We are a culture addicted to stress and busyness. And it’s killing us.
I used to use stress as my motivational tool, but I’m slowly learning that I can function better and get stuff done more efficiently and effectively, when I operate from a place of calm.
So I’ve stepped off the stress treadmill, and on to a different path. This one looks more like a country road than a treadmill. There’s time to stop and smell the roses. Sometimes I forget where I am, and start acting like I’m on a treadmill again, and get focussed on reaching the finish line. But then I remember that’s not the goal anymore. That being present to this path I’m on is what it means to live life to the full. Getting to the end, fastest, is not.
Here are the 5 best ways I’ve discovered, to spend less time on the stress treadmill, and more time enjoying the beauty of the country roads:
1. Think about dying
Death freaks us out. So thinking about it seems a counterintuitive approach to reducing stress. But there’s a method to my madness. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, outlines the habit to “begin with the end in mind”. He’s talking about reflecting on your mortality, and one of the exercises involves writing your own obituary. It’s pretty powerful. Taking the time to sit down, and reflect on what you want your life to have looked like when you come to the end of it, will help you assess whether your current state of play accurately reflects where you’re planning on ending up.
The more I’ve reflected on what’s important to me, the more my to do lists and priorities have changed. Because I’ve realised life isn’t about completing the to-do list. It will never be complete. I’ll be chasing it for life. So as I let go of the need to achieve, and refocus my priorities, I’m learning to embrace life’s “interruptions”, realising that often those interruptions are what life’s about, far more than completing that relentless to-do list.
2. Buy less stress
The purpose of advertising is to make us feel dissatisfied with what we have, and with this comes a constant low level stress. The more I’ve jumped off the bandwagon of consumerism, and pursued a lifestyle of less, the more free I’ve felt. Learning to be grateful for what I do have has brought down that niggling stress of always wanting more.
Hand in hand with this comes decluttering, and owning less. Having less stuff in the house means less tidying, less hunting for stuff, less cleaning, less visual clutter, more space, and more peace.
3. Give yesterdays and tomorrows stresses the flick
Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the present. A lot of our stress revolves around what might happen (stressing about the future), or what’s already happened (stressing about the past). The more focussed on the present we can become, the more we can relax in this moment. Don’t know where to start? Here’s a great mindfulness app to check out.
4. Run the stress off
We all know this, but why is exercise so often the first thing to go? This year, I’ve prioritised exercise, as a non-negotiable daily activity. I’ve done this by setting a regular time each day, early in the morning, before the demands of the day swallow it up. And it’s had arguably the biggest impact on my stress levels of anything I’ve done.
5. Eat less stress
Changing my diet to healthy, sugar free, whole foods has changed my life. When I had 3 kids under 3, I existed on coffee, chocolate, and the kids’ left overs, followed by a glass of wine at night to bring the stress levels down. Over the last couple of years, I’ve drastically cleaned up my diet, and now follow a whole foods diet, along the paleo, low sugar, lines.
I’ve made the changes incrementally, as drastic changes generally result in blow outs, and going back to where we started.
So as you enter the busyness of the Christmas season, is there one small change you can make to start the process of bringing the stress levels down?