If you want to reduce emotional stress, you need to start seeing life through a different perspective. Perfect happiness is an illusion.
You would think life is a piece of cake being a stay at home and work from home dad with a stay at home spouse. But I recently went through two weeks of intense lower back pain due to emotional stress.
The last time I went through this type of pain was during the dotcom collapse between 2000 – 2003 because I was constantly fearful of losing my job.
After reading Dr. Sarno’s book, Healing Back Pain, I became back pain free for 14 years until recently. If you are suffering from chronic pain, you must read this book.
So what’s the issue today? It’s simply adapting to the loss of 100% freedom, being a new parent, receiving judgmental comments, getting bombarded with endless requests over e-mail, keeping up a regular posting schedule, and being the sole provider for my family.
Something had to give. And that something was my back. Chronic pain is the mind’s way of distracting us from emotional stress.
My back pain is a reminder that health is more important than wealth. It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you can’t take care of your physical AND mental well-being. Do not be embarrassed to seek help, especially for mental health issues.
Now that I’ve recovered, I’d like to share some thoughts on reducing emotional stress in order to appreciate life more. Might as well turn a bad situation into something useful for those who currently suffer.
Reduce Emotional Stress And Do What You Can
I’ve always believed that so long as you do your best, nothing else matters. The worst is being gifted at something and not taking full advantage.
Can you imagine being a talented singer and never bothering to audition for your high school musical? Can you imagine being 6′ 10″, but never practicing any sports? Or how about if you are a brilliant academic who decided to skip university despite getting a full ride in order to go vagabonding for years? We need champions by our side to guide us in the right direction.
Because I’m neither physically nor mentally above average, I took it upon myself as a teenager to try my best at every opportunity I was given. It was important to maximize my potential because my potential was never that great.
To not take full advantage of my opportunity would be an insult to those who didn’t have the same luck. It was hard witnessing so much poverty growing up in emerging markets. So I toiled and toiled until I finally decided after a couple decades I no longer felt guilty anymore. The growth stage of my life was over. It was time to focus on taking care of my family and volunteering some time to help others who could use some help.
But if I was truly content, why would I experience chronic back pain again? I got angry at myself for not being more thankful.
Then I met someone who helped put things in perspective.
The Gift Of Seeing Clearly
Roughly 15% of the world’s population, or 1.2 billion people have a disability. Disabilities range from seeing, hearing, movement, learning, neurological and more. Don’t assume that just because someone looks normal, they aren’t dealing with some sort of impediment.
Sonya, one of the girls I met at a foster home had two visual impairments called ocular albinism and nystagmus. You can have one without the other, but often times they go together.
Ocular albinism is a genetic condition that reduces the pigmentation of the iris, which is the colored part of the eye, and the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Many folks with ocular albinism have difficulty seeing outside without sunglasses and transitioning from outside to inside.
Nystagmus is a condition in which the eyes move in an involuntary and repetitive way. Sometimes the movement is slow and horizontal. Other times the movement is fast twitched, vertical, and rotary.
There are supposedly 49 different subtypes of nystagmus with varying degrees of severity. These movements often result in reduced vision and depth perception. The condition tends to improve until about age 10, and stabilizes for the remainder of the person’s life.
Due to her visual issues, Sonya’s best corrected visual acuity is 20/200, the cut off point for legal blindness. In other words, even with glasses or contacts, she can only see something clearly from 20 feet away that other people can see clearly from 200 feet away. Most people who are near-sighted or far-sighted are able to correct their vision to 20/20 with glasses, contacts, or laser surgery. Sonya cannot.
Sonya didn’t say much to me about her family life or visual impairment at first, but she slowly opened up about how she was having a difficult time at school. She always had to sit in the front of the class, and even then, it was often hard to see what the teacher had written on the white board. But she said she always did her best to keep up.
Despite her family situation and her visual impairment, Sonya showed me a great attitude that made me proud. Although she said she had her fair share of bullies, she also told me wisely how she wasn’t bothered because she knew the bullies were going through their own difficulties. The sister of one of the bullies died in an accident a year ago. Another bully’s father was sent to prison. The kids in school found out and made fun of the bully as a result.
