First Understand, Then Destroy Stress

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”
- F. D. Roosevelt, 1932

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
- B. McFerrin, 1988

Most of us know enough not to disagree openly with unassailable pillars of wisdom like those above. But somehow, we also have a hell of a time putting them into practice in real life. And yet if we could just get those simple things to click in our heads, we could improve almost every aspect of our lives – permanently.

I’m no exception – while I grew up generally happy, I was prone to worry and fear over some pretty irrational things. I worried when I didn’t get good enough marks on important tests in school. I fretted after the end of each of my silly high school romances. Even major traffic injustices were enough to get the odd windshield-cracking batch of profanity out of me. Luckily I ended up in the relatively low-stress career of software engineering, otherwise work might have gotten to me too.

I was also fortunate to have the stress-relieving factors of a nice bicycle commute to and from work each day, and a peaceful social life with no relationship drama at home. So overall, stress was not a big factor in life.

All this changed shortly after retirement in the the mid-2000s – right when I was supposed to be enjoying the good life. Some bad times occurred in my hobby house-building company (as described in Mr. Money Mustache’s Big Mistake). To make that long story short, I experienced mental stress more severe than at any point before in my life. Suddenly I couldn’t sleep or eat properly, I lost 25 pounds of weight within just a few weeks, and all sorts of bizarre things started going wrong with my body.

The silly part of it all was that looking back, I had very little to worry about. I came out of the situation just fine and happier than ever, and the financial implications were negligible, or perhaps even positive over the long run. And yet the younger version of me was so untrained at dealing with stress, he couldn’t even see it.

So let’s take a little look at Stress right now, in order to understand how just about anyone can get out of their world of worry, and back onto the party platter where they belong.

Once I realized that I was treading into Crazy Man territory, I turned to my usual source for help – The Library. I went one of the catalog computers, typed “stress” into the search box, and hit enter.

My problem was solved instantly, because it turns out that stress is a big thing in our species, and it always has been. But if you haven’t studied up on it, you’re still a victim, rather than a student, of its effects. Here are just a few of the titles on stress that came up:

The stress less workbook : simple strategies to relieve pressure, manage commitments, and minimize conflicts / Jonathan S. Abramowitz.
Building blocks for controlling stress : learning to make stress a friend, not an enemy : 20 philosophies to help you understand and control the different ways stress attacks your life / Richard Flint.
Stress relief for life : practical solutions to help you relax and live better / Mike Ronsisvalle.
Overcoming anxiety for dummies / by Charles H. Elliott and Laura L. Smith.

Those happen to be a few from my own library, but the exact titles don’t matter – almost any book on the subject will do.  The key is just to dig in and start reading a few of these things. Once you do, you’ll learn some interesting things about stress:

It starts in your mind, but it affects your whole body: Just by worrying about things, you can suppress your own immune system, clog up your arteries to create heart disease, and mess up just about every other system in your body. These effects are scientifically documented, which effectively makes Worrying the worst disease there is.

It’s totally useless in modern life: The human body’s reaction to stress evolved to help us survive in fight-or-flight situations. Your heart rate and breathing accelerate, hair stands on end, Adrenaline and Cortisol shoot into your blood stream. Pain perception decreases, higher reasoning is suppressed in favor of fast muscular action. You get edgy and emotional, and you are ready to kick some ass. These are all great things if a lion is chasing you down on the savanna, or even if a misguided redneck is grabbing hold of your collar in a bar. But they are not appropriate responses to your boss suggesting an overly optimistic deadline for your project, or a driver accelerating too slowly in front of you at the green light.

Yet many people experience it for a good portion of every day: Without understanding the stress response, most people just assume it is inevitable. “My boss is such a BITCH!! I can’t believe she just WALKED IN HERE, and DROPPED THOSE PAPERS ON MY DESK!! I HAVE TO GET HOME TO MY KIDS AND IT’S ALREADY SIX ‘O’ CLOCK!! AAAAUUUUUURRRRGGGHH!!!!!”.

Modern life does indeed present its injustices. Traffic jams do indeed suck, and your boss is indeed a bitch. But what we don’t realize is that we can control the way we respond to these things. Most importantly, we all have the ability to train ourselves not to feel the standard stress response.

Mental stress can be virtually eliminated with just a little Practice: Once you know that mental stress is both simple and ridiculous, you are well-armed to defeat it. The trick is just to catch yourself right as you start to get riled up, and then go through a series of calming reminders:

“Oh.. nice try there, Stress. I know what you’re trying to do. But I’m not taking your shit today. My heart is slowing back down, my breathing is deep and relaxing. I’m not being chased by a tiger, there is no gun barrel against my temple, and absolutely none of my vital organs are hanging out. I’m in a great place right now with shelter, plenty of food, and a nice, prosperous, and safe life. In fact, I think I’ll take this opportunity to stand up and stretch a little bit, and even bust out a few smiles!”

That’s right – every time you feel the Incorrect Tap of the Finger of Stress on your back, use it as an excuse to stand up, stretch your fingers to the ceiling, and issue a defiant grin.  This technique alone can save your life, despite the fact that I just made it up right now. And there are many more available in almost any book on the subject, including:

  • Use a timer to schedule breaks from your work at least every 90 minutes. During the break, get up off your hindquarters, walk around and stretch, then before returning to work, close your eyes, put your palms together and remind yourself how good you’ve got it. Now resume, feeling better than ever.
  • Practice the Low Information Diet: avoid TV news programs like the plague, and focus on reading only things which are relevant to your immediate life. No gossip magazines, no stories about trapped Chilean miners, the moment’s political polls, or tragic murders of people you don’t know.
  • Make the last hour of every evening Gadget-Free*. The internet goes off, the phones go downstairs on the charger, and all that’s left is you experiencing a life like someone might have had 50 years ago. What will you do? Light some candles? Bust out your acoustic guitar? Or just read some paper books?

Similarly, from now on you will not allow stress to become a valid topic of conversation. “I’m really stressed at work”, or “This is stressing me out!” will become phrases used only for comic relief. You might acknowledge that you felt some incorrect stress at work or at home – but it will always be paired with the acknowledgement that the stress was something in your own head, not a valid and unavoidable part of the outside world.

As you get better at identifying the stress and shrugging it off safely, you will be amazed at how silly a problem it is. People are raving, shouting, and dying over this stuff every day, even while YOU can learn to be free of the whole mess.

The end result is a bunch more of all the things we associate with Mustachianism: extra health due to fewer stress hormones. Extra wealth due to being more effective at difficult tasks. And extra happiness due to not worrying about things that don’t deserve to be worried about. I’d love to go back and tell my past self all this stuff to save a bunch of trouble. But I’m content knowing that all of us can still benefit from it for the rest of our lives.


* this rule may destroy the excellent rush of traffic that this website gets late every night long after I’m asleep … but so be it. Also, if you’re a night owl and do your best work after midnight, all while leading a happy and stress-free life, feel free to ignore the rule completely.

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies October 29, 2012, 6:18 am

    I’m not a doctor, but I’ve been told by a couple now that I have somewhat of an overactive vagus nerve. It’s involved in the stress hormone reactions and basically instead of a fight or flight response, I “possum” under extreme stress. I think the more technical term calls for “rest and digest”, but I tend to pass out. Fabulous, huh?
    So yeah, I’m prone to handling stress somewhat poorly… but I’ve been actively trying to work against that the last few years. Yoga, running, and laughing are some of the things that if I go too long without, I can tell that minor stressors are going to feel out of proportion with their true importance.
    Biology’s not destiny, but knowing about it and understanding it can help you deal with it better.

    • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 29, 2012, 9:42 am

      • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies October 29, 2012, 10:38 am

        haha, that’s hilarious, but it would be terrifying to have all your muscles sieze up and still be conscious! At least when I pass out I have no idea what’s going on around me.

        • Captain and Mrs Slow October 30, 2012, 2:14 am

          second that one!!!!!!

        • Karawynn @ Pocketmint October 31, 2012, 5:33 pm

          I used to know someone who had cataplexy, which basically meant that any time she was surprised or startled, she would collapse. Still conscious, but she’d lose muscular control and fall to the floor.

          ‘Surprise’ included not just startlement but also amusement. People learned to maneuver themselves behind her before saying anything funny, in order to catch her on the way down.

  • Wade - Retirement Researcher October 29, 2012, 6:28 am

    “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you but I take comfort in that.”

    Just thinking about that scene from the Big Lebowski usually helps me with stress.

  • Lance @ Money Life and More October 29, 2012, 6:31 am

    I was constantly stressed out at my last job and unfortunately would stay that way as long as I held it. I have since found a new job and there is virtually no stress. Best decision I could have made.

    At home I am a major worried but have been working on it. There is only so much I can control and I just need to roll with the punches on what I can’t.

