Stress can have serious effects on the quality of your life. Having high amounts of stress diminishes your sense of gratitude and contentment. It can lead to burnout, general dissatisfaction, complicated health issues and premature aging.
How you cope with stress levels and uncontrollable situations plays a significant role in your well-being. While you may not be able to control all external influences such as your boss, your kids, the unpaid bills, the neighbor’s barking dog, bad news on TV, and so on, you can develop strategies to manage your reactions to these factors better.
You have the power to lessen the impact of external stressors on your health, mind and emotions. While completely eradicating the stress components may not be probable, you can take some steps to help you experience happiness regardless of your circumstances.
Here are some simple steps to help you live a happy and stress-free life.
1. Stay in the Current Moment
You may not have been aware of this, but it is common to worry about too many things at the same time. You may be currently working on a spreadsheet that’s due at 3 p.m., but your mind drifts off to tomorrow’s presentation, which triggers a surge of anxiety. In the next instant, a memory of your last year’s vacation pops into your mind, and you experience a longing to be lounging poolside. Then, you find yourself suddenly cursing the moment and hating your job.
Entertaining all these thoughts simultaneously distracts your present focus and compounds your stress factors. It makes you less productive and unnecessarily miserable.
The first step to a stress-free life is to learn how to deal with thoughts of the past or the future that disturb you while you’re working on the “now.” When these distracting thoughts cross your mind, acknowledge them but don’t get carried away on the tide. Quietly tell yourself, “Yes, that was a good vacation, and I’ll do it again soon. However, I need to do this task right now” and then store those thoughts away. Bring yourself back to the present and stay focused on your current task.
2. Make a Checklist and Timetable
To avoid getting overwhelmed with your multitude of duties, you need to have a plan. You can draw monthly and weekly plans to help you keep track of your deliverables. Make a checklist and a corresponding timetable at the start of the week to guide you through your list of tasks. Having a checklist lessens your mental stress because you can refer to it anytime to check for reminders or to monitor progress.
When listing your target deliverables, make sure that you only set reasonable goals. Remind yourself that you are not a superhero and, therefore, you can only do so much. Make a schedule that is flexible enough to accommodate probable adjustments and interruptions.
3. Avoid Procrastination
Because you’ve made your checklist, the next logical step is to follow the plan. Delaying a complex task such as a financial report or a big project can breed stress and anxiety. While you try to dismiss it by running through your Facebook news feeds temporarily, worry builds up at the back of your head. The longer you keep these tasks permanently on your “to-do” list, the faster they catch up with you. You’ll lose sleep, have nightmares, binge eat, and more. The accumulation of worry is also bad for your health.
Some research studies have shown the correlation between procrastination and high stress levels. People who tend to put off tasks for long periods of time are more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. So, strive to keep to your timelines and avoid cumulative stress.
4. Ask for Help
When you feel overwhelmed and anxious, you may not be able to see things from the right perspective. The problem gets magnified in your mind, leading to stress and panic. Sharing your problems with the right person may help you get suggestions for an approach or solution you may not have imagined. It will also provide an avenue to unload some of your tension.
So, the next time you feel overly pressured, try to share your thoughts with a trusted co-worker or a friend. You may even discuss your issues with your line manager if you feel you are overloaded with tasks. Asking for help allows you to find alternative solutions and alleviates some of your emotional burdens.
5. Learn to Say ‘No’
This also relates to checklists and setting reasonable goals. A crammed “to do” list creates high-stress levels. Try not to overestimate what you can accomplish and don’t overcommit yourself to tasks. When you still have loads of work to finish, explain that you need to meet your prioritized targets first before you can take on more duties within the same timeframe. It is better to be honest with your boss or co-workers than to sacrifice the quality of your work output and endanger your health by trying to beat multiple deadlines.
This also applies to social commitments. There’s always that wedding or party you don’t want to attend but “have” to. Forcing yourself to interact when your mind is on your other priorities also causes stress. It also lessens your enjoyment of the occasion. So, choose your commitments wisely and, as much as possible, only attend social events that make you feel good. 6. Practice breathing techniques.
6. Practice Breathing Techniques
Rhythmic breathing is a useful technique to reduce stress. It triggers the body’s relaxation response to promote calmness. It is also a good way to strengthen your focus on the task at hand.
