by HENRIK EDBERG
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Sydney J. Harris
“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
Feeling stressed in today’s society is pretty much inevitable.
But how stressed you get or how often this happens are two things that you can have a great influence over.
Without smart habits for dealing with situations that could be stressful life can be a whole lot more burdensome that it needs to be. You may feel tired before the week has barely begun. Be overwhelmed on a daily basis. Get an upset stomach, headaches or migraines too often and even start to feel burned out.
So what can you do about it?
In this article I’d like to share 33 tips and habits that have helped me to live a less stressful life.
The main focus will be on how to prevent getting stressed in the first place. But the article also contains a whole bunch of effective habits for dealing with a stressful situation when you are right in the middle of it.
I hope you will find a few favourites among these tips and habits that you can start using in your own life this week to reduce the stress and live a much lighter and more relaxing life.
1. One thing at a time.
You’ll feel better and less stressed if you just do one thing at a time. No matter if it is at work, in school or in your private life. This will make it easier to focus and to do a job of higher quality right away. Instead of having to go back several times and polish and rearrange to get the result you want.
If you have to multi-task a few things during your day then set off some time for that. Single-task during most of your day but set off an hour in the afternoon for instance to do all of that multi-tasking stuff in one big swoop.
2. Write everything down.
If your memory is anything like mine then it might be a bit like a leaky bucket too often. So write everything down. Your ideas, tasks and stuff you just have to remember.
Then you don’t have to worry about forgetting. And you will free up your mind for focusing on other things than remembering.
3. Keep your daily to-do list very short.
10 years ago I never used a to-do list. I got very little done. Then I started using a too overloaded to-do list. I got more done but I was stressed and felt overwhelmed a lot of the time. Today I use a very short daily list of just the 1-3 most important tasks. It works really well.
4. Don’t make mountains out of molehills.
One of the best ways to make your day and life easier, lighter and less stressful is to not build mountains out of molehills. To not create extra drama, overthink or create a problem out of something that doesn’t matter much. Or just out of air.
So how can you handle this bad habit?
Well, when a big problem is starting to build in my mind I first say something like: Hold on now…
This helps me to pause and become more receptive to change my line of thinking. Then I ask myself:
Will this matter 5 years from now? Or even 5 weeks from now?
Those two steps have helped me to build a lot less mountains in my life.
5. Spend 80% of your time focusing on a solution.
And only 20% of your time on dwelling on your non-molehill issue or problem. Instead of taking a common path and doing it the other way around. You’ll live a much more action-filled life and feel less pessimistic and powerless if you do.
6. Ask instead of guessing.
Reading minds is very hard. Misunderstandings will be plentiful if you try to do it. So communicate instead. You’ll have a lot less unnecessary conflicts, negativity and waste less of your and other people’s time.
7. Pack your bag before you go to sleep.
A simple one but one that can save you a lot of stress in the morning. Take 5 minutes before you go to bed to do this and you’ll also be less likely to forget something important like your schoolbook, wallet or phone.
8. Balance fully focused work with complete rest.
I usually work for 45 minutes. Then I take a 15 minute break away from the computer. I eat a snack, take a short walk or maybe watch half an episode of one of my favourite TV-series. This helps me to relax and to avoid stress building up during the day.
9. Set clear boundaries for your day.
This is very important, at least for me.
I need to have a good balance between work and rest. So I don’t work before 8 in the morning or after 7 in the evening.
10. Disconnect over the weekend.
It is also really helpful to find a good balance between work and rest from a weekly perspective. I do that by staying away from work and staying offline – except for one email check – during the weekend. I highly recommend trying it out.
If you have a cellphone for work leave it at your job. Or at least put it in silent mode, check it once every 24 hours and only call back if it is something important. Otherwise, let it wait until Monday.
These strict limits between hourly, daily and weekly work is a huge help for me to avoid the grey zone.
When you are in the grey zone then you are basically thinking and worrying about work when you are at home or you having a day off. Or you think about your private life and challenges there while you are at work.
Avoid the grey zone. It sucks the life out of you and can leave you so stressed that it becomes hard to focus or even to get a good night’s sleep.
11. Make sure you take time to do what you love to do.
Learn to get the necessary done quicker and don’t get lost in “have-tos”. Prioritise what really matters to you and carve out time during your weekend or evenings to do what you love doing.
Maybe it is playing soccer with your kids, painting, writing, taking photos or reading. Whatever you love to do, make sure you set off some time for it regularly in your schedule. Because few things will relieve stress and energise you like an activity you love doing.
You don’t have to do everything yourself. You don’t have to control or micromanage. If possible delegate and let someone else get that task or project to done.
Do you even have to do everything that is on your schedule? What things could you stop doing altogether with no or very small consequences?
What things are your heart maybe not in like it used to be?
Could you say no to one or a few of those things to have more time and energy for what matters in both your professional and private life?
Reevaluate what you usually do in a day or week and see if there is something you would like to stop doing.
14. Be 10 minutes early.
This one has transformed my traveling from stressful situations to relaxing pieces of time in my day.
15. Stay on track by asking yourself questions every day.
One good way to find clarity, to not get behind on work and to actually do what matters each day is to ask yourself questions regularly.
Questions like: What is the most important thing I can do right now?
And: Is doing this bringing me closer to my goal?
If you like, write one of the questions down on a post-it note and put it where you will see it every day. It is very easy to forget to ask yourself the question otherwise.
