5 Habits Promising to Lower Stress
Updated: May 30
The last 6 weeks have been stressful. Working at home, adjusting to a new routine, and facing isolation are challenging. Add to that potential financial risks due to business slow downs, or the threat of reduced hours, pay cuts or worse...being laid off. My partner and I have experienced each of the challenges above. What can you do to lower your stress and be happier during these surreal times?
I have found that getting things accomplished, even as simple as making a meal at home and cleaning up the kitchen can make me feel better. And, if the meal has leftovers, all the better. I save time during the week. Bonus if I cook the meal with my partner, then we also had some quality time together.
Below are 5 habits I've found that work to reduce stress.
1. Set measurable goals.
Setting specific goals counteracts stress by making you a more fulfilled and purposeful person.
According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, humans are inherently motivated to better themselves and move toward expressing their full potential by progressively encountering and satisfying several levels of need from the most fundamental to higher-order needs for love, belonging, and self-worth.
I find with goal setting, it is best to pick 1 to 3 goals a day and only a couple big goals a week to focus on. Hundreds of goals leads to frustration. A few well crafted goals broken into smaller steps which are attainable can lead to a huge feeling of accomplishment.
2. Express gratitude.
Gratitude helps you recognize all the things you have to be thankful for, and reminds you of all the resources you have to cope with stress.
Studies also show grateful people enjoy better mental health, lower stress, and a better quality of life. Not only will expressing gratitude shift your way of thinking, but it will also contribute to healthier relationships with the ones you love and work with.
This past year my dad has been quite sick and I lost my best friends of 17 years to a heart attack. Prior to these events, I had not written regularly in a journal. Now, most mornings I write down what I’m grateful for, what I plan to do, and what makes me proud. I use a plain lined journal from Moleskine. You can express gratitude in a notebook or verbally to friends, colleagues or loved ones. Either way, it feels great and provides mental clarity.
3. Make healthy choices the easy choice.
Consuming a healthy diet can boost your mood and energy while combating stress.
Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, talks about this concept in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. "I've learned to use my own laziness in a positive way. I'll always eat what is most convenient during the day, and if the only easy options are healthy, laziness takes me in the best direction. Laziness can be a powerful tool."
Every Saturday morning over coffee, Jerome and I look in our garden and freezer and see what food we have. We jot down a couple meal ideas for the week. This shapes what I pick up from the grocery store. Then, we usually spend 2 hours on Sunday afternoon preparing 2-4 meals for the week. This has the benefit of spending time together. And, since the meals are already cooked we make healthier choices during the week instead of eating junk food.
4. Prioritize exercise.
Physical activity is key to managing stress and improving mental health.
Scientists have found exercise decreases tension while elevating and stabilizing your mood. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress. Meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply can cause your body to produce endorphins. And conventional wisdom holds that a workout of low to moderate intensity makes you feel energized and healthy.”
One of my yoga teachers always says to smile during difficult poses. Smiling releases endorphins and dopamine to your brain. Exercise has a similar effect. Think of it as happiness for your mind and body.
If you don’t know where to start, try taking a 20 minute walk around your neighborhood. Whatever you elect to do, find an activity you enjoy and make it a part of your everyday routine.
5. Declutter your space.
Decluttering your space will help declutter your mind and bring you inner peace, leaving you more mental room to focus on what is important.
Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, recommends “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” A friend of mine says that decluttering is a way to editorialize your life and environment. Being at home a lot, we see our stuff more. Maybe if that stuff isn’t beautiful or useful, it is time to let it go.
The lifelong journey of living in a decluttered and organized space will influence your daily ritual and spending habits for the better.
I spend a lot of time helping folks plan their financial futures and meeting goals. One of my really wealthy friends and clients told me he read a book about true wealth. One of the most important things he learned is that the key to true wealth is to balance financial freedom and time spent with friends or loved ones with having good health. All of us, regardless of financial resources, can take steps toward the greatest wealth of all – good health. This starts with taking the small steps above to reduce your stress and improve your well being. I recommend reading the list above and incorporating each strategy into your life. Turn them into habits. Begin with one and build up to all five over a period of ten weeks so you are not overwhelmed.