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7 Stress Management Tips for Smart People

Tactics for preventing and coping with stress

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

These days, it seems that meditation is the most often recommended stress buster. But many of my brainier clients find anathema shutting down their brain for chunks of time. One said, “It’s no more useful than a nap and once I regain consciousness, I’m more anxious for having wasted time and not gotten anything done.” Self-help luminary and University of Pennsylvania professor Adam Grant, wrote an article in the New York Times titled, Can We Stop the Meditation Madness?

Of course, meditation has helped some people reduce stress but here I’ll focus on tactics that have more often helped my intelligent clients. These come from my new book, Careers for Dummies.

Structure your life to reduce stress. A major source of stress for bright people is working with lesser lights. They often feel in a no-win situation: If they too often give such people “constructive criticism,” they’re viewed as negative, a know-it-all or not a team player. But if they remain silent, they know the workplace products and processes are worse than they could be. One client said, “It’s hard to see such idiocy without speaking up. It’s like seeing a child running into a busy street and doing nothing about it.”

Often, the best option is to make non-negotiable that the people you work with are your intellectual and emotional peers. Or work alone. My high-ability clients more often have the wherewithal to pick and choose whom to work for and the capability to be successfully self-employed.

Similarly, that wherewithal makes it more likely that you can choose work that you find not stressful: pleasurable, only moderately difficult, and what feels like worthy work, so that any stress is more likely to feel like an acceptable price for getting to work on what you deem important.

Another way to structure your life to reduce stress is to work at home—Commutes are ever longer and thus more stressful. And you can control your environment at home. For example, instead of a noisy cube farm, your workspace can be as quiet as you want or, if you prefer, have music playing.

Replace judgment with sympathy. By definition, high-ability people often have to deal with less intelligent coworkers, customers, etc. A typical visceral response is frustration. Try to replace that with gratitude for the gifts you’ve been given and sympathy for their situation. If you were talking with a child with Down’s Syndrome, your emotion would probably be sympathy rather than anger. Try to invoke that mindset when dealing with people whom you deem less capable.

Remove yourself. Inevitably, you will get frustrated with a person. If possible, extricate yourself, if only for a moment, to reset your emotional balance. “Excuse me a moment, I need to use the restroom” may be enough.

Take microbreaks. On starting to feel stressed, take a 10-second stretch break or deep breathing break. Need more? Try a 3, 5, or 10-minute brisk walk. That yields maximum stress reduction per minute. Longer breaks quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. For example, a two-hour lunch let alone two-week vacation can result in greater stress because of all the work that could or should have been done during some of that time.

Get good at mitigating procrastination. You’ll be more successful at keeping your breaks moderate by getting better at controlling any procrastination tendencies you may have. To that end, you might read N ine Time Management and Procrastination Tip s for Smart People .

Thought-stop. This tool is useful for nearly everyone but more effective for bright people. Every time a stressful thought enters consciousness, if there’s nothing you can or want to do about it then, literally say “stop” to yourself and immediately redirect your thinking to something constructive. Why is that easier for bright people? Because they can more easily come up with other things to think about and do.

Get a dog. Of course, dogs bring stress, especially during the first weeks, which despite assiduous potty and obedience training, can wreak havoc. In the first weeks I had my doggie Einstein, he chewed up the only pair of eyeglasses I ever liked. He also decided to eat my medication, requiring an emergency trip to the vet. And he escaped from the house when I was getting my newspaper and he ran onto the freeway. Picture me racing in my night clothes onto the freeway to retrieve the idiot. (Einstein’s name is false advertising.) But since then, he has been a great stress reducer. Hugs, belly rubs, required regular walks, and his sleeping cuddled against my calf definitely makes Einstein a stress buster.

The takeaway. Stress is inevitable but these tips should help. At least meditate on the possibility.

I read this aloud on YouTube:

This is part of a series of tips for smart people. All of them are on my blog here on And videos of each are on my YouTube channel.