Updated on 09.15.14

The Value of Reducing Stress

Trent Hamm

12 DIY Tactics for Doing So

60% to 80% of job-related accidents are due to employee stress level.

90% of all diseases are caused by or exacerbated by stress.

60% to 90% of doctor visits are caused by or related to stress.

To put it simply, stress is expensive. Very expensive. You pay in the form of lower energy, more illness, more medical visits and procedures, and, frankly, escapism, too.

In my eyes, one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done for my wallet (and my health) was figure out how to lower my overall stress level.

Stress Reducing Tactics that Work

1. Exercise

Few things de-stress me more than simply going outside (or going to the gym) and exercising, pouring out my frustrations either through a brisk pace or through lifting weights. I just simply thrust all of that stress into whatever it is I’m doing. The end result? I’m out of breath, but I’m in a bit better shape and I’ve taken a big part of the edge off of my stress level.

Do it now! Go take a thirty minute walk. While you’re going, admire what’s around you a bit. If you think about what stresses you, that’s okay – just pick up the pace a little.

2. Figure out – and write down – your goals and values

What value does this have? What it does is it puts all of the little stresses in your life in a bigger context: what’s most important to you and what you’re truly working for. You’re not working to please your boss – those are just steps you take along the path to your bigger goals and values in life. Put those little stresses in context.

Do it now!3. Get some sleep

It’s easy to get stressed out when you are tired. Your patience is low. Your thinking is a bit slower. Things that seem easy when you’re normal seem almost overwhelming now – but the expectations of performance remain unchanged. You can fix all that by not staying up as late and simply getting plenty of sleep at night.

Do it now! Go to sleep early tonight so that you sleep long enough that your own biological clock wakes you up instead of the alarm clock. Start your day off normally with a shower and some breakfast, then see how you feel.

4. Keep a journal

Simply sharing the things that are stressing you out can be powerful, but often we don’t have a great place to share these frustrations. The solution is easy – start a journal. Use it to simply pour out the things that are frustrating you. The release of simply writing them all out can be really cathartic and can help you cut through the stress.

Do it now! Fire up your word processing program and start a simple journal. Work through the things frustrating you by writing them down. At the same time, list the things that you were grateful for today. Repeat this exercise each day.

5. Pray or meditate

Just last month, I wrote about the value of meditation and prayer, and it holds true in this context as well. Meditation and/or prayer can do a great deal to lower one’s stress level, while also clearing the mind to deal with the other challenges that a typical modern day provides.

Do it now! Spend a few moments in prayer or simply closing your eyes and trying to clear your mind of all thought. Remain in that state for several minutes and see if you feel a difference when you “come back.”

6. Build friendships and relationships

One of the best de-stressers I have in my life is the time I spend with my friends and family. The companionship and social interaction with others simply melts away the stress in my life. That’s why my wife and I make it a point to host or attend at least one social event of some kind a week.

Do it now! Contact some friends and have them over for a potluck this weekend. Play a game with them, or watch some football with them.

7. Get a pet

If you’re an animal lover, a pet can be an incredible source of joy in your life. As I’ve discussed before, two pets I had when I was younger brought an incalculable amount of happiness into my life. The only thing that keeps me from having one now is allergy issues.

Do it now! Find a local pet shelter, then stop by and see if any of the cats or dogs bond well with you.

8. Volunteer

Virtually every community has a great bounty of volunteer organizations and opportunities. In our community and neighboring ones, there are youth sports that need coaches and referees, parks that need volunteers to help keep them tidy, Habitat for Humanity, food pantries that need coordinators, and countless other things that I’m not even aware of.

Do it now! Find some volunteer possibilities in your local community. Start with your city’s parks and recreation department and also include services like Volunteer Match.

9. Do some stretches

Stretching and de-stressing? It actually works – stretching promotes a de-stressing response in your body. On top of that, stretching directly prevents injury and also reduces many types of pain. On top of that, it can feel really good. I’m almost always happy after a stretching routine.

Do it now! Try out some of the basic stretches over at Web MD. You can do many of them at your desk or in a cubicle or on any floor space in your home.

10. Change your surroundings

Yes, travel is one way of doing this. However, something as simple as a road trip or a camping trip or even a day spent out in the woods can accomplish the same effect. A person’s surroundings influences their thoughts deeply, so if you’re finding yourself in environments full of stress, changing those environments can really melt away the stress.

