This time of year is especially stressful, which makes it even more important for us to (attempt to) beat stress, without sacrificing productivity or health. Failing to address stress means our health suffers, setting up a losing cycle of eating poorly, not exercising, and irritability. I should know. I personally experienced all this crap.
A couple Christmases ago, I found myself at the bottom of a bottle of wine, attempting to erase the day full of busy shopping, terrible traffic, and an email inbox overflowing with demands. I paired my alcohol with a side of something boxed and processed and finished the meal with a dessert of self-loathing. Not surprisingly, at the time, I suffered from regular migraines, incessant heartburn, and, as a result, my personal and professional life suffered. Sometime thereafter, finally yielding to my inner get-this-stress-thing-under-control voice, I underwent my own brand of medicine, evaluating my lifestyle and health habits, and made a plan to prioritize my health and reduce my stress. Funny thing happened when I did that: I became more focused and efficient, professionally and personally.
Because I know I’m not alone in my desire to maintain excellent health and focus, especially this time of year, I present a few of my favorite ways to stay healthy and on the ball. I suggest implementing a couple methods at a time and maybe slowly introducing others – you don’t need additional stress!
- Set 3 + 3 Goals. My Rule of 3 + 3 is by far the most effective tool in my stress reduction arsenal. For each day, week, month, and/or year, write down 3 tasks you will complete for your professional or personal life. These tasks should be (1) specific, (2) concrete, and (3) small(ish). For example, one daily goal task should not be “buy all Christmas/Hanukkah presents for the family”. Although specific and somewhat concrete, that task is not small. Consider instead goals such as “buy the coloring books for my nephews” or “locate 2 recipes for my holiday party”. Taking small, specific bites out of your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly to-do lists reduces overwhelm and stress. Additionally, you feel accomplished when you complete your three tasks, which guarantees you will become more productive overall.
- Designate Alcohol-Free Times. Certainly, alcohol is a mainstay and problem in our society. Although the reasons behind the drinking problem are varied, our health, work, and efficiency nonetheless suffer at the hand of the bottle. Alcohol masks stress, reinforcing unproductive behavior and an inability to truly address our stress, which ultimately affects sleep and the ability to process information. Try abstaining for a designated period, such as during the timeframe of a significant project, Monday through Thursday, or hours before bedtime each night. The important thing is to (try) not to use alcohol as a stress reliever, instead finding other, healthier ways to combat stress. Which leads me to my next point . . .
- Prioritize and Schedule Exercise. Research proves that exercise reduces stress, increases focus, and improves physical health, among many other benefits. Indeed, exercise boosts mental acuity, allowing you to more easily process complex information and increase your daily productivity. Although the research is common knowledge, very few people prioritize exercise, resulting in exercise being the first task eliminated on a busy day. To prevent this, review the following week’s schedule over the weekend. Decide and schedule the days you’ll exercise. You will reap significant benefits from just a few 30 minute walks a week.
- Cook Once, Eat Twice. Or three times. Maybe four. Preparing meals at home ensures that you eat the most nutrient dense food while controlling unwanted and unnecessary ingredients from entering your diet (Christmas cookie, anyone?!?!). This combo translates into maintaining energy and focus throughout the day, leading to increased productivity. By cooking dinner on a weeknight and doubling or tripling the recipe, you also reduce stress because you know what’s for lunch, dinner, or both, the next few days. Twofer!
- Twofers. Speaking of twofers, combining activities allows you to balance priorities and manage time. For example, exercise and spending time with my family is a top priority in my life, so I merge the two: my husband and I will take a long hike or walk together and chat about life and work. Likewise, I’ll go gift shopping with a friend to catch up while knocking some items off my list!
- Get up Early. Maybe Super Early. According to psychologist Josh Davis, “waking up at 4 a.m., [you’ve] essentially wiped a lot of . . . distractions off [your] plate. No one is expecting you to email or answer the phone at 4 a.m. No one will be posting on Facebook. You’ve removed the internal temptation and the external temptation.” In short, you complete a lot of work in a condensed amount of time, which allows for a more productive day. That said, suddenly awakening much earlier than you are accustomed may cause significant fatigue later in the day or week. Start slowly by setting your alarm clock 15 minutes early every few days (e.g., 5:30 a.m. on Monday, 5:15 a.m. on Thursday, 5:00 a.m. on the following Tuesday, and so on) until you reach your desired waking time. Maintain the sleep/wake cycle on the weekends.
By implementing these and other stress reduction and health habits, I not only became healthier and more efficient in my everyday life, but my happiness skyrocketed. I hope these methods help you, too, especially this time of year! I’m always happy to talk, and if you have any questions, concerns, or thoughts, feel free to contact me!