Join Liam Livings as he shares with us some top tips on combatting stress for the New Year...
I was once told by someone when I explained why I’d been sick due to stress, that I should just be less stressed and that would make me less stressed.
Hopefully these tips will be rather more practical and useful than that piece of advice…
Take Regular Exercise
Pick something that you enjoy and you’re likely to do regularly and easily. For me it’s walking. It requires no equipment (other than a coat and shoes) and can be done easily around my daily life. I aim to walk for 45mins at least 5 days a week. Some days I walk longer, some days I don’t walk at all because life gets in the way. But having an app on my phone to track this means if I’ve had a few days of less than 2000 steps in a day (less than 0.3miles) which his basically me shuffling around the house, then I make an effort to walk the next day.
I aim for about 5000 steps a day, which is about 2.5miles or so, and average 6200 steps per day since I downloaded the app. I know there’s lots of guff about walking 10000 steps per day, but honestly, who has time to walk that long in a busy day? Don’t be put off by this arbitrary 10000 steps malarkey, aim for half that and celebrate every time you achieve it.
Another tip is when you feel you’re too busy to take a break, that’s the exact time when it’s most important to stop. Take. A. Break. Even if it’s only a 30min break outside away from your computer. Do it, you’ll feel so much better afterwards.
Multi-tasking is a lie we tell ourselves to fool ourselves we’re being really productive. However, unless you’re doing something active and something passive (listening to an audio book while ironing, or listening to music while writing something) you’re not really multi-tasking; you’re task-switching. Switching very quickly between to active tasks.
For example, if I have to write a report for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, I could try to do that while checking my emails, social media notifications. I could write a few sections, then reply to some emails and Twitter notifications, and then come back to the report. From experience this means it’ll take about 3-4 times longer to achieve the main task than if I’d simply done that one main task (writing the report) while doing nothing else.
The science behind this, in case you’re interested, is that every time you switch tasks it takes your brain time to adjust to the new task. This in itself is stressful, it also slows you down, which again adds to the stress. I use the Pomodoro technique for this: working on one task (and one task only) for blocks of time, with short breaks to make tea, check social media, whatever floats your boat, before returning to that one task.
Eat The Frog First
If you have a busy stressful day ahead of you, start it by doing the thing you really really don’t want to do. First. Then the day can only improve. And if you have two really hard unpleasant things to do. Do them both as soon as possible. It will give you a great sense of achievement, stop them worrying and stressing you out for the rest of the day, and help you along for the rest of the day.
The Main Thing
The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing of the day. See previous points. If you absolutely and completely must complete x during the day, make sure you do. Don’t allow yourself to be taken down blind alleys of ‘I’ll just check this’ or ‘I’ll do a bit of that’ because before you know it, it’ll be 6pm and you won’t have done THE MAIN THING. Which will inevitably mean stress. This is basically a way of saying focus and priorities.
As someone who suffers bouts of terrible insomnia I know how hard this can be, so I’ve a few simple tips that have helped me:
- 45mins before lights out have no more screen time (TV, tablets, phones)
- Any worries about things to do tomorrow, relegate to a notepad and leave them there
- Avoid caffeine after 6pm
- Don’t rely on alcohol to send you to sleep; it becomes a viscous cycle of needing more and more to make a difference.
- Keep your bedroom a little cooler than the rest of your house (you may want to sleep wearing only Chanel Number 5 as Marilyn once confessed, but I’ll leave that to you to decide)
- Do something just before you sleep that allows you to relax your mind – reading fiction does this well for me.
- If you can’t sleep when you turn the lights out, don’t tell yourself off; just remember you’re still resting. As soon as you really try hard to sleep it’s the kiss of death in my experience. Simply lay there and rest.
Give yourself permission, and know that it’s actually helpful to being more productive, to just resting and doing nothing, even when you’re feeling really stressed and overwhelmed.
We are not machines. We can’t continue to work at the same pace all day, every day. Even if it’s only a 45min lunch break away from your desk, reading a book, or a nap in the afternoon when you know you’ve got to edit that other chapter, you need it, so take it.
Diet is Important
I mean diet as in what you eat, not as in being on a calorie controlled diet for a period of time. If you’re fuelling your body with rubbish you’re going to feel exhausted and unable to do what you need to do, hence making you more stressed, and likely less able to sleep.
Aim for the 80/20 principal: if you eat well 80% of the time what you eat for the rest of the time doesn’t matter. I love a box of Milk Tray…just saying!
Try to eat as many colours of the rainbow as possible – whole fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Try to eat a high protein, low sugar / carb (not no carb because that’s not healthy either) diet. Everyone knows that bread, pasta, rice are delicious; that’s because they’re all converted to sugar and then fat in our bodies. Filling yourself up with meat, fish and fruit and veg is much healthier.
You can easily over-eat carbs / sugars (who’s had bread for breakfast, lunch and then dinner in one day, I know I have) but try doing that with protein – you can’t do it because you’re full much sooner. Look up Dr Lustig online for more and the sciencey bits behind it.
Liam's Serendipity series is available as a boxset now. For more information check out his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.