Do it now! This weekend, go take a day and spend it in a state or national park near you. Pack a couple meals in a backpack and just enjoy the change of scenery and the fall colors.

11. De-clutter

It can be a constant stressful irritant to not be able to find the items you want when you need them. The easiest way to eliminate that irritant is to simply de-clutter by getting rid of as much unnecessary stuff as you can.

Do it now! Go through every item in your home and ask yourself if this item is something you actually need to keep or if it’s just something you don’t use and is simply in the way. Deal with it honestly and you’ll find yourself removing a lot of the unnecessary in your environment.

12. Turn off the television

I can’t watch many television programs without feeling some level of emotional response: anger, sadness, “fight or flight” excitement, and so on. Commercials are constantly trying to do this, as are news programs. My solution is to simply turn off the television and find something else to do.

Do it now! Find something to do this evening that doesn’t involve turning on the television. See if you can repeat it the next night – and the night after that.

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  1. Shannon says:

    Trent – your hatred of the tv is remarkable! The EXACT same things you mentioned as the negatives of tv-watching can be said to be the negatives of playing video-games but you choose the tv because you play video-games and don’t watch tv. A little perspective please.

  2. Interested Reader says:

    Don’t you watch tv shows through Netflix? Or am I mistaken and you only watch movies.

    Also when you watch movies do you not have any emotional response? You don’t laugh during comedies or cry during tear jerkers?

  3. Interested Reader says:

    Before I get jumpedon for being critical I want to say that I agree with almost everything else on Trent’s list.

  4. Joanna I. says:

    Agree with the journaling. As someone who always wanted to keep a journal but could never make myself do it, I’ve found the one sentence journal to be very effective. Every day I write just one sentence. (I often write more but you get the idea.) It tracks milestones in life, relieves a little pressure from negative things, but more than anything, it has me looking for positive things that have happened to me which make me more positive overall.

  5. Arianna says:

    I agree with every single thing on this list. I would say that with “journaling”, remind people that blogging does not have the same effect as private journaling, where you are writing only for yourself. With blogging, if you have an audience, even if it is only a few people, you’ll likely find yourself writing for them — which could in and of itself create more stress.

  6. Reader says:

    Studies I’ve seen attribute workplace accidents to other factors such as distraction (happening near end of shift), familiarity (rushing through routine), or unfamiliarity (don’t know the risks). Our workplace safety group attributes poor health and lost work to stress, but not accidents.

  7. Alexandra says:

    I agree with all or most of these – TV doesn’t affect me much I guess, everything in moderation. For me right now what seems to be working is journaling (I use 750words.com and highly recommend it!). I’ve also been working on my goals and decluttering. I will only know in the long run just how much it helps, but in the short term it’s working.

  8. Kathryn says:

    I don’t disagree with anything on the list. Some things fit me better than others. I enjoy TV, but we watch SciFi shows mostly, that we enjoy very much. We also are blessed by rarely needing to watch commercials.

    Other folks might find that cooking is something they enjoy & is stress relief. (It doesn’t work for me, i find cooking stressful.)

    I enjoy crafting much, but have to watch the expenses on that one. Also crafting tends to add to clutter. We opted for a smaller house than one that would provide me with a “crafting area” so at times (like trying to make Christmas gifts), my living room is quite a mess. As i prefer a less cluttered home, the crafting/clutter-free issues tend to be at odds & i have to balance them out.

  9. Jackie says:

    I used to find journaling to be incredibly stressful. I’d get myself all worked up and perfectionist about it “what if my roommate reads my journal and finds out I don’t like one of her friends” or I’d have this idea that a journal was a record or my time to be preserved for the future. “what if future generations read it and discover that Aunt Jackie wasn’t perfect (at grammar, at spelling, at attitudes, at generosity, at friendliness, at housework, at honesty, at her jobs, at…)” When I gave myself permission to write journal pages and them immediately shred them, it was a huge relief.

  10. Roberta says:

    This is one of my favorite SD posts so far. These items remind me how easy it is, without spending money, to reduce stress, and how I feel right now reminds me that I should do quite a few of them.

