I recently wrote about my struggles over the past few months with stress-related seizures (click here for more on this). During my recovery, I had to take a hard look at my life and my habits to try and pinpoint what was going on. Why did I seem to have so much more trouble processing stress than other people? What was the inciting incident? What and how did I need to change to manage to live a “normal” life?
While the answers to these questions are somewhat personal, I have gained some general wisdom that I feel compelled to share. In my opinion, there are eight commandments that make for a less stressed life.
This is non-negotiable. No matter how much you protest that you can function perfectly well on four hours of sleep, I’m calling you out. You are lying—maybe even to yourself. The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night to maintain energy and optimum body function. You are not the exception to this rule. And if you sacrifice this aspect of your life for other things—with the idea of getting more done or being more productive—you will find the opposite to be true, because the quality of your entire waking time will be compromised. Sleep is sacred. Respect it.
Are you mindful of the media you consume? Are you loading up on depressing news first thing in the morning or in bed at night? This is a terrible way to start the day and an even worse way to finish it, especially right now. I suggest checking the news/Twitter/Facebook in the early evening rather than making it the last thing you do before you sleep. During my recovery, I found that I needed to avoid watching heavy or serious drama TV late at night for the same reason. While I may like Shonda Rhimes’ shows, I had to take a break from them. Her shows are dark, and it gets in your head—to the point that your brain is anything but a peaceful place by the time you are supposed to be going to sleep. I don’t recommend reading thrillers at bedtime either.
How many hours a day do you spend on social media or on Candy Crush? (I suggest you download the free “Moments” app to track your phone usage and find out.) If there is an app that’s sucking up your time and putting too much strain on your eyes, it’s not worth it. It’s time to hover and delete.
If your schedule is so packed that you don’t have at least two free nights a week, you’re in trouble. You can’t do everything. Seriously. You need to be honest with yourself about what the time commitments are for the events you sign up for and, if necessary, do some trimming.
I know that’s not how the saying goes, but it’s how I think it should. I am a natural organizer and have always loved scheduling things. However, that may not be you. I still hope you’ll give planning a try at some level. Whether that means planning hour-by-hour allotments in your daily schedule or just weekly goals, it is a worthy endeavor. When I am most stressed, I find that intentional use of time and distraction are the things that can keep me centered. I may be reading, but it’s on the schedule. And as long as I stick to the schedule (a REASONABLE schedule, mind you), I somehow am convinced everything will be okay.
When I was in college and overwhelmed by papers, I would sometimes be paralyzed by just looking at my task list. I have the same reaction to my to-do list some days. But what’s truly important is doing one task at a time. Prioritize your list and then focus completely on what you’re doing RIGHT NOW. Freaking out about all the stuff you have to do won’t do you any good. Trust me, I’ve tried it.
If you put these steps into practice, your stress load will decrease. But like anything, it takes practice. Don’t sweat it if you slip up and screw up once in a while. A lot of focus is put on the “new year and new you,” but as Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote in Anne of Green Gables, “tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it—yet.”
In the midst of all this positive development and stress reduction, don’t lose sight of what’s most important. Relationships should be the main focus of your life. Your relationship with God, family, and friends are more important than any to-do list or career ambition. Make time for people in your life. Connection is the key to happiness.
This final commandment was a surprise discovery for me. I took up knitting while on leave from work, and found that the quiet of that peaceful activity gave my brain time to center itself and process. It allowed me to just be. Oh, it’s fun to make a scarf, but I’m not sure I’ll enjoy wearing it as much as I did making it. Knitting created a space for my mind to wander again—to imagine. Whether it’s knitting or drawing or bullet journaling, I challenge you to dedicate a little time in that busy schedule of yours to yourself—for simple enjoyment. Pick up a hobby. Try that craft you saw on Pinterest. You might be surprised how much satisfaction this can bring to your life. You’ll be glad you did it.
In my next lifestyle post on Wednesday, January 10, I’ll be sharing about my new obsession—bullet journaling! Stay tuned.