I get stressed out very easily. If you are like me, you have tried everything: meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, taking walks, being in nature, etc. Those things do help and I still do at least some of them on a regular basis. But recently, I have been getting overwhelmed by all the tips people have. I wrote down a list of all the things I can do to become less stressed. This was my list:
- Meditate every day
- Do some breathing exercises a few times a day, in between tasks
- Get up early
- Do 60 minutes of exercise every day
- Go for a walk every morning
- Make a home-cooked meal at least five times a week
- Write in my gratitude journal every morning
- Pray before going to bed
- Drink six glasses of water every day
- Make some time for hobbies
- Practice mindfulness
- Take some time every day to scan my feelings
All of these things can help. But seeing this list is completely overwhelming. So, I will share with you what actually helps me de-stress without adding more stress.
Don’t worry about it
The first mistake I made was in writing a whole list of all the things that I have to do to de-stress. Yes, all of these things help. But they will not help if I make myself do all of it every day. So take it easy on yourself and don’t worry about it. Remember why you’re doing this in the first place. You want to worry less, not more. What helped me is picking one or two of these that I want to focus on. You could pick a different one every day or choose one that you would like to make a habit out of and practice that one every day. But do not try to make twelve new habits, or add twelve things to your to-do list for the day.
Do one thing a day
This has really helped me de-stress. I like to make a to-do list every Sunday for the next week. When I don’t get enough done in a day, I feel like I have failed. I worry about how I am going to get everything done that I need to be done in the week. So, now I tell myself to do only one thing a day. If I can do more, great, if not, no worries. I set myself the goal of doing one of the things on my to-do list and I can be proud of myself if I do that one thing. This was a tip that one of my professors gave me. I immediately protested that my weekly to-do list usually has more than seven items on it. So I would not be able to get everything done if I only did one thing a day. But I decided to try it anyway. It gave me a feeling of peace. I could go to bed without being disappointed in myself or angry at myself. Because I managed to do one thing a day. And as it turns out, I ended up being able to do more than one thing a day on most days and still feel proud of myself on the days that I only managed to do one thing. I still do this. I did three things today. Yesterday I only did one thing. I am equally proud of myself because on both days I met my goal.
Wake up slowly
My morning routine used to be: get out of bed. Maybe brush teeth or get dressed. Done. Now, I wake up a bit earlier, brush my teeth, wash my face, get myself a cup of coffee, get dressed, eat some yoghurt and start the day. This has really helped me to start the day feeling relaxed and it helps me get out of bed. I like to stay in bed for hours after I wake up just to procrastinate starting my day. But now that starting my day is enjoyable and calm, I don’t mind getting out of bed and actually look forward to my morning coffee (you could swap this with tea, or any beverage of your choosing, of course). It doesn’t really matter what your morning routine is, just slow it down.
Now, you might protest that this too is another thing you need to do, that it takes time, that you will have to get up early. But, to go back to my first point, don’t worry. I don’t do this every morning. If I have an online class that starts at ten a.m., I’m rolling out of bed at 9:45 (that is at least one benefit of classes being online). Do this if and when you want to. If I notice that I don’t want to get out of bed because I know I have that daunting essay to start today, I will have myself a nice slow morning. If I know that I don’t have much to do today and that I can take some time to relax, I will have a cup of coffee AND a cup of tea (I know, I’m spoiling myself).
Plus, if you want to have a slow morning, but you don’t have much time: don’t worry. There are no rules. A slow morning can take fifteen minutes or an hour. Have it as slow as you want.
Go to bed slowly
You can do the same thing with your morning routine. Instead of brushing your teeth, putting on your pyjamas and jumping into bed, take it slow. Thoroughly brush your teeth, floss, wash your face, massage your moisturizer in, meditate before sleep (or pray if that’s your thing), brush your hair. I have personally noticed that I fall asleep much quicker when I do this. I go to bed feeling calm and relaxed.
But again, don’t worry. Is it already eleven p.m. and you just remembered that you need to get up early? Slowing down a little might help you fall asleep quicker, but don’t feel like you need to take an hour for your bedtime routine. Don’t do it at all if you’re not feeling it. Living slowly is not about forcing yourself. It is about truly finding your inner peace.
Seeing a pattern here? You can do anything slowly! When you’re on a walk, stop to look around. Smell the flowers. Are you having dinner? Do it mindfully. Really taste every bite. Taking a shower or a bath? Add five minutes to your regular time. You will find opportunities for mindfulness and living slowly everywhere. Instead of having your tea in front of the tv or computer, just close your eyes and drink it, slowly, without any distractions. Having a slow day, or even just a slow meal or a slow bath is perfect to do on a day off.
There are two things that I have always done. I never really thought about them until I saw how stressed out people get who do not do these things:
- I am early. Because of my ADD, I have trouble keeping appointments and getting to class on time. I will completely forget about an appointment until three minutes before it starts. I will have to check my schedule and the current time every ten minutes to make sure that I get to class on time. I don’t want to deal with that stress. So, I am there at least thirty minutes early. It doesn’t matter if it’s school, a doctor’s appointment, the train I need to catch. I would rather wait thirty minutes than worry that I might be a few minutes late. For my last appointment, I was an hour and a half early. That might sound extreme (and I would probably recommend being just half an hour early unless you are going somewhere you have never been before), but it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. As I said, I never even thought about it. It’s just normal for me. I will just bring a book or my music and wait. Last year, I noticed that I often ran into my flatmate on her way to school. She usually briskly walked past me and said that she was already a few minutes late. Being late can be very stressful. But being early is not. You don’t waste time if you find yourself something to do while you wait. Or you can use that time to relax. And I never need to powerwalk to school.
- I do not run to catch the train. When I still studied in the Netherlands, I went to school by train. I usually had three transfers (depending on which route I took). One of those transfers gave me five minutes to run to the other side of the train station. Since the train was mostly filled with students going to the same city (at least in the mornings), I saw everyone running to catch the train. Some would make it and others would get close but miss it. I already accepted that I would not make it. I never run to make my bus or train. I’ll get the next one. And that half-hour waiting time is the perfect opportunity to catch up with my homework, call a friend, or get myself a snack. So, again, don’t worry. Just go slowly. Missing a train also never made me anxious. I always made sure that I could miss at least two trains and still be on time. If that is a bit too much for you, just make sure you can miss one. It will really help you relax next time the train suddenly stops.
So, generally, get comfortable with waiting. It will save you a lot of stress. And, as always, don’t worry. Do you feel more comfortable running for that train? Do you have a class on the other side of campus that starts five minutes after your last one ends? Run for it. Or don’t. Just make sure not to worry.
Of course, you can still do all of those things that help you. Sometimes meditation, exercise or journaling can really help. Sometimes you may want to push yourself a bit when you don’t feel like doing something but you know that you’ll feel better after you’ve done it. These methods are just general guidelines that you can implement if and whenever you want. So, don’t worry. Be happy. And live slowly.
Written by Merel Melchers