We live in a fast-paced world where stress is considered the norm, and being “busy” is often considered a badge of honour.
Unfortunately, neither our bodies nor our minds respond well to this constant and sometimes self-induced stress. Moreover when we are under a great deal of stress, it’s easy to let any form of self-care fall by the wayside in the belief that it will free up every extra second to accomplish more.
What can be easy to overlook is that those forms of self-care are even more important in times of stress, as they allow us to regain focus, increase productivity and fully engage with whatever we are trying to accomplish.
This can be easier said than done, and lately I haven’t made an effort to prioritize my usual daily routines that keep me on track and feeling my best, inside and out. I’ve been skimping on sleep, reducing exercise and daily walks, and have allowed myself little down time. And have I ever been feeling it.
Last week I began re-implementing some of my usual habits. I’ve been making sure to get 8 hours of sleep every night, going on daily walks again, scheduling downtime with loved ones and to read, along with yoga and weight training. The difference is almost shocking. My energy levels are through the roof in comparison to where I was at a week ago. I’m much less stressed, tasks take less than half the time they were taking me before, productivity has skyrocketed and everything seems, well….easier. The difference is palpable.
It’s funny how we often don’t realize how much something needed to change until we actually make that adjustment. Often I work with clients who are struggling with stress and a sense of overwhelm, and are unsure where to even begin to lessen the load.
These are some of my tried and tested methods to managing what life is throwing your way:
1. Manage Expectations
Keep yourself and the expectations we often place on ourselves in check. I speak from experience as a recovering perfectionist that the lengthy, never-ending to-do lists can overwhelm even the most unflappable personality easiy.
Perfectionism can get the best of you very easily, and it’s the easiest way to be swallowed by your stress. Instead, be realistic in the number of goals you set for yourself. Too many can be paralyzing, and then nothing with get done and your stress will only intensify.
2. Take Action
Even the smallest action is a step in the right direction. The more action you take, the easier it becomes, and it easily multiplies and brings about even more action.
To make any type of action seem even more achievable, break larger tasks down into smaller, actionable steps. This way, tasks that can seem monumental can feel much easier to achieve when you’ve created bite-sized chunks instead.
3. Stay Organized
This sounds like common sense, but it can be tough to keep track of everything you need to get done. When you have a lot on your mind, it’s easy to forget a task. Write down all of the tasks you need to accomplish, and then, onto the next step: prioritizing.
Once you have a list of your full to-do list, take note of top 3 – 4 things that are of highest importance to be complete. This narrows the focus and allows you to place your full attention on those tasks rather than being pulled in so many directions mentally
5. Clear Clutter
We’ve heard it before, and it’s entirely true: your physical space affects your mental space, and working in a cluttered environment can make it tough to concentrate. In my case, clutter makes me less productive. My mind feels cluttered, it easily overwhelms me, and I may actually stop working entirely so I can tidy or clean and then get no work accomplished. Or, you might continue to muddle through but could have completed your task much more quickly and efficiently in a tidier work space. This doesn’t mean you need to do a fully clean before working, but even a quick tidy can do the job.
There’s a reason your mom always harassed you to make your bed every morning. Quite honestly, it’s a mental win first thing in the day to get the ball rolling. A hotel-quality bed making isn’t necessary, even pulling up the sheets and smoothing the covers quickly can take under a minute and have you feeling a little bit sharper.
6. Work Hard, Play Hard.
Designing our schedule around down time will allow us to be more fully engaged, more productive, accomplish tasks more easily, retain focus. The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz was a game-changer for me. It puts emphasis on managing energy as opposed to time to increase productivity as well as overall life satisfaction, by ensuring a renewal of energy with scheduled down time.
Down time is crucially important and an easy one to pass over, but in order to fully engage in work and other tasks, we also need to fully engage in time to play.
This means multi-tasking in not a great idea. Humans notoriously bad at multi-tasking, and research has noted that the better we think we are at multi-tasking, the worse we usually are. Therefore, one of the many reasons downtime ideally should include some time away from technology. Spend time with loved ones and friends, reading for fun, even watching a funny movie, whatever works best for you and your lifestyle.
Recognize which rituals of play, self-care and/or down time can help you to feel your best. Takes practice and some experimentation, but when you start to pay attention to what works for you build it into your daily life. This may be totally unique to you.
I’ve heard of authors who prefer the TV playing quietly in the background while writing exclusively at night, whereas I tend to write better in relative silence first thing in the morning. Some other ideas include workouts, walks, time in nature, yoga, meditation, savouring a cup of tea of coffee, napping, reading, and spending time with loved ones, as personal relationships are one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.