  • MoreKnown October 29, 2012, 6:36 am

    “stand up, stretch your fingers to the ceiling, and issue a defiant grin. This technique alone can save your life, despite the fact that I just made it up right now.”

    This is exactly the approach I have been taking recently. Maybe not exactly a defiant grin, but close. When stress starts to make me irritable, I am learning to stop and regroup before doing anything else. Just a few moments of reflection help to put my worldview back into alignment.

    There is something to be said for “good stress” too. Anyone seen the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on stress?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 29, 2012, 10:26 am

      Yeah! This post was originally called “Get More from Life – with Good Stress”.. but it was so long before I finished the part about bad stress, I decided to chop it in half.

      It is true – as a retired man I occasionally fall into the trap of not enough goals, which can make me lazy. Setting an external commitment fixed that problem nicely and keeps me happy and charged up in anticipation of getting it done. I’ll still write that second half.

      • MoreKnown October 29, 2012, 10:31 am

        I’m looking forward to it!

  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 29, 2012, 6:54 am

    When I was 10, I had a very wise karate instructor who showed us, with our own bodies, how much quicker our reactions were when we were relaxed as opposed to tense and stressed. That lesson generally stuck with me, but I didn’t apply it to “work” type stuff until university.

    In my first year of university, living in res, there was a wise old sage named Garth (a fourth year student). Garth explained a lot of things, but his greatest piece of wisdom came when I was stressing out over an assignment due the next morning.
    “Toque, man, relax.”
    “I only have until 9am tomorrow!”
    “So? Are you going to get it done, even if you have to stay up until 3am?”

    “Yeah, I guess so.”
    “Then stop freaking out.”

    On occasion, my adult life has had stress thrust upon it. If I can’t make it go away with stress relief techniques, I quickly realize that it’s not me but the situation that is problematic.
    Recently, I had volunteered to help someone put her thoughts in order for a legal proceeding. I was even going to pitch in and do some talking for her. Then she went off on a weird tangent that I just couldn’t support. The tension between what I could morally go along with and what she wanted to do was creating some rather intense stress. How could I say things I didn’t believe?
    So I dropped out of it. If she wants to do crazy, logically unsupportable things, that’s her problem, not mine.
    I guess there are lots of ways to deal with stress and we may as well throw together everything that’s ever worked for any of us.

    • Mariana October 31, 2012, 1:47 pm

      I was way stressed about grades when I was younger, too, and I’d always freak out before tests. My 9th grade geometry teacher would shout at me “Sheldon, 500 million Chinese men don’t care how you do on this test!” I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but now that I’m older I get it. What seems very important to you really matters to almost no one else–that has helped me put a lot of things in perspective.

      • Kenoryn November 1, 2012, 9:06 pm

        I always used to ask myself – will this matter in 10 years? Will I even remember?

  • Anne October 29, 2012, 7:03 am

    I’m just going to say – as someone whose had high levels of stress and anxiety my entire life (I remember being “stressed out” at 13) these things can help. Day to day you’ll want to do what MMM says and:

    1) Eat healthful food on a regular schedule
    2) Get ample sleep for you (usually sleep 8 hours? give yourself a 9 hour window and turn the alarm off)
    3) Exercise. If possible, until you can’t anymore. When your body is tired it’s much easier to quiet your mind.

    That said, I had a terrible job that was taking me into the 120 bpm heart-rate and panic ttack territory and a small child at home a while back. It was messing with all of the above. So I did the following (in order)

    1) found a therapist I could relate to and started going regularly
    2) 3 months later, joined a gym (ad-hoc exercize was not cutting it) and went 3x week before work
    3) some months after that, went on an SSRI inhibitor. This was a last ditch kind of thing – I wasn’t stressed but my mood was FLAT – but I needed it at the time.

    These things let me look at my life with some perspective, get the day to day under control, find a new job, and then taper off of the SSRI inhibitor.

    So yes, don’t let stress rule you. What MMM says can help, but if you need to get professional help or medication to get you over the hump and into a calmer place in your life, there’s no shame in that.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 29, 2012, 10:31 am

      Thanks Anne! It is great to hear the more advanced perspective on this stuff.

      The exercise aspect works for me too – going all-out on a workout or bike ride/run can completely fix one’s brain – sometimes for days. And by contrast, if I ever miss exercise completely for several days, I will automatically start going crazy. So it’s a pretty powerful drug in my case.

      And the chemical fixes to moods can be pretty useful too. Never used them regularly myself but I know some very thoughtful people who have fixed their own brain chemistry with otherwise pretty benign drugs. It is great to have such things available as a last resort.

    • Cats Eye October 31, 2012, 2:34 pm

      Long time reader, first time commenter here.

      Very similar story here also – minus the SSRIs. The therapist did recommend, but I have an innate dislike/distrust of marvels of modern medicine so took on some natural routes — understanding and figuring out what I wanted.

      Some things to add on to MMM’s list:

      1) There is no prescription for busting stress. A lot of what MMM and comments recommend is a pool of suggestions which may or may not work for you. Once you’ve survived clinical depression, you will think of stress as a way of getting back in touch with your mind and body and figuring out what you really want.

      2) Get help. It could be your spouse or partner in which case ask them for a soothing massage or bath/showers together or a walk in the rain or ample sexual contact. Or it could be a trusted friend with whom you could share your mind without worrying about anything.

      3) This has been mentioned before, but: plenty of exercise. Yes, it releases endorphins, and is good for you. It also strengthens the immune system.

      These next two are from “The New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, which has been a great resource for self-improvement and stress management for me.

      4) Figure out exactly which aspects of your life situation that YOU CAN control. Take action on those immediately. It might be as simple as clearing out the clutter in your office or as complex as negotiating a flexible/reduced work schedule with your boss (I’ve done both).

      5) Figure out exactly which aspects of your life situation YOU CANNOT control, like the traffic or the weather. Either accept it, or move on. To quote from the book, “Nobody enjoys changing the flat tire of their car in pouring rain, but you can bring some acceptance into the moment.” If winters are unbearable, consider accepting it by making small changes to your living situation, or by relocating to a warmer place. If you can do neither, accept it as it presents itself. As Hamlet puts it, “there is nothing that is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

      6) If you are clinically depressed: it might seem like there’s no end in sight, and you’re eternally alone. Speak up, no matter how much your internal thought process resists getting help. Learn to recognize symptoms of clinical depression (the nine symptom checklist is often used) but don’t over-diagnose yourself. Go to a therapist.

      7) Find the one thing that you find stabilizing, and do it every week, several times a week. Cooking, gardening, taking a walk or bike ride, writing, photography, crafts. Anything.

      8) One more, from Eckhart Tolle: Take three deep breaths. As many times as possible during the day.

  • lurker October 29, 2012, 7:25 am

    The bike ride for an hour a day is my best destressing tool…when I don’t get out and break a sweat I can feel the stress toxins pooling in my bod and that is not a healthy feeling.

  • Shannon October 29, 2012, 7:39 am

    Good advice Mr. M. Very few of us (especially those of us who have time to be reading your articles on the internet) probably have big stresses in our lives, but when they come (death, unemployment, moving, etc.), these techniques are helpful for us to “flow” through those arduous moments. Thanks!

  • Darrow @ CanIRetireYet? October 29, 2012, 8:12 am

    Important topic. I think everybody has to master stress, to some degree, or get overwhelmed by modern life. It’s been a serious issue in my life and it took me a long time to identify the causes and learn techniques for dealing with it.

    I totally agree that The Library (study/contemplation/self-knowledge) is the most productive way to defuse stress. That’s a much more beneficial and empowering approach than a lot of the other available options.

    Everybody has to find their own path. For me it has involved everything from simplifying my life like MMM, to “standing and stretching,” to more exercise, regular yoga, and daily meditation. The latter is very helpful in learning to “catch yourself as you start to get riled up.”

    It’s so true that there is little justification for stress in most of modern life. We are our own worst enemies. I find that letting go of whatever agenda I have in mind for myself is often the quickest route to feeling less stressed…

  • Steve D October 29, 2012, 8:22 am

    Thanks MMM!

    This has been a discussion point with my and my girlfriend recently!

    I’ve definitely come to the conclusion that ‘don’t worry, be happy’ is much easier for some, than others.
    I don’t know if it’s a worry gene, or a nurture thing? But there is a huge range of anxious / nervous / stressed people. Some people might be so bad that therapy is necessary to live a normal life. And others have really never felt stress!

    In my opinion, there is always a root cause to stress… Fear of failure, lack of self confidence, wanting to fit in, etc. For those among us who are really anxious, I think therapy is important.

    Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Homebrew.

    • Jash October 29, 2012, 12:26 pm

      “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.”

      The good old wisdom of Charlie P! Maybe even have two.

      • Franco October 29, 2012, 5:50 pm

        My dad gave me that book for Christmas last year!