Making The Most With What You Have
Sonya also mentioned how she’s become an expert listener as her hearing makes up for her vision loss. “Sam, I’m like Daredevil in the comics!”
Sonya displayed the one trait I long to instill in my son: empathy / compassion. Empathy comes from understanding about other people’s situations before making any judgement. Empathy allows people to listen and connect without making any judgement at all. Even if spite is hurled their way, the compassionate person is able to forgive and show kindness.
The other trait Sonya possesses that I hope all of us embrace is an indomitable spirt. No matter what our challenges, we will find a way to overcome. Whether it’s trying to reach financial independence early or getting through middle school without too many emotional scars, an indomitable spirit is important. “What I see is all I know. I’ll be fine,” she said when she sensed my worry.
Snapping Out Of A Funk
Sonya reminded me that I took my situation for granted. Feeling stressed about losing temporary freedom was silly because I had freedom to give up. What about all those who are still stuck in the salt mines, unable to ever get out? Feeling the pressure of having to constantly write on Financial Samurai is self-induced pressure that’s unnecessary. Taking a week off won’t change a thing.
Sonya also reminded me that no matter what challenges my son faces, he has two loving parents who will give all their time to help him lead a normal and happy life. She told me that all she’s ever wanted was for her parents to stop fighting so they could go to the park like her friend’s families. As a foster kid mentor, I hope to help fill some of that gap.
We will all go through emotional stress. We all want to reduce emotional stress. Some of you will burn out and decide to quit your job, quit your marriage, or go down some deep dark path. I encourage you to take a good amount of time feeling angry and sorry for yourself. Afterward, get up and see life through the perspective of others.
Changes Are On The Way
I hope all Financial Samurai readers can embrace empathy in your day to day lives. The next time someone doesn’t look you in the eye when speaking, don’t get annoyed. Maybe it’s because they literally can’t due to their nystagmus. The next time someone seems cold, don’t feel insulted. It may be because they have Aspergers, which sometimes makes socializing a little more difficult.
In addition to being mindful about different perspectives, I plan to reduce stress further by deleting spiteful comments, aggressively filtering e-mails, and writing freely without concern. I will remind myself that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Further, I’ll be setting up schedule That commits me to only working and checking my messages during these times.
I leave you with an inspiring TED talk by Caroline Casey who might just very well be the adult version of Sonya. You’ll enjoy the clip because it talks about everything we talk about here: belief, self-esteem, courage, finding a purpose, and helping others. Try not to take what you have for granted.
Please enjoy and share your thoughts about how you reduce emotional stress in your life. What are some of the walls you’ve faced and successfully climbed over? Who have you met that changed your perspective?
Cash Management Is Stress Management
Don’t Forget To Look Up Sometimes
Improve Productivity An Extra Seven Hours A Week
Related: The Source Of All Stress Is Giving A Giant Crap About Everything
Maple flat says
Best way to reduce stress is remove toxic people from one’s life including narcissists and addicts. Even if they’re immediate family. Life is way too short for that bs. So – be way quicker to judge that sort of thing and move on because they drown people around them in order to keep themselves afloat. Now that I’m over 50 and lost important people from my life, I’ve got clarity. Time is precious and it’s not going to be consumed by vampires.
Thank you for the post. MRS also has back pain due to emotional stress. Used to be finance, now is family.
I guess even retired folks are not immune to the everyday struggles of life.
I also find holding a 9-5 job is easier than raising child. However, raising a child is much more rewarding than working at a dead end job.
Thank you for this meaningful and real post about the Samurai’s the truest wealth and freedom: the indomitable spirit on the path of the heart. This is under-valued, under-estimated, and socially marginalized in those with disabilities and/or PTSD (from many things – quite a large segment of the population actually).
