Go to work. Supervise the children's homework. Cook dinner. Tidy the house. Take your dog for a walk. Visit your parents.
This represents a typical day for many people. From morning to night, they are ticking off tasks on their to-do lists, trying to meet their daily deadlines. One day runs into the next as they juggle their various roles and try to keep on top of their myriad challenges. It can be stressful and demanding and often leave you feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
Is there an easier way, you may well ask yourself, to complete all your daily activities yet manage to remain relaxed and have a good quality of life? With a few simple steps, a stress-free lifestyle may be within your grasp.
• Develop a routine. This will give a structure to your day and help you to achieve more. Routines are particularly helpful if you are going through a challenging time when there is uncertainty and change in your life. They offer a sense of comfort, control, security, and predictability because they typically have a beginning and an end. Experts say that routines are also good for our mental health. They enable us to cope with change, to form healthy habits, and to reduce our stress levels. They say routine can also be an anchor. Even if you are having a very unpredictable and stressful day, there may be security and solace in knowing that you are going to have something tasty for your tea at 6pm, you will watch your favourite television programme or listen to a podcast at 8pm, or that no matter how demanding your day has been, it will be over at 10pm when you go to bed. A routine does not have to be elaborate and you do not need to adhere religiously to it, but having some sense of order in your life helps.
• Change your perspective. Sometimes, things will go wrong. The car will break down, someone in your family will become ill, several unexpected bills will arrive one particular day, or you will wake up one morning feeling that the sun will never shine again. However, maybe after a little reflection, tea, and a moan with a loved one you will realise that the sun is only obscured by dark clouds and that everything is not as bad as it appears. Try looking for the glimmers of light in everything and do not give in to the urge to catastrophise. Aim also not to allow problems or issues within your control to multiply. This will only create further pressure for you. Try to keep on top of demands and do not take on new challenges unless you have the time and energy to deal with them.
• Set realistic goals at home and at work. These will give you purpose and focus, help you sustain momentum, as well as providing a sense of achievement and self-mastery. They will also help you stay on top of things and make improvements in any areas of your life that require change. Goals allow us to measure our progress and they will assist you in overcoming procrastination, if that is your downfall. Firstly, decide what you want to achieve, and then commit to it. Make sure your goals are specific, measureable, achievable, and time-specific. Then outline the steps you must take to make these a reality and cross off each one as you succeed. Be sure to celebrate your progress.
• Stop trying to please people. Say "No" and mean it, even if only occasionally to unreasonable requests and demands. This will free up time and relieve you of a major mental burden. It will be a welcome release from people and situations which sap your energy or heighten your stress levels. Enlist support, when necessary, too. Sometimes, even when feeling overwhelmed, we soldier on, depleting our mental and physical energy.
• Use your time well. Time management, which involves organisation, planning, prioritising, and goal setting, is important from a number of perspectives. It allows us to achieve more in a shorter period of time, reduces stress, improves efficiency and productivity, and is the pathway to success in any area. Good time management also free up more time in our lives that we can use for relaxation, pursuing favourite hobbies or interests, or devoting to our relationships. Creating a task schedule ensures you meet deadlines, make tangible progress, and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Aim to have a system, even for small, undemanding chores, and break down tasks into manageable challenges. Give yourself a timeframe in which to complete these and reward effort and achievement.
• Avoid procrastination. Many of us are guilty of putting off doing tasks, particularly ones we dislike. The only problem with that is they accumulate and then we are faced with a mountain of work which is even harder to tackle. It is best to deal with issues as they arise, that way they are more manageable. It may be a good idea to take on the biggest or most difficult chores early in the day or when you are at your most energetic. If you have a few demanding projects to complete, treat yourself to something nice after finishing each of them.
• Re-evaluate your responsibilities. What commitments do you have? Family, work, study? Take a look at these and see if you can lighten your load in any way. If you are caring for an older person could other family members help out and give you an occasional break? Is there a way of working smarter rather than harder at work? Could you be more organised and would that help? Could you share some of your responsibilities with your colleagues? That might help ease the pressure on you. Would a neighbour collect your children from school some days when she is collecting hers?
• Take time to unwind. Relaxation often does not take precedence in our busy lives but its pivotal role cannot be overestimated. Leisure time is important to help soothe our bodies and spirits, recharge our batteries, and counteract the effects of stress. Even short relaxation periods will enable us to feel calmer and better equipped to manage everyday tasks, think clearly, improve our concentration and memory, help us make better choices and decisions, and sharpen our focus. Before you schedule time for relaxation in your busy lifestyle, you must decide what relaxation technique works best for you. Is it going for a long walk, listening to soothing music, spending quality time with family, friends, or pets, having a warm bath, or reading a few chapters of an inspiring book? Once you establish your optimal chill-out method, vow to make time each day for this, no matter how demanding your work and family commitments may be.