I have always been that person who is constantly thinking ahead to the next step. Throughout my life, I have heard – mostly from adults – that knowing what you are going to do in the future is an asset. While I agree with that sentiment, I often find myself forgoing living in the present for planning my future or, even worse, regretting my past. This is one of my habits that I have identified as a stressor. Even though I don’t necessarily feel stressed, not having my future planned out worries me so much that I spend time that I should be doing homework or studying, planning things. Obviously, that isn’t good.
Avoiding the stress that comes with planning the future is something I struggle with. I am going to share with you some tips that have helped me lead a calmer, more zen life. Though this may sound like another one of those motivational speeches that you read, feel inspired by for about 10 minutes, then promptly forget about, I encourage you to actually try to do some of these things. I myself have been following these tips and I have found that they have greatly reduced my stress levels. I am much more relaxed and carefree.
Before starting these, or while doing them, it is important to identify a key stressor in your life to focus on eliminating it. Keeping a journal of your thoughts could help you identify your stressor. If you have a record of your thoughts and how frequent they are, you can usually identify the most frequent one that causes negative emotions as a stressor.
Okay! Without further ado, here are my top ten tips for leading a low stress life. Some of them sound absolutely ridiculous and take no time or effort at all but trust me – they work (at least they did for me).
1. Play music: This sounds like the most random thing and I bet you are wondering, “what the heck does this have to to with being zen?” Well, I’ll tell you. Often, my stressor is activated when my mind is unoccupied. While music doesn’t necessarily occupy your mind, playing soothing tones tends to relax it quite a bit. So, try putting on a background music playlist whenever you’re in your room (especially if you aren’t doing anything). I’m currently listening to a lounge music playlist on Spotify. If lounge music isn’t your thing, try making a playlist of all your favourite calming songs and put it on once you enter your room. Make sure you play it on low volume! Just doing this makes me feel so much calmer and content enough to just sit and relax.
2. Take up a hobby: Now I really sound like your parent. Obviously they had the right idea when they suggested this. Hobbies are wonderful ways to keep your mind busy with things that you like or you find fun and relaxing. I find reading a really good hobby because your mind wanders to a world completely different from your own. Of course reading too much has its own problems, but that is a topic for another post. It might be helpful to take up hobbies that are different form what you do on a daily basis. For instance, I study chemical engineering so I like to do more artsy things in my spare time since I don’t get to do them during the day. I want to take up knitting and drawing (I suck at it currently). You’ll find that, until you learn to be able to relax your mind on your own, occupying it with something fun does a lot to relax it.
3. Clean up cluttered spaces: Clutter is the worst thing in the world. The absolute worst. I don’t know about you, but I cannot be productive or relaxed in a cluttered environment. The environment in which you reside reflects on your mind so if you live in filth and clutter, your mind will be filled with filth and clutter. Tidying up a space – be it your desk, your floor, or your entire room – is immensely satisfying. The best time to do this is in the morning because there is nothing worse than coming home to a messy space. It automatically puts you in a bad mood; and there is even less than nothing worse than being in a bad mood.
4. Have a structured routine: A routine is key when keeping your mind calm. Not only does it allow you to keep on top of things, it also has the added benefit of allowing you to feel accomplished – which is a really good feeling. I wake up at the same time every weekday and at the same time every weekend. Ideally, it would be the same time everyday but I couldn’t get myself to give up sleeping in a little on the weekends. Surprisingly, keeping the same waking time makes it slightly easier to wake up each time until it becomes automatic, which removes a lot of stress. With waking up at the same time comes sleeping at the same time. This one is a little harder because I’m never sure how much work I’m going to have on any given day but I try as much as possible to keep to a routine. I found that making to do lists for each day also helps a lot to keep you organized and on a routine. Being able to check off an item on a list is also very satisfying. The long and short of this is that keeping a routine removes an element of surprise from your day. If you don’t have to worry about what you are going to do for certain time period of the day, it reduces any stress associated with the unknown. Having said this, do not feel as though you should be planning out all aspects of your day into a routine as this takes away the fun in life and can add to stress levels.
