Seven Ways To Say 'No' To Stress 

You CAN do it all -- but that doesn't mean you should!

High-pressure jobs, abusive bosses, overloaded schedules, long commutes, bad traffic and financial problems are some of the contributing factors to the high levels of stress we experience every day.

Trying to be the best at everything -- best at our profession, best parent and best partner -- can be unrealistic. When everything is a priority, then nothing is.

Saying "Yes" to every demand -- from colleagues, family members and others -- means you might be saying "No" to your values, your health and yourself.

Modern life exposes us to constant demands of time and attention, making our daily life challenging -- if not unsustainable. It creates a breeding ground for stress and, consequently, the psychological and physiological byproducts of stress such as irritability, resentment, restlessness, insomnia, depression, lack of concentration, sadness, need to cry and impatience.

Some stress in certain situations is good because it is what motivates us to leap into action. Too much stress, however, can cause emotional imbalance and health problems. High levels of stress cause our brains to release toxins and chemicals that pollute our bodies and can have negative effects, including muscle tension, ulcers, upper respiratory infections and heart disease, to name a few.

We can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives. But we can learn to moderate it and even prevent it by being aware of our thinking processes, mental state and by understanding our limitations -- and learning to say "No" to the things that are stressing us out. It’s a way of simplifying our way of life while minimizing or eradicating the toxic pollutants caused by stress. The key is to get to the root of the problem by taking certain steps to identify the clutter in our minds and defining simple strategies to put into action to clear our minds and learn to relax. We may not have full control of the circumstances or situations in our lives but we can make choices that can help take control of our lives. Here are seven ways to achieve it:

1. Say "No" to your inner Wonder Woman or Superman

We have a tendency to suffer from what I call “the super hero complex,” which is the belief that we can take on more and more commitments and still be happy and healthy. And before we know it, we realize that we're overwhelmed and making personal sacrifices to satisfy the needs of others. That’s a recipe for disaster that leaves us feeling not only stressed out but keeps us from real achievement and success. We end up working extra hard and find ourselves unable to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The first step is to truly and deeply embrace the idea that we cannot, should not and will not do everything others demand of us, and everything we demand of ourselves. Something has to go, and WE -- not somebody else, not our circumstances -- are going to decide what to throw away.

2. Say "No" to ignoring your own values

Decide what's important to you, and what you really don't care that much about. Writing down your values on paper will enable you to make a more focused effort to act and live according to your own values. There's a very good reason for gaining clarity about all this: You can't make choices based on your values if you're not clear about what they really are.

3. Say "No" to unimportant, non-urgent tasks

Everything you do fits somewhere into one box of four categories determined by your own values and circumstances: 1) important and urgent; 2) important but not urgent; 3) not important but urgent; 4) not important and not urgent.

Important tasks are those that support your value system -- taking care of my health, volunteering at the shelter. Urgent tasks involve a deadline or need to be done soon -- the kids have to be dropped off by 8, or my presentation has to be finished by Thursday.

You'll find that stressed-out people try to do everything, and tend to favor the urgent over the important (and may sacrifice health for career, for example).

It's time to say "No" to this reflexive approach to choosing what to do and when. See the important-urgent list above or the important-urgent chart below. That's the order they should always be done. Try to do tasks that are both important AND urgent first, followed by important but not urgent, followed by urgent but not important. And never -- ever -- do tasks that are neither important to you, nor urgent. Organizing tasks according to this schema will help you prioritize them quickly, take care of things that are important to you, and help you shrink your to-do list.

1. Important and urgent 2. Important but not urgent
3. Not important but urgent 4. Not important and not urgent

One other stress-reducing, life-enhancing tip: Hang on to your long-term dreams. They fit squarely into the "important but not urgent" box. I'm talking about things like learning French, or starting your own business. Keep them on your list, and, every day or every week, take at least one small step toward realizing these dreams. Don't let the urgent, short-term tasks block the important, long-term ones from your life.

4. Say "No" to feeling overwhelmed

The antidote to feeling overwhelmed is knowing precisely what you need to do and by when. Getting tasks out of your head and into your calendar or onto your to-do list lowers your stress.

Integrate your priority value system (step 3) into your actual daily calendar and to-do list. Do this first thing each day, before anyone can demand things of you -- let yourself be the conductor of each day of your life. Sit down each day and organize your schedule, make sure you review the previous day for any tasks you were unable to do. Always complete -- or at least make progress toward -- your most important tasks, and make sure you meet your urgent deadlines.

