January is a great time to let go of the past and start fresh. It is a perfect time to get serious about getting healthy. Rather than think of it as setting new year’s resolutions, think of it as creating a whole new lifestyle.
A few simple daily actions can create a much less stressful life. Identify your stressors and find a way to manage them, eat a healthier diet, exercise more; plus, a few money and time management changes can make all the difference in your mental health. It is easier than you think.
Your life can change from ho-hum to fabulous with just a few important changes. You will feel so much better that 2017 will be the very best year you have ever had.
So . . .. Let’s get started with step one.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
There are many factors that cause stress, both internal and external. Thankfully, for the most part, there are ways to limit exposure to stress and decrease the effects stress has on you. There is no way to totally eliminate stress from your life – it comes with the territory.
I am happy to say there is good stress as well as bad stress. Plus, there are some stressors you can control and some you can’t control.
Make a List of Your Stressors
Your first step to lowering your stress level is to identify the stressors in your life. Get out a pen and paper or open a document on your computer and list everything in your life that stresses you. Don’t worry at this point if they are fixable or not; controllable or not; internal or external. Just write them down using no filter at all. If something stresses you in any way – put it on the list.
Examples to get you started:
- There is never enough money.
- You never get a break.
- You hate your job.
- You are always late.
- You hate driving in traffic.
- You are too tired to cook dinner at night.
- You’lose things all the time.
- You have difficult relationships.
- You have no friends.
- Your teenagers are driving your crazy.
- You get frustrated choosing what to wear each morning.
- Your hair always looks horrible.
- Your kids are late for school
- Mornings are a nightmare.
- The baby cries all the time.
- Your home is a mess.
- You forget appointments.
- Your boss asks too much for what you are paid.
- You are overworked
- Your health is not as good.
Write down anything that comes to mind. Take as much time as you need. For example: take a week to make your list. Every single day in that 7-day period write down anything that happens that makes you feel stressed.
Organize the List (Internal or External)
Once you have a solid, honest list, categorize each stressor as internal or external.
Study the internal list first. These are stressors that are in your control and should have a solution. The external stressors are more complicated. It is possible that you can’t do anything about them – except control your reactions to them. In a way, that is quite a bit of control if you choose to take it. It gives you the ability to lower your stress level significantly.
Now you can look at each stressor and find an appropriate solution. For example, if you’re always running late for work or late getting the kids to school, you are dealing with an internal issue. Whether you are late or on time is not controlled by outside forces. You make choices that create those scenarios and you are in complete control. It may not seem like it sometimes, but you are.
Change your Behavior
Accept the fact that being chronically late is a behavior pattern that you can change. When you are late, the message you are sending is that your needs are more important than anyone or anything else, when in reality your behavior is probably driven by fear or a feeling of inadequacy.
Whatever the root of the problem, you can change your behavior if you choose through a few simple actions: Make punctuality a priority in your life. Get up 30 minutes earlier. If you need more rest, go to bed earlier. Build in extra travel time to allow for unexpected delays at home or on the road. Always plan on arriving 15 minutes early rather than “on-time.”
Behaviors are internally driven and you can change them, if you choose.
Have a family meeting and discuss how you can all work together to make mornings more pleasant and less stressful.
Each night, ensure that everyone has their clothing laid out for the next day, including you. Establish routines that help everyone get to bed on time so they are well-rested in the morning. Buy and set individual alarms.
Teenagers are completely capable of getting up by themselves and fixing their own breakfast. This is particularly helpful if you have a large family. Take those responsibilities off your plate and give them the chance to be responsible for themselves.
If you prefer to fix breakfast in order to ensure that everyone eats healthy, prepare as much as you can the night before. Another option is to have everyone eat fresh fruit and whole grain toast with almond butter for breakfast.
Fruit is the original fast food. Two or three bananas for breakfast is super healthy and much better than a bowl of sugary cereal (in fact, don’t have sugary cereal in the house).
Let Go of Control
If you drive your children to school, set a time that you will be leaving – and stick to it. This can be particularly effective with teenagers. Anyone not in the car at the set time is on his own. It will only take once or twice for a child to be left and s/he will get the message and be on time. Of course, there will have to be consequences for missing school – it can’t just be a free day off. If you do have access to school buses, start using them for even more freedom from this type of stress.
If you have younger children, get them ready for school first, and give them a book, put them in front of the TV, or with a computer game while you get ready. Most school age children can dress themselves and should be expected to do so the minute they are able.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help from your spouse it; should be a partnership. Work out what each of you will do in the mornings and both of you do your part. Don’t micromanage your partner. The important things are that everyone is dressed, fed, and in the car or at the bus stop on time. Everything else does not have to be perfect.
You do not have to control everything. Let the members of your family be responsible for themselves. As a parent, teaching them this basic principle of life is a wonderful gift to them – and to you. Be willing to give it and enjoy the stress relief it brings.
Deal with External Stressors
As mentioned above you cannot control external stressors, but you can control your reactions to them and how you choose to deal with them.
Let’s look at an example that is probably familiar to most of us: TRAFFIC.
One way to deal with traffic is to try other routes to work. There may even be a longer route that is quieter. I choose to drive surface streets rather than the freeway most of the time. Even if it takes a little longer, less traffic is preferable and less stressful. If there is only one route available, then you need to find other ways to control your reaction to the traffic.
Listen to good music that makes you happy. Listen to a book that you wanted to read but don’t have time to read. These choices make being in the car something to look forward to rather than something to dread, even if traffic is difficult.
If you are a nervous driver, take steps to lessen that problem.
For example, don’t have your first cup of coffee until after you get to work, since caffeine can heighten stress levels. Allow plenty of time to get to your destination even with traffic so that you are not adding the possibility of being late as an additional stressor. Take a defensive driving course so that you know what to do in aggressive traffic. Ensure that your vehicle is the right one to drive in the type of traffic you need to navigate each day. That high-gas-mileage 3-cylinder car might not be made for driving in heavy, fast-moving California traffic.
Find ways to let go of the stress you are experiencing when driving even if it is something as simple as singing, taking deep breaths, controlling your temper by thinking about other things that make you happy, etc.
Yes, you can pound the steering wheel and yell expletives at every “stupid” driver on the road. You can take unnecessary risks weaving in and out of traffic just to show others who is boss, but all of that adds to your stress – and are choices you make. You cannot control the traffic, but you can control your response to the situation.
The lessons in this post apply to you whether you work at home, on the road, or an the office. The less stress you have, the happier and more productive you will be. Lowering the stress is critical to living a healthy life.
Next post, we will continue with more secrets. Please join us!