A couple of months ago my life took an unexpected turn and my stress levels went way up. We didn’t have any drastic life changes or tragic circumstances, it was just a culmination of several things happening at once. My schedule became much tighter than I prefer and I felt like I was constantly on the go. Basically, I had a lot of extra plates spinning in the air and I felt incredibly responsible for making sure that none of them would come crashing down and break.
We all face stressful times at one point or another. Whether it is a short-lived season like I went through or stressful circumstances that you don’t have full control over, stress is an inevitable part of life.
However, we do have the power to reduce and manage our stress and stressful circumstances so that they don’t derail us or negatively impact our health and life. Here are 20 ideas that you can begin to implement right away to help you reduce stress in your life.
1. Reduce your to do list.
If you don’t have a to do list that could be part of your problem. When everything is stuck inside your head it is easy to let anxious and negative thoughts control you and throw you into overwhelm. However, if you take the time to get everything out of your head and onto paper you have the chance to take a realistic view of everything you’ve got going on.
Once you’ve jotted down everything you can think of that needs to be done I want you to read through your list. For every ten items on your to do list I want you to find one that you can remove. I promise you that you’ve written down at least something that doesn’t actually need to get done.
I like to paint my nails every week, but for the last couple of months while my schedule has been extra full my nails have been extra plain. No one noticed but me and the small benefit I get from having pretty nails was nothing compared to the time I saved by not doing them. Find the things that are not urgent or important and cross them off.
This isn’t saying you’ll never do these things, just that you won’t do them today or for this season. I’m happy to report that as of today both my fingers and my toes are freshly painted now that my busy, stressful season has come to an end.
Do not try to fight me on this one. I will literally sacrifice taking a shower in order to exercise every single day. I promise you, whatever you need to do to start exercising on a consistent basis is worth it. I’m not suggesting that you go to the gym for hours a day. I simply mean that you should move your body in a way that requires moderate effort for at least 10 minutes a day. If you don’t have 10 minutes a day available to move your body then you most certainly need to go back to item #1.
Exercise helps to relieve mental stress, it helps to clear your mind so that you can think logically and rationally and solve problems. Exercise lowers your stress hormones like cortisol and releases endorphins that improve your mood and act as natural painkillers. It also can help to improve your sleep, and we all know that stress can wreak havoc on our ability to get a good night’s rest.
Related: 8 Ways to Sneak in Exercise
3. Get enough sleep.
Speaking of sleep, when life is stressful you should not significantly reduce the amount of sleep you are getting in order to try to manage all the things stressing you out. When you are stressed, you want to bring your best self to all of the activities and events you need to deal with. I can assure you that you will never be operating as your best self if you are sleep-deprived. Go to sleep. Everything is easier when you’re well rested.
This particular item is not aimed at people who try to get enough sleep each night but remain awake due to stress-related insomnia. If you’re in bed, in the dark (without your phone in your face or the TV on), trying to sleep for at least 8 hours a night you are doing the right thing. The other items on this list should help to reduce your stress more so that your insomnia can improve. If not, go to the doctor for help. For everyone else, get your 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
4. Use essential oils.
Your sense of smell can do wonderful things for your brain. That is why aromatherapy has been around for centuries. You can diffuse essential oils in your home or office to help calm your brain and relax you throughout your day. It is part of my morning routine to turn on a relaxing or energizing scent in my essential oil diffuser nearly every day to help my family start with a calm and peaceful morning.
Some relaxing scents to try include lavender, rose, bergamot, roman chamomile, frankincense, and orange. If you are new to essential oils you can check out this post where I break down all the basic information you need to know to get started safely.
5. Avoid procrastination.
When I’m feeling stressed and busy my brain goes into overdrive. I see all that I need to do and immediately feel overwhelmed. Instead of diving right in I feel paralyzed and do nothing. Or I waste a whole lot of time doing unimportant things that are easier or more enjoyable than the urgent things I actually should be doing.
Grab that to do list and start numbering the items in order of priority. Don’t number them based on what you feel like doing or what would be easiest or fastest to do. Order your tasks by their importance and urgency. What absolutely must get done today? What will have the most consequences if you don’t do it soon? Start with number one and get to work. Bonus points if you schedule the items on your calendar so that you can better force yourself to keep moving at a pace that will allow you to get things done.
6. Watch your self-talk and thoughts.
How you feel is determined by the thoughts you are thinking. If you are feeling anxious and stressed it is not because of your circumstances. Your emotions are always caused by the thoughts you think.
You might have a full schedule. There might be a lot of responsibilities on your plate. But did you know that you don’t actually have to feel anxious and stressed just because you are busy?
Our emotions can be helpful signals to guide us in our choices. Feeling anxiety or stress could be a useful sign that you need to reexamine your schedule and your priorities.
But if you are not able to change your circumstances and you don’t want to feel stress and anxiety then you need to change the thoughts you are thinking and the words you are using both with others and with yourself.
