Repeat after me: Life is too short to be stressing over whatever you’re worried about right now.
Every year, my New Years resolution is to stress less. When I reflect on the past, I absolutely hate thinking, “That was fun – but I remember being stressed about x, y, and z at the time.”
Recently, I went out to lunch with my younger sister for her 22nd birthday. I asked her about what she was looking forward to in the coming year. She paused for a moment in thought, then said in a determined tone, “I’m going to stress less. I’ve been given twenty-two years of this life so far – and I’ve spent them all stressing about something.”
As the words came out of her mouth, I was at a loss for words myself because it was as if she had taken them out of my own exhausted mind. I had been thinking the exact same thing just that morning, breathing through anxiety in the bathroom mirror as was, sadly, a frequent tradition – and I had spent five more years than she had letting stress dominate my everyday life.
My sister and I live in the same city and, as we grow older, five years seems like less and less of an age difference. Each time that we meet up, our conversations revolve around what papers she has to write that night, and what projects I feel that I am behind on at work. While our commiseration may occasionally seem like therapy, I wish we had filled these hours with discussing more positive subjects and bouncing ideas off of each other for bettering the world.
The bottom line that I have accepted is that there will always be another obstacle to overcome. There will always be another test to pass, another degree to get, another job to interview for, another personal goal that you set for yourself once the last one is achieved. Don’t fall into the trap of, “I will be happy when [insert obstacle here] is over.” Because the reality is that you won’t be – there will always be another challenge after that. Find solace in the moment you’re living in and appreciate the stage you are at in your journey. It’s so much easier said than done, but start to make the conscious effort. Here are my tips:
1. Start the day with positivity.
I used to dread the sound of my alarm in the morning, because my first thought would be a challenge of the upcoming day that I approached with the wrong frame of mind. Instead of giving myself a pep talk into accepting it with positivity, I would give into the anxiety. Take control of your first thought of the morning, because you are setting the tone for your day. Instead of scrolling through social media outlets in bed (does this put you in a good mood? It doesn’t for me), get an app that projects positivity – I like the Buddha app that lets you scroll through positive, motivational quotes (they didn’t pay me to say that – Namaste).
2. Start the day with thankfulness.
Whatever your religion, you can agree that being grateful for what you do have in this life is universally applicable. It can be a loved one, a pet, or the smallest thing; just take a moment to say “thank you,” maybe even to yourself for the strength that you’ve been showing in the struggles that you have been going through.
3. Say “Thank You” all day long.
My mother raised me with the notion that “Thank You” notes are not optional etiquette – you send them. You don’t have to take her advice (although I recommend it), but simply say “Thank you” when you’re ending a phone conversation, when someone holds the door for you, or anytime someone has extended even the smallest gesture that shows that they took you into consideration. Let’s appreciate one another a little more often.
4. Spread love.
There is too much negativity in this world to spread anything but love. The next time you have a hostile thought, talk yourself out of it and try again. It isn’t an overnight change, but a kind word or action here and there could make the biggest change in the world.
5. Compliment yourself.
I’m an advocate of talking to yourself — just maybe tone it down when you’re in public. There is nothing wrong with talking through your to-do list, and giving yourself a pat on the back for everything that you have already accomplished.
Keep everything in perspective – yes, you most likely still have a million things left to do, but there are only so many hours in one day. As long as you are doing your best, what more can you ask of yourself? Talk kindly to yourself; you deserve it.
6. Take care of your mental health.
Take a personal day now and then. More importantly, use that day wisely. Don’t be “still available by e-mail” and stay plugged in if you’re going to do this right. To have an effective personal day, you need to detach from the source of your stress. Do something only for you – read a book for fun, go to a yoga class, get a massage. If you aren’t in a healthy state of mind, your work will not be the best that you’re capable of. You’re doing yourself a favor by preventing burnout and coming back stronger and ready to tackle your challenges head on tomorrow.
7. Give back.
There is always somewhere you can volunteer. Ask around and find a cause that means something to you. It doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment; give as much of your time as you’re able to. When you feel connected to a cause, it builds your sense of purpose – you’re contributing to something that matters, and you know that you’re making a difference.
8. Stay in tune to current events.
Read the news. Not only one news source (Can I give a plug for BBC here?). Keeping an eye on current events worldwide will help to keep you grounded. Can you really be this stressed out over that deadline when others are facing war and natural disasters? A little perspective can go a long way in changing your outlook on life.
9. Surround yourself with positivity.
Some people are just negative. Recognize it, and distance yourself from them. Make a conscious effort to surround yourself with people who have positive auras, who make the best out of bad situations. Because in the end, that is the kind of person that you should be striving to be.
10. Stop waiting.
What is the one thing that you have wanted to do forever, but always had an excuse for putting off? Something came to your mind when you read that. Treat yourself. There will always be a reason to not do something – that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it now.
You can read endless lists like this one, aimed at guiding you to the solution to your anxieties. The hard part is breaking through the barrier that’s holding you back from absorbing the message. We all know, “I should stress less,” but telling someone, “You should try to stress less,” is not going to do the trick. It’s about the little improvements, everyday, in how you see yourself, the people around you, and the challenges you’re facing.
You don’t want to look back on your life and think, “I was always worried about something.” I know that I don’t.
Here is the reality: There will ALWAYS be something to stress over. Money, relationships, friendships, family, health, work, the future, the world — there are endless forever looming potential troubles. It all comes down to how equipped you are to handle them if they come – key word “if.” Stressing about something that could happen is a complete waste of the minutes you have on this planet, because there is nothing in your power that you can do to control the outcome of an event that hasn’t occurred. And if the day comes when your fear becomes a reality, fall back on the strength of your core that you’ve built. Remember to look beyond the material world and focus on building up what cannot be taken away from you – who you are and what you stand for.
So take a deep breath, say something nice to yourself, and keep the positivity flowing through you and into the world even when it’s tough.