5 Ways Our Colonial Forebears Kept Stress at Bay

Forget the latest stress-reducing app. Look back a couple centuries for some real ways to achieve inner peace.
July 24, 2012

The good news is that we are more productive than ever. For example, editing a high-production video a mere 25 years ago easily took 100 hours. Editing that same video today can be done in about an hour with a higher quality standard. That leaves 99 hours to sip margaritas. Theoretically. The bad news is that we are more stressed than ever. Everyone is. It has become a global epidemic.

Computer technology is a main contributor to our increased productivity. As a result, we put more on our plates than ever before. We expect more from ourselves and others. But because people aren’t computers, we're not always faster. Perfect rarely happens. Expectations are not met. And we get stressed.

One way to limit stress from your life, once and for all, is not to look forward to more tech solutions, but rather to look back at the lives of our less-stressed forefathers. As crazy as it sounds, those people from the colonial days did (perhaps unwittingly) several things that helped crush stress. Don’t get me wrong, they worked really hard. Every day was a fight to survive. But they did all the hard work with markedly less stress than us. Here are the five ways they did it.

1. Stop consuming so much news. There is a saying in the news industry: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words the more shocking something is, the more news coverage it gets. This may attract viewers for the news stations, but it also dramatically increases stress levels for viewers.

The news is an exaggerated reality. You don't witness murders, plane crashes, thefts and train wrecks daily. But that is what the daily news drip shows us. By refusing to watch or read the news, your stress will start to melt away. Our colonial fathers only got their news in weekly or monthly dispatches. Even our own parents weren't subject to a 24-hour news cycle. Turn off CNN and Fox, and go out with some friends to talk. Don’t worry about missing anything. When something truly important happens everyone will be talking about it and you won’t be able to avoid it if you tried.

2. Meet outdoors. Once when I was struggling to find time to meet with a colleague, the only available window required us to meet at a mid-point location, which was a state park. We both lamented about the lack of a conference room. That is when my colleague had the idea of going for a hike.

As it turned out, we really didn't need a conference room. Instead of being cooped up indoors under fluorescent lights, we were out walking and talking. We accomplished more than we expected. And felt great in the process thanks to nature's powerful stress-reducing properties.

Our forefathers wouldn’t go inside a cramped, hot room to meet. They would go outside and find a nice shady spot to talk. Do the same by scheduling as many meetings as you can outdoors, and perhaps include some walking while talking. Getting sunlight and fresh air will reduce stress and may even increase productivity.

3. Early to bed, early to rise. Speaking of sunlight, reduce your stress by getting more in sync with daylight hours. Because so many earned their living farming, sunrise marked the start of the workday for our colonial forefathers and sundown signaled quitting time. While you probably don't have any cows to milk, simulate this activity by starting your morning off with some exercise, when we typically have the most “mental willpower."

4. Drink and be merry. The drinking part is totally up to you, but being merry (spending time with others) is a great stress reducer. Time with others yields a few stress-reducing benefits. First, it gets you away from the gadgets and second, it gets you talking. No gadgets means no urgent demand can be thrust upon you. Sharing stories, experiences and problems is the ultimate way to vent stress.

Our forefathers surely got this right. They knew how to throw great parties, and even required the guys to wear wigs.

5. No work on Sundays. Many colonists would not work on Sundays, per their religious beliefs. They had more than enough work on their plates to keep going seven days a week, but they were forced to take a break. In fact, some colonies even made it punishable to talk about work on a Sunday. Perhaps that's not the most friendly way to encourage downtime, but it was effective, and work-related stress was reduced.

You also need to schedule a day off (or days) in your schedule. These off days will not only recharge your energy, but will also improve your ability to fight off stress. Weekends are the obvious choice, since fewer people are expecting you to work then. But even that is changing, so pick your off times and day(s) now and make it your hard-and-fast rule now.

Mike Michalowicz is the author of The Pumpkin Plan and The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. He is a nationally recognized speaker on entrepreneurial topics and is the CEO of Provendus Group, a consultancy that helps companies whose growth has plateaued to move forward again.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons