Make Stress Work For You

The first martial arts class swords class I’ve ever went to I ended up being the slowest one in the class.

I thought this was just because I was new, but after a few classes went by I found that my speed was still an issue. Then one day, while we practiced defenses, my instructor came up to me, grabbed my shoulder and told me:

“You gotta relax. You will be a lot smoother if you weren’t so tense. “

To my surprise, I was tensing up my body every time I grabbed my sword. Once I became aware of this I took a deep breath and relaxed. Immediately after relaxing I found that my strikes and blocks occurred much faster and with a lot more ease.

When I realized I was unknowingly feeling tense I started to wonder where else this was happening in my life. I ended up finding that I was tense when doing a lot of other activities, including the very basic day-to-day tasks in my life.

The problem was, I was so use to feeling tense I just considered it normal. Once I started to recognize these feelings of stress I was able to combat it and increase my work flow. This ended up leading me to researching and learning a lot about how about I can use stress to make myself get work done more efficiently.

Recognizing Stress

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There are two kinds of stress(Actually three, but the third is less common than the other two): Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

Acute Stress is that short term stress you have when reacting  to an immediate threat or an event that heightens a strong emotional response.  While Chronic stress is the long term stress that occurs when responding to emotional pressure(s) for a long period of time.

While acute stress can help stimulate that exhilarating feeling you get from riding a roller coaster or skiing down a slope, chronic stress is the far less fun one that can cause severe physical and mental strain. Along with anxiety, irritability, and depression, chronic stress has also been known to weaken the immune system and cause permanent brain damage.

Despite the dangers of chronic stress, a lot of people tend to not recognize they are suffering from it. There are very notable symptoms to help identify the feelings of chronic stress, but the one I found to be most effective is body scanning.

Body scanning is not only a very effective way to identify if you’re feeling stressed, but also a great way to help relax the areas of the body that are tense. The process can even take as little as 10-15 minutes to do.

To start off, find a comfortable position and take a few deep breathes. Once you’re feeling comfortable and cleared your mind, it’s time to start the body scanning process. Start by focusing on your feet, noting the sensations felt in this position. Identify if there is any tenseness present. If so, take a few deep breaths and relax them. Then, slowly work your way up, doing this same process one body part at a time, until you have fulled relaxed all parts of your body.

Once you finished relaxing your body, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes. Take a couple more deep breaths and slowly come out of your seated position before resuming normal activities.

Control Your Stress

Body scanning isn’t the only way to combat chronic stress. Studies have found that the most effective ways to overcome chronic stress is through regular exercise and meditation.

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What these two solutions have in common is that they practice mindfulness. One of the biggest causes for chronic stress is worrying too much about problems out of your control. Instead of constantly thinking about the tasks in the future it’s important to be mindful about the tasks currently in front of you. By letting your mind wander away from the present activity you are allowing yourself to be distracted.

This causes, what Cal Newport describes in his book, Deep Work, as attention residue:

“People experiencing attention resident after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that task, and the more intense the reside the worse the performance.”

One of the best way to practice mindfulness is to take up hobbies that require you to be in this state of mind. This can include getting involved activities such as martial arts, yoga, or creative arts. Just doing some sort of activity that brings you in that meditative state and focus on the the task at hand. By being more mindful with our tasks we reduce that feeling of anxiety for any future tasks.

Finally, another extremely effective way to combat stress is by organizing and planning. Scheduling when you allow yourself to work, take breaks, and practice mindfulness helps organize your thoughts and give you a much less cluttered mind. This not only gives you a better feeling of control in your life, but it also provides a way to effectively track your tasks and stick your your To-Dos.

Make Stress Work For You

Stress can definitely be a helpful way to keep you on task, but it can also be a hindrance for getting the most work done. What really helps make stress beneficial is to not perceive stress as negative. In fact, by perceiving stress as a challenge for getting things done you can gain very positive health benefits from it.

When dealing with stress it’s important not to let it get out of control. By keeping your tasks organized and balancing your work and leisure you can keep stress in check. Doing so will help prevent you from worrying about stressing overwhelm you and instead use it as a strategy to be more productive.

