The best way to reduce stress

Entrepreneurs fund their businesses in a variety of ways. I’m funding my business, for the time being, by working in contract law.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working for 10 hours a day on a contract assignment, not including lunch and dinner breaks. Getting there entails a 1.5 hour round trip commute. Every evening, I get home at 8:45 p.m., maybe watch an episode of something to wind down, then go to sleep.

The day begins anew at 6 a.m., with me sleepily lacing up my running shoes. I’m the worst runner ever, but I’m resigned to doing it because I don’t know how to manage my stress now that I’m trying to get pregnant and I can’t drink alcohol.

Running was the last resort option. I tried therapy, but it just doesn’t reduce stress for me. The last massage I got made me angry because I didn’t like the masseuse’s technique. And every time I try to do yoga, I end up wandering away in my mind, and then wandering away in real life.

So, I run. This is not a love letter to running. It’s hard work, and I like it because it makes me feel strong, but the stress reduction effect is minimal for me.

The most stressful part of my day is the commute. I take the N/Q and 4/5 subway lines to get to work. 

This past week was particularly bad. It started with the woman with a face tattoo sitting near me with her stubbly vagina exposed. Then, there was the person sitting directly across from me, hocking loogies onto the subway car floor. Don’t get me started with remarkable human being who decided to pick a fight with me one morning.

All entrepreneurs deal with stress. There wasn’t really anything I could do to reduce it significantly after the fact. Then it hit me -- the best way to deal with stress is to deal with it before it happens.

In entrepreneurship, there is often a significant amount of wiggle room to deal with stress because you are the boss. Even if you are not an entrepreneur, there are a variety of ways to deal with stress before it happens.

Here’s what I’m doing now:

Write down a list of things that can be done at a later time

A big stressor was the list of goals that I wanted to achieve before the end of the year. I would actually panic after coming home from work, thinking about this list. How was I ever going to make it all happen?

Then I sat down, looked at it carefully, and realized that some things could be pushed forward to the beginning of next year with minimal damage. I had planned to cut down on contract assignments during the coldest months of the year anyway, so there would be time then to address the three things on my list that could stand being delayed: 1) my book proposal, 2) working on my Korean legalese, and 3) a big chunk of marketing plans.

It was a huge weight off my shoulders to write out that new list -- the list of things that I could put off until next year. I relaxed better at night after this list was created, knowing that I was still on track to reach my goals.

Make safety non-negotiable

Feeling safe is a huge leap forward for stress reduction. Everyone deserves to feel safe. Period.

One of the best things I ever did was marry a person who makes me feel safe. When you don’t feel safe in your own home, it seeps into the world outside of your home. There is no real escape from it. 

Threats to safety come from the world outside of your home, too, though. I’m a polite person, and sometimes I struggle to draw the line when people are bothering me. One line that I think is non-negotiable, however, is safety.

I didn’t feel safe at one point during this past week, and it was a huge stressor. I could have just been “tough” and put up with it. But then I realized that I deserved to feel safe. So, I took care of the situation with the help of some kind people, by getting out of it instead of putting up with it.

It didn’t mean that I wasn’t tough. It meant that I knew how to get things done.

Strategize for lower stress in the future

Stress is an awful thing to have to deal with. You’re just not that great to be around when you’re stressed out, and you’re not going to be as efficient at your work.

I think that working 10-12 hours a day is fine, but when you combine it with a rough commute and a no-drinking policy, it can be a lot to ask of someone in the long term. So, I decided to prioritize finding contract work in the future that offers either shorter hours or shorter commutes.

I’m still running. I’ll probably run outside until it gets too cold. Maybe I’ll get a gym membership. Running itself isn’t really helping with stress reduction, but feeling strong does, in a way.

All things considered, I’m pretty happy. But knowing that things are going to get better --- that I'll be less stressed in the future -- is part of the reason why. It’s good to have things to look forward to.

What changes have you made to your life that cut down on stress?