We can work hard and be stressed out of our minds or we can work hard while feeling relaxed. If you can do the later your health will improve, you will enjoy your work more and you will get more done.
That’s easier said that done of course; particularly when for many of us feeling stressed is an engrained habit; we wake up, think about the work that lies ahead and start to feel stressed. Luckily, there are some things we can do to help break that stress habit.
Take time off
Ironically one of the most effective ways of be more relaxed and more efficient is to regularly stop working all together, i.e. take a holiday and/or take frequent breaks. For me this is a hard-learned lesson; I often find myself working to a standstill; burned out, stressed and unproductive. It’s only after a short break that I realise how bad things had got and how much I needed a break. If you are absolutely convinced you can’t afford time away from your working week, just go away for the weekend; the saying that a change is as good as a rest is true.
Plan your day
A great way to stay relaxed is to take the time to plan your day by allocating distinct time-frames for each task on your to-do list.
This frees your mind to dedicate yourself to one task at a time without constantly worrying that you should be getting on with something else, i.e. all the other things that are still on your to-do list.
If you are really a well organised person you should plan each new day at the end of the previous one; however this is something I’ve never managed to do myself – so if you can do this – it’s a gold star to you.
I do however make use of to-do lists and I do take the time each morning break my days into distinct time-frames and allocate each of those time-frames to one thing on my to-do list. The day doesn’t always work out as planned but it certainly helps keep the feelings of ‘overwhelm’ at bay; particularly at the start of the day.
ACTIVITY: use to-do lists in your daily routine.
1. Create three distinct to-do lists; immediate tasks; medium-term tasks and long-term tasks. Your long-term tasks are the, ‘it would be great to get these done sometime’ tasks.
Take the second and third to-do list (i.e. medium and long-term tasks), put them in a separate document and print it out, fold over the sheet of paper and put it away in a drawer, or a filing cabinet or in a locked box somewhere; then erase the list on you computer.
You won’t forget the things on those lists but you don’t want them staring at you all the time making you feel guilty. The fact that you have written them down and and done something will make you feel mentally lighter; those tasks are filed.
2. Start each day by mapping out rough time-frames for the task from your immediate to-do list that you intend to work on throughout the day.
If you are a born worrier then relaxing is going to be difficult; you’ll be worrying about the consequences; particularly if you think relaxing is the equivalent of taking your eye off the ball.
It is possible to learn to stop worrying. There is a brilliant book called, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ by Dale Carnegie (the same person who wrote, How to Make Friends and Influence People).
Get a copy right now. It is full of great ideas and techniques and it’s incredibly easy to read; Dale Carnegie is a born communicator. It even includes advice on, ‘how to eliminate fifty per cent of your business worries’. Here are a few of his tips:
- Do you spend time regretting things that happened in the past and worrying about things that might happen in the future; try living life ‘in day-tight compartments’.
- Remember, ‘every day is a new life to a wise man/woman’.
- Stop stewing about yesterdays jam, and worrying about tomorrows jam, spread today’s jam thick on your bread right now.
One strategy from the book I use myself
When confronted by a serious issues that has the potential to keep me up all night and have me worrying myself into an early grave I take the following advice from the second chapter of the book:
- I think of the very worst possible outcome.
- I accept that that the worst possible outcome has happened.
- I think ‘ok, so the worst has happened, what do I do now?’ And think of how I would re-build from there.
The result of this approach is that that it ‘reboots’ your brain so you can start thinking clearly instead of being too anxious and too caught up in negative thought patterns to think at all.
That reminds me of another strategy I also find useful, which is it ask myself if this problem I’m fretting over will still be a issue a year from now? That’s an idea from the book, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff’ by Richard Carlson. Another good book if you need to combat stress in your life.
There are many strategies you can take to tackle your worries, including a couple I came across on the, ‘Brain Pickings’ website. A recent article entitled, What the Psychology of Suicide Prevention Teaches Us About Controlling Our Everyday Worries includes the recommendation that you put your worries in an imaginary box under your bed – when they are keeping you awake at night. If/when you start to worry again remind yourself that those worries are in the box and you won’t be getting them out again until a later date.
I like that idea, but an idea I like even more is to allocate precise times in the day to worry, say 15 minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the evening; when your fifteen minutes are up you tell yourself that you aren’t allowed to think of those things until your next allocated worry time.
Those are just few ideas in summary form; seek out original books and articles about how to live a worry free life. Reading about the experiences of those who have beat the worry habit will give you some good strategies to beat your own.
Work towards a more relaxed approach to life
Investigate the three principles approach
Regular exercise and/or meditation are known to lead to a more relaxed and stress free lifestyle, however I struggle to do either of these consistently – so I became very interested in an approach to life invented by a former Scottish welder call Sydney Banks (http://www.sydneybanks.org) – because one of it’s selling points is that you don’t need to learn or remember any techniques at all.
He came up with the idea that there are three principles to life; and that these three principles are responsible for all human experience, i.e. mind (an analogy for the life force that seems to underpin everything), consciousness (the fact we perceive the world around us) and thought (how we interpret what we perceive).
Basically what he is saying is that our experience of the world around is is something we ‘make up’; we bring things into being by thinking them; so once we know that, we can decide what to think; because whatever we think becomes our reality.
This ideas goes beyond the more traditional notion – though even this is a new idea for many people – that we can decide how we respond to the things that happen to us. What he is saying is that we invent the experience itself, not just what we think of the experience, which of course we also invent.
That doesn’t explain it at all well, which is why you need to read about it yourself.
To be honest it doesn’t make logical sense to me but whether I can understand it seems to be ‘neither here nor there’ as my experience of trying to understand it has in itself had a positive impact on my every day mood and outlook.
The best book I’ve come across about these three principles is called ‘The Inside Out Revolution’ by Michael Neil. Get a copy; read it on your Kindle, iPad, e-reader – or go old world and buy the physical book. Whatever – just get a copy.
I also suggest you also view the Youtube video by George Pransky called, ‘The Real Source of Stress‘.