5. Open your blinds (windows are optional) and keep your room door open: I don’t know if any of what I’m about to say is supported by science (you could look that up if you want) but it has had a real impact on my stress levels so I’m going to share it. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping my blinds open from the moment I wake up till the moment I’m going to sleep. Although this doesn’t seem like it should have a significant impact on your stress levels, it definitely does because of two things primarily: letting in the sunlight, and seeing the world moving. The first is obvious. If you open your blinds, you are exposed to the sunlight (when there is some). This is really nice because I find that the sun often lifts my spirits especially when I can experience it without having to go outside (I’m not an outdoorsy person). For some reason, things just seem less serious when the sun is shining. The second aspect is a really weird one. I find that a lot of times, stress is born from being lost in your own world and thinking that every little thing in your life is important and has a large impact. When you are able to look outside and see that despite your worrying, the day is still moving, people are still moving, and life is still going on, what you were worrying about suddenly seems so insignificant (or at least less pressing). It also helps if you live in a prime people-watching location because that is a great distraction.
6. Don’t be by yourself for too long at a time: This sounds like a nightmare for introverts like myself who can spend days in their own company; but, when you are stressed, the worst thing you can do is retreat into your room and wallow in your thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, being by yourself and being comfortable in your own company is great but when it becomes a constant thing, it is unhealthy. Make an effort to be with people outside a work or school capacity for a couple of hours a day (even 1 hour could make a difference). I find that sometimes just talking to friends about random things makes life seem a little less serious and worrisome (especially if you have friends like mine that can’t have a full conversation without bursting into laughter for no apparent reason). On the flip side, setting aside some time in the day to just be by yourself is also very helpful when managing stress (as long as you don’t get overwhelmed by your thoughts).
7. Take a nap: I feel like this is self explanatory. You can’t worry while you’re asleep. Also, most people don’t get the ideal 7.5 hours of sleep nightly which contributes to stress. So, get in the habit of taking a short nap each day – right after work/school is probably best. You’ll be surprised at how much more energy you’ll have and how much clearer things seem. A clear mind is a stress-free mind.
8. Put the electronics away: I personally hate this and this was probably the most difficult thing for me to do. I am that person that does homework on my computer, then does random stuff on the internet until I turn out my lights to go to sleep. I then proceed to do random things on my phone with my lights off until I most likely fall asleep with my phone in my hands. This is a horrible habit. Not only does the radiation from wi-fi apparently cause cancer (make sure you put your phone on airplane mode and far away from your bed before you sleep each night), but falling asleep on your phone also prevents your brain from gradually shutting down before you sleep as it normally should. This prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep which in turn contributes to stress. Try to turn off all electronics an hour before you go to bed. To pass the time, you could read or something. Honestly, I usually just lie in my bed with calming music on low sound until I fall asleep. I’m still working on what to do to pass the time so if you find out something good, let me know.
9. Exercise and eat right: I know, I know. The most cliché piece of advice. But it’s actually useful. I’m only going to say a few words on this because I think you all know what it means. Make sure you’re getting all your vitamins and nutrients as they play a large role in your brain function (which controls stress). I’m not going to stress particular ones as I believe having the recommended amount of all of them is best. Exercise releases endorphins that also reduce stress so try that as well. Attempt to get at least 30 minutes of exercise in a day. I like to stretch and dance (not the good kind) for exercise but you could also just go for a walk or do some traditional gym work. Also, drink a lot of water. I don’t know if that helps with stress, but it certainly helps your body feel rejuvenated.
I saved the best and the hardest tip for last.
10. Don’t take life too seriously. People often forget that a large part of living life is having fun and being happy. They focus too much on what they need to do rather than what they want to do. Take some time to do what you like and not just what is expected of you or what you need to do to get something. You’ll find that the more time you spend doing this, the less you worry. Of course, you should do the things you need to do to keep your life on track, but along the way, stop and smell the roses at every opportunity. After all, time only moves forward and you don’t want to miss all your time on earth getting to the end. Life is a journey, and death is the destination. I know that sounds morbid, but its the truth. So enjoy the journey and stop trying to speed your way to the destination.
I hope you find these tips useful. I certainly have. Of course, I still stress about things occasionally but, in the moth since I made a resolution to live a more zen life, I have seen definite improvements in my stress levels. I have also become a much more fun person (not that I wasn’t already the life of the party).