When you start feeling anxious when working at your desk, take a few deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly and count your breaths. This will help you reconnect to the current moment and stay focused.
Several studies have found that practicing meditation regularly can benefit mental health. A few minutes of daily medication can ease tension, reduce anxiety, boost emotional positivity and enhance stress-coping skills. Other than helping your body relax, meditation also promotes mindfulness, which can strengthen your mental ability to cope with difficult situations.
Take about 15 to 20 minutes each day to stay in a quiet place where you can sit up on the floor, close your eyes and do deep breathing. You can choose to recite a positive mantra to yourself without letting unnecessary thoughts or disturbing sounds distract you. You can also download guided meditation videos and play this in your room. Follow the instructions and let yourself relax. Practice meditation regularly to diminish the effects of daily stress.
8. Be Physically Active
Regular physical exercise is good for both the body and the mind. It releases chemicals called endorphins that diminish your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings. They are also referred to as your “feel good” hormones. Thus, exercise is an effective stress-buster. Physical activity releases tension, improves mood, increases self-confidence and fosters happiness.
If your schedule is too hectic to accommodate long exercise routines, you can opt for short but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises that boost energy. Some studies have revealed that short bursts of exercises are more beneficial than prolonged workouts. Doing as little as 10 minutes of intense cardio training a day can do wonders for your health. It promotes circulation, stabilizes blood sugar, reduces stress levels and releases more happy hormones.
9. Observe Good Nutrition
Many people blame their physical health on stress. This may be true to an extent because chronic stress has been linked to excess storage of fat in the stomach. Fat storage mechanisms and slow metabolic responses are aggravated by bad habits such as reaching for a cookie or sipping a frappe in the middle of the workday.
Consuming large quantities of added sugars can be very dangerous to your health. The relief you feel from consuming that candy bar is only temporary and in truth, it is unreal. It will only create a craving for more sugar, make you feel bloated and will age your skin faster.
One way to reduce the effects of stress on your body and skin is by observing good nutrition. This is a primary step in taking care of yourself to ensure you are healthy enough to handle daily undertakings.
So, instead of buying a bagel for breakfast, go for oatmeal and a fruit smoothie. Stock up on fruit, vegetables, lean meat and foods that are rich in vitamins and omega 3s. Stay healthy while you work.
10. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
A good night’s sleep is essential to regenerate the mind. It recharges your internal batteries so you can perform optimally the next day. Lack of sleep slows down your mental abilities. It encourages irritability, anger, stress, anxiety and depression. It also makes you less inclined to exercise or even go to work the next day. In short, it makes you feel lousy.
If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s rest, try to practice relaxation techniques such a meditation or yoga. Limit your physical activities in the evening and make sure you rest in a dark and quiet room. Observe good sleep hygiene practices to make sure you get the quality sleep you need.
11. Take Time for Yourself
It is a very busy and demanding world. It is too easy to lose your sense of self among the heaps of papers on your desk, the screaming of your toddler or the noise of your activities. Don’t let all of these external factors swallow you. Allocate a few hours each week to spend time with yourself. Go to a spa, get a massage, watch a movie or enjoy your favorite cup of tea. You can even just curl up on your couch and watch reruns of a show you like.
As long as you regularly do some things to reward yourself for what you’ve accomplished and enjoy the fruits of your hard work, you maintain your self-esteem. This keeps you confident and motivated to take on more challenges.
12. Be Grateful
Gratitude is a positive feeling that promotes happiness. It encourages you to look at the bright side of things and appreciate what you have rather than being stuck on what you’ve lost. Being grateful helps to reduce stress, combat anxiety and improve relationships.
It is a good practice to keep a gratitude journal where you can write down at least three things that you are grateful for. You can do this before you go to bed at night and try to recall the best parts of your day. As you realize how blessed you are, you will feel calmer and, as a result, you will be able to relax and sleep better.
During those moments that you spend time with yourself, try to browse through your journal and ponder on the good things. This will sustain happy feelings and will help develop a positive outlook in life.
Combatting stress can be hard to do with a lot of things simultaneously demanding your attention. The trick is to find your center, focus on your inner energies and direct them toward the things that matter. You should also make a note to take care of yourself while you handle daily routines or face challenging situations. Don’t let life’s pressures get to you. Practice these simple steps to reduce your stress levels and live a happier life.
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Rick Kaselj, MS