Ask Andrew W.K.: Letting Go of Stress

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Photos by Ashley Eberbach
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com\

Dear Andrew,

I'm literally drowning in stress. Anxiety has taken over my life and I'm exhausted from worrying. It's gotten to the point where my mind has become a whirlwind of tension and spazzing-out. Money problems have been a major cause of my fretting, but I'm also sick of feeling like I never have enough hours in the day to do the work that would solve the money issues. It's a catch 22 and I'm past my breaking point. I can't get the necessary work done, let alone have time for any fun. I always feel rushed, running late, and short on energy. Those feelings, added to all my other daily stress, have me acting like an insane person. I feel like simplifying everything and making my life care-free, risk-free, and responsibility-free. But is that really the only way to get rid of my stress and have the time to enjoy life? Other people can't possibly be living like this.

Thanks,
Super Stressed

See also: Ask Andrew W.K.: How to Get Over a Devastating Breakup

Dear Super Stessed,

I can actually relate to everything you described. In fact, I think just about every single person has felt this way at some point, if not all the time. Stress is part of life -- learning to manage it is the trick. Sure, like you, maybe I've fantasized about some perfect situation where I'm a dude just chilling in a hammock on a tropical island without a care in the world. But when I really think about it, that kind of life would probably get boring, and the "Don't worry, be happy" attitude is not only unrealistic and forced, but also spiritless and bland.

It's true that a lot of the times I've felt stressed, it's lead to all sorts of other really problematic feelings - mood swings full of anger and rage, severe insomnia and paranoia, feelings of hopelessness and dread, and just waves of pure unrestrained depression. I actually think many of the worst emotional states are brought on purely by chronic worry.

But feeling overwhelmed is a natural reaction to being alive, so the key must be to change the way respond to it. We can be overwhelmed with joy and excitement as much as we can be overwhelmed with worry and dread. Stressful situations don't always have to manifest as stressful feelings. Anxiety is really draining, but I think it's basically just a distorted type of excitement. It's mistaking our energy and enthusiasm for worry and nervousness. Just like you can be nervous before getting on a roller coaster, but that nervousness is actually part of the thrill -- it's your body and mind getting ready for an intense and exciting experience! We can reinterpret stress and end its negative impact on our state of mind. There's an easy way out and the answer is simple... Just don't care about feeling stressed out anymore!

I realize that might sound easier said than done, but I swear that's the beauty of this in almost all cases. In your letter above, the thing you sounded most stressed out about was being stressed out. Try this: the next time you feel that unmistakable feeling of anxiety and panic wash over you, just let it be and continue going on about your day. You don't have to respond to it or make it go away. You can take note of it and just keep living. You don't have to "try and relax" or "try and be calm," you can just feel however you feel and just keep doing whatever you're doing. Stress is like a bad smell. It may really color our experience the moment we notice it, but eventually the smell dies down and we realize it didn't really have that much impact on what we were doing -- it just hung in the atmosphere. Stress and worry are confused versions of excitement combined with energized fear. We can feel nervous and excited and afraid without having to stress out.

Deciding not to stress out also doesn't mean you don't care about things. For example, if I'm trying to get to the airport for a flight to an important event and all of a sudden there's a huge traffic jam, I might start noticing those stress-feelings creeping in. But I'm not going to react to them. I'm not really "stressed" -- instead, I'm going to think of that feeling as the excitement and anticipation I have about the event I'm trying to get to. The stress wants to distort things and make the traffic jam seem like a life or death situation. But if I think clearly, I realize that it isn't life or death. Even the event I'm trying to get to isn't life or death. It's all just life. And I've been in that type of situation many times and didn't die once. There really was no crisis or reason to worry at all. And if I did stress out, that stress didn't help -- it only made things more miserable.

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10 comments
inotowok
inotowok

this advice is relevant only for those with mild stress.  unfortunately, the writer makes the mistake many people make when they equate anxiety with worry.   i have debilitating anxiety, bad enough i could not hold onto my job, and i don't particularly worry any more than the average person.


i tried all this "letting it go / re-framing" stuff for years and it does not work for me.   the advice to "just keep doing whatever you're doing" is cruel advice for people with mental health issues who cannot keep going.  severe anxiety can be crippling and debilitating.  trying to keep going made it all worse.    all in all, this post minimizes the pain and disability many of us experience.

conspiracytheory
conspiracytheory

This is a simply brilliant article.  As mentioned, we all feel stressed at times and certainly some more than others, which is why learning to deal with it in a productive manner, such as the method mentioned in the article, is so imperative.  I feel as though I am better for having read this (and discovering Andrew WK in general)

mattroy88
mattroy88

It's so awesome to see a musician using his position to help people! advice columns like these are generally uninteresting, so it is nice to see a new approach to it!

eturissini
eturissini

The traffic example is a good one. What one often needs to remember when stuck in traffic is that you are part of the traffic too, and everyone around you isn't just traffic, they are also a person. Stress often comes from a place of loneliness, and "why me?", whereas I find that being at a place of oneness with our surroundings is the key to de-stress.

killingismybiz
killingismybiz

Its all about how you choose to deal with your problems. Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is... The only problem in your life is your mind's resistance to life as it unfolds.

killingismybiz
killingismybiz

It's all about how you choose to deal with your problems. Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is... The only problem in your life is your mind's resistance to life as it unfolds.

nicolekrystyn
nicolekrystyn

"So reinterpret your stress, nervousness, worrying, and anxiety as all just natural reactions to the excitement of having a life worth caring about." I need to write that down and keep it with me at all times. The older I get I think the worse my anxiety is. I just try to remind myself that it's a temporary feeling and try to distract my brain with other thoughts. Being stressed usually comes from being busy, so I try to focus on being thankful for all the things keeping me busy. And then when I do have free time to just relax I enjoy it even more.

AndyBee
AndyBee

 I've found in many instances that just the feelings of stress, are more terrible than the events that caused the stress. We have to live our lives and drama and stress are apart of that. It helps us to enjoy those "Don't worry, be happy" moments even more.

ryleah
ryleah

@inotowok The problem with mental illness is that it's damage to the part of you that detects damage.  Making a point to point out that anxiety can be a symptom of a mental disorder, and that you should see a doctor before things get worse, is a thing I like to see people doing.  I'm glad your comment is on top! I feel like Andrew W. K. is a reasonable guy, and if you were to facebook him he might add a PS. about this, which would be cool.  I only wish you hadn't ended with a condemnation.  People remember things in three parts; beginning, climax, and end.  One sentence can seem like a third of your point if it's the last sentence, and making a third of your point negative to an article that was well received hurts a message that I think is positive.

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