If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it. – George F. Burns
Stress is a major problem for many people: a hectic, stressful job, a chaotic home life, bills to worry about, and bad habits such as unhealthy eating, drinking and smoking can lead to a mountain of stress. If your life is full of stress like mine once was, there are some simple things you can do to get your life to a more manageable level.
Now, your life will probably never be stress-free – I don’t think that’s even desirable, even if it is possible, because stress is something that challenges us and helps us grow – at a reasonable level – but when stress gets too high, it causes us to be unhappy and unhealthy.
It wasn’t that long ago when I was working long hours in a very stressful job with little time for my family, smoking and eating fatty foods and not exercising. I had a lot of debt and too many bills. I was unhappy and stressed out all the time. I was losing hair…okay, actually that was because of genetics, but still. I was pretty stressed.
So I made some drastic changes. I quit my job. I simplified my life. I quit smoking and started exercising and eating healthier. I began to eliminate my debt. And I learned some habits that, when applied on a daily basis, can really transform the way you live in a positive way.
How did I do all of this? One thing at a time. I didn’t do a major overhaul of my life. I changed one habit a month, and gradually over the course of a year or two, changed a lot of things in my life.
I won’t guarantee that all of these will work for you. They worked for me, but each person is different. Pick and choose the ones that will work best for you and give them a try. One at a time.
1. One thing at a time. This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Right now. Focus as much as possible on doing one thing at a time. Clear your desk of distractions. Pick something to work on. Need to write a report? Do only that. Remove distractions such as phones and email notifications while you’re working on that report. If you’re going to do email, do only that. This takes practice, and you’ll get urges to do other things. Just keep practicing and you’ll get better at it.
2. Simplify your schedule. A hectic schedule is a major cause of high stress. Simplify by reducing the number of commitments in your life to just the essential ones. Learn to say no to the rest – and slowly get out of commitments that aren’t beneficial to you. Schedule only a few important things each day, and put space between them. Get out of meetings when they aren’t absolutely essential. Leave room for down time and fun.
3. Get moving. Do something each day to be active – walk, hike, play a sport, go for a run, do yoga. It doesn’t have to be grueling to reduce stress. Just move. Have fun doing it.
4. Develop one healthy habit this month. Other than getting active, improving your health overall will help with the stress, but do it one habit at a time. Eat fruits and veggies for snacks. Floss every day. Quit smoking. Cook something healthy for dinner. Drink water instead of soda. One habit at a time.
5. Do something calming. What do you enjoy that calms you down? For many people, it can be the
get moving activity discussed above. But it could also be taking a nap, or a bath, or reading, or having sex (which can also be considered a get moving activity if you do it for longer than five minutes). Other people are calmed by housework or yard work. Some people like to meditate or take a nature walk. Find your calming activity and try to do it each day.
6. Simplify your finances. Finances can be a drain on your energy and a major stressor. If that’s true with you, figure out ways to simplify things. Automate savings and bill payments and debt payments. Spend less by going shopping (at malls or online) much less. Find ways to have fun that don’t involve spending money.
7. Have a blast! Have fun each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I like to play with my kids – they take my mind off everything and are really hilarious. I also like to play sports (again, often with my kids). Board games are fun. Sex, again, can be a fun activity. Whatever you choose, be sure to laugh.
8. Get creative. Throwing yourself into a creative activity is another great way to de-stress and to prevent stress. I like writing, but others like to paint or play music or sketch or make pottery or do interior design or build things.
9. Declutter. This is a favorite of mine. I like to take 20-30 minutes and just go through a room, getting rid of stuff we don’t use or need anymore. I look around at anything that’s cluttering up a room, and get rid of it or find a better place for it. When I’m done, I have a nice, peaceful environment for work, play, and living. Do this a little at a time – it can be one of your fun activities.
10. Be early. I will admit that it’s hard to be early when you have to get six kids ready (seriously – try it!). But being late can be very stressful. Try to leave earlier by getting ready earlier or by scheduling more space between events. Things always take longer than normal, so schedule some buffer time: extra time to get ready, to commute, to do errands before you need to be somewhere, to attend a meeting before another scheduled appointment. If you get somewhere early, it’s good to have some reading material.
The above article is printed here with the author’s permission. Leo Babauta is the creative mind behind ZenHabits.net. Zen Habits is one of the top blogs on the Internet. It covers: achieving goals, productivity, being organized, GTD, motivation, eliminating debt, saving, getting a flat stomach, eating healthy, simplifying, living frugally, parenting, happiness, and successfully implementing good habits. Leo is married with six kids. He lives on Guam, where he’s a writer, a runner and a vegetarian.