How To Reduce Stress
Wanna learn how to reduce stress? Well, I’m most definitely your girl when it comes to kicking stress to the curb. 🙂
Not that many years ago, I was so stressed out my body was in pretty much permanent fight or flight mode.
I had three kids born within three years, a demanding full-time job, and a wreck of a household to run. I realize that for some people this is just life, but I was so overwhelmed and exhausted by it all that I honestly just wanted to run away. Had someone come knocking at the door asking to take over my life, I would have gladly given it all away.
Except somewhere deep within, there was a frail whisper telling me not to give up. A whisper telling me to learn how to take better care of myself, so I could be there for my kids and my husband. To learn how to actually enjoy everything I had instead of just wishing it all away.
Easier said than done!
My stress levels were so through the roof, I needed some hard-core stress management strategies. Something more than a weekly yoga class and a nightly cup of chamomile tea.
Instead of temporary band-aids, I needed to go to the very sources of stress and completely overhaul the way I was managing my life.
So slowly, one baby step at a time, I made changes. I learned how to drastically reduce stress and overwhelm in my life. I learned how to turn my inner chaos into calm.
And in this article, I want to share with you the stress reduction techniques I have found to be the most helpful in my journey. (If this list seems long and overwhelming, please remember that I didn’t make all these changes overnight. Baby steps!)
How To Reduce Stress: 25 of My Favorite Stress Busters
1. Do regular brain dumps.
Stress happens when there are too many things coming at you at once. So many things that you can’t keep up and you can’t make sense of them.
The first thing to do when these feelings of overwhelm start arising is a brain dump.
Write down EVERYTHING that is overwhelming your brain. And when I say EVERYTHING, I mean EVERY. SINGLE. THING.
All the things you must do. All the things you want to do. All the things you think you maybe should do. All the things you don’t know what to do about (yet). All the things you need to remember but are afraid of forgetting.
Get them all down on paper or in Google Sheets or whatever you like to use. The point is to get it all out of your brain.
Simply getting it all out will help reduce stress, but you shouldn’t stop there…
2. Start time blocking.
Stress happens when your expectations don’t match reality. Haven’t we all had those weekends when we plan to clean the house from top to bottom, do 10 loads of laundry, go grocery shopping, run 16 other errands, take the kids to the amusement park, catch up on work, and get together with friends? And don’t forget about watching some movies, writing a couple of blog posts, and the much needed date night! And then it’s Sunday night and you wonder where it all went ‘cause you didn’t get half the shit done.
The cure: Time blocking.
I read about time blocking roughly 275 times and thought it sounded like a great idea before I actually got around to trying it. And then I actually tried it, and holy crap, it really IS a great idea!
You can block your time in a good old daily planner or I like to use the Google Sheets daily schedule template to organize my day in half hour blocks. It’s very simple. You just plan your days out in advance by writing down how you will be spending each time block within the day.
I know it sounds too simple to be that great, but here are the benefits I have noticed:
- It helps you be much more realistic in terms of what is doable and achievable.
- You start to learn how long things actually take and you become better and better about allocating the right amount of time for various tasks.
- When you make a plan and write it down, you are more likely to actually do it.
- Because you are more realistic about the time you actually have, you become much better about using it intentionally and focusing on your priorities.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. Start prioritizing your to-dos.
Stress happens when you have more things to do than you have time for.
But some of those “things” are always going to be more important than others. So learn to think about everything in your life in terms of priorities.
Whenever you do a brain dump, put the items on your list in priority order. And then block out time to tackle the items in priority order.
4. First priority: Block out time to take care of yourself.
Stress happens when your basic needs are not met.
The cure: Make taking care of your basic needs your first priority. Even better: Make taking care of your basic needs a non-negotiable first priority. Allocate time for sleep, exercise, and preparing and eating healthy meals before you schedule anything else. Whatever time is left over after sleep, exercise, and food is for other to-dos.
5. The most important way to take care of yourself: Get enough sleep.
Stress happens when you feel exhausted.
Most healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
Not five. Not six.
Between seven and nine.
It’s so tempting to try to steal sleep time to do something else, but at least for me, it always backfires. Whatever time I gain by sleeping less, I lose zombeing around complaining about how tired I am and not getting anything done. But give me a solid eight hours of sleep, and I’ll actually feel alive (and much less stressed!) for the other 16.