  • Mrs EconoWiser October 29, 2012, 8:36 am

    Amen to that! I would like to recommend the book: The Power of a Positive No. This helped me to say NOOO nicely to people and indirectly extra stress.

    • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom October 30, 2012, 5:24 am

      Thanks for the book tip Mrs Econo Wiser – I just wrote this week about the power of saying No Thankyou, when I saw some of my friends overloaded with volunteer and kid commitments.

  • Eschewing Debt October 29, 2012, 9:05 am

    I am loving all the suggestions from both the article and the comments- such wisdom from everyone involved!

    I used to stress out and worry about ridiculous things. I eventually realized that the things I stressed about were mostly things I had no control over. Once I realized that, I stopped stressing about things over which I had no control, and if it was something I had control over, I took action to make it a non-issue (for example, it the bathroom was dirty and it stressed me out, I cleaned the bathroom instead of worrying about it. Yes, that is a small, insignificant issue, but I am hopeful that using that tactic in small situations will help me in bigger situations).

    Great post as always, Mr.MM!

  • Joe @ Retire By 40 October 29, 2012, 9:26 am

    I was very unhappy at my job and that’s the main reason why I retired from the corporate world. The mental stress really did a number on me. I had frequent headaches, back pain, shoulder pain, and other problems. I’m feeling 100% better now that I’m not in that environment anymore.
    Physical exercise really helped when I was under pressure. I tried the mental calming down thing too, but it just doesn’t work in the long run for me. I don’t think chronic mental stress can be overcome like that. It’s better to get out of the stressful situation and move on with your life.
    Meditation and Buddhist books helped a bit too.
    Talk therapy can be helpful as well.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque October 29, 2012, 11:29 am

      Joe @ Retire By 40 wrote:

      “I was very unhappy at my job and that’s the main reason why I retired from the corporate world.”

      There’s a saying I remember that went something like this:
      “Before you diagnose yourself with low self-esteem, stress, anxiety or depression, make sure that you are not, in fact, simply surrounded by assholes.”

      Not all of your stresses are overreactions to your environment. Some of those things really are bad for you. So relax if you can, get perspective if you can. If that environment is still honestly bad for you, get the hell out.

      • Mr. Money Mustache October 29, 2012, 11:39 am

        I do think it’s great to constantly work towards improving your own environment – and that includes your choice of job, city (or even country) of residence and the friends you invite over. Don’t put up with shit for the long term.

        But at the same time, while currently putting up with shit, it is helpful to remind yourself that it’s really not all that bad, and thus there is no reason to get stressed about it. For example, I currently live in a house surrounded by barking dogs. I’m frustrated at times, since the owners are all clearly inconsiderate and in plain violation of the city’s rules on dogs. But rather than ripping out my hair every day and welding a huge watch tower to my roof from which I fire bazooka rounds into everyone’s back yard, I try to use the barking as a trigger to stretch, do some pushups, and occasionally call in an address or two to the Animal Control division of the police department. That makes me feel much better than yelling and exploding stuff.

        And in the longer run, I’m working on a plan to move somewhere less dog-intensive.

      • Raechelle October 29, 2012, 12:49 pm

        Mr. Frugal: I wrote too much in my post (below.) This sums it up, so nicely. Thank you. THIS. ROCKS.

      • jim October 29, 2012, 10:32 pm

        HA!!!! right on!

      • Joe @ Retire By 40 October 30, 2012, 9:29 am

        Hahaha, I’ll have to remember that saying.

        • Waternstone May 14, 2014, 2:03 pm

          Mr. Frugal:

          Obv. I’m way late to be commenting on this but have been in a hellishly toxic environment for the past 3.5 years (3 years, 8 months and 1 day actually — yeh, it’s that bad).

          I have stress dreams about work each night…crazy, crazy stuff… panic attacks, etc. I looked to the Mustachian society for some bolstering today, and was very happy to find this article and comments. All very excellent per usual…

          Just wanted to say thanks because I just printed out and pinned your quote to my cube. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!

  • Baz October 29, 2012, 9:35 am

    I found that it’s a bit of a self fulfilling prophesy. I often say “I’m not susceptible to stress”. It turns out the more I say it, the truer it is.

  • Kimberly October 29, 2012, 9:36 am

    “That’s right – every time you feel the Incorrect Tap of the Finger of Stress on your back, use it as an excuse to stand up, stretch your fingers to the ceiling, and issue a defiant grin. This technique alone can save your life, despite the fact that I just made it up right now.”

    Actually, MMM, you may have independently discovered it, but it already existed. It’s called flip-switching and it was made up in 1999 in a book called “Excuse Me, Your Life is Waiting” by Lynn Grabhorn. She suggests thinking of the thing that makes you happiest, as well as putting on a smile. It is very effective. Something went wrong with Lynn though… so I don’t recommend her other books.

    Better than reading books about stress, is using an evidence based acupressure approach like EFT. I wouldn’t say I’m finished yet, but I am so much better than I was when I first discovered it about 7 years ago.

    Emotional Freedom Techniques can be learned for free using the resources at http://www.eftuniverse.com . Who knows, MMM? Perhaps you could get certified in its use and make $100/hour making people feel better and having fun. EFT looks pretty silly, but has even worked on severe PTSD. It certainly helped me much more and much more quickly than conventional talk-therapy approaches.

    In addition, I’ve noticed that if you use EFT on injuries, amazing improvements in your body can occur. I had elective surgery in September, and afterward the surgeon told me I was a “surgeon’s dream”. I hardly bled and as a result the surgery was much faster than anticipated. I also healed beautifully and required no pain medication.

    Hmmm…. you may not want to share this with too many people! Drug company profits probably provide much of the return on your ‘stache!

    • Grant October 31, 2012, 3:32 am

      • Kimberly May 5, 2013, 1:56 pm

        Well Grant, although I admire your research, your sources may be outdated. I can tell you that I wasn’t convinced when I started using EFT. I have not had much in the way of “one-minute-wonders” personally with EFT, but over time, I have had so many improvements that I can hardly call myself the same person. I’m patient and calm now, where I used to be found jumping on my husband’s back and throwing hot food in his face!

        EFT is now acknowledged as an evidence based technique. Dawson Church of EFT universe showed in a triple-blind study that cortisol levels were lowered 25% in one hour. There are new studies being done all the time and the Veterans Administration in the US is currently evaluating EFT for use on PTSD.

        Please consider reading the new book, “The Tapping Solution” by Nick Ortner. He will be appearing on Dr. Oz to talk about his book sometime soon. If you live in the US, EFT could seriously reduce your health costs. But I’ll give you a friendly warning: using EFT effectively means taking responsibility for yourself and your life and that isn’t easy for most people.

        I come from a science background, so I also like science to back things up. Check out the scientific research being done on EFT here: http://www.eftuniverse.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18&Itemid=21

  • Kevin October 29, 2012, 9:42 am

    Oh Mr. MMM you’ve finally gotten me to post. I’ve wanted to before, particularly with some of your health related posts, but “never had the time (yeah right).”

    Anyway, you are very much right regarding the relationship between stress & the body. There is a HUGE interplay between the mind, both conscious & unconscious, and the body. Interestingly, 50+ years ago people were much more in tune with this (read Napoleon Hill’s “Think & Grow Rich” or even your own favorite “The Magic of Thinking Big”).

    My personal theory is as our medical technology has rapidly advanced we, physicians mostly (I’m one) but also patients, have either forgotten this or DO NOT WANT TO RECOGNIZE THIS.

    I’m giving a lecture in a few weeks that relates predominantly on how stress/anxiety/depression overlays and intensifies our experience of pain. I’m also delving more into the relationship of “catastrophizing” and pain. However, I strongly believe this is even more important than to just my own specific niche in medicine (Pain) but to HEALTH.

    We are a society where we want “quick fixes” for everything—we want the big screen TV, the Big House, the fancy vacations NOW.

    We (as in society in general) also want “quick fixes” for our health—pills, procedures & a 3rd “P” that I probably shouldn’t post. I often tell patients “Seriously, I could do these procedures (preferably without fungal tainted medications but I digress) or prescribe these pills but you would get more out of doing some sort of consistent exercise, stretching, eating right and addressing the multitude of stressors in your life. Here are some resources to help you.”

    I get looked at like I have three heads.

    Anne (who posted above) is RIGHT ON. Recognize what you can do for yourself, attempt it but if you’re still having trouble then utilize health care providers as a resource to help you through it. However realize if you do not take an active role to change any of the underlying variables (weight, sleep hygiene, bad job, spousal difficulties etc.) then nothing will get “fixed” but instead will just be covered up. (Awesome job by the way Anne!!!).

    Now, I recognize that there are many people with chronic conditions and there are many unfortunate situations that develop (my friends child with leukemia comes to mind) BUT there is so much WE can do for OURSELVES in regards to health.

