twitter, CNBC alerts, and perhaps 10 others), and turning them off. I left Calendar and text message alerts on as I control the reminders I put on my calendar items, and also I am not a defocussed incessant texter – especially when I work, so most texts I get are important. On the same note, during work hours, I only make myself visible to the group of people I am working with on messaging apps. I still check my email and look at my agenda frequently, but on my own schedule, when I am in-between focussed tasks – kind of like waking up in sync with natural sleep cycles. Which leads me to my second thing – sleep.

2. Sleep well. Instead of an alarm clock, use an app like Sleep Cycle.

I started using this about a couple of months ago instead of using a regular alarm. It is ingeniously simple. You turn it on, put it next to your pillow facing down. It tracks your sleep cycles, duration and quality by tracking motion (whatever it detects from your tossing and turning, etc.), and perhaps from movement noise since it asks for access to the microphone. You can configure a window of time to wake up in, and it detects a stage when you are either awake or your sleep is in the waking part of the cycle during that time window, and wakes you up. Also, it measures your sleep quality and gives you a score and a graph of sleep level over time – that way you can correlate various pre-sleep activities with quality of sleep – for example, does sipping some tart cherry juice an hour before going to bed actually help with sleep, does deep breathing right before sleep give you some golden deep sleep cycles, etc. As my friend Chip had said 20 years ago: you should measure things that you care about. Inducing positive energy and a calm disengagement via pre-sleep deep breathing, and cutting out sources of negative energy seem to help in my case – which takes me to the third point.

3. Add positive energy (many choices). Cut out negative energy (namely TV news channels, and social media complainers).

Points 1 and 2 take zero time investment and give heavy positive returns. So that’s golden for the ROI (return-on-investment) fanatics. Point three is also a net positive – consuming about 30-60 minutes of time every day for adding positive energy (meditation / deep-breathing / quiet-time / simple yoga / reading / praying / reflecting / being grateful – look up Positive Psychology when you have a minute), but freeing up much more than that by subtracting sources of negative energy that steal time both directly and indirectly, and negatively affect every aspect of life. I am talking primarily about TV “news” folk, political talking-heads and other assorted villains – kings and queens of ignorance on TV and the internet constantly furthering their narrow agendas by stepping on your gentle minds. They come from the right and the left – ignore them, and instead look straight at what you value – there’s much better stuff there. The negative energy sources are plentiful in our social circles, in person, and more so on social media since it’s a much larger set. Cut. Them. Out. Hide them from your feeds, unfollow them, walk-away, change the topic, do whatever it takes to cleanly disengage. There are always tons of important things that require immense energy, constructive debate, championing ideas, defending values, and much effort without all the shallow and shrill things stealing our precious time. Any issue that is important to you can be engaged with constructively without subscribing to a buffet-line of fast-food class negative sentiments. That frees up more time to embrace positive things. Things you admire. Things you learn from. Things that leave you positive. Spend time with people that enrich you, and take a vacation every now and then!

What are some of your favorite positive energy sources? What kinds of negative energy sources have you successfully cut out? Please share.

Journey to Paperless

I aspire to a more paperless life, at least when it comes to my personal information. To achieve this, all I need to do is be able to record more of the information I care about in something like my mobile phone.This is not motivated just by a desire to be more environmentally friendly. I have many reasons for wanting to reduce my paper footprint, but the top five are

1. More ways to capture information more quickly enhances quality

With my mobile phone, not only can I type text, but I can also take a picture and record audio or video. Now, instead of having to write down all the information for a wine I like (vineyard, vintage, varietal, etc.), I can simply take a picture of the label and, in one or two seconds, have all the information that would have taken me a lot longer to write down. Or, while driving, I can record an audio clip of some genius idea I had which, if I had to write down on paper later, probably would never have gotten captured.

2. Data consolidation enables better decisions

Having all my information together in one location means I am able to take actions that are smarter. Now I can have a bookmark for the web site for that great seafood restaurant I like but whose name I can never remember. That would allow me to see if the restaurant is open for dinner next Monday and, if not, make a reservation at a different place.

3. Data consolidation allows for faster decisions

Having all my information in one place means I have access to different things that are related, even if I didn’t previously know they were related. Because I don’t have to hunt around for multiple things that are related, I can reach conclusions much more quickly. Where were the last three places I had lunch with my business partner so I can make sure I suggest some place different?

4. Keeping the information on my mobile phone makes it more secure

The number of times I’ve lost a slip of paper with some important note on it? Countless. The number of times I’ve lost my mobile phone? Zero. […as I nervously tap on wood…] My mobile phone is always with me, and it holds more data than I could carry if it were written down on paper. My mobile phone is configured with a passcode so only I can look at the data on it. And, I backup the device all the time to protect me against data loss.

5. Better insight through searchability

Given one or two key words, I can let my mobile phone search through my appointments, reminders, notes, lists, and most of the other data I gather in order to find things I can’t seem to remember. Today, that may not work for audio and video clips, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before that’s possible too.

Obviously, all of those really boil down to making me more productive. I’m busy, I’ve got a lot going on in my life, and anything that helps me do more things, more quickly, with less effort makes a very positive impact on my quality of life. And, I get to sleep better at night knowing a few trees are breathing a bit easier.