This article can guide you through the process of changing your thoughts in a way that will change your emotions and therefore your actions and results.
7. Reduce your caffeine intake.
About a year ago a Biggby coffee shop opened up around the corner from my house. I’ve never been a huge coffee drinker, but when you put loads of syrup, foamy milk, and a mountain of whipped cream with some coffee, I am all in.
Ever since the coffee shop opened our household budget has struggled. We pass by multiple times a day in the car, and it’s just a short little walk on foot. Why not go every day, especially when you’re busy, stressed, and tired?
For many busy moms, caffeine is like a lifeline. Without it, we can barely function and we need a constant stream of it to keep us moving throughout the day.
Now, I’m not telling you to kick the caffeine or coffee habit completely. I think that a small to moderate amount of coffee can sometimes be perfectly acceptable. However, caffeine is a stimulant and it is known to increase anxiety. If you are already struggling with stress and anxiety, you don’t need to add a stress-inducing drug to the mix.
Back off that coffee pot for a little while and figure out how to get your energy from sleep, exercise, and healthy food.
Take out a notebook and make a list of all the things you are grateful for. Be sure to include the little stuff like “warm sun coming through the windows” or “belly laughs with the kids at bedtime”. If you’re grasping at straws and can’t come up with very many things you can even go real simple with things like life, food, clothes to wear, clean water, and more.
The purpose of this exercise is, of course, to help your brain focus on gratitude and thankfulness. Did you know that what you focus on expands? If you focus on the negative things in life you’ll see and experience more negative things. But if you instead focus on the positive things in life you’ll begin to notice more positive things coming your way. You’ll experience more joy. And stress has a really hard time sticking around when joy is present.
You can also use your journal to write out your thoughts and feelings. It can be really helpful just to get it all out. If you’re worried about someone reading it later you are welcome to shred the paper after you’re done writing, but take some time to be fully open and honest, even if it’s just with a pen and paper.
Related: How to Start a Journal
9. Spend time with good people
Did you know that spending time in good relationships helps to release oxytocin? It is literally a natural stress reliever to spend time in relationships with others. Obviously, you want to be smart about who you’re choosing to spend your time with. There are people who spread stress, drama, and negativity like the plague. Those aren’t your people. Intentionally work to develop relationships with people you can be real and honest with, people who will build you up and encourage you. Choose positive, empowering people who will support you in your journey.
Sometimes my children have overly dramatic meltdowns or tantrums. I know, I’m probably the only parent with this problem, but it happens. They scream and cry and sometimes even kick or push someone. It ain’t pretty. And there is very little I can do in the heat of that moment to make things better. Their emotions have taken over and they literally have no control over their actions.
In order to get a child to calm down in the midst of an emotional tantrum, you’ve got to figure out how to quiet the lower level primitive brain that’s freaking out and doesn’t understand reason. One of my favorite strategies for this is is to do something funny. It works like a charm a good majority of the time. A kid will be screaming and thrashing, I’ll say or do something funny, you’ll hear a pause, and suddenly they’re doing this weird giggle and scream thing at the same time. Within moments they are full on laughing and we are back in control.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you, as an adult ever lose control and throw a tantrum or have a meltdown. But if you ever feel like your negative emotions are overwhelming you and you are losing control, I invite you to find something funny. Watch stupid videos on YouTube, have a dance off with your kids, crack a joke with your coworkers, whatever you need to do to get yourself laughing.
As I said before, joy and anxiety have a really hard time coexisting. Find yourself some joy and give yourself the chance to get control over your negative emotions.
11. Say No.
No can be a complete sentence. If you want it to be. If you don’t absolutely want to do something, say no. You don’t have to explain yourself, you don’t have to come up with a compelling reason. No, all by itself, is good enough. When you’re already stressed out and busy you don’t need to add more things. Say no. It will be okay. Everyone will survive.
12. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of being present, right here and now. Focus all of your attention and awareness on exactly the task and the people right in front of you. Don’t let your thoughts wander, don’t try to multi-task, just be mindful of this present moment.
Mindfulness takes practice and effort in our busy, noisy world. But when you practice mindfulness you clear out the nose in your head too. You are able to stop your anxious, negative thoughts because you aren’t thinking a whole bunch of thoughts, you’re too busy focusing on what’s right in front of you. And unless there is a person literally dying right in front of you, your present moment probably isn’t as stressful as your mind might be telling you it is.
The other trick I use when my kids are spazzing out is to pull them in and envelope them in a giant hug. Hugging, cuddling, and snuggling release oxytocin, lower cortisol, lower blood pressure, and lower your heart rate. Snuggling is like a calming drug.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety find someone to hug. Your kid, your spouse, your friend, or even your pet. Hang out and cuddle until you feel calmer.