    Yes these are generalities and there are exceptions to the above—but not nearly as many as we’d like to believe. ALSO recognize that we are talking about chronic conditions in general. Though I don’t think it would happen here on this forum, please don’t flame me with exceptions and how “heartless & how I don’t understand.” I get enough of that at work .

    • chc4444 May 26, 2013, 1:28 am

      Kevin: Please tell me…what is the 3rd P.

  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 29, 2012, 9:50 am

    Good timing. The last four months for me have been a series of stress-ball events (major car accident, “routine” surgery recovery gone totally sideways, etc., husband’s job change) that have piled on top of two years of complete sleep-deprivation. Current coping level: fucking low.

    I’ve been trying to focus on what I *can* control. At the moment, that is 1) family financial stuff and 2) kettlebell swings.

    I also cannot sing the praises of the mood-helper supplement Sam-e highly enough. It probably stopped me from jumping off a building.

    • Austin October 29, 2012, 4:30 pm

      Erica! I love your blog, and I’m a big fan of yours. At times I wish I had the life you do, even with the bumps along the way. Hope things go better for you and your family, I just wanted to let you know that you bring joy to other people (like me), in case you were unaware.

      • Erica / Northwest Edible Life October 29, 2012, 8:11 pm

        Wow, thank you! That means a huge amount, I really appreciate your comment!

      • chc4444 May 26, 2013, 1:36 am

        Austin: Wow I didn’t know about Erica’s Blog and now I do and I’m so excited because it looks fantastic.

  • Molly October 29, 2012, 10:14 am

    The gift of early retirement just keeps giving…less to be stressed about, more time to spend de-stressing

  • Joe October 29, 2012, 10:23 am

    It helped me to realize that stress, the physiological experience, is reinforced by feedback loops in behavior and thought.

    For example, when I experience the physiological symptoms of stress, my thoughts race towards how to solve the problem. The stress biases me towards pessimism and urgency, creating even more of the physiological symptoms.

    The feeling of stress is actually the same feeling as excitement, with different thoughts attached. I learned I can break the loop by treating my stress as excitement, as in, “What an awesome challenge this is going to be!” Without the stressful thoughts to feed it, the physiological symptoms fade away.

    As for feedback in behavior, stress makes me eat and drink less. Hunger and thirst are similar feelings to stress, and so hunger and thirst can yield more stressful thoughts, making me eat and drink less, etc. For me, forcing a bit of food and water down my throat helps me break the cycle.

  • Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin October 29, 2012, 10:37 am

    Stress can do a number of ridiculous things to your body. Whenever I’m stressed my whole body aches and I can’t sleep. Sometimes when I’m stressed I will literally dream about being stressed about the situation. It’s like there’s no escaping!

  • Lina October 29, 2012, 10:59 am

    I have a very high stress tolerance so it takes something special to stress me. But exercise, exercise and more exercise is my way of coping with stress and annoying people. I have worked 60-hour weeks and exercised. Biking and running allows you to think through your problems and it is also when most of my good ideas come up. I am also sleeping and eating better when exercising. So I guess it is time to sign up for another ironman distance race because I have now been lazy for a while.

  • Clint October 29, 2012, 11:07 am

    I’ve heard humor is a great stress killer. So instead of standing up and stretching, the next time I feel stress coming on, I think I’ll just read this post again–especially the paragraph about the lion, the redneck, the bitchy boss and the green light.

    Great advice and funny, too!

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 29, 2012, 11:33 am

      “The Lion the Bitch and the Redneck” does sound like the title to a great children’s adventure!

  • Mary October 29, 2012, 11:33 am

    I would second the comment about gratitude. When I absolutely can’t get my brain to slow down, thinking about what I’m grateful for…however small (belgian chocolate, I’m looking at you!) can be the beginnings of finding peace again.

  • Alex | Perfecting Dad October 29, 2012, 11:36 am

    Stress is in the mind and is almost always fake and useless, as you notice. I always look at others to gain perspective and see how lame my own problems really are. That usually gets rid of the stress on the spot. I also remember back to times when I was worried and then what happened to make the worry go away. What happened? Nothing. Time went by and whatever it was just resolved itself somehow like everything always does. Be comfortable with the unknown :)

  • Tina October 29, 2012, 12:03 pm

    I find that my best stress-buster is having a plan. If my stress about something that I can affect, then I plan how to do it. If my stress is about something that I can’t have an impact on, then I plan how I could handle a variety of outcomes. Stress can be the result of feeling powerless or out of control and, for me, the best antidote is regaining that sense of my own efficacy.

  • Raechelle October 29, 2012, 12:14 pm

    While you are my hero, MMM, and still will be – I think this article is not… It’s just so oversimplified. Maybe that’s just for me, and I think you did have some valid points. You had a terrible scenario with stress that caused you to lose weight, and you figured it out and managed it. That’s really great. Your tips about eating right and getting exercise are excellent. However. In my profession (“just” a teacher) I was one of the ONLY (Nope, not exagerating. AT ALL) that was NOT taking some kind of anti-anxiety stress medication. Before my wedding, due to work stress, I stopped menstrating and my hair was falling out. When I was pregnant, (second time) I was over 200 pounds, was gestational diabetic. During my first pregnancy (before the stress-filled job) I walked about 4 miles several times a week, no drugs during delivery, I couldn’t even wear maternity clothes because I was so small. Round two – I was serverely ill. Round three – I nearly lost the baby – same job. I kept complaining about the stress. No – it wasn’t something that was in my head, it was real. We’d be out on the street with no way to pay the mortgage. My husband had lost his job and while he picked up some barely minimum wage jobs (three, to help make ends meet) We wouldn’t be able to pay our legal fees, we’d lose our kids to a woman who has been in and out of jail, DUIs, random guys over all the time,constant lying, putting the kids in danger etc. When I nearly lost my third child and the doctor said “yeah, who knows, it’s probably just a random thing (To start bleeding in the middle of your second trimester, when you are so exhausted you feel like you’re dying – not normal fatigue that goes away with a rested weekend – I finally got a new doctor.) At the end of the school year, I went on parenting leave. It’s taken a full year and a half to get my health back. I felt like I was 90 years old. I was too tired and stressed out to bother with eating right, every day was crisis mode. While exercise would have helped, there was no time. I didn’t even have time to walk the track at lunch, because we had kids in every day making up work, doing detention, calling parents, setting up labs… if it wasn’t normal busy-ness, it was total crisis. There was no time or energy to make healthy meals, we were exhausted. We ate out all the time – which only made things worse. When I went on parenting leave, it scared us both – we thought with his lower income, we’d eventually lose the house, etc. However, we learned lots of tricks to save money. (I’m a huge planner, but no matter how I worked the numbers, I saw us falling behind a little every month. Somehow, we now have SPARE ROOM in our budget to pay down the debt!!!) It has been a LOT of very hard work, but it’s been do-able BECAUSE the stress level has been manageable. I think this is an issue affecting sooo many families. We aren’t the only family who feels they won’t survive a job loss and therefore are stuck in a horrible job. This is why your articles are so empowering – they help get our head on right. Hedonistic adaptation is a great article! Your wife’s articles about her stress over driving around with family wasting gas and going to Dairy queen – made me laugh because we still drive, waste gas, and go to DQ (we happen to love it) but I use that as a measurement of our wellness – have we “recovered mentally” enough to bicycle yet, instead of drive? (We are getting there, but I still don’t have the guts to take the bicycle with two babies and 3 kids without my husband for safety) To recognize this food as icky, and damaging to our health instead of desireable? Your blogs have opened my eyes to the possiblity of us paying off all debt solely with my husband’s job, and then him retiring in 10 years! Yet on paper, it would make so much sense for me to go back to work – I make great money, we’d be out of debt faster, it’s so smart, right? Not if you include the stress and the all-encompassing effect it had on our lives. We had to make some very scary decisions (me not working, thinking this would destroy us financially) to get to a good place. Please don’t suggest that chronic or severe stress can just be dealt with by telling your stress to “get lost.” I tried every mental trick, counselling etc. Like I said, all other teachers I knew at my building, (well, female, specifically, but I don’t want that to be a gender issue) were on anti-anxiety medication. I had to get out of the job to get well. That was scary as anything I’ve ever done, and I’ve worked one or more – sometimes as many as four jobs at a time, my whole life. (My bitterness in realizing how much of my money has been just wasted – is huge. I think I could be debt free and near retirement now. I just didn’t know it was possible) Quitting was – so frightening. (If I work this hard and am behind in debt, how can quitting get you there?) Your beliefs keep us heading in the right direction. This level of chronic stress affects so many families though. When you are sick in this way, you can’t think sanely. You are helping to explain the cure, but please don’t underestimate the effects of stress. I’ve had more than one suicidal friend/co-worker call. For any readers who feel this is extreme – good. I hope you don’t ever know what I’m talking about. Ever. It really is important to listen to this stress though. This isn’t “whiney-pants” stuff. For normal, daily stress, these basic recomendations will work fine. Your posts help us think about our every decision in terms of – will this get us closer to our debt being paid off, and then retirement for him? Do I really need this? Can we survive with less? Will this add to my happiness? Thank you for all you’re doing, but please recognize that this is a very big issue for some families.

