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.

3 Tips for Having A Great Day at Work

There is nothing like that great feeling at the end of a good work day. We are happy, grateful, relaxed, pain-free, and gladly ready for our choice of activity in the evening. Very simply, here are my observations of things that lead to such a wonderful feeling.

1. Don’t use the wrong muscles!

In other words, be comfortable. After all, what do the trapezius and rhomboids have to do with the product you are developing? There is no point giving chores to muscles that have nothing to do with the work at hand! But that is exactly what happens if you are seated or situated uncomfortably while working. Make a deal with those muscles to not cause mutual pain. A proper posture is easy to remember to start out with, but as the mind wanders into soaking the badness of stress, the deal is broken. Pay attention regularly, and before you know it, good posture becomes automatic. Also, remembering to move brings attention back to uncomfortable and suffering parts of the body.

2. Connect equally with people and work.

What works for me is to identify one big and a few small goals for the day. As an agile team, we start the day with a quick chat on what we intend to do, where we need help, where we can offer help, and what everyone’s day is expected to look like. However, throughout the day, on great work days, we connect, offer help,  and if possible, take breaks together. We inject positive energy, appreciate the progress by others, and count our blessings – not everyone gets to work on meaningful things with great people. On the days we foolishly choose not to do that, that great feeling at the end of the day eludes me.

3. Smile!

What we do is hard, as is any meaningful endeavor most folks undertake. The lazy and easy thing to do is to get dragged down when results fall short and progress is slower than desired. It typically is, especially for ambitious teams driven to do meaningful things. So it is just plain silly, unwise and unhelpful to get negative and not appreciate all the things that are proceeding well. It is the job of the others to lift up the early victim, and supply the necessary oxygen. A positive, happy and appreciative state of being never made anyone perform less effectively. In fact, it is the one thing that leaves us strong to fight another day. And remember to breathe – real oxygen is very important too!

I wish everyone that great feeling at the end of each work day!

Less Organized Spouse

I admit it: I like being organized. I am most comfortable when I am staying on top of all the things I’ve got going on in my life. And when it comes to coordinating commitments, technology has been an enabler. Online calendars, digital contact lists, smart phones — they all help me keep tabs on what is an ever-growing list of obligations. Over the years, I have developed a finely tuned “workflow” that fits my lifestyle and made me the envy of even my most punctual friends and colleagues.

The real challenge came when I started dating someone who isn’t as, um, “organized” as I am. Luckily for both of us, she recognizes this fact and acknowledges my role as the logistical half of our team. (In return, I have fully handed over to her the title of design czar — a good thing given how fashion-challenged I am.)

Personally, I think her job is a bit easier to execute. Some choice of “wear this”, “this doesn’t really go with that”, “burn those – I never want to see them again” pretty much covers every situation. And, over time, some of it has started to stick; now I can predict which of my clothes she will not find acceptable for any given situation about half the time. But getting her to embrace technology to help us stay organized has been a bit tougher. She’s not a big fan of e-mail (e.g., she hasn’t used her gmail account in so long she has forgotten her password) and the most-used app on her iPhone is Words With Friends, not her Calendar.

So we have settled on a model that is lightweight enough so as not to be burdensome for her, yet complete enough to prevent me from going completely loony. Basically, we each inform the other about potential commitments before we confirm them, but I maintain the calendar (although she does have access to it, and can view it any time she wants once she recovers her gmail password).

When I’m scheduling something:

  1. I check our calendar to make sure the time is available
  2. I check with her to make sure she’s interested
  3. I add it to our calendar, complete with text alerts to remind us of the event

When she’s scheduling something:

  1. she checks with me to see if I’m interested and if we’re available
  2. I add it to our calendar, complete with text alerts to remind us of the event
  3. she confirms the commitment with whomever originated

I know, it’s not rocket science and it seems totally obvious. All I care is that peace and harmony reign. Now, if only there were an app to help me keep her from throwing away my trade show T-shirts when I’m not looking.