    As for the TV/not-to-TV debate: TV watching is a waste of time, which is not to say it’s not pleasantly distracting–temporarily, at least. People who write about improving sleep quality, however, all say that TV has a stimulating rather than a calming effect on the brain. Many articles I’ve read advise not watching TV within an hour before bedtime, for example. Everyone’s different, but I just can’t fault Trent for pointing out the downsides of TV watching. If the same amount of time were spent doing many other activities, a person would emerge with something to show for it. TV just doesn’t really develop skills, and it isn’t really even that great a medium for learning.

    That said, most everyone has a few guilty pleasures, and I allow myself 2 hours during the week to watch a couple of shows, one on Wed, and another on Thurs, and then usually watch one movie on DVD on the weekend. I just don’t harbor any illusions about TV’s benefits to my life other than providing some pleasant diversion.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    Having an “emotional response” does not necessarily equal being stressed, in my book.

    Although I agree with most of these as stress reducing, my life changed for the better when I quit trying to manage what I considered to be excessive stress and substituted efforts to reduce/eliminate the stressors where possible.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    And, sometimes you just need to vent the steam – a good way is to get in your car, preferably where no one can see you, and let loose. Or scream into a pillow.

  13. Larabara says:

    I don’t know if I totally agree with the sleep quality writers when they say that TV watching stimulates the brain, and advise that people don’t watch it within 1 hour of bedtime. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down on the couch, all wound up after a stressful day…and fell asleep in front of the TV.

  14. Joe L says:

    Is it just a coincidence that this post came as I’m watching on Netflix the “Recently Added” National Geographic segment studying stress?

  15. AnnJo says:

    Along the lines of prayer or meditation is deep breathing along with releasing muscle tension.

    If your local pharmacy has one of those blood pressure machines, try it. Take your blood pressure then sit there for a few minutes taking slow, deep breaths (about 10 per minute) and relaxing your muscles more each time you exhale. Then take another reading. I find it lowers my blood pressure by 10-15 points in the space of just a few minutes.

    It’s an easy exercise to do once every hour or two during a stressful day, and the de-stressing benefits usually last for quite a while.

    Recently, I’ve had to pull a few all-nighters for work, and found that doing this exercise helped me get through it and continue to function as I needed to. (Not that I’d recommend working 36 hours straight to anyone as a way to de-stress.) Fortunately, that doesn’t happen often.

  16. guinness416 says:

    You need to move up number seven! I’ve been a stress case/worrier all of my life, since I was a little girl, and bringing a bouncy crazy golden retriever into our family earlier this year reduced my stress levels about a thousand per cent. My conclusion is that getting a dog is great fun, a great way to meet neighbours, a different way to see the city, a bonding experience for the family, a good way to get even more exercise and just the best decision I’ve made in many many years!

  17. Wanderlust says:

    While I acknowledge the toll stress can take on a person’s mental and physical health I’m going to have to call shenanigans on the following:

    “60% to 90% of doctor visits are caused by or related to stress.”

    The website you link to provides no actual data on which they base these claims and, seeing as how they base their entire business model on “stress reduction” the claims are more than a little suspect. As a physician I can tell you stress does play a very large role in many medical issues but unless you define “stress” as broadly as possible (so broadly that it becomes synonmous with “being unwell”) 60-90% of visits it does not make.

    It’s a minor point and doesn’t detract from the excellent points brought up on stress reduction but seeing as how the Simple Dollar maintains a very high standard of quality I’d like to keep things as honest as possible.

  18. MattJ says:

    The three advocacy stats that lead into your article are not really necessary to your point, and highly questionable IMO. That said, stress relief is important.

    As someone who is an active volunteer, however, I just want to say that your mileage may vary when it comes to volunteerism as stress relief. I suggest volunteering because you see a need and want to fill it, not because you think it will relieve your stress level. I mean… being a coach or ref as a stress reliever? Really?

  19. Charles Cohn says:

    I don’t see where volunteering is a stress reducer. To me, it’s a stress increaser because it adds to your to-do list. Giving to charity is a stress increaser also; it’s just another unrewarding demand on you.

    Getting your finances in order is the best stress reliever I know of. It’s even better if you can get to the point where you don’t have to work.