    • Raechelle October 29, 2012, 1:01 pm

      (PLEASE don’t take my mention of other people using anti-anxiety medication to be a put-down or insult in any way. I mentioned the excessive number of individuals at my school using this as an example of how extreme the stress is, NOT as an insult. It has been quite literally life saving in a few cases, and in one case, I know of a marriage that was saved as a result of using the right medication for someone who was in a deeply stressful scenario and it was taking a horrific toll on her marriage.) My deep desire is for many families to find another way – to reduce our stress on families overall. (or individuals) This stress-filled lifestyle is a sick cycle that too many folks are trapped in.

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 29, 2012, 2:03 pm

      Do you really write without paragraphs? Or is my comments editor busted? ;-)

      That looks like really good, emotional stuff up there, but I do not dare wade into reading so much text without the safe harbour of paragraph breaks at which to rest. That’s the verbal version of extreme stress!

      • Raechelle October 29, 2012, 2:40 pm

        You are totally correct. My embarassed apologies (I’ve also somehow turned off the spell check on my computer and need to get it restored.) Wow, flaming red cheeks. So sorry! (the edit/request deletion button is gone on the original post I made, so I can’t change it now. Wow, yikes!)

        • jim October 29, 2012, 10:54 pm

          Don’t worry or stress about it. I, too, prefer paragraphs every now and then, but your script was exactly what it was meant to be – and your feelings came thru – loud & clear. Good for you.

          p.s. sometimes I think the ones who “stress” over paragraphs, etc are the ones who really have NOT learned how to deal with it

      • Jamesqf October 30, 2012, 11:47 am

        “Do you really write without paragraphs? Or is my comments editor busted?”

        Could be both, you know. But the editor is busted, at least on my browser. No matter how many blank lines I try to put between paragraphs, it ignores them and shoves the paragraphs together.

        As for instance this. Inserted four lines between this text and the paragraph above, but are they there?

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 30, 2012, 12:16 pm

          Looks good to me – three paragraphs. Looks like the editor filters out any additional spaces, but it allows one slightly-smaller-than-normal line between each paragraph.

          • Raechelle October 30, 2012, 2:04 pm

            Yes, I needed paragraphs. However, in my defense, I had to re-write this thing 3 times and wasn’t overly concerned by the third time.I never could get it to return/start a new line, and I wasn’t conerned about it. As another commenter said – it’s working oddly. My cursor is not going where I send it, though it shows up when I type. I don’t know what’s going on, but I certainly didn’t think it would be a source of contention. Also, the first time I hit something, lost over half. The second time I made sure to copy it half way through, then hit reply or send, whatever, and then was prompted that I’d not included name, and all that I hadn’t copied was lost. So… pretty ticked by round three. Clearly wouldn’t have bothered but this is a very big issue for me and I think a LOT of folks. I got sick and tired of not being listened to when I know I’m not a nut job and knew something was wrong. I hate for others to go through that.

          • Jamesqf October 31, 2012, 8:01 pm

            Strange. The only way I can tell that a new paragraph starts is that the last line of the previous paragraph may be short. Stranger still is that the forum obviously uses a different editor (or at least different settings), since it has no problems with paragraph spacing.

            Oh, well, yet another source of random stress :-)

    • Joe October 29, 2012, 8:32 pm


      I hope you don’t mind me saying that it’s really nice to hear how stressed out other teachers are.

      It’s a rough job sometimes…a rough job usually.

      I might agree that this article applies really well to situational stress: stress caused by a temporary situation. But what do you do when you’re just plain f***ed for years ahead, and if you give up on trying you’ll just be f****ed harder, and you see no end, either good or bad, to being f***ed?

      Yeah, stress is a useless response. But there’s also a useful response, which you found: a lifestyle change.

      When faced with stress, I try to ask myself whether I need to change something inside myself or outside myself. They’re complementary responses, and some of the articles here are about the former and some about the latter.

      • Raechelle October 30, 2012, 2:07 pm

        EXCELLENT point. (Differentiating between situational and chronic stress.) Thank you. :-)

  • Jessica October 29, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Two other brilliant reads on Stress are:

    Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky


    Stresscraft: A Whole-Life Approach to Health and Performance by Frank Forencich.

    • Mandy @MoneyMasterMom October 30, 2012, 5:26 am

      Why Zebra’s don’t get ulcers sounds like something I’d read to my kids. Catchy title for sure!

  • stellamarina October 29, 2012, 12:19 pm

    I think the most stressful thing in life is being a mother. Going outside with the little kids or even taking them to the beach or park was the best way to handle it for all. Thankfully the kids finally grow up and leave home.

    • jim November 1, 2012, 8:03 pm

      You are ABSOLUTELY right. There is NOTHING more stressful than raising kids (whether you’re the mom or the dad – it’s the one who’s on the front lines that suffers the most amount of stress). I know – been there and been a litigation attorney. WAY EASIER to do litigation (and that can be fairly stressfull too – but not anywhere near as stressful as being the “stay at home parent).

  • rhino October 29, 2012, 12:37 pm

    Prozac and possibly lithium should probably feature somewhere in the bullet-points – highly effective stress-reducers…

  • Matt with a Plan October 29, 2012, 12:45 pm

    Another anti-stress tactic that has helped me, particularly in relation to my job: having a plan.

    More specifically, my family basically started on a “Your Money or Your Life” kind of journey. We track our income and expenses down to the penny. We have a spreadsheet that we call the “dashboard” where each row represents a month; each column, the summary numbers that we are watching (passive income, salary income, broad expense categories, total expenses, etc).

    This tracking gives my wife and I incredible insight into our path to FIRE. We sit down and update the details every week. Once a month we roll up the detailed numbers into the dashboard, and use that opportunity to look for trends, and re-commit ourselves to lowering expenses. It also gives us a chance to play the “what if” game and challenge any assumptions.

    Just doing this tracking, and the planning that naturally stems from it, feels incredibly empowering. And when I find myself getting stressed, particularly at my job, I pull out the dashboard as a reminder of the progress we’ve made so far. And it really makes me feel better!

    It’s such a simple thing… but there have been times at my job where I feel I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Doing this tracking and planning makes me feel like I have a lantern—I’m not worrying about the light at the end so much as having an easier time in the middle. And strangely enough, it’s improved my attitude about work. I can’t explain why that is, but having a better attitude just makes things in general easier and less stressful.

    • jim October 29, 2012, 11:03 pm


  • Gerard October 29, 2012, 1:23 pm

    wrt the stress/physical feedback loop… it’s amazing how often I forget to check part two of the loop. What am I doing (or not doing) phsycially that’s reinforcing my stress? I might need a little water, or a snack, or a stretch, or some fresh air, or to kick off my shoes, or to adjust the height of my chair, or to talk about not-work for a minute.

  • Dancedancekj October 29, 2012, 1:50 pm

    I’ve found that having a solution or a detailed plan usually does the most to relieve stress for me. If I have a little list with items to check or cross off, or a five-part action plan, I find that my mind allows itself to stop panicking or obsessing about it.
    I believe great deal of stress relief comes from setting things up in anticipation of potential stressful events. Obviously, there are things that one can’t plan for (such as Hurricane Sandy) but things such as budgeting more time during the holiday season or keeping one’s schedule open for errands or miscellaneous tasks definitely help.
    Keeping external stress to a minimum is also part of my Paleo lifestyle goal of keeping down systemic inflammation. Eating a non-inflammatory diet, getting plenty of sleep, and keeping exercise to a reasonable amount (i.e. not running 15 miles every day at a sprint) are the other parts of keeping me mentally healthy. Plenty of Omega-3 and Vitamin D3 do wonders for keeping me destressed as well.

  • AnotherKindOfStress October 29, 2012, 2:31 pm

    Here’s something that stresses me out, that I think is somewhat unique to me. Maybe others out there have a similar problem…

    The stressor is noises. In particular, the noises of a co-worker who sits next to me. If he’s chewing gum, I can hear him chomping and smacking his lips. When he eats, he slurps his food (and also chomps/smacks/gulps loudly). He also flips his pen in his hand, and it’s so quiet in our office that I can hear the gentle “swish” of the pen flipping around his fingers. Not to mention, whenever he types, he drops the pen. So my days are punctuated by a very erratic and completely non-rhythmic cacophony of slurps, chomps, and pen-crashing-down-on-desks.

    Most people I know can easily block these kinds of sounds out. But once I hear them, I can’t ignore them. And when I hear them, I can tell I have mild stress symptoms: it makes me anxious and upset, and I am unable to concentrate.

