The past few months have been rather uncomfortable, as I’ve been developing a freelance writing business from the ground up, sleeping on the floor of a room I share with a roommate, and preparing myself mentally for my next move, transitioning my current skillset into travel-based content. At some point, the bottom eyelid of my left eye developed a minor twitch, or blepharospasm, that is becoming increasingly more irritating. Coincidentally, I learned that this spasm is believed to come as the result of high levels of stress, fatigue, and most devastatingly for me—coffee. I’ve been overwhelming my system with all of these eye-tremor inducing stimuli for months now, so now I’m focusing a lot harder on at least removing the two metaphysical elements (stress & fatigue) from my life as much as possible.
High-stress environments are a consistent feature in the lives of a majority of starting entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, that stress tends to follow them throughout their career as well. It is a sad truth, when chasing success in business, stress is nearly inescapable. But still, freelancers do have options when it comes to defusing the thoughts and emotions that exacerbate tension and anxiety.
Dieting To Reduce Stress
This entire sentence may be a cliche, but “you are what you eat” is a factual statement that makes perfect sense when you look at it from a non-literal perspective. The nutrients that we eat are in turn converted to the biological structures that our bodies are composed of. (I’m not actually the cheeseburger I ate this morning—but I sort of am)
With that in mind, imagine what it feels like to be a Double-Double from fast food chain, Inn-N-Out; full of fat, chemical preservatives, and made to look pretty with a couple pretty accessories, vegetables…well, at least I’m delicious.
Maybe that analogy kind of sucks, but you know exactly what I’m trying to say. A poor diet consisting of processed foods and low nutritional value items may provide us with some comfort, but it is certainly not likely to enhance your mood in the long-run. Studies testing for every indicating factor of stress showed that people who frequently made poor nutritional choices scored worse on all factors of stress measured in the survey.
Luckily, research in this area is extensive, so here are some changes you can make to your diet, if you hope to encounter less stress in your life:
- Foods like chickpeas, lentils, tuna, milk, salmon, and oatmeal are great sources of Vitamin B, an essential vitamin that stimulates production of anxiety-easing and pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
- Omega-3s are another integral component in the diet of a high-stress freelancer. Not only do omega-3s reduce inflammation (which is often caused by stress), but a deficiency in omega-3s has been scientifically linked to the presence of depression and mood swings. Eating salmon, sardines, oysters, flax (seeds/oil), and several other types of fish and seeds is a great way to up your consumption of this vital fatty acid.
- Many people shy away from liver because it seems like a strange, inedible type of meat, but liver is an excellent source of folic acid, a nutrient that plays a major role in stress reduction. Folic acid is quite accessible through a number of different foods; like leafy green vegetables, legumes, and eggs
Don’t handicap yourself by overwhelming a malnourished and overworked brain without taking any action to get it working in peak condition. Educating yourself on proper food consumption and balancing nutrients appropriately is essential for maintaining a healthy decision maker’s mindset.
Fasting To Reduce Stress
Though research is constantly underway on this subject, the art of fasting, or calorie restriction, has been believed to have a multitude of health benefits. Most importantly, fasting is believed to reduce the amount of oxidative stress that our cells encounter. Oxidative stress is incurred when free radicals, which are unstable molecules that carry highly reactive electrons, interact with otherwise healthy molecules, creating a chain reaction that can break apart important components of the cell, even the DNA itself. Fasting aids in preventing this reaction by starving the cells that are beyond repair, causing them to essentially shut down and be replaced by properly functioning cells.
Longer periods of food intake restriction often have mood-boosting effects, stimulated by the release of pleasant neurotransmitters and other hormones that are our bodies’ biological response when tasked with adapting to starvation. Though fasting is stressful at first, the benefits of mastering the practice may be life altering.
Therapeutic fasting involves the ongoing daily restriction of food intake for a prolonged period. This type of fast normally involves consuming only 200-500 calories per day in the form of easily digestible foods.
The most popular form of fasting in the United States, intermittent fasting involves alternating periods of fasting and that I myself often use to preserve my own mental health and physical state. This method is more diverse and flexible, here are some options for you to get started:
- The 16/8 Method: Fast for a 16 hour period, limiting yourself to an 8-hour window of eating. Though 16 hours may seem like a long time, you can easily fit 2-3 meals into an 8 hour period. I think this is the most “natural” way of fasting, and I often implement this method a few times a week.
