My husband and I are both hard-working, busy people. So why is he so much calmer and more relaxed?
Somehow, he never seems to run out of time, with plenty to spare to walk the dog or fit in a fly-fishing trip. Meanwhile, I have to constantly remind myself that there are enough hours in the day to accomplish what’s important.
Throughout high school, college, and my career, I’ve been fueled in part by what I thought of as healthy anxiety. And now, as the co-founder of NakedPoppy, a clean beauty company, I look to hire others who have some internal pressure to perform their best.
After all, anxiety isn’t always bad. When you have a big presentation coming up, and a certain level of stress motivates you to prepare really well, and then you nail it, that’s a good thing, right?
But it’s unhealthy to be stressed out much of the time.
I learned from a wonderful doctor friend, Vivian Chen, that spending too much time in a high-pressure, “fight-or-flight” mode — with an activated sympathetic nervous system — can harm you both physically and mentally. In fact, some research suggests high cortisol levels (AKA one of the stress hormones) can triple your risk of both cardiovascular issues and diabetes. And routine stress can lead to depression and anxiety.
So we need to care for ourselves, be mindful of stress, and work to trigger our parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for our body’s “rest and digest” mode — too.
Here are ten ways to reduce stress in the office and in your personal life:
1. Lay out the day in advance.
At the end of almost every workday, around 6 p.m., I block out my tasks for the next day. This way, I wake up knowing what my priorities are. This reduces my cognitive load and helps me manage one of my most important assets: my attention.
2. Break large projects down into smaller steps.
When a task seems big and daunting, you may avoid starting, fall behind, and end up feeling even more overwhelmed.
I’ve found that breaking big projects or tasks into smaller steps helps me get started.
Instead of putting “Launch plan” on your calendar, break that big initiative into smaller steps — “Write up situation analysis,” Develop key messaging,” etc.
3. Don’t forget there are other people in the world. Ask for help.
When you have a lot on your plate, see if someone else can help.
I remind myself that team members are willing to jump in and lend a hand if I’m feeling stretched thin.
It’s not about shirking responsibility, but rather being willing to distribute work. If you’re a manager, remember that delegating to a lower-cost resource is better for business and the person will likely enjoy a new challenge.
4. Get rid of distractions.
Phone, email, internet — put them all away.
I know it’s easier said than done, but here’s an example of what happens when you don’t: just this morning, as I began to focus on work, an email popped up that wasn’t important but it distracted me. My mindset switched over to “How am I going to respond to this?” I should have just ignored the notification, gotten my work done, and dealt with it afterwards.
When you’re feeling tense, exercise can be a great release.
This is why I make sure to exercise almost every day, even if just for 30 minutes. And, of course, the link between exercise and maintaining mental health is strong.
6. Drink water.
Studies have linked dehydration to stress and high cortisol levels.
Drinking water simply makes me feel healthier and clear-minded. Honestly, I often find myself forgetting to drink water. But whenever I do remember, I feel better. Try substituting water for that second coffee see if it helps you, too.
7. Remember your breath.
Certain breathing techniques help stimulate the vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Here’s one breathing exercise I learned from a meditation teacher. Close your eyes. Breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for seven, and breathe out for eight. Do this on public transportation, in your office, right after lunch. It takes so little time and can help you relax.
8. Take the time to meditate.
The days I don’t have time to meditate are the days I need it most. I believe it’s worth taking the time, even if you only have a few minutes.
I use an app called Daily Calm. In 10 minutes of meditation, I’m able to reset my mental system, stave off stress, and get closer to that parasympathetic, rest-and-digest mode.
9. Get out into nature.
This morning, I was feeling stressed, and some time in nature seemed like a really nice escape. But I didn’t have time to go for a hike, so I stepped into my garden for a bit and left feeling better.
Whether it’s your garden, balcony, or local park, going outside and breathing in fresh air can help reduce anxiety.
10. Remind yourself, “This too will pass.”
When you’re in a stressful place, feeling overwhelmed, picture yourself a week, month, or year. Will the things bothering you even matter? So much of what overwhelms us is not worth the cortisol. Put everything in perspective — in the grand scheme, almost all stressors are minute and temporary.
These days, I’m equally productive — but less stressed — than I’ve been in the past, thanks to these healthy hacks.