    I can use MMM’s tactics, and other’s I’ve come up with on my own to cope with other, less frequent stressors (e.g. boss being a bitch, traffic, etc). But I’m at work about 11 hours/day, and these noises are nearly a constant.

    My half-solution is to use earplugs. I order those squishy earplugs in bulk. They block out all the “mouth noises”, although the highest registers of the pen-dropping come through a bit. But it sucks to wear earplugs all day.

    I wish I could just block these sounds out, or at least let myself be unbothered by them. But I can’t. I can’t change where I sit. I can’t ask the guy to change (eating the way he does appears to be a cultural thing, as he’s one of many in my office with the mouth noises, although he happens to be the most flagrant about it). He’s been doing the pen-flipping thing for years, and does it all the time. I’m sure it’s too much of a habit for him to stop if I politely ask him to.

    • Kevin H. October 30, 2012, 11:58 am

      There is an actual name for this, it’s called “misphonia” and while we don’t understand the causes fully, you’ll want to find out if it’s stress induced or whether it’s something called Hyperacusis, which is more clearly understood and treatable.


  • Debbie M October 29, 2012, 3:06 pm

    A friend of mine does the opposite of the calming, soothing, cheerful activities. He punches his fists in the air, saying, “My life is a living hell!” Which is such a ridiculous exaggeration that he re-gains proper perspective right away.

    • Matt October 30, 2012, 7:25 am

      That reminds me of “Serenity Now!”

      (A reference to the TV show “Seinfeld”.)

  • StetsTerhune October 29, 2012, 3:43 pm

    One of my favorite things I’ve ever heard on this, or any, subject: “It’s difficult to define exactly what stress is, but it’s easy to define the opposite of stress — knowing you’re doing exactly what you should be doing at that moment.”

  • Doug October 29, 2012, 4:33 pm

    My contribution to this topic is to say that worrying must be highly effective, because the vast majority of things I worried about never happened!

  • CL October 29, 2012, 4:56 pm

    Your post was ultra timely (as ever). I was so stressed out last night when I looked at the week ahead (indeed, the next three weeks are full of a whirlwind of activity). You made me pull everything into perspective and made me sure that the world will not end if I fall down somewhere. Thanks for telling me to relax and lay aside how much stress I’m feel right now. I particularly liked Mr. Frugal Toque’s comment, as I found it extremely pertinent for a current college student. I, too, have some martial arts training and I worry a lot about getting papers in on time.

    I’m taking 8 classes right now (this is my own fault, since I decided to get 4 majors) so I understandably have a lot to do and a lot of work to turn in. I have two major tests this week, a quiz, and 3 papers to write. I am also working at my normal job and flying out to a conference on Friday morning after spending 4ish hours with my church choir on Thursday night. I feel a lot of guilt that I haven’t made a lot of progress on my thesis (which is one of my classes). Your post made me put all of that in perspective and show me that there is no lion hunting me in the savanna. I’ll go soon to dinner with friends (hurray!) and maybe engage in some early voting tomorrow evening before another dinner. :)

  • AussieJulie October 29, 2012, 7:50 pm

    the biggest stress in my day is

    1. – do I have light chocolate or dark
    2. red or white wine.

    no stress here. s*&t happens no sense in squishing your toes in it.

    have a good day everyone and stay safe.

    • MoreKnown October 30, 2012, 6:24 am

      That made me smile. Also, wine and chocolate sounds delightful.

    • rjack October 30, 2012, 7:09 am


      For me:

      1. Always dark chocolate

      2. Always red wine

      I have less stress than you. :)

  • justin@thefrugalpath October 29, 2012, 9:10 pm

    I agree completely that stressing out serves very little purpose in modern life. When stuff hits the fan I figure that it will work its way out, and it usually does. My wife on the other hand is a complete ball of stress. If I wasn’t around to keep her relatively calm i’m pretty sure she’d have had a heart attack in her twenties.

  • Jen October 29, 2012, 9:15 pm

    I am a director of a small company, have 4 employees under me and a board of 5 directors over me (more bosses than employees, cool!). Every day is fun. A machine is malfunctioning and this week there will be a delay in order fulfilment for our largest customer, who is not very forgiving. We have a shareholder meeting on Friday, aging accounts receivable with a couple of customers who just won’t pay, an employee who always sits in Facebook and has to be reminded to fulfil her work duties daily, but who is expensive to replace (for a small company like us) due to specialized training we sent her through. Oh yes, and our audit and taxes are due by the end of October (wait, that’s in two days).
    Arrrrgh. Breathe in, breathe out.

    • Lina October 30, 2012, 10:41 am

      You can block websites on your office computers!

  • Chris October 29, 2012, 9:28 pm

    I’m a bit embarassed to admit it in public and all, but, I too have had big struggles in dealing with stress in my life. Maybe it’s an INTJ thing? I’ve had Reflux for 18 years, unfortunately due to stress as well.

    The cool thing is, as I’ve gotten older, my mindset has changed, and the stress has decreased as well. It really is a state of mind. Another interesting point, as I’ve shifted my mindset to one of ER/FI, is that it’s given me incredible peace of mind. I literally drive to work everyday and remind myself that if I were to get fired today, I’d be just fine, for a long time-this starts my day on a great low-key tone.

    Dropping my careerist, ambitious side and not competing with my peers as much, any more, has also decreased a lot of stress. Finally, adopting a more Zen mindset has been incredibly helpful too. When I find myself rushing through tasks or getting frustrated at mundane tasks, I consciously take deep breaths and remind myself to just be happy “being,” and not to rush through life-it’s much better at a slower pace. The latter part is a bit more Thoreauvian, beautifully and simply effective.

    • Jen October 30, 2012, 10:20 am

      High five – that “getting fired today” bit is really cool. Just a year ago under a threat of being laid off I was stressing – what if I cannot find another job soon? What if I can NEVER find a job at the same pay level again and it is a downhill from here? What if…. etc.
      Now I am kinda looking forward to get fired – saves me the trouble of quitting :) We have a good stash to last us for quite a few years even if both my husband and I sit on our butts and do nothing, which, of course, won’t happen. But truly empowering is the knowledge that there are hundreds, thousands of ways to earn some income and make a living – it does not have to be the job which you have been trained to do. Feels great.

    • Joy October 30, 2012, 12:09 pm


      If the reflux is gone, congrats!

      If not, you might try a gluten free diet. My son in his early
      20’s had reflux for a few years. He was told it was stress
      and, given prilosec.

      I am gluten intolerant. I asked my son to try gluten free.
      He did! His reflux ended, his stress remains. lol

    • Amy October 30, 2012, 7:21 pm

      Interesting about the INTJ – I’m an INTJ, too, and I’ve seen a study that says that this particular type is highly prone to early retirement.

      • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies October 30, 2012, 7:43 pm

        Ditto on the INTJ – and Mr. PoP is as well.

        Statistically, I’ve been told we’re rare beasts – but I wonder if MMM has a disproportionate share of them frequenting his blog.

        • Chris October 31, 2012, 9:49 am

          Shooting from the hip, I would say yes. There was a forum thread on Jacob’s blog that asked what personality type folks were. There were an amazing amount of INTJ’s. We are a rare breed indeed and if you are an INTJ, I highly recommend you “read up on yourself” and it will give you peace of mind on your mindset/personality habits!

          A final note, I met an INTJ(unbeknownst to me at the time) in Afghanistan, about a 1.5 yrs ago and we became fast friends. If you’re lucky enough to get know another INTJ it will be as if meeting a long lost brother/sister.

          • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies October 31, 2012, 5:28 pm

            I definitely bond with other INTJ’s. My best friend and husband are both INTJ – but they didn’t know until they tested much later!

  • AdrianM October 29, 2012, 10:15 pm

    I just hit the water for an all day fishing session and leave the world behind.

    My wife says I’m a far happier man after a fishing trip than before.

  • The German October 30, 2012, 2:28 am

    MMM, for the late night web traffic issue… Have you ever thought of the possibility that you might have a lot of fans in Europe. So my time zone is 7 hours before yours. And i like to read your blog in the morning hours :)

    Kind Regards from Germany !

    • Jen October 30, 2012, 9:36 pm

      Not to forget fans in Asia! Kind regards from the time zone 14 hours ahead of Colorado! ;)

  • ael October 30, 2012, 3:07 am

    I gave up worrying–it doesn’t change things.

  • ael October 30, 2012, 3:09 am

    Oh and I just caught up with the leading edge after reading all posts since inception.

  • Kevin H. October 30, 2012, 11:25 am

    There actually is an evolutionarily rational reason that white collar jobs will induce a stress response in the body. When a boss sets an overoptimistic deadline that has a high chance of failure, or being missed… or if a slow driver or broken stoplight is preventing you from getting to an appointment on time, there are actually very real consequences to these problems that our minds “know about” and that our bodies react to with stress hormones.

