Heart pounding, palms sweating, and a sick, clenching feeling in the pit of your stomach.
Sound familiar? We hate this experience, and yet, we all go through it way too often. I often cycle between low-stress periods (not zero-stress, please note) and high-stress periods – all because of my work, my lifestyle, and the way I react to the unforeseen and unplanned events in life.
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Stress Back Then
Think about it: our ancestors lived pretty laid-back lives. Eat, sleep, play. An occasional instance of real danger would occur now and then, in the form of illness or an attack by wild animals. But for the most part, adrenaline and cortisol were not copiously flowing in their bloodstreams all the time. They had pretty sedate lives that I currently am very envious of.
Contrast this with our lives today. Our day begins with the ringing of an alarm, in itself a stressful event. We rush through the morning, trying to fit in as many activities as humanly possible. Work out, eat, dress up and leave home. Then, we’re stuck in traffic for a painful amount of time. If we try to listen to the morning news at this point, it’s an added bonus source of stress. We reach our workplace, and immediately get involved with the pressures there. Looming deadlines, bossy managers, and the frikkin’ 360-degree appraisals (which effectively means we’re constantly being observed and graded). Add to this the pressure we put on ourselves to do a good job at work.
Add to this the fact that we’re sitting at our desk for a minimum of eight hours a day. Lunch break, coffee break, watercooler break. And then back to crouching in front of our computers.
Then, there’s the migraine-inducing white light in corporate offices, and the artificially heated or cooled environment. It’s all an assault on our senses, and when you really think about it, it’s quite a crazy way to live every day of our lives.
Once we leave in the evenings (with tons of unfinished work, but what can ya do), we’re back in traffic, this time worse than in the morning. We finally get home, realise we’re too tired to make some good food, and therefore wolf down whatever we can get our hands on – from the freezer or the take-out counter or the pizza delivery guy. We zone out in front of the TV, or catch up on a show on Netflix, or – if you’re a glutton for punishment – watch the day’s news. We then prepare for bed, and collapse on it, hoping to get a good amount of rest, but actually lying awake until two a.m. because our circadian rhythm is completely out of whack.
Our next day begins with the ringing of the alarm…
Every week, every year.
For the next few decades.
Is it the same for you guys? It’s definitely the way most of my days go, and despite my efforts to reduce mobile phone-induced stress, I continue to look for some peace in life. I mean, I’d love to quit my job and leave the city for a rustic homestead and continue my life there in utter bliss. But that’s not really an option right now (although that is the plan for the future!;)).
I’m a solution-oriented person at heart, so I always try to look for ways to improve any situation. So I obviously started thinking about the things that stress me out, and I realised it’s partly due to external factors (the reaction to which I can control to some extent), and partly my own (internal) tendency to build up situations into something bigger than they are (making a mountain out of a molehill!).
I decided to try my very best to de-stress as much as possible, by building good habits into my lifestyle. Nothing is more important to me than my physical and mental health (especially after a few scares recently), so I’m on a mission this time.
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Daily Tips to Reduce Stress
1. Wake up to a gentle alarm ringtone.
Mine is almost like a lullaby, but it works because I’m already well rested by the time it rings! (Plus, I have a cat who wakes me up at around the same time, ha!)
2. Develop a calming morning routine.
I take ten minutes to wake up and get out of bed. Head to the kitchen to drink some water and eat a banana, and then go for a run. I come back, shower, and make and have my breakfast. I drink tea while watching the birds and listening to some soothing music. Nothing is allowed to blare into my ears before 9am!
3. Gain control over your office commute time.
I take an Uber to work, and it takes me between 30 and 40 minutes to get to my office. Once I book my cab, I utilize my commute time to either check my work email (if it’s busy season at work) or catch up with any pending work-related phone calls. That way, I’m already prepared for work when I walk into the office, and nothing will catch me by surprise (such as a rescheduled meeting, absent teammate, or an overnight flare-up in the Europe office).
In the evening commute, I usually just listen to music, in an attempt to unwind from the day’s work and prepare for the night ahead. Depending on my mood, I could be listening to thumping club music, or calming spa tracks that relax my jangled nerves.
4. Use the Pomodoro (or other) technique of time management at work.
Manage your time well. Lots of people love the Pomodoro technique. This was great for me for a while, but it became challenging after a point. I’m not much of a structured person at all. I’m very moody and emotional, and would not survive in a regimented schedule for more than a day (I’ve tried). (So, what am I doing in the corporate world, you ask? Good question. I think it has something to do with earning enough money to live a decent life in this capitalistic world…)
Anyway, where were we? Time management! It can be done in numerous ways. There really is no one right answer. Try out every method you take a fancy to, and see what works for you. The Pomodoro technique works very well for me when I’m overwhelmed and there’s a ton of work and I don’t know where to start. My Mondays typically play out like that. On such days, just trusting a rigid time management method works for me. On other days, I usually work in a more free-flowing format, in chunks of an hour or so at a time.
In any case, manage your time mindfully. It goes a long way in nipping stress in the bud.
5. Catch up often with friends and/or family and do fun stuff.
This is a weekend activity for me, but I do often speak with them on the phone during the weekdays, in the evenings. It’s always good to get out of your own head, and lean on someone who has your best interests at heart. This brings the stress down like whoa. Of course, you may have family members or friends who ratchet up your stress levels. In which case, call a good friend who doesn’t do that, or, absent that, just head out for a walk with your dog, chat with some neighbors or passersby (in a non-creepy way), or write down your own thoughts in a journal. I mean, do what you enjoy!
And, whatever you do, do not get into your phone and its million apps. AT. ANY COST.
6. Nourish your body.
Eat well, work out, sleep well. Drink enough water. Make sure you’re getting your supplements if you’re deficient. Get a medical check-up done regularly. Essentially, find out what makes your body happy, and give it that.
For example, I read the book What Makes Olga Run, and one of the key revelations for me stemmed from Olga’s habit of switching off artificial lights after sunset. That’s how our ancestors lived, and it’s what our bodies are naturally designed for. Check out the book – it’s a cool story about a little old lady who liked to run.
So, anyway, to prevent the blue light from electronic devices from interfering with my precious circadian rhythm, I got this Blue Blocking Amber Glasses for Sleep to minimize blue light exposure before bedtime. And I think I’ve been sleeping much better since using them. I mean, I may look silly, but I feel good!
7. Set up a routine.
We are creatures of habit. As much as it pains us to admit it, we like doing the same things again and again. It’s relaxing. If you (and your body) know that breakfast, lunch and dinner are at a certain time every day, you can stop spending energy on trying to decide when to eat. Similarly with work, or with play. If you have planned to do a certain activity at a certain time, every day, it stops being a chore and it becomes a habit. And good habits are some of the most relaxing and reassuring things to do when you are a tight bundle of nervous stress.
For example, I enjoy folding freshly washed clothes. I also enjoy cutting vegetables. Weird, I know. But, there is something about the repetitive actions, and the actual ease of the activity that relaxes me. So does having a cup of herbal tea before bed. Not only do the herbs help me unwind, but as a habit it also signals the end of the day to my body, which then readies itself for sleep.
We really underestimate the importance of routines to our body. Set up a routine that works for you and sends the right signals to your body. That will go a long way in limiting nasty surprises, and therefore reducing stress.
What do you think? Do these seven suggestions make sense? Do you have more to add? Stress is such a pervasive part of life in the 21st Century that most people don’t even take the time to think about how it affects them. I hope you do, though, and I hope this post has helped in that, somewhat!:)
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