  20. donna says:

    I agree with every single thing on this list. My husband and I opened our home to my 91 year old mother three years ago after she suffered a heart attack and if we let it, this can be an enormously stressful life. I do work out almost every day and watch my diet, I do volunteer….giving back and helping others to me is a good thing to do….we never know when we will need help…why not give to those who do while I am able….I volunteer at my moms church senior citizen once a week….i could just send her on the van and have time to me but I want to brighten their days….
    decluttering and being able to find what your looking for destresses me….I do journal..I have been for about five years now and I agree with arianna…there is a huge difference between blogging and journaling…my journals are my thoughts…I am a bit more cautious with my blogs….I dont watch a whole lot of tv but enjoy a few shows…but I no longer snack to stay up for desperate housewives show…if Im tired I miss it….I used to eat just to stay awake and not miss it…and I woke the next day tired and nauseaus lol…..
    we work on leaving the surroundings but that is hard as we cant leave mom for long gaps of time but we do manage to escape with our dog for a walk on a saturday afternoon, or take a drive to the mall and sit and have coffee together….
    we make it work…we want to be healthy once my mom is no longer here….we must do the work on ourselves just as much as we have to save our money for that rainy day….great post trent

  21. Jules says:

    I would be very hesitant to recommend a pet to anybody…even fish and mice take a lot of time and resources if you want to do it right.

  22. Kelly says:

    I think screaming can help. When I worked in a truck stop as a short order cook, if I was having a bad day or getting extremely irritated with the waitressing staff, I would go into the walk-in freezer and scream for like 5-10 seconds. I felt great afterwards and really relieved my stress levels.

  23. Jane says:

    I read about this place in Japan where you can pay to smash plates or other breakables as a way to reduce or release stress. With two young children and cumulative sleep deprivation, I have to say that there are times when I wish we had a place like this near me! Of course I could break my own things, but then I would have to clean up and replace them.

  24. Ana says:

    If you don’t take B -Complex regularly, it really doesn’t matter how much you try to destress. After taking this supplement, I don’t sweat the big or small stuff. Unbelievable! The liquid seem to work faster and I sleep so soundly I am always looking forward to bed.

  25. Gretchen says:

    I also guestion the statistics.

    Nor do I watch commericals.

  26. Callie says:

    #16 I think a perusal of this book might change your mind: http://www.amazon.com/Quiltmakers-Gift-Jeff-Brumbeau/dp/0439309107

    My DH and I are $60,000 in debt with student loans. We make our payments and get by with a bit of saving. We keep a jar in our laundry-room that we fill with spare change and loose cash throughout the year. During the holidays we gather this up and give it to a charity of our choosing. It feels so good to be able to share what we have with those less fortunate. I have all that I will ever need, but not everyone in the world does.

    I would not be able to get through the holidays without this bit of sharing.

  27. valleycat1 says:

    @ #18 & 19 – I work for a school program & our building has 7 preschool classes, some for the handicapped & developmentally delayed – I was just thinking the other day that we adults could benefit from the occasional melt down or temper tantrum instead of trying to act calm & collected all the time.

  28. I have always found the easiest and nicest way for me to remove the stress of a day is with a hot bath. Partly because you can’t multi-task in a bath, you are just taking time for yourself and the warmth helps relax all you muscles. A 20 minute soak always seems to put the world back in perspective.

  29. Katie says:

    I feel like it’s an individual thing – you don’t need brain studies to tell you whether TV relaxes or stresses you out; you just need to know whether you, personally, are relaxed or stressed out after watching it. For me, it usually relaxes me but I don’t like it to be the last thing I do before I go to sleep (I always have something to read for that – and like many things, some books relax me; others stress me out, depending on the subject matter).

  30. Interested Reader says:

    You might want to double check your statistics about stress causing doctors visits and medical problems. The site you linked to definitely has some questionable medical practices including a link to an anti vaccine video.

    It’s a site run by chiropractors who are not medical doctors and shouldn’t be treated as such.

  31. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    This is obviously a subjective thing, but I find pets to be an amazing stress relief. I went through an incredibly difficult time of my life a few years ago when I literally thought my life was falling apart. There were days when the depression was so strong that I couldn’t get out of bed and times when the stress level prevented me from eating or sleeping. In all of those cases, one look from Daisy (my black lab mutt) or a few minutes of playing with her were enough to make a difference.