Be proactive and never succumb to procrastination, putting off tasks that seem tedious or too challenging to even begin will cause more stress and anxiety -- the sooner you tackle such tasks the more at ease you’ll feel. Achievement is always accompanied by joyfulness and elation.

Be conservative about budgeting your time. There are only 24 hours in the day. Make sure you clear time for sleep, travel, eating, socializing or spending time with loved ones and a little "buffer" time for the unexpected.

When someone comes to you with a task that isn't as important to you as the actions that are already filling your calendar, say "No."

Completing items by rejecting interruptions and focusing lowers your stress. Choosing to not make commitments that you don't have time to do anyway lowers your stress. Lowering your stress helps you do everything that is important to you better.

5. Say "No" to your inner demons

Whenever you're feeling worried, stressed out, unhappy or angry, take out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left, list everything that's upsetting you that you can control, or at least affect in some way, such as unhappiness that you're overweight or your financial situation.

On the right, list all the upsetting things you have no control over, such as the actions of the government or the rudeness of a person who tailgated you on the highway.

Now, transform the list on the left into solid action items, and integrate them into your calendar or to-do list following the above steps.

Take the list on the right, and draw a giant X over it. Crumple up the paper and throw it away, and with it, throw away your attachment to these negative feelings.

This is not about suppressing negative emotions but by letting go of them.

Likewise, be reticent to harbor fear or worry, especially about something that hasn’t occurred. If you find yourself feeling troubled by something, take a systematic approach to identifying the emotion and combat it with logic. Stop and reflect, is it fear or worry? Fear is a byproduct of uncertainty and insecurity and therefore is pointless and irrational. Worry stems from concern for something or someone. Although it isn’t productive to worry it is worth examining. If you’re worrying about a past event, needless to say, worrying is pointless. If, in contrast, you’re worrying about the present or future, carefully determine if there is anything you can do to resolve it and take the necessary action to deal with it. However, if you come to the conclusion that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, then accept the reality and understand that worrying is counterproductive and be done with it.

Focus on the present reality and the things you can control. You're going to take action on the things you can do something about, and you're going to let go of the negative feelings caused by things you cannot.

Remember, detachment is a skill and a habit. Work at it. Get good at it. Learn to say "No" to persistent negative thoughts and emotions.

6. Say "No" to your exterior triggers

Disengage, as much as possible, from people that, despite your best efforts, bring negative feelings and non-constructive criticism to your life.

Although compassion and forgiveness are positive feelings we should cultivate, it’s a matter of self-preservation to be practical and detached about relationships. It’s your right to be selective about the people you want to associate with. Surround yourself by people who bring you positive energy -- people with whom you feel closeness and connection on a personal level.

In any kind of friendship (of romance, parent-child, relative, sibling or unrelated) experiencing a harmonious relationship results from a mutual desire to respect, support and value one another.

True friends are those who bring out the best in you and inspire you to want to be better. Friends enhance your life because they allow you to exchange affection and joy without judgment or expectations. Genuine friends are there for you when you’re in most need. They give you recognition for something you do well. Genuine friendships are worth nurturing and cultivating for a lifetime -- and they’re, unquestionably, worth your time.

Conversely, people that are neither supportive of you nor generous with kind words towards you should be kept at arm's length -- or kicked out of your life.

7. Say "No" to unnecessary health problems

The final step is to understand that taking care of your physical body is essential to your overall wellbeing. The practice of taking care of your body must be integrated as part of your lifestyle. We sometimes take better care of our cars than we do our bodies, ignoring the fact that each day that goes by, neglecting our bodies by eating junk food and not exercising we are accumulating irreversible damage to all our organs. Our bodies need to be in optimal health in order for us to maintain an optimal schedule and reach our goals. We can enhance our bodies’ capacity to resist stress by eating healthy food, exercising regularly, doing fun things and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, hiking and yoga.

Living by your own set of values as you work towards your own goals will replace the effects of stress with a great sense of inner peace and a great sense of accomplishment each day.

Happiness is what keeps us going. When we’re happy we feel that we have the power to do anything.

It's time to say "Yes" to getting control of your life. The way to do this is to understand that you're already saying "No" to something -- probably your own values, health and peace of mind. Re-arrange things according to YOUR values, not somebody else's.

Life is beautiful and each day is a gift -- it's time to enjoy it.