16. Let your lunch be a slow time of relaxing.
Don’t wolf down your lunch in 7 minutes flat. That will only ramp up the stress that you bring with you from the first few hours of work.
Instead, let your lunch be a time of relaxation. Eat slowly and focus on the smell, texture and taste of the food. Put down the fork and knife down between bites to make that easier.
I have found this to be a wonderful way to relax midday. And to get the best experience out of what you are eating.
17. Keep a very simple workspace.
Mine is for example a simple and small black desk with my laptop on it. A few flowers. And a glass of water. This simplicity makes it easier for me to focus on what truly matters in a relaxed and undistracted way.
18. Build a zone of few distractions for your work hours.
A simple workspace makes it easier to focus. I also find it helpful to keep instant messaging programs offline and to keep my smart phone in another room and in silent mode. And to use my browser only when I need to.
By doing so I am less distracted, it is easier to think clearly and I feel less stressed.
19. Get to done with something that stressed or bothers you.
An unfinished task that is tumbling around in the back of your mind can cause quite a bit of stress and negativity within. So if you know you have one of those then ask yourself:
What is one small I can do today to start getting this task to done?
Then take that first step and put yourself in motion towards finishing.
20. If it does not get done then there is a day tomorrow too.
Sometimes life interferes or you have a bad day. And you don’t get done what you had planned or hoped for.
The best way – in my experience – to handle this is to simply and kindly tell yourself that there will be a day tomorrow too and you can do it then.
Beating yourself up or getting angry will only add stress that will suck the energy, self-confidence and motivation out of you. And life is too short for that.
21. Everything in its place.
When things have their own home where you always put them back then they will be a lot easier to find and your workspace and home will be in better order. This will greatly reduce the number of stressful times when you can’t find an important report or your car keys as you are heading out the door.
22. Check your email etc. just once and as late in the workday as possible.
I usually check and process my email, social media accounts and various statistics for my website during the last hour of my workday.
By doing so I save the stress that it can cause me and the new tasks it can produce until I have already put in several of my most energetic hours on doing my most important tasks.
23. Limit your daily information intake.
Take a few minutes each month to unsubscribe to newsletters, blogs, podcasts etc. that you don’t get much out of anymore or you rarely even listen to or read.
This makes it easier to focus on what truly matters for you, to spend more of your time on taking action and to not get stuck in information overload and analysis paralysis.
24. Listen to yourself.
When you are starting to feel drained, more irritable and creativity plummets then don’t just keep on going right into the brick wall. Listen to yourself and your body. Schedule more time to take care of yourself.
Just spend the evening in bed watching your favourite movies. Or go out for a walk or run in the woods. No one will reward you for running into that wall or even becoming burned out. Be kind to yourself and prioritise your health.
25. Be here.
When you spend too much time in your head reliving the past or imagining the future then it is easy to become worried. Fearful. Stressed out. Choose to spend more of your day and time in the present moment.
One simple way to reconnect with the now if you get lost in the past or future is to just focus fully outward for a minute or two. Sit or stand still and take in everything that is happening around you at this moment. See it. Hear it. Smell it. Feel the sun, the rain or your soft sweater on your skin.
26. Stop trying to do things perfectly.
Go for good enough instead and when you are there then you are done. And can move on to the next task or project. Set this more human bar to measure success by not only to finish things but also raise and then keep your self-esteem at a healthy level.
Because when you measure yourself to a perfect standard then it will pretty much impossible to keep your self-esteem up and feel good about yourself more than once in a while.
27. Ask for help.
You don’t always have to go it alone. You can ask your friend, parents or partner or even someone you do not know that well for a helping hand. You might not always get it but you may be surprised at how helpful and kind people can be if you just ask.
And then later on when they ask then you can return the kindness.
28. Talk it out with someone.
This can be a great relief and vent to have when you are in a stressed situation. Let your stress and the issue that it comes from out into the light and let someone close to you see it too.
Just letting it out can often help you to decrease the stress quite a bit and when you say it out loud then it also becomes easier to see if you are making a mountain out of a molehill.
The other person can also help you to ground yourself when needed and together the two of you may be able to figure out what to do about the situation. Or at least how to get started with improving it.
29. Zoom out.
One thing that helps me as I sometimes fall into victim thinking when I am stressed is to zoom out on my narrow perspective by asking myself this question:
Is there anyone on the planet having it worse than me right now?
30. Slow down.
If you slow down your body then in my experience your thoughts will once again become clearer and slower too. So sometimes when I am stressed and am trying to do everything quickly then I force myself to slow down. I move slower. I eat slower. I talk and walk slower.
It may be uncomfortable for the first minute or so but after a very short while my mind stops racing and the stress starts to melt away and is replaced with a bit more inner calmness.
31. Tell yourself: Just take care of today.
Focus only on that. Forget about all those tomorrows. And about all your yesterdays. Go small, narrow your focus greatly and just take care of today. Then you can take care of tomorrow when it comes.
This one is very helpful when you feel overwhelmed.
32. Just breathe.
Release the stress, calm your mind and body down and reconnect with the present moment again by fully focusing on your breathing. Breathe with your belly for just 1-2 minutes and focus only on the air you are breathing in and out.
33. Be smart about the three fundamentals of energy.
What are these three fundamentals? Getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising a couple of times a week.
I know, these things are very obvious. But when you manage these three areas in a good way in practice then that makes a huge difference for your mood, energy, outlook of life and how well you can handle stress.