6. The second most important way to take care of yourself: Exercise.
Stress happens when you feel like you are always dragging.
We all already know how exercise helps you feel more energetic and how it helps reduce stress and tension , so I’ll just shut up about it other than to say: Just Do It! 🙂
7. Always schedule more time than you think you’ll need.
Stress happens when you feel like you are constantly running behind and trying to catch up.
I think it’s pretty much a law of nature that everything always takes longer than you think it will. Something unexpected will come up. The kids will interrupt you for the umpteenth time. Or for whatever reason, things are just moving slower today.
Just accept this law of nature and take it into account. When you are blocking your time, always err on the side of scheduling too much time for an activity than too little. With this approach, the worst that can happen is you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands. 🙂
8. Schedule time to unwind.
Stress happens when you feel like you can’t ever get a breather.
This is why, when blocking your time, it’s crucial to include blocks that have NOTHING in them. Or blocks that say “read books”. Or “watch movies”. Or whatever helps you wind down and de-stress.
9. Start eliminating stressors.
Ok, if you got this far down the list, you are probably starting to wonder where all this time for taking care of yourself and winding down is supposed to come from.
Well, it comes from eliminating stuff that doesn’t absolutely, positively have to be in your life.
I’m repeating myself here, but this is sort of key: Stress happens when you have more things to do than you have time for. Even if an activity is enjoyable or beneficial to you in theory, it turns into a stressor if you simply don’t have time for it without compromising your well-being.
We all have our own unique priorities, but to get you started, I have listed some thoughts below that might help you when you are deciding what stays and what goes.
10. Focus on YOU and YOUR values.
Stress happens when you are constantly worried about what other people think.
I’m not going to tell you to completely stop caring about other people, because I’m not trying to turn you into a sociopath. 😉 But here is what I firmly believe to be true:
The less you compare your life to others…
The less you take other people’s opinions and potential judgments into account…
And the more you focus on defining your own values and priorities…
And the more you bring your life into alignment with your own values and your own priorities…
The less stressed you will feel.
11. Stop people-pleasing.
Stress happens when you are constantly trying to please everyone you happen to cross paths with in life.
Pleasing everyone is an impossible task. You will never be able to please everyone. So you might as well give up trying.
12. Learn to say no.
Stress happens when you are constantly doing stuff for other people that you don’t actually want to do or that you don’t have time to do without compromising your well-being.
You can’t possibly be everything to everyone who asks. Stop doing stuff you don’t want to do or that you don’t have time to do. Even if you feel like you should. Even if you are afraid you’ll hurt someone’s feelings. Just stop.
Learn to say no.
13. Minimize contact with people who stress you out.
Stress happens when you spend too much time with people who stress you out – people who clash with your personality, people who are closed-minded and judgmental, people who are outright assholes…
It doesn’t even matter why some people stress you out. They just do and you don’t need to tolerate it. Minimize time with people who increase your stress levels and maximize time with people who have the opposite effect.
14. Address career-related stress.
Stress happens when you spend a majority of every day doing something that stresses you out.
If your career is the biggest source of stress for you, as I suspect it is for many people, I hope you know that it’s not something you are supposed to just tolerate. I hope you know that you have options. I hope you know that you can apply various stress reduction techniques within the work place. And I hope you know that with time and some effort, you can switch to a less stressful work environment or even switch to a less stressful career altogether.
15. Seek opportunities to use your strengths more than your weaknesses.
Stress happens when you are constantly doing things that don’t come to you naturally.
We all have natural strengths and natural weaknesses. When we are using our strengths – when we are “in our element” – we are likely to be relaxed and things just flow. When we do things that we are not naturally good at, we have to put in a lot more effort and the likelihood of getting stressed is a lot higher.
For example, I’m much more articulate in writing than in person. Writing comes to me naturally and puts my brain “in flow”. Public speaking, on the other hand, is not something I’m naturally good at. I’m sure I could improve if I wanted to, but it would take a lot of effort and I can guarantee you that getting in front of crowds of people all the time would stress me out. So taking my natural talents into account, I chose to become a self-help writer rather than a motivational speaker.