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Good Things In Store

I recently discovered a wonderful protein powder called Thor’s Raw Power made by Nature’s First Law. It is excellent for anyone that wants to add a little wholesome protein and nutrients to their smoothies. And it has something that most protein powders do not: great taste! My seventeen-year-old son likes to have a protein smoothie after lifting weights and I like searching for excellent sources of protein and nutrients. This is the best one yet and it’s 100% organic and vegan. My son loves the taste and texture it adds to his smoothies.

Reader Q&A 

[Note, the following letter is from a relative on my husband’s side whom I visited while attending an Organic Foods conference recently.]

Hello Amira,

I just wanted to let you know that since your visit I have done a lot of research on organic living and health. It seems that your visit came at just the right time in my life, because it compelled me to pull my head out of the sand and make more informed choices. When I chose this neighborhood I chose to change our lifestyle, and the switch to organic living was the logical next step. I have always known that I could do better, but chose to do what everyone else was doing, because it was easier and cheaper.

For now, I have switched to organic dairy, produce, and meat. I am also reducing the quantity of meat in our meals, and striving to have many meatless meals. I am working hard to keep the sugar consumption to a minimum, and experimenting with different grains and beans. So far, it is going great. I feel so much better already.

I also have read about chemicals in the home, and so I am gradually changing my soaps and household cleaners to more gentle, more natural products.

Thanks for being a true inspiration and an educated, passionate advocate for organic living. I hope that you help to inspire many more like me.


p.s.- I have gone back and read all of your old newsletters. I even made your hummus recipe, and we loved it!

Dear Caragh,

Thank you for such a wonderful note. Your news is music to my ears! I'm so happy for you and your family. I can't tell you how proud I am of you and your family for making these kinds of lifestyle changes and taking such a proactive approach to your health. It’s never too late to adopt and reap the benefits of a healthy organic lifestyle. Way to go!

I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years helping them make the transition to a healthy and organic lifestyle and I know it's not easy to do for many reasons -- including the financial impact.

Organic food is significantly more expensive than food produced with pesticides and GMOs.

It is my strong belief, however, that in the long term, it is the most responsible decision you can make, financially and otherwise. You're not only investing on your body, which will return profits in the form of good health and wellbeing, but the cumulative financial benefits will be considerable because you'll be saving money that you otherwise would pay in healthcare. Lifestyle related illnesses like obesity and diabetes are costing our society billions of dollars annually and making health insurance less and less affordable for many.

Health is the best and wisest investment anyone can make.

* * *

Dear Amira,

Thanks for the great article about the increased peddling of caffeine to our young children. In our out-of-control consumer culture, large corporations now pay the smallest possible lip service to “caring” about our health and the health of our kids. They'd sell mocha frappuccino rat poison if they could find a way to make it appealing in a good marketing campaign, and there's very little our lawmakers would bother to do about it. It's all about the market share and the profits, and that's it. Of course, they do try to ensure their products have maximum addictive properties whilst not killing consumers outright for many decades. No point in killing a generation of consumers before the next batch is ready to replace them.

If I sound cynical, it's because I know what really goes on behind the scenes in the marketing and advertising industries. My father was VP and Creative Director of a major North American ad agency in the 1970's and 80's, and the ethics in the business certainly haven't improved any since then.

I think the best way we can help our kids to avoid these filthy marketing traps is by example. If we don't buy into the Starbucks/WalMart/McDonald's culture, and tell our kids why we don't - that's about the best way to set them up for critical thinking in later life. My daughter was almost 5 years old before she ever entered a McDonald's restaurant (only because we desperately need a washroom!) and asked me, "Mummy, what is this place called?" One of my fondest parenting moments!

Thanks for your great work, I really enjoy your site!

Best regards,

Joanne G.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Words of Wisdom

“A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world: Everyone is your mirror.”

- Ken Keyes Jr., 1921-1995

Research Developments

They say you’re as old as you feel. A new technique of fingerprinting of gene activity may reveal in the future how "old" our organs really are in spite of the number of years our birth certificate shows.

Researchers at Stanford University Medical Center in Silicon Valley, California have discovered a set of genes that show how healthy or emaciated a person’s organs are despite the person’s biological age.

This would be a significant tool in monitoring organs for transplants as well as finding out how of in good shape you are at the cellular level. Just think of the possibilities, a simple test will show you exactly how good you look from the inside out.

To keep up with vegetarian, organic and health-related research news on a daily basis, check out my Vegetarian Organic Life Blog.

