What—manage stress by adding even more to your schedule? It may sound crazy at first—or even impossible if you’re very busy. But if you’re feeling overloaded, booking the time to look after yourself is the best way to make sure it happens. Here are three easy things you can add to your schedule to help make your days less stressful.
Take a Walk in the Park
A study published in Psychological Science concluded that even 20 minutes of strolling in a natural setting can induce a more relaxed state of mind and increase cognitive performance. In Japan, it’s called “forest bathing”. And plenty of other research has abundantly and conclusively demonstrated that regular walking—yes, even in an urban environment—decreases the amount of the stress hormone cortisol and delivers many other health benefits, including increasing your cardiovascular capacity, strengthening your bones, and improving your mood.
A walk in the park may be ideal, but it’s not always feasible, so find creative ways to fit walking into your day. Park a little further from work or get off public transit a stop early. Try booking time to go around the block at the end of your lunch break or mid-afternoon when you know your energy flags. Chances are your little strolls will make you feel so much better—and help you perform better at your job—that they’ll become a habit you don’t need to consciously schedule. (Although officially blocking the time in your calendar will make sure you get outside daily).
Be Kind, Please Unwind
Taking time to unwind is an important part of being kind—to yourself. Finding ways that help you relax physically and mentally can help you sleep better, boost your immune system, and support your body in reducing stress hormones. Choose something that works for both your body and mind: a long shower or bath, a therapeutic massage, an appointment at a spa, or a sauna or whirlpool once a week, can all work wonders. Many people benefit from developing a meditation practice, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. And if being still isn’t your thing, some forms of yoga and tai chi are designed to work as moving meditations, suitable for all body types and physical abilities.
When you anticipate an upcoming situation might be particularly stressful, try deliberately booking relaxation sessions around that time period to balance out the stress effect. This technique can be especially useful at the conclusion of a big project at work, prior to difficult conversations, or the day before you make a presentation.
However you schedule your relaxation time, make it a rule to also turn off your phone, take a break from email, and create some space between the demands of your life and your time out.
Remember that some familiar practices we use to relax might appear to divert our minds effectively, but can actually be over-stimulating. Surfing websites, watching TV or movies, or spending extended time on social media can sometimes add to our stress rather than relieve it. It’s not that these aren’t enjoyable ways to relax, but it’s important to be mindful of how truly rested we feel or don’t feel as a result. High-tension crime dramas or action films, some web content, or mindless communications, for example, might leave you with elevated adrenalin or feeling vaguely troubled right before you try to get a good night’s sleep.
Make Sure You Play
When you’re feeling stressed, it’s easy to let your own interests and passions fall by the wayside. Think of at least one activity that makes you happy and book it—daily, weekly, monthly—whatever you can reasonably manage.
Everyone’s different: perhaps you’d like a regular evening out with friends, a bi-weekly date with your partner to catch up, time alone to work on a creative project, a hobby class at a local college, or some kind of physical activity like tennis, yoga or swimming. These things all count as grown-up “play”—and play isn’t frivolous, it’s an effective way to reduce stress, sharpen your creativity and problem-solving skills, and derive more joy from life!
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you’re genuinely enthusiastic about, and naturally motivated to do. The point is to decrease stress, not add to it by building a list of things you “should” be doing.
Commit to Self-Care
There are lots of great stress-reduction techniques that offer real benefits, but when you’re overwhelmed or very busy, it really helps to consciously set time to practice them and manage your stress. Commit to the time required to take care of yourself as you would any other important appointment. After all, it is important. Your health and well-being affects almost every aspect of your life, both personal and professional.