No matter what you do, one of the most stressful things is a bulging ‘Must Do List’ you carry around in your head that never gets finished, gets longer by the day and more and more items become super urgent. That’s right you’re STRESSED all the time and feel out of control. When your brain is preoccupied trying to remember your long list of priorities you become less and less productive or focussed when trying to get things done.
While a nominal amount of stress is healthy and needed to get us in an alert and reactive state, continuous stress and constant challenge have negative effects when we go for long periods without relief or relaxation. We all deal with stress in slightly different ways, some of us almost thrive on it while others go to pieces very quickly.
WebMD Medical Reference highlights some of the negative health effects too much stress has on us.
· Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
· Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
· The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
· The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
Living a reduced stress life doesn’t just happen and needs a level of commitment to maintain, but is very achievable for all of us when we develop the right habits. Here are 10 ways you can get back in control and enjoy now more:
1. Dump everything out of your head onto a physical list, use paper or use your smart phone to capture your to do list. Do this for every area of your life, not just for your job or important tasks. Don’t worry if it is all mixed up, just get it down. As soon as you get a must do thought write it down and add it to the list; prevent the list building up in your head. Then take some time and sort the list into areas of your life. Decide a little ruthlessly if you can delegate, delete or defer action on each task. What you have left, will be a shorter more manageable list with tasks you can give your undivided attention to in the next week! If any task seams overwhelming break it down in small sub-sections and attack it in bite sized chunks. Prioritise realistic uninterrupted blocks of time to work on those tasks. Just doing this will take away a lot of pent-up tension you have been carrying around.
2. Start a Sunday night “Stress Free Week” ritual, where you map out your ideal week. If you’re not a natural planner, make it more enticing and something you look forward to with a favourite glass of wine or a nice cuppa. Start by reviewing your important objectives for the year and for each month. Those bigger goals are reference points for your list every week and help keep you on track. Long-range goals may not be urgent, but they are definitely important. Guard against "important" getting pushed aside by "urgent." When we only tackle urgent we quickly feel like our lives are stuck in quick sand and stress levels rise. Empower yourself to be very assertive and say NO to lots of the distraction items that end up on your list that don’t move you closer to your goals. Those that dump on you will soon respect you won’t be their butler anymore. Also leave times and gaps in you weekly plan for spontaneous events, unexpected emergencies etc. If you finish your “To Do” items, don’t cram to try to do more. Reward yourself with a break, take a walk, get a glass of water, chat to a colleague. A few rewarding mini-breaks each day avoids it becoming a grind.
3. Start your day Energised. A large glass of water first thing flushes out toxins, fresh air while exercising in the morning wakes you up, gets extra oxygen into your brain and organs and stimulates the release of energy. Research shows that moderate aerobic exercise can improve your mood, productivity and accuracy for up to 12 hours. A whole foods protein rich breakfast ensures you energy won’t fade throughout the day, keeping your mind supplied with a steady supply of glucose for concentration. Start your day productively and your entire day will be more productive.
4. Halve meeting times. The most productive week of our lives tends to be the week just before we go on holidays. We usually have twice as much to get done and must do it, so we make sure we are not wasting time in drawn out meetings. We tend to easily fill the time allotted to each task so keep it reasonably tight. A lot of meetings are filled with waste. Having a sense of urgency and tight time frames keeps people focused and on topic. Block out time after each meeting to action the decisions in the meeting. Otherwise your meetings will just flood your “To Do” list again.
6. Leverage edge time responsibly. If you travel on public transport you could use technology to make travel time or waiting time more productive (Warning, avoid if driving yourself as 80% of accidents now involve the distraction of smart phone technology). When concentration is not critical to your health and safety or survival, catching up on reading, listening to an Audio Book or getting on top of emails you’ve been meaning to respond to but haven’t found time, can help reduce pressure and stress. By doing this it also allows you to be more present for your family when you get home and allows you to switch off more easily. You can also get to bed earlier and get 7.5 hours sleep so you feel great when you wake up.
8. Avoid a multi-tasked lunch at your desk. Use your lunch as a forced break, get outside, move, stretch and consider eating standing up if you sit a lot during the day. When possible eat lunch in a quite relaxed place (leave you phone in your office) so you can switch off and are relaxed while eating. This is important for proper digestion of your food. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, keep lunch as a mental break, a little oasis for your body and brain to re-energise.
9. Make family time sacred. It’s so easy to become a bit of a workaholic. Home time is family time: Make sure you all eat one meal together as a family every day and not in front of the TV. If you have kids, be available to do their homework not distracted with TV, phone calls, texting, paying bills, checking emails or Facebook. Completely shut down all the distractions and be 100% present until the kids go to bed. Connecting with your partner is equally important so make sure there are some moments when you can both relax together away from the distractions and daily chores.
10. Devote time to a passion you can lose yourself in regularly. The best way to totally re-energise and de-stress is to have a hobby that you love so intently the rest of your hectic world is forgotten for a few hours. It could be cycling, playing the guitar, sailing, hiking, gardening, reading a great novel or painting just to name a few. Not only will a great hobby give you a healthy escape, but you tend to find “Your Tribe” as well. Like-minded people are fun to be around and make life more enjoyable and rewarding.