Indeed, there are huge spiritual teachers found in unlikely places – and the real meaning of wealth (at whatever status any of us may be at) comes into play when we selflessly serve the greater society in some way. Whether it’s a weekly gig at a homeless shelter’s kitchen, or mentoring/coaching programs for at-risk children & adults, or a hundred other possible things including the gift of this here post you did – we are always in relationship with the greater society as we navigate family life and financial & emotional freedom.
As long as you keep your self-compassion and compassion generating, you and your partner will find your way through the incredibly intense years of very early childhood – due in part to finding or strengthening your own “village” of a sort. Parenting in the nuclear family – and in a society where many professional people relocate every few years and few folks live on the same block with their trusted friends or fam – is a whole other planet than what we’re “wired” for on an ancient mammalian nervous system level.
Healthy intergenerational community life and extended family is increasingly rare for many in high tech industrial culture. We’re far from the co-parenting and egalitarian ways of aboriginal gatherer-hunter cultures which comprised 90% of human history (according to the meta-analysis of anthropological studies done by Elizabeth Pennisi in the journal Science, 2014). We’re not really neurologically at our best in extended isolation or primary care with our wailing hungry babies, pre-verbal shrieking toddlers (teething phases go on for years!) – and stewarding a child’s all-level development to the operational stage of around age 5 and the age of reason around 7 is a s/hero’s journey. We need the village fabric of elder role models, shared meals, stories/mentoring, and co-op childcare – and/or plenty of good brain nutrition (essential fatty acids, plenty of good fats, moderate balanced protein and low on the processed carbs – which can sometimes get sidelined when one is trying to ensure provision on all levels for the new child/baby Samurai!).
Grateful for your transparency and example in this essay and your recording. LOVE your revised rules for commenters, healthy boundaries rock. Here’s to universal parenthood… ourselves, our children, and the world’s children.
Financial Samurai says
Thanks for sharing and commenting Mary!
Jeff @ Maximum Cents says
Thanks for sharing Sam! I didn’t know that back pain can be caused by emotional stress. Stress can cause a lot of negative health issues so it’s best to work to reduce it as soon as possible. You were the inspiration for my blog and many others. Keep up the good work.
Great post Sam. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been an email subscriber and regular reader for a while. Don’t let the haters get to you. You’re doing great, and your little one is just going to get more and more fun.
I know you’re thinking about a Hawaii move at some point. Do you think getting out of SF will ease your worries? Be it to Hawaii or somewhere else less stressful? Maybe you’re getting close to that.
Keep on doin what you’re doin. I’ve gotten good info and perspectives from your blog.
Financial Samurai says
Moving out of SF is something I’ve been strongly considering for three years now. I noticed that every time I go back to Honolulu, I feel even less stress and more joy in day to day life. It is so peaceful and lovely there. I’m just trying to think of when is the right time now that I have a baby. I’m thinking before 5 years old, kindergarten for sure, but maybe as early as 2-3 for pre-school!
I moved away from the more populous north/east side of SF and felt more at ease out on the west side. There’s parking everywhere, not a lot of people here, and there’s the ocean. But I’m still stuck in the same circle of go-getters that I want to escape. That said, this network will help my son as well.
We’re going to attempt a 1-2 month Honolulu stay within the next 6-12 months for sure!
Lady Dividend says
So inspirational! I really look up to how you live life. You know that money is important but even more is health and giving back to others. This is inspirational. I hope that when I become FI I can focus on doing good for others as well.
an anonymous individual says
Sam you write for all of us on a topic that we all excel at – even the poor in America is well above the median of global wealth. Do you ever consider writing for yourself on topics of importance to you? Call it stealth health if you will.
This is a muse I wrote for myself after reading book called emergence:
The framework of perspective has room to change. Rather than another human individual imagine the life of a small insect – incapable of complex thought, only able to communicate the most basic of messages, and living in a world of titans constantly attempting to destroy your existence. Yet you survive with order somehow and build beautiful complex structures that are great magnitudes the size of yourself. Not to mention you in fact thrive with your basic nature and dominate most nearly the entire world’s landmass.
Is the insect that is shooed away, stomped on, and poisoned not a marvel? Perspective is not complexity but rather noticing the value in simplicity.
