Stress in our lives can cause many difficulties including feelings of being stuck and not being able to get the things that matter to you done. Here are 10 tried and true ways to decrease stress that can help you almost effortlessly feel better.
These are the practices I have consistently used over the years to manage stress and live my life more fully. The first five are the Calming Practices. The second five are the Mind-Clearing Practices
I’ve always known, that the more stressed and hurried I am, the less efficient I am. It also seems like when I’m worried and feeling pressured—that’s when things seem to fall apart and get even worse! Over the years, I’ve learned, that no matter what is looming, I need to attempt to stay calm, on pace, and take breaks when I’ve reached my limit.
When you have a calm mind, you can actually get more done in less time. I’ve found that when we’re hurried, stressed, and disorganized, then time does become our nemesis. Things get lost. People don’t cooperate with us. It takes longer to complete projects. We don’t come up with our best ideas.
The Calming Practices
It can almost feel magical when you find time working to your advantage and things falling into place. Here are my daily habits that decrease stress and allow you to get things that matter to you done.
Daily habits that keep you cool and composed can pay off big. I know from my own experience when I don’t do these things I begin to spin and find days passing without getting much accomplished. When I perform some these simple practices, I am more focused and I get things done that actually matter to me.
And that’s important—not just getting things done but getting things done that matter to you. Depending on your situation, you may have more obligations than there is time! In that case, it can seem impossible to every make time for more things. It may seem counterintuitive to slow down and do some of the more meditative practices. Just keep an open mind and perhaps give some of these a try for a week or two and see if time starts working on your behalf.
Taking a small amount of time to focus on what is important to you can help you not only get the must-dos done, it can allow you to make progress on projects and activities that feed and nurture your soul. It really does help in feeling like you are living your life rather than your life is living you when you are able to make time for the things that matter to you.
1-Commit a tiny amount of time, DAILY to something that matters. Sometimes, we avoid projects or activities that we think are going to take up too much time. We don’t have an hour to exercise or to work on a hobby so we don’t do it at all. However, if you devote as little as 15 minutes to something you really like to do or something you really need to get done, you will make progress and see results. This is such a game changer. If you do something daily, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, it will eventually add up to something purposeful.
When I was going through my divorce, I signed up to work on my resume writing certification. Sometimes (or most of the time) it felt like I was trying to swim through mud. During one particularly difficult assignment that I just wasn’t getting done, I decided to commit to 15 minutes a day, every day. At first it didn’t feel like I was making progress but eventually it started coming together and I finished that project, completed the course, and passed the entire certification.
If you are struggling to get something started, consider just committing 15 minutes a day to it. You can use this for writing projects, event planning, exercising, or just about anything. No matter how tired I am feeling, I can always muster up 15 minutes’ worth of energy, especially if I’ve committed to doing it daily. I’ve completed multiple projects working on them in small time-frames but on a consistent basis.
2-Write it down. I keep a “completion list.” It’s basically a fancy name for my to-do list. The difference is that when I put something on my list, I plan on completing it. I don’t always get everything done the same day I write it down but I almost always get it done within a day or two.
Occasionally, it might take me longer if it’s something I don’t really want to do but know that I have to. If it’s written down, it is going to get done! This is truly one of the most powerful tools I use. As much as I use technology for so many things, I find for this one thing, doing it by hand works better for me.
I use an old-school composition notebook. I’ve also used weekly planners and that works well too. But for the past few years, I’ve used the composition notebook. They aren’t too big and they give me plenty of room to write and add notes.
The evening before or first thing in the morning, I will jot down what I want to get done that day. This can be writing projects, emails, phone calls, appointments. As I complete things I mark them off. I can also add notes, phone numbers, or addresses if I need to. When I make phone calls, I write my notes right on the page. In addition to keeping me on track, all my notes are in one place and easy to locate.
This is probably the most important thing I do to keep myself moving forward. It truly doesn’t look like a big deal and it’s certainly not as aesthetically pleasing as a beautiful planner but it really works for me.
3-Connect with your higher self. Taking some time to get centered and connect to your inner self, spirit, or God is essential. Ten to twenty minutes seems to be the right amount of time for me. If you have or need more time, go for it. Meditating, sitting still, or praying are all ways to do this.
Meditating sounds more complicated or difficult than it is. There are several ways to do it. My absolute favorite is to sit upright in a comfortable chair with my back supported and my feet on the floor. I set a timer. When I’m getting back into meditation, I will start at five minutes and add a minute a day until I’m where I want to be time-wise. I rest my hands on my lap and close my eyes. Then I breathe. Behind my closed lids, I focus my eyes on the space between them. I keep my attention on my breath. That’s it. When I catch my mind wandering, I bring it back to my breath. I continue until the timer goes off.
That’s my ideal. Sometimes a nap works too!