Food For Thought

Chipotle, commonly used in Mexican cuisine, is a smoked-dried and hot chili (jalapeño) pepper that is generally added to soups, stews, marinades, dressings and sauces for flavor and spiciness. The chipotle chile, which is dried by smoking, has a deep dark red color and wrinkled texture.

There are several varieties: dried chipotle, ground chipotle or chipotle powder and canned chipotle “en adobo,” a tomato base sauce flavored with spices and vinegar, which is sold at most grocery stores in the ethnic-foods section or at any Mexican grocery store. When you open a can, be sure to transfer the remaining peppers and sauce to a glass container and keep covered airtight and refrigerate for later use. Canned chipotles will last a several weeks to months. Dried chipotles will last for several months but must be stored in a cool and dry place.


New Health Risk Found

Parents beware: Your child’s vinyl lunch box might be poisoning his food.

Based on test findings by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent a letter informing manufacturers of soft vinyl lunch boxes in the U.S. that toxic lead compounds have been found in testing.

Lead poisoning, even in small amounts, causes adverse health effects in adults. Children are especially susceptible to the ill effects of it, which can include irreversible damage to their brains affecting their mental and physical development. It can also affect the kidneys, the nervous system and the reproductive system.

Lead use in items that make contact with food has been banned in the U.S. in an effort to protect consumers of the ill effects of lead poisoning. The obvious question is: Why have U.S. manufacturers been making lunch boxes (designed, obviously, to put food in them, which people eat) with lead compounds?

It is alarming to find out that manufacturers knowingly make use of toxic compounds in items that unsuspecting consumers buy.

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Click on the picture for a closer look!

Whole Grain Pasta with Beans, Tempeh and Chipotle (vegan)
Serves 4 to 6

Beans, tempeh and corn is what make this whole grain pasta rich in wholesome goodness in the form of high protein, zinc, iron, calcium, fiber and much more. The chipotle adds a delicious and smoky chili flavor to the tomato sauce.

Preparation time: 5 minutes Cooking time: 20 minutes

Water for boiling pasta in large pot (enough to cover pasta)
1 tablespoon safflower or canola oil
8 fresh garlic cloves
1 medium onion peeled and cut in 4 pieces
1 tablespoon chipotle pepper (canned in adobo sauce or 1 tablespoon of ground chipotle)
12 fresh plum tomatoes peeled and seeded (or one 28-oz whole peeled canned tomatoes)
15 fresh basil leaves (or 2 tablespoons dried basil )
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon rosemary
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
8 ounces tempeh, finely crumbled or diced
1 cup cooked kidney beans (substitute with canned beans)
1 cup cooked pinto or black beans (substitute with canned beans)
1 cup fresh corn kernels (substitute with frozen)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces whole grain pasta (spelt or whole wheat) Bionaturae makes a great whole wheat pasta
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Reduced fat Veggy Parmesan cheese alternative (optional)

1. In a large pot, boil water for pasta. Heat safflower or canola oil in a separate large pot over low heat. Meanwhile, finely chop garlic and onions or pulse in the food processor or blender until finely chopped. Take ½ cup of garlic and onion mixture and add it to heated oil sautéing for 5 minutes over low-medium heat.

2. Add chipotle, carrots, tomatoes, basil, chili, paprika, thyme, oregano, rosemary and red pepper to the remaining onion and garlic mixture in the food processor and process until well pureed and set aside.

3. Add tempeh to sautéing onions and garlic and sauté stirring for 5 more minutes. Stir in beans and corn continuing to sauté. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water as indicated on package instructions, stirring occasionally. Set timer. When pasta is done, drain then toss well with a teaspoon of olive oil to prevent from sticking.

3. Add the tomato puree content from the food processor to tempeh mixture, stirring and simmering for 5 minutes. As it boils, continue to reduce heat and lightly cover with lid allowing steam to evaporate. Simmer for another 5 minutes, add pasta and mix well, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper, turn off heat and serve. Sprinkle servings with alternative parmesan cheese and fresh basil garnish.

Cook’s tip: To peel and seed tomatoes immerse them in boiling water for about a minute then transfer tomatoes onto a colander placing under cool running water for 30 seconds. Peel skin away, cut in half and remove seeds and core. Sauce may be cooked 2 or 3 days ahead.


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This newsletter is not intended to provide and replace medical advice. The author and editor expressly disclaim all responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from any information, diet or exercise suggestions. It is imperative that the advice of a physician is sought before any diet or exercise programs are adopted.

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