14. Play some music.
In the past, I’ve let my kids choose which Pandora station we listen to while we’re driving around in the car. But often they pick things like “Baby Shark” or “Pink Fluffy Unicorn” or some other song that makes me want to stab my ears out. Several months ago when I was feeling particularly stressed out I finally pulled the mommy card on the car music selection. I played the music that I loved, the music that I knew would bring me joy or peace or both. The kids complained a bit, but then they realized my music isn’t so bad after all.
Music, when it’s a style we actually enjoy, has a way of calming us down, bringing us joy, and making the world seem a little brighter. Play some music, dance, sing, and enjoy yourself.
15. Deep breathing.
You know how to do this one. You know it works. But we don’t often think about it. Take some deep, slow breaths when you’re feeling anxious. Just focus on the air coming deep into your lungs and then slowly let it out. As you blow out the air, imagine yourself blowing away the anxious thoughts with it.
16. Eat wisely.
There are two types of people in the world. Those who eat when they feel stressed and those who starve themselves when they feel stressed. Neither are great options. You want to be functioning at your best when you’re stressed, your body needs good fuel to function at it’s best. Too much fuel will slow it down, even if it’s good fuel. Too much bad food will make your body sluggish and struggle.
But if you aren’t giving yourself any fuel because you’re too busy and stressed to eat then you won’t be able to function well then either.
Eat food that fuels your body well. Not too much and not too little.
Related: Four Pillars of Healthy Eating
17. Manage your time well.
There’s a lot that goes into this tip. For starters, understand what your priorities are. When making decisions during stressful periods it is important to really focus on and remember what is most important to you. Focus on the things in your life that are priorities and feel free to let other things go.
You also want to plan ahead. If you don’t have a system and a calendar in place that you regularly use, it is time to make one. Don’t just throw things on a calendar and forget about them. Take the time to review what is coming up each week and each day so there aren’t surprises and things won’t fall through the cracks.
Additionally, now is the time to get help. Every successful person in the world doesn’t do everything all by themselves. They have mastered the art of delegation. Ask your husband for help, your kids for help, your coworkers, hire a cleaning service, and order your groceries for delivery. Figure out the things that don’t need to be done by you and find someone else to do them.
The final piece of this tip is don’t neglect your self-care. When life gets stressful it is so easy to drop working out, drinking water, eating healthy, getting rest, and the like. But in fact, these are the times when we need these things the most. Schedule workouts on your calendars, make sure you have time to find and eat healthy food, and block off your time to rest.
18. Live your values.
Make sure your actions reflect your beliefs. Make sure what you do is a representation of what’s important to you. If you’re feeling stressed it can sometimes be an indication that you’re pursuing the wrong things or doing things for the wrong reasons. This isn’t always the case, but it can be helpful to consider. Use stress and anxiety as signals to pay attention and get curious. Uncover the reasons why you are experiencing these feelings and figure out if you need to make some changes.
19. Be realistic in your expectations.
You only have 24 hours in your day. There are only so many things you can fit into those hours. If you’ve set yourself up for too much, figure out a way to pare things down.
You also need to pay attention to the expectations you have toward others. My kids can often cause me a lot of stress and anxiety. But often, the times when I’m most upset and stressed about their actions and choices is when I’m expecting them to act like grown adults. They’re not and they won’t be for quite some time. My job is to guide them into adulthood, not expect perfection from the start.
With all people and situations, we can often have higher expectations than reality would suggest. If you’re finding that things aren’t quite working out the way you had hoped or the people in your life aren’t living up to your expectations it might be a good idea to step back and reexamine what you’re expecting.
20. Pursue a hobby or activity you enjoy.
Even when you’re incredibly stressed and busy, you should still make the time for leisurely activities you enjoy. God commanded us to rest. And rest isn’t just sleeping. He wants us to rest and relax because He knows that He created our bodies to need it.
Even if it’s just 15 minutes, find a pocket of time in your schedule to do something that you enjoy. Something that fills you up, calms you down, and makes you happy. Maybe this is going for a walk, crocheting, going to a dance class, hanging out with a friend, reading a book, or playing a card game with your husband.
Life should never be completely packed with work and stress, be sure to make the time to enjoy your life, no matter your circumstances.
Related: Say Goodbye to Survival Mode Course
Today’s Action Step to Reduce Stress Right Now
I started this list by mentioning that you could do all of these things today to help you reduce stress. Obviously, if you tried to do all 20 of them you’d run out of time and be more stressed than you started. So, just pick one. Pick the one that made your heart excited when you read it. Everyone is different, and every day is different. But I’ll bet that there is at least one thing on the list that you know would make a big impact for you today. Go and do that thing.
While you’re at it, sign up for the Working Mom’s Balance email club in the box below and I’ll send you my Life Balance Worksheet. This will help you to identify the areas of your life that could most use your attention to tweak and adjust to help you live your best and fullest life.