 

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The 3-D Ant: Seeing Things Differently

How many of us have ever been faced with a problem that we feel we just can’t resolve? Sometimes it seems like no matter how hard we push ourselves and how much work we put in it seems like we’re never closer to a solution.

I have definitely felt like this many of times before, and it wasn’t until I heard this inspirational tale about ants that I started to find a much quicker solution to my problems.

So pull up a chair and have a seat. I’m going tell you the tale of the 3-D ant.

The 3-D Ant

To start off this story imagine that you are an ant traveling in a straight line. You are only capable of traveling in 1 Dimension, forward and backwards. Now let’s say a stone was placed in front of your pathway. As a 1-D ant you can no longer move forward because of the stone in the way. As a result, the 1-D ant’s world must come to a close.

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Now an ant capable of traveling in 2 Dimensions-forward, backward, left, and right- comes along. He strays away from the line despite the 1-D ants protest, “You are suppose to stay on the line!”

“Who made up that rule?” replies the 2-D ant. The 2-D ant suggests to the others to simply going around the stone.  The 2-D ants are able to move past the stone and continue on wards.

After a while, the ants come across a wall that stretches endlessly in both directions. The ants are in trouble now, they are able to move forward, backward, left, and right but they cannot pass the wall. So marks the end of the 2-D ant’s world.

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That is when a 3-D ant-capable of traveling forward, backward, left, right, up, and down- comes along. The 3-D ant looks at the wall and says “Why not just climb it?”. And so, the 3-D ant climbs over the wall and sees the new world.

Moral

The point of this story is that when you see things from a new perspective you open the opportunity to find new solutions. If you are ever stuck on a problem, or faced with a seemingly impossible feat, try to look at how you can resolve that problem differently. You may be surprised by how easy that problem can become.

Note: This story is adapted from the series, Space Brothers. You can check out this series for free on Crunchyroll.

Review: Level Up Your Life By Steve Kamb

I first picked up Level Up Your Life from my Barnes and Noble section one autumn day. About two weeks later I was taking a trip to the Canadian Rockies hiking down the canyons of Alberta.

It’ll be easy to say that this book is the sole inspiration my adventurous attitude and start traveling more, but truth be told, it was not. Instead this book offered me a new perspective on life by thinking of everything more like a video game. If I wanted to take on the Quests of a Lifetime I need to first get out of my comfort zone and explore the land around me.

No longer was I associating my Impossible List as challenging items that build upon one another. Instead I think of them as Epic Quests that take me on an adventure through life’s many obstacles. It has made life’s adventure much more enjoyable and has helped change how I focus on goals.

That is why I am choosing Level Up Your Life to be the first of my monthly productivity book review series. In it I’ll be going over what this book is about, just what you’ll get from it, and who this book is best geared towards.

So What’s the Book About?

Level Up Your Life is written by fitness instructor, Steve Kamb. Steve takes ideas from nerd culture and combines them with productivity-building habits to create a more gamified perspective on life. Steve goes on to explore how you can transform your life to make you the hero of your own story. In this book you’ll find various life-building skills and ways to treat life’s various challenges like game-related Quests.

Who’s The Author?

Steve started out as another person living The American Dream, by earning his keep at a soul-crushing job day-in and day-out. Tired of living the life of sales, Steve quite his job and took up a career setting up for musical festivals for half the pay. During his time working his exciting new Job, Steve started to focus on blogging.

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Steve has set a name for himself in the online community. In addition to being the author of Level Up Your Life Steve is also the founder of Nerd Fitness, a self-improvement blog filled with various Health and Fitness guides.

Steve’s website started the community known as The Rebellion, which currently has over 100,000 Rebels inspired to take the challenge to change their lives for the better.

The Juicy Content

Before we dive too deep into this book let’s take a quick look at what Gamification is:

“Gamification is the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.”  ~Gamification Wiki

There are quite a few popular business models that build themselves on gamification(e.g Habitica and Zombies Run!) and Level Up Your Life is certainly one of them.

Steve tends to use a lot of nerd culture references to illustrate just how easy it is to think of life as just one big video game. We are not just loners trying to battle out the difficulties life throws at us. Instead we are all characters striving to improve our Strength and Education skills that will help us on our Quests through life.