    Don’t get me wrong, pets (especially dogs) are a lot of work. This is not a responsibility to take lightly. It’s almost but not quite at the same level as deciding to have a child, since this is a living thing that will be completely dependent on you. However, if you can manage that responsibility, it’s worth it.

  32. Geoff Hart says:

    I think the “elephant in the room” (i.e., the thing that was missed because it’s so big) is that you also have to try to eliminate the source of the stress. Trent’s coping strategies work great for all the minor stresses in our lives (I’ve tried them all at one time or another), but for the biggies, you need to identify what’s causing the stress and eliminate it. Trent deals with this on an ongoing basis with advice such as how to trim your debt load and avoid incurring debt in the first place.

    The larger principle, as in Trent’s repeated advice to talk things out with your spouse or partner, is that sometimes all it takes is a heartfelt, mutually respectful conversation to clear the air. These are very stressful in their own right, particularly the first few times when you’re not yet confident that your partner will treat you gently and help you solve the problem, but it gets easier over time. Highly recommended from personal experience.

    In addition, some stresses simply can’t be eliminated and the only solution is to move yourself somewhere new (whether physically, as in the case of a bad job, or mentally, in the case of a bad emotional situation) where the stress no longer exists. I’ve done both at various times in a sometimes stressful life.

    Where you can’t eliminate the stress, it might be worthwhile finding a good counsellor (your community religious leader, a psychologist, a grief counsellor) who can help talk you through the situation. The “talk cure” really does work, provided you can find someone who knows how to talk you through the problem in a way that works for you.

  33. Lolis says:

    I agree with most of these, except for the pet thing. What are you going to do if your pet does not relieve your stress and instead adds to it?

    Please do not get a pet unless you are ready and prepared. Pets deserve a good homes too.

    An advocate for responisble pet ownership.

  34. prufock says:

    @#1 and #2:
    Turning off the TV is not the same as never watching TV. As for video games, I think TV is a more broad example.

  35. Johanna says:

    I agree with Trent about the TV – I find that my stress level is much lower when I don’t watch commercial TV. Watching shows online or on DVD (or on DVR, I suppose) is not as bad, because there are few or no commercials (which are all about telling you that you’re not good enough), and because you can skip over the segments that are upsetting (common on news programs), repetitive, or just plain uninteresting.

    I don’t hate TV. If you want to watch it, that’s cool. This is just what works for me.

  36. Laura says:

    The stress stats may not have great sources, but there is an inkling of truth in there. The point I think Trent is making is that stress can cause illness. For what it’s worth, there’s some interesting cancer research out there about how stress can even contribute to the growth of tumors and how people who live in stressful environments do tend to have more illnesses like breast cancer. Videocast from the NIH for those interested in the topic: http://videocast.nih.gov/PastEvents.asp?c=82

    Now…after hearing these stressful facts…I hope everyone can go relax!

  37. cv says:

    I agree with #29 Geoff that these are great small tactics on a stressful day, but they don’t really get at the root of the problem. Not everyone can reduce the underlying circumstances causing the stress in their lives (such as illness of a loved one), but for many of us the best thing we can do for stress on a long-term basis is managing our commitments carefully and practicing good time management skills with the things we do choose to take on.

  38. Larabelle says:

    I agree with each and every one of these.
    I gave away my television and my stress level decreased. Then I began attending daily morning mass and although I have now lapsed I am going to return to mass after reading this. Also I note that I feel alot better/less stressed when I exercise . I am in the process of decluttering I have #73 books from my collection in my car right now that I will be droping off at the GoodWill tomorrow.
    I would like to add one way to decrease stress that would be to not take on to many responsibilities at work. I have found that since I got off a couple of committees I feel alot less stressed.

  39. Briana @ GBR says:

    These are all great ways to reduce stress (and much needed for me). My focus right now is to plan things out with to-do lists, prioritizing, and blocking out time.

  40. Tara C says:

    TV stresses the hell out of me – I get so aggravated by the commercials and so many shows are violent, angst-filled or annoyingly stupid, I prefer to read books. My SO however is relaxed by TV – to each his own. Lots of good suggestions here! My dogs keep my stress levels low since I get to combine puppy kisses and lots of exercise with walks.

