Easy Ways to Reduce Stress

My back hurts.

When I wake up, it doesn’t hurt. I’ve been lying flat on it. I think to myself, “it won’t hurt today.”

Then I lean up and try to get out of bed and I feel a sharp pain. It’s going to hurt. And it’s going to hurt all day.

I have to squat down and twist in odd positions to put on my socks. I lean against the sink to support my weight while I brush my teeth.

The other day I was doing a podcast with William Shatner (87 years old) and super-physicist Michio Kaku (72 years old) and they were smiling and healthy and I was grimacing and limping for the final picture because I was in so much pain.



I took Percocet and Advil but neither worked. I’m sitting now while I write this but I know when I get up I will be in pain.

It’s easy to say “stress caused it”. But based on experience, I know stress caused it. And stress is hard to find. It hides in the body and mind.

There’s no one way to find it and defeat it. Stress kills.

I was interviewing Yuval Harari, maybe the smartest man I’ve ever spoken to. He wrote Bill Gates’ favorite book, “Sapiens”, and other great books.

I am a huge fan of his work. This is not a humble brag. I’m really grateful after years of work I get to interview people like this.

I would give up any material possessions, investments, etc. to be able to interview these people.


(Yuval Harari and me)

Yuval told me he doesn’t have a phone.

“How do you make calls?”

“I have a landline.”

“But what if you and your husband want to talk during the day?”

“We meet.”

“What does it even mean… a landline? Like, is it a rotary dial and if you dial “0” you have to dial all the way around?”

He laughed, “No. I just don’t like the distraction of the phone. If I want to read books and write books I have, attention is a very precious resource.”

I said, “I see. The phone is just an ‘app’ on a phone. You don’t want to be distracted during the day by all the other apps.”

“Exactly,” he said.

I’m going to try it. I don’t know when.

But Facebook, Twitter, email, texts, etc. don’t really give me pleasure. In fact, they mostly create stress.

But I feel addicted to them. I check my… stuff. What stuff? I don’t even know until I check it.

How many people like me? How many people like what I said? How many strangers want to read me? Is #Altucher trending? It never has but what if?

Can I get rid of my phone?

It would probably save me one or two hours of stress a day.

Yuval meditates two hours a day.

Then I imagine he reads books (he doesn’t read news, a practice I have followed since 2010) and then he writes.

He writes big, super intelligent books.

He said, “My husband takes care of the marketing. I write the book and then he tells me where to go and I just show up.”

I like that.

There are a lot of techniques to supposedly not have stress.

But I think I will try this. I don’t know when I will start. But I want to live long and prosper (misquoting the title of Shatner’s latest book).

I have tried many techniques for reducing stress. All the science on this is BS. What works for you might not work for others.

But lately I’ve been breaking down a bit and the trend is not good.

So here’s what I think I will try:

  • No phone.
  • No news (although I never do this).
  • I’m not ready to meditate two hours a day. I’ve done that before when I was younger. I don’t know if it helped me. But I do like the idea of 60 second meditations: a) Stare at the rooftops of buildings when I walk around. They are unusually beautiful. b) Imagine each person I encounter, even a stranger, is my daughter so I feel unconditional love. c) Watch my initial thoughts when I meet people. I tend to make judgments too fast. d) Recognize and stop when I feel old anger creeping up. Like, ‘Why did that person treat me like X five years ago?’.
  • Focus on doing only things I love at least 80% of the time.
  • Read.
  • Write.
  • Meet with friends (which includes podcasting. For those hours, my guests are my friends, even if it is not real).
  • Laugh. Prepare for stand-up comedy (which is stressful but I love it).
  • Business, but only with people I care about. And never compromise values or ethics in business.
  • Relationships. Only deal with people who I share 90%+ of my values with. (Values on: kids, ethics, freedom, health. I don’t care about most other things that people care about.)

And everything in moderation.

Maybe what’s caused my stress is too much of each thing and not enough of reducing distraction. Like too much business and not enough reducing phone.

Or too much comedy and not enough friendships.

Or too much time with people who don’t share exact values.

I don’t know.

Stress is a hard beast. Stress kills. It causes inflammation in the body, cancer, Alzheimer’s, lack of sleep, strokes and everything else.

My dad had a stroke in the middle of an argument over money and he died.

I had to go to work the day after he died.

The greatest thing I learned recently:

Wake up each morning with the thought: “What if…?”

Attack each moment with questions and each possible solution with awe.

Look at each person with awe. Look at each problem with awe.

Look at each opportunity with awe.

Find the awe in every problem.

What if…?

The universe expands every time I do that. I can feel it in my body.

My back feels better already.


(What if someone fell into a black hole? Where would they go?)

  • A lot of good suggestions- But, my favorite was – Focus on doing only things I love at least 80% of the time.

  • clemdane

    Hey James, great column. I really need to take these to heart.

    On a more practical note, for short term relief you really need to take Naproxen (Aleve is one brand of this but there are plenty of generics) for back pain. Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen won’t touch it. Not a long term solution, but when I have strained my back and am in pain walking around Naproxen saved me!

  • stephanie

    Sorry to hear about your back pain. Try stretching your hamstrings daily. Or do back and core strengthening exercises (wall slides, ‘dead bug’). I have had poor posture (rounded shoulders) ever since I was a teenager and it’s a hard habit to break. Some exercises may worsen back pain too.. like pushups can pull the shoulders forward. Better yet, find a good physical therapist and he/she might be able to tell you what types of exercises/ stretches to do based on what the dx is. Lots of people have back pain when they get older. It’s part of aging and genetics, so not you’re fault.

  • wise

    Hi James,

    As always your writings reflect your sincere, open personality.

    Handling stress – that’s super easy! It’s effortless, it’s natural, simple to master, you do it just 20 minutes morning and evening. I’ve been doing it for 45 years and it WORKS!

    It has nothing to do with imagination, or visualization, or mindfulness, or trying to achieve this or that during the actual process.

    I’m sure that it would give you huge benefits not only in combating stress but unleashing much more creativity in your personal and professional life. Here is more info:


  • Lisa Wimberley Mullikin

    I have found the best way to not be on the phone or internet is to go to the mountains where there is no phone or internet. You have some withdrawals and maybe a little panic at first but then you realize how nice it is to disconnect. Away from your real life and far from the stress of the city. Meditating is too hard, too many rules. I just breath. I sit and breath in and breath out. Repeat. Think about breathing in as far and as much as you can. And then breath out as far and as much as you can. Simple. I also like to sit on my porch and watch the birds playing. Chasing each other through the bushes and playing. One exercise I was given by a professor for a paper once was to sit in my backyard and just listen. Write down every sound. Listen again and write down every single sound you hear. Keep doing this for 10 minutes every day for a week. I still do this and it has been over 25 years since I was in college. It is a great way to disconnect from life and reconnect with now.

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