An awesome part about Level Up Your Life is that it doesn’t throw you into the water. Steve teaches you how to get into gamification from ground zero. As you familiarize yourself with these concepts you can move yourself up towards bettering your abilities and starting on quests. As the book puts it:

You don’t go from Level 1 to Level 50 right? You go from Level 1 to Level 2, to Level 3, and so on. There’s a very clear progression from Zero to Hero, from newbie to badass.

This is why the book goes into thorough detail on beginner level exercises for those new to fitness. As well as an in-depth guide to help you build your Epic Quest Of Awesome.

Level Up Your Life is formatted a bit differently than what you’d normally expect from a book. Steve himself is a blogger, and that becomes prevalent in his book’s formatting. Through use of spacing, formatting, and color coding, you will find that this book is going to be quite a quick read.

Who Should Read This?

This book is riddled with Sci-Fi, gaming, and other geek references that may be lost if you’re totally unfamiliar the culture. Due to this, it’s catered more towards the people who are striving to better themselves and enjoy geek culture.

If you love the idea of Gamification I would highly recommend this book. Steve presents his ideas in a way that screams passion. It’s really hard not to pick up this book and get a few laughs from it then putting it down feeling motivated to start questing.

Final Thoughts?

It’s no secret that I’m a lover of Gamification, so this book was a very enjoyable experience every page-turn. Even after reading this book I ended up transforming my Impossible List into my own Quest of Awesome. It’s hard to pick a part this book as it excels in its purpose. Level Up Your Life offers a breath of fresh air on self-improvement and offers detailed instructions on how to join what 100,000 other rebels have done.

If there’s anything I had to nitpick about this book it is the oddly placed formatting of the Meet The Rebel sections in each chapter. Very few of these sections fit nicely in the chapter and do not pop at you in the middle of a sentence. However, this is just a minor complaint.

After reading Level Up Your Life, it’s easy to see why so many people joined The Rebellion. I too felt inspired by Steve Kamb’s book and use his teachings towards my own life. So I guess you can also consider me part of The Rebellion.

For more information on Steve Kamb and Level Up Your Life you can check out his website at Nerd Fitness or buy the book here.

The Benefits of Tea

It should come to no surprise that tea is one of the most well known health beverages out there. I personally find nothing more relaxing than waking up in the morning and drinking a hot cup of soothing tea. But what is it about tea that not only makes you feel better but function better? Well today I will be talking about the benefits tea can give you and why you should switch from that cup of Joe to a cup of tea.

Tea is a zero calorie beverage that is very inexpensive to make. In a 2012 consumerist report it’s estimated that the average American will spend $10-$20 on coffee a week. Meanwhile, tea buyers will only need to spend $4-$8 a month to get anywhere from 25-30 cups of tea. Plus, tea goers will find a lot less difficulty making a pot of tea than a pot of coffee. Simply fill up a tea kettle, let it come to a boil, then put in your choice of tea.

Tea also has many health benefits to them. Teas are rich with antioxidants such as catachins, which help burn body fat and improve muscular endurance. In addition, they contain phytochemicals which help tea drinkers maintain a higher bone density than non-tea drinkers.  Tea also works towards a healthy heart. Many teas contain amino acids, such as thenanine, to help lower blood pressure and reduce both physical and mental stress.

Along with the general benefits teas can provide there are also specific health benefits that tea has:

  • Black tea has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, help with digestion, increase energy, and build up the immunity system.
  • Green tea has been correlated to improve concentration, prevent diabetes, and reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Oolong has been shown to help with weight loss.
  • White tea has also been shown to benefit blood glucose
  • Chai, and other flavored teas, slow down the absorption of caffeine to energize your body throughout the day.

In addition to enhancing your diet tea also plays a role in improving your workout. In fact, a study has shown that athletes who had drank 2-3 cups of a tea a day end up burning more calories during physical exercise. Tea also has been shown to to aid in fat oxidation, where it was found that tea drinkers will gain weight 42% less than those who do not drink tea.

In the end, tea becomes a very effective drink to help increase energy, reduce fat, and build up a strong immunity system. For those interested in getting into tea I would recommend looking up your nearest tea shop and asking your local tea seller for recommendations. Just remember that there is a strong distinction between loose leaf tea and bagged tea and that it’s better for you to drink loose leaf.