And if you, too, truly want to reduce your stress levels, create a life that allows you to use your strengths more than your weaknesses. To figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are, start here:
Related: How To Make Your Brain Happy
16. Do brain work when you are at your most alert and productive.
Stress happens when your to-dos are not scheduled properly for your personality.
Some people are morning people, while other people are night owls. Some people like to have everything ready weeks in advance, while others need the pressure of a looming deadline to get anything done.
Know yourself and plan accordingly. I’m a morning person, so when I can, I try to do things that require brain effort early in the day. I save the stuff that requires less brain power for later in the day when I’m more likely to be dragging. I’m also someone who likes to take my time and not rush, so I try to complete tasks early rather than at the last minute.
17. Establish routines.
Stress happens when you are constantly re-inventing the wheel.
The fact is that many of our to-dos repeat daily, weekly, or monthly. You can use this to your advantage. Streamline your life and eliminate time-wasting decision making by establishing routines.
And by “routine” I simply mean repeating the same actions at the same times the same way. For example, I have a daily morning routine, designated laundry days, a cleaning schedule, and a rotating meal plan.
18. Set reminders on your phone.
Stress happens when you are trying to keep track of too many details.
I’m a big picture person and trying to remember a bunch of details stresses me out. If you are anything like me, make it so that you don’t have to remember anything. Write everything down in a calendar. Make your phone remind you when you need to do something.
19. Learn to delegate.
Stress happens when you try to take on too much for one person and never rely on other people.
Quit being a control freak. The world will not come to an end even if some things don’t get done your way. Try it and you’ll see. 🙂
20. Work on eliminating perfectionism.
Stress happens when nothing is ever good enough.
Perfection is an unattainable and futile goal. Give up on trying to be perfect and aim for “ok”.
21. Get your shit organized.
Stress happens when you live in a chaotic environment.
If you have some chaos going on in your house, make a list of problem areas, prioritize them, and start tackling them one baby step at a time. Not all at once! Maybe one area per week or one area per month or whatever you think you can fit in without driving yourself crazy. The goal here is to reduce stress and not add to it!
Related: The ONE Secret To Staying Organized
22. Own less shit.
Stress happens when there is too much clutter in your life.
Keeping your shit organized is whole lot easier if you don’t have a ton of shit. You don’t need to waste your time and mental effort wading through the clothes you rarely wear or the toys your kids rarely play with or the kitchen tools you rarely use. This is what the big black garbage bags are for. 🙂
23. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, take frequent breaks to breathe and relax your body.
Although I’m a big proponent of reducing stress by avoiding tension-producing situations altogether, some stress is always going to be there. We do have control over a big portion of our lives, but not all of it.
Stress will happen. And when stress happens, it will make you tense. And when your body is tense for long periods of time, there will be consequences: tension headaches, sleeplessness, exhaustion…
You need to break this cycle. When you find yourself in a stressful situation, try to be mindful of the tension in your body. Keep reminding yourself to take deep breaths and relax your neck and shoulders or wherever in your body you have a tendency to tense up.
I had to practice this one for a long time before it became a habit, so don’t give up if it seems impossible to remember at first.
24. Play music that chills you out.
Music is another awesome tool to help reduce feelings of tension and stress.
Make a play list of music that calms you down. Then play it in the car. On your headphones when you are out and about. Whenever you need help ignoring the people from #13. 😉
25. Aim for a growth mindset.
Stress happens when you feel stuck and you don’t know how to get unstuck.
You can get away from the stuck feeling by teaching yourself to have a growth mindset. What’s a growth mindset? People with a growth mindset believe that their abilities and talents can develop over time. The opposite is a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that their abilities and talents are fixed traits that can’t be improved.
Whenever the feelings of overwhelm and being stuck show up, remind yourself that you may not know how to resolve this situation right this second. But that doesn’t mean you never will. You can learn how. You can look for information. You can ask for help. You can become more capable.
You can get unstuck.
And yes, you can even find calm!
P.S. That was a long list! Do you think you would benefit from a step-by-step guide that walks you through implementing all the steps above and more? If yes, you might be interested in my Conquer Your Anxiety eBook Bundle. It’s a book + workbook I created to help you implement stress reduction techniques, create a tranquil lifestyle, and process fears and worries so that they never get out of control.