4-Journal. You may think of journaling as a way of recording what’s happening in your life. Is is a little bit like that but you are also processing thoughts and feelings. Research shows over and over how beneficial journaling is. One of the most famous journal keepers is Oprah Winfrey. I’ve read that keeping a journal can help with painful emotions even better than talking to a friend. If you’ve never tried keeping a journal or you’ve gotten away from it, you might consider picking up your pen and notebook again.
Journaling is thought to not only be beneficial to your emotional health but to your physical health as well. When you open a space where things that stress you or upset you can be brought to the surface, you allow healing to begin. The calming affect on your mental health has the effect of reducing the stress on your physical health.
Writing in your journal can help you clarify thoughts and feelings. You gain a deeper understanding about yourself. It can help you resolve differences with others. As much as I love to write about how mad I am or disappointed in someone, once I write through that, I am able to look at my own behavior and process that in a positive way.
I buy a spiral-bound notebook to use for journal and Dr. Grip pens. When you are writing for 15–20 minutes you need something that is comfortable to hold. I usually do my journal writing first thing in the morning while I’m having my coffee. I can honestly say, that I look forward to it and really enjoy this time with myself! Sometimes I’ll do a shorter session later in the day to help me wind down.
I try not to censor myself. It’s not always pretty what comes out. No matter what I’m writing about or how bad I feel; I always feel better after writing. Sometimes I get some very profound insights. Sometimes I get a new idea. And sometimes, I just write and it seems to go nowhere. It’s all good in the journaling world. I trust that I’ll write and delve into what I need to on that day.
5-Play. Go do something fun. Go for a walk, watch a movie, play with your kid. Do something you enjoy and let go of everything else for a while. It may seem counterintuitive or even irresponsible to go play when you have something important coming up. However, it can really free up your mind and when you get back to your project—watch out! You’ll be more effective, centered, and creative.
The Mind-Clearing Practices
These are things that sap and zap your energy, creativity, motivation, and time. If you find yourself spinning and not getting things done the way you’d like to, then look at these five areas and see if one of them might be the problem.
Clearing these time wasters can be so effective. Sometimes it only takes a few hours to clear one out or just a change of attitude. I encourage you, even if you are a little skeptical to give it a try.
1-Make Decisions. Sometimes, we don’t know the exact right thing to do and we get stuck in our mind, going back and forth between our options. There are actual neurological reasons that making a decision helps you get back on track. Here’s what is important right now. You don’t have to make the perfect decision. Make the best decision you can with the information you have right now. Do it. Tell someone. Take an action on it. And then feel your brain give a big “Ahhhhh” of relief. You can always go back and change it if you get some new information.
2. Complete Things. We all have these things. There’s something we need to do and we aren’t getting it done. I just did my taxes—on April 13. And you know what, even though I had been putting it off, it felt really good to get it done. The amazing thing was that after I cleared that off my to-do list, I was able to tackle and even more difficult project. And that project almost seemed to work itself out.
This can also be smaller things such as someone you need to reach out to, a card you need to send, a return need to make, or a bill your need to pay you. Scan your mental or written to-do list and find some things that you can take care of.
3- Let go of grudges. Grudges and being mad mess with the brain big time. I’m not saying it’s easy to forgive. Yet, it is essential. This doesn’t mean you totally forget either.
Even if you think you can’t forgive someone, go ahead and say the words. Start making the effort to forgive. It’s more of a change of attitude than any concrete action. Forgiveness is something that goes on in your head. The other person may not even be aware of it. They don’t need to be aware of it.
4-Release regrets. This is similar to forgiveness but it’s about forgiving ourselves for something we did. Maybe you messed something up or your forgot to do something. Maybe you said something to or did something to someone and now you regret it.
If you need to make amends—make amends. If you need to fix something—try to fix it. If it’s done and there’s nothing you can do—let it go. Sometimes you have to just learn the lesson and move on. I heard a great quote by Brene Brown. “Regret is a fair, but tough teacher.”
While feeling regret might be normal, it does not feel good. However, life doesn’t come with a rewind button and eventually you really have to try to move on from it.
5-Clean up messy areas. I’m a big fan of keeping your home and work space clean and organized. It’s so easy to let clutter build up even when you are fairly vigilant Don’t worry about getting it all at once. You may have many areas of clutter or just a couple. Cleaning out one out can be helpful. Pick a drawer, shelf, or table top and remove everything. Only put back what belongs there. Find a place for the rest or get rid of it. Go through that old mail. Clean out the junk drawer. Sort your underwear. It doesn’t matter what you pick, go to the one that comes to mind, and do it.
Tried and True Ways of Decreasing Stress
I don’t do all of these each and every day. But I probably do 3 or 4 on most days. Some like journaling come easy to me. Others like meditation take more focus. I do however, like having known ways that help me keep stress at bay.
Begin some of these practices and before you know it you will release stress and begin finding time for what is important to you.
Keep showing up my friends!
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I'm a former counselor, career services leader, and college advisor. Now I coach and write at My Think Big Life promoting health and personal growth.