As I said Monday, if you want to not only achieve your goals but also have time to enjoy the “little” things in life, you need to eliminate your energy-sapping time killers. I mentioned obvious time killers – like watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the Net. But I saved the worst one for today: Stress.
Why is stress a time killer? Because it fills your otherwise productive hours with unpleasant, unhelpful thoughts and feelings. As a result, anything you can do to reduce stress will give you more time.
That said, here are some stress-busting suggestions inspired by Ilene Birkwood’s “Stress for Success” and “The Guide to Managing Stress” by J. Robin Powell.
1. Identify Your Stressors.
Make a list of the stressful things you encounter on a daily basis: people who are late, long lines, inconsiderate drivers, juggling your kids’ after-school activities, etc. After you complete the list, take a few minutes to look it over. You will find that you can completely eliminate many of these stressors. For instance, to get a head start on making dinner or to just take a few minutes for yourself, you can enlist another parent to drive your daughter to soccer practice. If you manage to trim down the list by even two or three items, you will have significantly reduced your level of stress.
2. Identify – and Make Time for – Your Favorite Pastimes.
Make a list of the things you enjoy doing most: fly-fishing, listening to music, writing poetry, etc. Are you taking time to do these things? If not, why not? Remember, balance in life is very important. Taking an occasional break to do something that gives you pleasure will increase your level of happiness and provide you with much-needed stress relief.
3. De-Stress Your Diet.
Lack of proper nourishment accelerates cell degeneration in the brain and creates stress in your body. Good nutrition helps you physiologically deal better with stress. You can build healthy eating habits by following three general rules: Reduce your intake of calories from fat and meat. Double your intake of calories from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Lower the amount of meat you eat while adding more fish or vegetable protein, like nuts, peas, beans, and lentils.
Exercise can truly relax you. So make it your goal to exercise at least three times a week by doing something you enjoy. This is important, because if you enjoy the activity, you’ll be more likely to make it a habit. Another consideration: Choose an exercise that is invigorating and doesn’t add to your stress. Even if you love racquetball, for instance, it may be a bad choice for you because it is such an intense (and therefore exhausting) game.
My advice is to do yoga every morning for 15 minutes – and then another 15 minutes of exercise later in the day. That’s all you need to be flexible, fit, and feel good.
It’s also good to have a physical hobby – a sport like tennis or Jiu Jitsu that you enjoy at least once a week. But don’t count that as exercise, because it’s not. It’s fun.
5. Get a Restful Night’s Rest.
Lack of sleep (or lack of restful, non-REM sleep) can add to your stress. Doing something that relaxes you before bed – maybe listening to soothing music or taking a bath – will help you fall asleep and sleep deeply and restfully. It also helps to give yourself plenty of time to digest a heavy meal and to avoid alcohol, arguments, and any stimulating mental or physical activity before bedtime.
6. Take Regular Work Breaks.
When you feel particularly stressed at work, take a short break. In fact, don’t wait for that to happen. At least once an hour, get up from your chair and walk around your office or down the hall – maybe even take a little trip outside. Get a glass of water or take a minute to stretch. This will revive you and allow you to approach your work with renewed enthusiasm.
Laughter is one of the best ways to release stress. Regularly expose yourself to things and people that make you laugh.
8. Have Realistic Expectations.
Things don’t run smoothly 100% of the time. People are late for meetings. Traffic slows to a standstill. Your son’s trumpet lesson lasts 20 extra minutes. (That’s why you should always be prepared with those little time fillers I recommended on Monday.)
9. Leave Your Work at Work.
If you consistently bring work home with you, you will be a prime candidate for burnout. Reserve your time away from the office for relaxation, recreation, and your family.
10. Make a Big Change.
Sometimes you can resolve or eliminate stress only by making a major change. If you feel constantly overwhelmed and anxious at work, perhaps you need to rethink your career goals. Major changes like this should not be approached lightly. They may, in fact, cause stress of their own in the short term. But if the long-term benefits could greatly outweigh the immediate stress, it’s something to seriously consider.
One more thing …
There’s one more technique I’d like to give you to help you slow down and increase your enjoyment of your life. This is something I learned relatively recently. It’s not a new technique – there are spiritualists, physical fitness gurus, and yogis who have been teaching it for thousands of years. It’s stayed alive because it works. And it works because it draws from the most fundamental human activity: Breathing.
To appreciate how important breathing is to you, do this: Put your head under water and hold your breath for as long as possible. Make several attempts to go as long as you possibly can.
Now consider this: That’s how long you could maintain consciousness (even life) without being able to breathe.
So take a full breath right now, and enjoy. Consider how amazing it is that you keep breathing without any conscious effort … and that you have been breathing, more or less without interruption, for your entire life. At an average rate of about 12 breaths per minute, that’s 720 per hour, 17,280 per day, and 6,307,200 per year. That amounts to over a quarter of a billion opportunities to appreciate your life in a 40-year timespan!
Promise yourself that you will never again take breathing for granted. In your daily schedule, assign at least a few minutes every morning and every evening to consciously practicing breathing – enjoying the miracle of each inhalation, the relaxation possible with each exhalation.
And during the day when you get into stressful situations, count your breaths – but count them consciously and gratefully.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]