Reverse the Crush says
I love the message in this post, Sam! I wish more people were able to see individuals through a different perspective. You just never know what someone may be dealing with. Also, some very interesting points you made about back pain. Particularly this line: “Chronic pain is the mind’s way of distracting us from emotional stress.” – Not that I experience chronic back pain, but when I reflect back on incidences where I experienced back pain, there was definitely an underlying emotional/stressful situation happening.
In regards to your questions, my own experiences changed my perspective. Going through a tough relationship situation and experiencing mental health issues caused me to view others situations with more empathy. My experience slowed life down and made me aware of the cause and effect of things. We’re all dealing with something and everyone handles their challenges differently.
I generally handle my emotional stress in a similar manner as I try to stay mindful. I make sure I’m aware of what causes the stress and make time to focus on the things that are important to me. I think it’s therapeutic to write thoughts out like you did in this blog post. It helps to organize and take control of your thoughts. Thanks for sharing the positive vibes!
Enjoy what you’ve worked so hard to attain, Sam. I came to this conclusion about a year ago. I told my wife, unless we’re interested in buying a small island or the biggest house on the best beach in Hawaii (25M-50M), we’ve made enough money to relax a bit (2M-5M). I still easily work 40 hours a week, but it feels a bit lazy sometimes after hustling for 25+ years.
As for deleting mean comments on blogs, I always say that if you wouldn’t want people like that in your living room, why allow them on your blog. There’s a big difference between constructive conversation and being plain nasty.
Thanks for the article. One thing that I really enjoyed about reading your blog, was that not only you are rational and comprehensive in your deliberations of financial decisions, you have a fair number of posts written on relationships and non-financial life decisions. I actually have your ‘Relationships’ labelled posts bookmarked, and currently I am at page 4.
After last week, I learnt a number of things from our first encounter, which definitely was not how I hoped our first encounter would be. I felt a great deal of guilt trip over the whole duration even though I tried to shake away the feeling. The important life lesson I learnt was to refrain from judging people, even if that felt like the easiest thing to do. Everyone has his or her own struggle, including myself. We all had to put on our strongest faces for the people that we love, but sometimes a little empathy was the only thing we need to not fall into the deep pit of emotional stress and suffering. There are many inspirational souls in the world who managed to live better than normal people despite their disabilities.
Here’s a rock climber with one arm, who climbs better than many people I know from my climbing gym. The best thing is in all his climbing videos, he did not seem to feel or notice that he would be defined as ‘disabled’ in normal people’s terms.
I hope that your back pain would go away after you take some rest, and get some help. A little help goes a long way.
millionaire doc says
Becoming a parent is a major life change. It’s not easy transitioning from having complete control of your time to being essentially on call 24/7 for a small helpless mammal. I have two kids who are now school age. Even though they don’t need me as much anymore, there are different issues at this stage.. like homework and ipad addiction.
Sorry about your back. I’ve had a few nagging health issues myself and it doesn’t take more than a bad cold to make you realize health is the most important thing. If you’re not fully yourself, you can’t do anything right.
I really enjoy your blog. You’ve put out a lot of great info and helped a lot of people. I don’t know how you keep up your punishing pace. Best, M.D.
Even a slight cold and it is harder to work and enjoy. Maybe that is why we get colds — to make us grateful. Sometimes I think slight illness happens to help us slow down and reflect. Also, be grateful for colds and flus because they build up the immune system. After a hysterectomy, I realized that my monthly period gave me a chance to rest at bit for a least a few hours or a month, whereas after, I went full blast all the time.
Financial Samurai says
Oh man, I love that “maybe that is why we get colds – to make us grateful.”
My wife has a cold now, and I’m just hoping she gets better and my little one doesn’t get sick either.
Hopefully the back gets better soon Sam!!
What helps me reduce stress when I feel that I get overwhelmed with work and family life, I clear my head by reflecting thats going on and slow things down a bit mentally. This helps sorts out the craziness that’s going on in my life and prioritize what I really need to do one at a time instead of doing 5 things at once.