- The 5:2 Method: 5:2 involves continuing your normal calorie intake for 5 days of the week, but restricting your calorie intake significantly during the other two days of the week.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This method is blunt, but it still offers the same benefits. Eat-Stop-Eat is simple, just fast for a 24-hour period, eat normally for another 24-hour period, rinse, and repeat.
- Just Skip Meals: This isn’t a specific method designed by a fitness expert, but just skipping meals is an effective form of intermittent fasting as well. The periods are undefined, and the results less noticeable, but simply skipping a meal or two sporadically is a great way to keep your mind and body in check. People have a false conception that after just a few hours, their body will enter starvation mode and they will start losing muscle or fading away into dust. Speaking of which…
Just keep in mind that fasting isn’t as dangerous as some people may believe it to be, it is actually quite the opposite. Fasting helps regulate your cells and stimulates the production of mood-enhancing chemicals throughout your body.
Meditating To Reduce Stress
One of the most common practices to recently become popularized in the conscious public eye, meditation is a centuries-old tradition that is proven to fend off stress and the health problems that arise with it. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has performed studies that showed evidence of mindfulness and meditation-based stress reduction programs helping subdue anxiety, sleeping troubles, and irritability. Meditation allows you to clear your mind of the thoughts and emotions that create stress, worry, and uncertainty in your life.
Getting started with meditation is easy, but forming it into a habit takes consistency and practice. Try this:
- Close your eyes
- Relax your mind & body
- Empty your lungs
- Fill your lungs completely, while counting the seconds it takes to reach your maximum lung capacity.
- Exhale smoothly, emptying the lungs entirely at the same pace that you filled your lungs initially.
- Repeat this process, focusing only on the count until your rhythm is automated and you don’t need to count anymore.
- Upon reaching this equilibrium, notice the clarity in your thoughts and your mind’s enhanced ability to allow them to pass along without much or any resistance.
This method works anywhere, but don’t go sitting with your eyes closed if you aren’t entirely aware of your surroundings. Mindfulness is great, but keep your safety in mind as well.
For those of you looking for more of a challenge, there is an extremely unique method developed by the Iceman himself, William Hof, who’s favorite pastime is sitting nearly butt naked in arctic waters and climbing mountains in sub-zero temperatures wearing nothing but shorts. In this video, he discusses his breathing technique and Joe Rogan gives it a try for himself.
Practicing Yoga To Reduce Stress
Physical activity is majorly beneficial to reducing stress and increasing productivity. As a freelancer, it may seem hard to find the time to get out and get physical, but just 15-minutes of yoga is more than enough to change your mood by cutting down your stress and anxiety levels.
Yoga combines several core components to offer a mind-body practice that develops improved mental and physical health by engaging your entire body in an activity that is as rewarding as it is challenging. The primary components of yoga are postures (aka poses; stances performed in yoga), breathing, and meditation (relaxation).
I’m no yoga expert, but I have been practicing. Yoga With Adriene is a popular YouTube channel that offers tons of value-packed videos for developing your yoga skills. Here is a quick video that is certain to help you if you are interested in yoga, but don’t have much time thanks to your job or business.
By simply committing this routine to your muscle memory, you gain the option to tear down the stress and pressure you face in your freelance business at a moment’s notice, freeing your mind to solve important issues.
Walking To Reduce Stress
This one is big for me, though it is rather simple. Walking is something we are all capable of, there isn’t much appreciation for walking outdoors as a means to connect with your surroundings. I find that simply going for a walk of any length, 15-minutes or even 2 hours, is a great way to stimulate creative thought and build appreciation for life. I’m normally accompanied by my favorite songs and a pair of comfy shoes. As I lose track of my thoughts, my mind is eased and stress fades away.
Not stressing out is easier said than done, so taking a proactive stance towards staving off the negative effects stress can have on your business should be high up on your list of priorities as an entrepreneur. Remember that every approach doesn’t work for every person and you have to find what works for you. If any of methods are successful in making you feel better, build upon them to maximize your mental health and block out any and all work-related anxiety.