  41. I would add to this list—prioritize your day and manage your time.

    Most stress in some way shape or form is related to time, or lack thereof. Effectively managing your time takes this “stressor” out of the equation.

  42. Squirrelers says:

    Excellent list.

    I think that sleep and stretching, in particluar, are underrated. With respect to stretching, it’s not something most people would think of, but it really can help release tension.

    For me, it’s coming home and having my little girl have a big smile when she sees me walk in the door, and says “Daddy, guess what….” as she tells me all about something. When you’re experiencing moments like that, which are the great times in life, stress seems to vanish!

  43. Joanne says:

    I’m wondering why my comment about not overlooking a shy or fearful pet at the shelter was removed? Was there a problem with it? Not up to your standards? Not in line with your opinion? If civil and thoughtful comments are removed when you don’t agree with them, what’s the point? I’ve been a subscriber for a while, and didn’t expect this.

  44. littlepitcher says:

    @#27–The links between stress and medical problems are proven in numerous studies, from elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance, and reduced immune system function, to bad lifestyle choices erroneously used to reduce stress.

    I’m unlucky enough to have a difficult boss, lucky enough to be allowed an iPod on the job. Music is an amazing destresser, as is hearing a civilized male voice offering helpful information to counteract the Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT) having his daily rant/tantrum.

  45. Interested Reader says:

    @39- I don’t doubt that stress exacerbates and causes some medical problems. I don’t trust the 90% and 60-90% statistics Trent refered to because after looking through the website he linked to I don’t trust that website.

  46. Kris says:

    – Breathe deeply 5 times.
    – Smile.
    – Use positive affirmations that are meaningful to you.

  47. David says:

    @ Matt (#15), Gretchen (#22), and Interested Reader (#27)

    While connections to stress and health clearly exist, the statistics regarding the extent of connection are questionable. The site referenced has no primary source material and references two other organizations.

    First, the American Institute of Stress which does not appear to publish anything in peer-reviewed journals but instead sells expensive copies of their information material charging $35 for “approximately 15 – 20 pages of reprints”

    The other cited organization, Chrysalis Performance Strategies does not even have a website which I could readily find in Google.

    As alternatives, I might suggest a search on pubmed.com (The US National Library of Medicine weebsite) which has over 400 free articles to look through when searching for “stress health cost”.

    On Google, the same search turns up this link: http://www.uml.edu/centers/cph-new/job-stress/financial-costs.html which at least has some references and is from a university, not a for-profit clinic.

  48. MARY says:

    If owning a pet is stressful to you, you could always volunteer to walk a dog at the Humane Society-2 for the price of one destressor!

  49. Roberta says:

    #38 Joanne. Your comment about the pet shelter animals wasn’t removed. It’s one of the comments under the post about David Allen’s book “Putting it All Together.” Right now (5:54 EST Thurs, Oct. 7) it is the second of 2 comments there.

  50. Roberta says:

    OH, goodness. I got the title of Allen’s book wrong: “Making It All Work.” Apologies.

  51. Joanne says:

    The point I wanted to make about adopting a pet was that the shelter environment is extremely stressful for the animals who are there. The noise and commotion, possible loss of a former family, and lack of exercise and one-on-one time can make the friendliest and most loving animal shy and fearful of strangers. Do overlook the wallflowers in favor of the bouncy and friendly ones. Ask the shelter staff for guidance on which pet might be a good fit for your family and lifestyle, and give a new pet time to adjust to new surroundings.

  52. KAB says:

    Enjoyed the “Value of Reducing Stress” post; reducing stress is high on my list.

    Also was excited to hear about the new series reviewing “Making it All Work” – loved GTD, and look forward to learning more.

    AND, I recently purchased a watch from Princeton Watches, but with reservations since I had never bought from them. I quit worrying when I saw the ad for Princeton on your post (the exact watch I purchased was featured in the ad).

  53. Todd says:

    Another tip might be to cut back on caffeine. I was up to 3-4 Starbuck’s coffees a day, and couldn’t figure out why I felt so stressed. Duh!
    I’m down to one max, and often none, and I feel much better–and I have a lot more extra cash now too. It seems an obvious fix, but I know several people in my office who drink at least a pot of coffee each day, and then take medicine for headaches in the afternoon.

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