    Think about it this way, if the project deadline slips and you are responsible for meeting an “impossible” deadline, for many Americans, who don’t save and live paycheck to paycheck (even in white collar jobs, as you know, MMM!) have a clear and present danger to their family’s shelter and food security. This is a situation in which the stress response is appropriate, EVEN THOUGH the actual circumstances of the problem are beyond their control.

    It’s the same with any situation where a situation that is generally out of your control will cause stress, because the consequences that our brains envision (rightly or wrongly) threaten the basic security of a person’s life, provoking a stress response. If this happens on a weekly or daily basis, suddenly you have someone who is continually “fighting for their life”.

    I think that this is one of the most important benefits that Mustachianism provides; it lets you take control of your life so that when events spiral out of your control, as they inevitably will, your basic livelihood and the security of your family is not under threat. This frees you to manage your stress correctly and quickly, whereas if you didn’t have the margin of safety, you would begin upon and endless cycle of existential danger, as your own mind would have you believe.

    • Doug October 30, 2012, 12:28 pm

      That’s exactly consistent with my observations. By being mustachian I not only survive, but live just fine on low and sporadic income without having to worry about paying the bills or, worse yet, be worried about mounting debts or foreclosure. I gladly trade a lot of excess stuff I don’t even need for peace of mind.

    • Raechelle October 30, 2012, 1:55 pm

      Kevin, Beautifully stated!

  • SMART Living 365 October 30, 2012, 2:02 pm

    Good reminders and love your perspective. We can’t hear this message enough. I think a big part of the problem is that we are focusing on the wrong issues–and haven’t learned how dangerous that is. For example, when we focus on the things that are going wrong in our lives–it takes the focus off what is going right. It also takes the focus off our purpose and the meaning we find in our experience. I call it….”Ignoring the Black Dots and Seeing the Good” and even wrote a blog post about it for anyone that might be interested at: http://smartliving365.com/?p=1431#more-1431 Thanks again for the post and all the wonderful ideas you share….Kathy

  • Philip October 30, 2012, 10:07 pm

    Wow, I thought being in a combat situation multiple times was stressful till I read some of the serious issues being posted here!

  • Philip October 30, 2012, 10:09 pm

    In addition to the routine stressors that life throws my way. Fortunately I’m retiring in a few months and get to see what life is like when nobody is shooting at me, lol.

  • JaneMD October 30, 2012, 10:23 pm

    We read ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie. It’s another one worth checking out from the library.

  • rlabersmith October 31, 2012, 5:13 am

    Yoga works great for me. It’s free, you don’t need any fancy equipment or even much space to practice, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, there are hundreds of free videos at the library or online. Most good instructors focus not only on physical postures, but on connected breathing and mental focus too, so it’s great for your body, soul and mind. And it’s much cheaper than Prozac!

  • DoubleDown October 31, 2012, 9:37 am

    Great post with great advice.

    I’d like to add to everyone reading: Notice that you are still HERE, right now. Notice that despite all the times in your life when you thought everything was a mess or crashing down or with impossible deadlines to face, you managed to get through it and here you are, just fine, probably relatively comfy and cozy.

    So the next time some problem comes along that tempts you to stress out, follow MMM’s advice, and remember that you always get through these times, no need to worry about it. I think a wise man once said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

  • DoubleDown October 31, 2012, 10:06 am

    To spin MMM’s great advice about not worrying in a slightly different way that might help folks tempted to think, “But my problems are different! ANYONE would stress about these problems!”:

    Follow your fears to their logical conclusion, and realize how silly they are. Unless you are truly in that flight or fight moment, your fear will melt away. Like MMM said, it’s all about perspective.

    For example, before my “aha” moment about stress came in college, I was flipping out over an assignment that I had due. I was stumped on the assignment, and worrying horribly about not completing it and failing. Then it occurred to me, what would happen if I completely blew it on the assignment?

    Following that line of thought, I figured, I could get an F on that assignment. Or more realistically, maybe a C or D since I had at least tried. And even if I failed the assignment, couldn’t I ask the professor to redo it for possibly a higher grade?

    But worst case, even if I got an F, it was one part of the whole class. So it didn’t mean I would fail the class. But let’s say it was the final exam, and I failed it, and also failed the class? It’s one class out of maybe 50 needed to graduate. That is, about 4%. And couldn’t I always repeat the class if needed? Sure I could. Or I could stick with the failed grade, and it would barely make a dent in my GPA let alone the ability to graduate.

    But let’s say I failed the class, failed repeating it, and started failing all my other classes too. Would I be starving the next day? That’s surely the end of the world, isn’t it? Or maybe instead it’s a signal that I’m in the wrong major. I could always try another line of study. Or if that didn’t work out, maybe I’m in the wrong college. And if that doesn’t work out, maybe college isn’t for me. Aren’t there one hundred other options along the way besides failing out of school and becoming homeless and starving?

    So take your fear to the final logical conclusion, and you’ll probably find that it’s a tiny speck in the whole of your existence. You have so many options along the way, even if your worst fear in that moment came to fruition, you’ll find that everything works itself out in the end. You’ve already made it this far through everything! And without a doubt, worrying about your problems in the past didn’t help one bit, and only made things worse along the way, needlessly.

  • Freeyourchains October 31, 2012, 10:35 am

    Cubicle Engineering jobs should be almost completely stress free, unless people are shouting out “Emergency”, or ethics are involved in pressured grey area decisions.

    90% of the time if you work for someone else, anything they delegate to you will have a deadline to them, and will cause some form of stress on you, for their greater benefit, or the greater benefit of the overall someone else’s company. Though when you want to do something yourself, it’s fun and challenging and thus not stressful to you.

    Half the time or more when working for and under others, you will sit there bored, until they pass on the difficult work, stress, or decisions to the subordinates.

    Power struggles amongst each other, governments, and companies cause the greatest stresses in the world, just like past history with kings and kingdoms but in the financial and political realms.

  • Peggy Malone October 31, 2012, 11:06 am

    Great post and a reminder of how it is soooooo important for most people to learn stress management skills.

    I love the analogy of stress as compared to a violin.

    If the strings of a violin are strung too loosely, you won’t get beautiful music and if they are strung too tightly, they might break.

    There is a middle ground where our performance will be optimal and give us the most ‘beautiful music’.

    So stress isn’t all bad….a little bit will push you to be your best….too much (which seems to be the current common condition) can cause a breakdown in performance…and perhaps life.

    The piece of the fight or flight response that you can use to your advantage during situational episodes to better manage stress is your breath. It’s the only physiological piece of the stress puzzle that you have voluntary control over (unless you are James Bond and can slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure).

    When people are under extreme situational stress (running from the tiger), they breathe into the upper parts of their lungs only. By taking a second to breathe deep into the belly and slow the breath down, the other aspects of the stress response will also decrease which will allow you to ‘perform’ better in the situation. (and feel better)

    For chronic stress, the advice I give my patients and clients that gives the best results (and which has been mentioned in previous comments here) is all about planning.

    Brian Tracy (Author of Eat That Frog) says that for every 5-10 minutes spent planning, you will save yourself an hour in the doing. Many people run around life going from crisis to crisis and they don’t take the time to look at what they are doing long term and plan it out. (much like financial planning)

    Human beings operate best when they know what to expect. By taking time every week to plan your week, you will be more efficient, perform better, have less stress and more time. This kind of planning will also put you in a better state of mind for when unexpected stresses arise (as they do).

    It will also give you a longer time horizon which will help you to plan your way out of a bad situation that may be contributing to chronic stress.

    Here’s to calm and stress free (or at least stress managed) days for all of us!

  • partgypsy October 31, 2012, 11:40 am

    I recently went on vacation and have come back feeling like a different person, My body feels more muscular yet more toned, I have no stress-related reactions, I physically, mentally, emotionally feel good. I haven’t felt this good in a long time.
    I think it was a) being removed from usual work burdens and planning/worry b) being “forced” to have 3 solid, filling, and tasty meals, fun activities to look forward to, lots of physical activity (swimming and walking), c) ample/non-interrupted sleep d) being around my kids/spouse in a non-hectoring to-do list context e) no distractions of internet/web/email.

    Although I can’t get rid of my day to day responsibilities (nor would want to), it made me think I need to incorporate more of these components in my regular life (such as take breaks from internet, take breaks from planning), so every day I can have a “vacation” in my mind.

  • Jane October 31, 2012, 2:39 pm

    Speaking from my perspective of 56 years of life experience, I see that I spent so much time when I was younger just stressing over things that were not really that important.

    As time has gone on, I have had to face the inevitable things that getting older brings; death of close relatives and friends, serious health scares, helping friends through terrible sadnesses. This is, simply, life.

    I wish I had realised, when I was younger, that all that other stuff just didn’t matter that much! Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was spending my weekends visiting a close relative who was dying (he managed another 10 weeks, as it happens, but he knew he was already on borrowed time). We talked and laughed about all the crap we had worried about over the years, and agreed that worry was greatly overated as a passtime.

