How can I reduce my stress?

by Sam on May 20, 2009

Analysis: In his book Margin, Richard Swenson suggests you shouldn’t ask this question. Rather than seek to reduce stress, you should aim to increase margin.

Margin is the reserve we have to deal with the challenges thrown at us by a difficult world. It’s the energy you have left to solve one more problem or take on one more assignment; the resilience you have to rebound from the next draining confrontation; the emotional capacity you have to persist in the face of overwhelming odds.

Swenson quantifies margin as equaling power minus load.

Power results from how we live our lives. It stems from our actions, emotions, and thought processes. It’s what we do either to recharge our batteries or to drain them.

Load is the accumulation of the physical, emotional, and psychological demands made on us by our jobs, our families, and the rest of the people and commitments we sign onto.

This week you’ll learn how to increase power and next week how to reduce load. Within two weeks you’ll have control of the best tools available to manage stress by building margin.

Answer: Boost your power in these ways, and the most profound is at the top of the list.

1.   Match your life to your values. The happiest and most energetic people are more often than not those whose life choices enable them to focus on what is truly meaningful to them. Try this exercise. Take a few weeks to write down and prioritize a list of your most cherished beliefs, values, and desires. When this is done, compare this list–your “talk”–to your to-do list, calendar, and check book–your “walk.” Ask someone close to you for their opinion of the degree of congruence between the two. What will you do to create a better match between your talk and your walk?

2.   Set life goals. Nothing is more energizing than always having objectives for getting better. I suggest that your goal list always numbers three. Consider acquiring a language, learning a skill, getting a degree, starting a business, winning a competition, and improving a relationship as candidates.

3.   Eat right. Favor the complex carbohydrates found in grains, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t overdo red meats. Drink plenty of water.

4.   Exercise regularly. Walk, run, climb, swim, ride a bicycle, ski cross-country, or work out on an exercise machine.

5.   Get enough sleep. Don’t condition your body to accept five or six hours each night when research shows that most of us need between seven and eight hours for maximum energy. Power naps can be effective when circumstances require.

6.   Adopt a hobby. Find a retreat from the wars of work that relaxes your mind. Collect coins or stamps, fall in love with antiquing, play a musical instrument, build model ships, learn a craft, take a class in painting, starting sewing clothes, study ancient cultures, or get absorbed in golf (but don’t keep score!).

7.   Take restful vacations. Take them in clusters of as many days as possible. If you limit yourself to two days at a time, and it takes you two days to begin relaxing away from work, you’ll get almost no value from the time off. Nothing relaxes more than a multi-week holiday.

8.   Find your 30 minutes. Reserve 30 minutes to an hour each day for yourself. The very beginning or the very end of the day often works best. Do what you want to do during that time–prayer, meditation, reading, or other. Keep it sacred! This is me time.

9.   Make your family your work partners. The better things are at home the better you can attack the challenges at work. Get the support of your spouse and other family members by giving them as much support as you expect from them. Find quality time to spend with them. Stay involved in their lives. Take your spouse on dates.

10. Consider getting professional counsel. Twenty per cent of the population will become seriously depressed at some point in their lives. If you suspect that this energy-robber affects you, consult a clinical psychologist for an assessment.

11. Grieve properly. If personal loss is at the root of your malaise allow yourself to progress through each one of the grieving stages of disbelief, denial, anger, bargaining, self-pity, depression, and acceptance. Professional help may prevent you from stalling at any one of the stages preceding acceptance.

12. Find the opportunity in adversity. Every adversity signals a change in the status quo. Every change in the status quo creates a new opportunity somewhere in your life. (Whenever God closes one door, He opens another.) Channel the energy that some people put into anger or despair into searching for what might be an incredible opportunity to seize.


The energy of the mind is the essence of life.


Approaching: Is there a “coming attraction” on this list that you can’t wait for? Shoot me an email and I’ll send you a sneak preview.

5/27: How can I reduce my stress? (Part II)
6/3: Do I inspire ethical behavior in others?
6/10: Do I operate from a clear code of ethics?
6/17: Why do people fight?
6/24: How can I keep fights from breaking out?
7/1: What is the best way to fight?
7/8: When (and how) should I step in to break it up a fight?
7/15: What are the most inspiring quotes about leadership?

Action (yours)

Do you have an Ask for Sam about leadership, team building or communications? Email that question to him at He will respond to you either by email or telephone. Please include your telephone number with your Ask.

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