A new year, a clean slate… and one of the leading commitments that people make to themselves for the months to come is that they will find a way to be less stressed. This can be a hard task, since you can’t control or predict what life throws at you. Even so, there are some proactive steps you can take to reduce your stressed-out reaction to the challenges you face. Consider these:
Clean out the clutter One of the most significant contributors to an unsettled mind is your immediate surroundings. If these are filled with items you mean to throw out, mess you need to sort out, or even things that are precious but you have just too many of them, you might find yourself irritated to the point of panic about the clutter.
Set yourself a series of goals for the year – one room or storage space a month, for instance – and then make sure you follow through by sorting, throwing out, donating or putting away the items in that space. People are having a lot of success with the Konmari method, but you can approach the task in any way that works for you.
There will be someone you have to deal with who consistently gets your back up.
Deal with toxic people Whether it’s the aunt who phones you and complains for hours about every other family member, or the co-worker who is always full of criticism, there will be someone you have to deal with who consistently gets your back up. While removing them from your professional or personal sphere may not always be possible, you might be able to work on how you respond to them.
Ask friends or a therapist – or do a bit of internet research – on how best to deal with such a person, and prepare to implement the right approach. And you can also work on accepting that annoying people are out there, but you don’t have to let them ruin your whole day, or week, or year.
Eat better Having the right type of food in your body gives you the mental and physical energy to get through the challenges of life. You can’t run a busy life on fast foods and cool drinks. You need a good balance of nutrients and energy to fuel your body. Make a point of eating as many fresh fruit and vegetables, and as few sugars, fats and high-GI carbohydrates as possible, and prepare your meals at home so you know what’s going into them. If you are trying to lose weight, try these substitutes – they’re healthy even if you are at your ideal weight.
Plan your finances Money is one of the leading causes of stress in South Africa. Give yourself a break next year by getting the basics right - draw up a budget, avoid overspending in December, make a plan to pay back debt and set savings goals for the year to come. You’ll be amazed how much less stressed you will feel with this plan in place!
If you need a bit of help with all of this, apply to do a Truth About Money Financial Education Course, which will empower you to take control of your money, get rid of debt, manage your spending and save wisely.
Top tip: In December, before the holiday starts, pay your month-end bills, and put aside some money for day-to-day living in January, so that you’ve spared yourself the stress of starting the year in debt, and you don’t have to spend the rest of the year paying it back.
Get regular moderate exercise Exercise is one of the most effective stress relievers. It pumps up your endorphins, distracts you from your worries and improves your mood – as well as the obvious advantages it has for your overall health and fitness. Of course, some people find that trying to fit in an exercise routine adds to their stress, but if you can find a way to make it work for you, you’ll reap the benefits.
Try to find an exercise that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be the usual weights and cardio training at the gym – you might find that you prefer yoga, dance or walking with friends. If you have small children, try taking them to the park and taking a brisk walk around the perimeter while they play.
Look after your health Make sure you’ve scheduled all the medical check-ups that you need for the year, so that you can rest assured you’re not overlooking any important screening procedures. And, if you do fall sick in the year, make a point of taking some time off to recuperate so that you don’t deal with lingering symptoms and exhaustion.
Top tip: Try these tips for using your lunch hour to boost your health.
Breathe, meditate, be mindful You can improve your general wellness by being mindful about breathing, and introducing a meditation practice into your life. There are some great online guided meditations, but the approach is fairly universal: sit in a quiet space, clear your mind and try to focus on something - either a candle flame, the voice in the guided meditation or an affirmation for the day - while breathing calmly in and out. You can do this for anything from five to 20 minutes. Various studies have found that meditation has scientifically verifiable benefits for your brain, including decreasing anxiety and increasing your ability to concentrate.
Get enough sleep The average person needs eight hours of sleep a night. If you find that you are regularly reducing your 40 winks because of work – or even play – you need to find a way to bring back the balance. If you struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep, reduce your screen time an hour before bed, and cut your caffeine intake after 2pm, then work at doing activities that calm your mind in the hours before bed.
Top tip: Once you’ve mastered the art of getting a good night’s sleep, use these tips to start your day right.
Prioritise your important relationships In 2016, a 75-year Harvard study revealed the secret to happiness. The revelation was no surprise: positive relationships are the greatest contributor to people’s lifelong contentment. The study also revealed that quality rather than quantity of close relationships was important, and that a stable and supportive life partnership was a significant contributor to both happiness and health.
If you are stressed, your life partner is probably the first person in the firing line. Work out a strategy for communicating your stress without making it their problem, ask them for help rather than being angry with them for not providing it, and think of ways to make it up to them and reconnect when the stress subsides.
Make a game plan for specific stress events Some times of the month or year are more stressful than others. You might know in advance when some of these are going to be - for instance, month-end at your work, or your child writing matric exams in November. Plan ahead so that you are on top of things before they get on top of you. Plan easy-to-assemble meals during that time, ask someone else to help you with school lifts, and warn friends and family that they can’t rely on you during your pressure periods. Don’t let yourself drown before asking for help!
Here’s to a stress-free 2018 It’s time to face the New Year, with all the joys and challenges it brings. If you’ve resolved to take action to lessen your stress, you’ll have taken a vitally important step to getting the most out of 2018.