    He told me that the liberation of being in his position was that you could, if you wanted, just choose not to worry any more. In the big scheme of things, worry was pretty redundant – and a waste of our precious time. We stuck a Van the Man CD in the player, agreed that very few things were that bad really, and poured another glass of red wine (here in Europe, it is regarded as a health food so that’s alright ;)).

  • ChillyMac October 31, 2012, 7:03 pm

    Some more wisdom on worrying:

    An Irishman’s Philosophy
    In life, there are only two things to worry about—
    Either you are well or you are sick.
    If you are well, there is nothing to worry about,
    But if you are sick, there are only two things to worry about—
    Either you will get well or you will die.
    If you get well, there is nothing to worry about,

    But if you die, there are only two things to worry about—
    Either you will go to heaven or hell.
    If you go to heaven, there is nothing to worry about.

    And if you go to hell, you’ll be so busy shaking hands with all your friends
    You won’t have time to worry!

  • BC November 1, 2012, 10:13 am

    I have been working my way to less stress over the years, sounds corny but like everything else I see this as a journey. For me less stress comes from planning, from getting my shit together, and from being clear on what my lifelong priorities are (good health, good family, good career, secure finances, and having fun…).

    I set mental goals on what I want my life to be like and I work toward them, and at times I’ve taken untraditional routes against everyone’s advice to get there. Like 4 years ago taking a lower-level, lower paying job to get out of a stressful one and then quickly working my way back up in the new organization that was a better fit and 1,000 times less stressful. This paid off on every level of my life: family, finances, education, personal fulfillment, and mental health.

    A few other things help me reduce stress: 1) I put things to the “death bed” test. That is, will this matter on my death bed? Last week I rearranged the life of some of my coworkers to be at my son’s preschool Halloween party because on my death bed, that party will matter more than our meeting. 2) When I make a mistake I immediately try to learn from it and take some action to help make sure that I won’t repeat it. Then I get over it and stop beating myself up for it. 3) I’m a slow poke on purpose. I work with the one of the most stressed out (and ambitious) populations of people in the world. Everyone wants everything done yesterday. I turn that down a notch, to think through complex situations, to not respond to a nasty email, to let things sit a bit. I try to carry this slow poke mentality everywhere. Feeling hurried = feeling stressed = usually making bad decisions. When I feel myself going there I stop myself. Lastly, at the end of the day I check in on the basics: my family is healthy, the heat is on, there is food in the pantry. These are the things that truly matter.

  • American Debt Project November 1, 2012, 3:06 pm

    I used to stress out about everything a lot more than I do now. A few key books (Jon Kabat Zinn, David Viscott) helped me get over my stress, but more importantly to move forward and take care of business. It was easier to stress about money and wake up each morning thinking about the weight of my debt than to remember how many great things were going on all around me. Now my challenge is to continue to be mindful everyday and not just think about how much better off I am at each payday. Even though I am engaged in a journey to financial freedom right now, it doesn’t consume me. It’s just part of the things I do. It is not the be-all end-all of my life. It’s just a start to reducing my stress and increasing my potential. Great post and I love the quotes you use in each post!

  • Matt November 2, 2012, 10:31 am

    I think another helpful tactic is to constantly remind yourself of all the things in your life that make you happy, or how good you have it.

    I one point in my life I struggled with mild depression. For me, it was about my mind getting “stuck”; I was constantly ruminating negative thoughts.

    Now, what if one were to do the exact opposite? Basically get your mind “stuck” on happy thoughts? I suppose there is the whole risk of wearing “rose colored glasses”, but personally, as a naturally cynical person, I’ve got a long ways to go before that becomes a problem. :)

    I think it might be possible to loosely categorize types of stress: you’ve got the short-duration, high-intensity stress (“my boss just dumped all this on me”) versus long-running, mild stress (constantly going over all the 100s of little things we have to do). I think just taking a few moments every day to reflect on how good you have it elevates your overall mood; it directly combats the long-running, milder stress, and possibly even curbs the short, high-intensity stress.

    For me, it’s as simple as thinking about my wife and child. With each passing day, the thought about how much I care about them and how lucky I am to have them becomes increasingly profound. Just thinking about our love for each other makes any other concern seem trite.

  • Georgia November 2, 2012, 4:59 pm

    Here’s a tactic I learned while doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (it’s a type of therapy where rather than hashing over your past, you learn ways to cope with future and current problems):

    1. Identify the cause of your stress.
    2. Identify how that makes you feel.
    3. Identify how the stress may be distorting your feelings: are you magnifying a small problem? Are you unjustly labeling yourself (loser, stupid, failure, etc.)? Are you minimizing your own successes/accomplishments?
    4. Cite evidence that supports how you’re feeling. (For ex.: I feel sad because I’m a loser, because I didn’t get that client.)
    5. Cite evidence that negates how you’re feeling. (For ex.: There were lots of bids, and only one person got the client. Surely we can’t all be losers.)
    6. Come to a compromise solution/turn the stress on its head (For ex.: I didn’t get this client, but I’ve gotten clients in the past, I have clients now, and I’ll get more clients in the future. And who knows, maybe this client would have caused me more stress than I feel now.)

  • Natalie November 4, 2012, 11:10 am

    I am so guilty of making myself more stressed by talking about things that stress me out, especially pointless things that require no intervention or problem-solving. Thank you for reminding me that this is not a good idea! I am already quite frugal, although new to this blog… coping better with stress is probably the most Mustachian thing I can do with myself right now!

  • James @ Free in Ten Years November 5, 2012, 1:25 am

    Stress is also something that can get out of control and it can definitely be worth speaking to your GP about how to manage it – it’s a bit like depression for me, there is something only so much you can do yourself.

    Exercise for me has always made me less stressed. A recent change of job has made me about 1000% less stressed. Shit jobs are just not worth it! I can’t wait to be financially independent.

  • Heath November 5, 2012, 12:34 pm

    Fantastic! I laughed really really hard at these two lines…

    “Traffic jams do indeed suck, and your boss is indeed a bitch.”
    “This technique alone can save your life, despite the fact that I just made it up right now.”

    And I’m definitely of the opinion that laughter is one of the best medicines. Thanks for the pick me up (which probably went towards reducing my already low stress level).

  • Mary Kaplan November 11, 2012, 4:46 pm

    Thanks for a great post and reminder that stress is not worth our time and energy! You are so right that stress is a killer. I’ve gotten a lot better at managing it as I have gotten older and wiser. The key is to teach our kids how to manage it when they’re young. The quality of their lives will be so much better without stress!

  • Ottawa November 16, 2012, 5:14 pm

    This is a decent (free) documentary on this topic:

  • Walter January 3, 2013, 12:32 pm

    Great article. Excellent blog.

    One of my mentors had this saying “when the going gets tough the tough relax”. It has stuck with me through three startups and other interesting twists in life.

  • Me August 23, 2013, 9:41 am

    What if you don’t have a nice, safe, and prosperous life? And the people you should be able to count on the most are the main ones stressing you out, and writing you and your problems off? I feel crazy enough without talking to myself. And most people around me (friends, family, etc) think I’m just happy all the time because I keep everything bottled up. I know I could have it worse but i don’t feel like I have any sort of support system emotionally, financially, or otherwise anymore and all this stress/anxiety has manifested in physical problems and I’m only in my early 20s. :-/

  • mo September 12, 2014, 2:51 pm

    “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
    ― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

    “Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.”
    ― Eckhart Tolle

    “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose”
    ― Eckhart Tolle.

    “All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”
    ― Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

    “Whenever you become anxious or stressed, outer purpose has taken over, and you lost sight
    of your inner purpose. You have forgotten that your state of consciousness is primary, all else secondary.”
    ― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

    “In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just Being.”
    ― Eckhart Tolle

  • Vanessa October 7, 2014, 2:51 am

    I think I know a bit about stress.

    I’m a family doctor in christchurch, New Zealand. A few years back our city has nearly flattened by a series of large earthquakes. People died, buildings were destroyed (basically everything was fucked). We lived through about 50000 after shocks and a lot of those we’re over 4.5 on the Richter scale. People adapted to this level of stress and for most it was business as usual to sort of cock your head to the side and wait when you heard one coming and decide if it was enough to get you off your arse and take cover. Cortisol possibly wasn’t raised after a while, but there was at least a month or more for most people where life was fairly extreme- no water, power and stinking mud in the streets. Sewers were fucked and we had to dig holes in the backyard and had make-shift toilets. I remember feeling spoiled when we had a port-a-loo delivered to our street:).

    Other people are still scared shitless all the time.

    The difference is resilience. Some people have it and others don’t. It can be developed like all other aspects of the human mind. Relaxation techniques are a great tool. What I’ve learned about stress is that it is a form of exercise for the brain that will make you stronger if you understand it. You are developing that resilience muscle.


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