Strategies to Reduce Stress and Increase Happiness

Write Down Ideas and Events: Anytime you think of something valuable or something that you should do or want to do, write it down! Make each thing a calendar event, even if it does not need to be done at a certain time — place the “event” at a time when you think you might feel like doing it. Keep moving events around your calendar that you have skipped (because they weren’t important or because you didn’t feel like doing them – don’t worry you certainly will do the ones that you have to!). This way you will eliminate the stress associated with keeping track of events IN YOUR HEAD! Helpful Apps: Google Calendar and Google Keep (FYI when I say “write down”, that can always mean to catalog digitally).

Wake Up Plan: Keep your phone in a different room than your bedroom and wake up with an alarm clock. Some studies show that just having your phone in a different room makes you happier and that this also helps your relationship (if someone else is in the room with you). Drink a tall glass of water. Take a walk. Be ready to write down any ideas that hit you while walking, they might be worth lots of $$$ and help to reduce stress later, sometimes much MUCH later! Be sure to enjoy the nature and cool buildings around you! Only be out as long as you feel like it.

Work Plan: If you have the choice and it works bests for you, do your creative work in the first half of your workday. Put the automated work later in your workday, or in-between creative tasks to allow your mind time to process what it needs to process. Place in person meetings between creative work, the human connections will make you feel better and reduce stress. Don’t forget that you can take a walk anytime, 5 minutes will change everything! Your desk set-up is critical — are you sitting in a balanced way? Perhaps you might enjoy alternating sitting and standing (this also burns more calories if that is your thing!)? If you sit all day you will feel bad and it will lead to more sitting — try moving each hour: walk around the room, switch from sitting to standing, move to a new spot, do jumping jacks or push-ups or jump in place, play Nintendo-Wi. Overall, be mindful of the position that your body is in for hours each day, we now know that these postures influence your mood and therefore your stress levels — and ultimately your productivity/ability to relax!

Meals and Snacks: This one is touchy! — Disclaimer: We are all different, so while it is usually good to try new and different things, when something doesn’t work for you, don’t do it! Seek professional guidance whenever possible, just be mindful that many “professionals” might not be keeping up with the latest trends and findings. — I personally have tried MANY APPROACHES and so far have found my best results with Time-restricted eating. Meaning that I keep my daily eating window to 8, 10, or 12 hours — if I start eating a bit later and end a bit earlier this is easy. There are loads of studies out there about the benefits, but basically this gives your body time recover and to be in modes which promote health. I try to keep my window to 12 hours max. I have a big breakfast with max two 8 ounce cups of coffee, then I eat throughout the day when I feel like it — I don’t restrict anything, but the base is salad/veggies, fruit, salmon, chicken, etc. I do eat “junk” and it seems to work well when balanced out by a healthy base, also the “junk” is delicious! More and more, I am finding that the quality of my thinking and related stress levels is the MUCH larger factor.

Organization: Many people do not keep a calendar, and put simply (and bluntly) — they are incredibly unorganized and waste something like half of their working day as a result. There is a direct relationship between stress/not getting much done and not being organised. Many individuals consistently work right up to deadlines because they have never known anything else. These habits create loads of stress and the excitement of finishing right at the deadline can actually become addicting — which reinforces this behavior. Instead, take breaks each day to work on organization. From the kitchen, to your closet, to your computer desktop, to the placement of the app icons on your phone — it all matters, even if you don’t think it does! Get organized in a way that makes sense to you. The stress reduction is immediate — but don’t try to make everything perfect immediately, do a little bit each day and you will build a habit of becoming more organised each day. It is super fun! You know the saying about the journey being more important than the destination? It is true because the part of your brain that wants the destination is different than the part that has to live with the outcome! Mindfulness is the means by which one can learn to enjoy the journey.

Mindfulness Meditation: Most folks feel like they are being asked to join a cult when this term comes up. Well mindfulness meditation works, but there are lots of misunderstandings and charlatans who try to make profit off of their exploitation and misunderstanding of this very simple concept. There are many ways to do it and I would suggest reading Sam Harris’s explanation of it, as well as using his WONDERFUL “Waking Up” App (which is free in 2020). Twice daily take 5 minutes, close your eyes and focus on your breath. When you lose focus, go back to your breath (you will lose focus 100s of times) HERE IS THE POINT — It doesn’t matter how well you do this, or what sounds are happening around you. Mindfulness meditation won’t result in an absence of thought, it will result in your ability to focus on command (your command!). After some time you will be able to notice and disengage from the sensations of stress — and to shut down habits which downward cycle to even more severe types of stress and types of depression/anxiety (this really is as close to a superpower as one can come!). You will be able to avoid the downward spirals of thought which plague most people throughout their days. While meditating, my brain spontaneously shouts out new ideas and attitudes of extreme positiveness — and I feel completely refreshed shortly after each session (FYI, I aim for 20 minutes twice daily — I fail at this often!). I literally am ready to write down very clever things which just come to me without conscious effort! Some of the positive ideas or sayings which just come to me often get me through the entire day — things like: “what a wonderful life you have”, or “that idea is going to work out great”, or “those are some really cool kids you get to work with”. Most people are skeptical of this practice, or they are confident that they have it all figured out — GOOD LUCK TO THEM!

Reframing: (Mindfulness can help with this!) Over time it is possible to change what things mean to you and how you feel about them. This is a long term process which usually moves slowly but will have a larger impact than anything else you can do. On the easy side of reframing: being happy for just being, noticing beautiful clouds, appreciating that you have a place to live, knowing that food keeps you alive, and knowing that you have people in your life who you can call anytime (actually anyone in your phone!)! The harder side of reframing: accepting that you can make incredible changes in your life but that it is mostly up to you to do so, realizing that you can let go of your ego – admit that you were wrong – make changes – and be much better for it, wrapping your head around the fact that what someone says to you has no impact on you unless you allow it to, and knowing the truth that saying/demonstrating what is right is 10x more powerful than yielding to your ego which needs to be right for no reason that is relevant or helpful to our society in 2020. It will be helpful to have quality friends, positive family members, a dynamic support system, and perhaps an effective therapist — especially at first. Be on the lookout for friends who make you feel better, but who also covertly re-enforce your limiting beliefs. These are not good friends, they are acquaintances. Acquaintances who use you to make themselves feel better about the fact that they are unwilling to find the strategies needed to create positive changes in their lives.

Mind Your Influences!: The eco-chamber effect is sharply on the rise, as many prefer to communicate with those who think as they do. This is especially the case when one is stressed and tired, as people always go for easier by default — unless they are mindful of what is happening! Most folks are less tolerant of ideas which do not line up with their way of thinking, and this is 100% not good. Free speech and the sharing of all ideas is the only productive way to embrace the best ideas and weed out the worst ones — if our aim is for a free and open society! If you aren’t willing to hear a bad idea then you aren’t willing to listen, you aren’t open, and you are trying to protect yourself from something. If you aren’t willing to hear a better idea then you might want to ask yourself why that might be… Many people make loads of excuses and have reasons why they don’t want to or don’t need to change. Suggestion: Get around people who think differently than you! Engage in discussions about all topics including religion, politics and money — where appropriate! This is opposite of the traditional wisdom, but take a moment to think about where and how far the traditional wisdom has brought us… Try watching and reading news from a variety of sources, and look into some of the extreme views which are out there — you will encounter them in your everyday life anyway (more and more going forward)! If you are mindful and open then you cannot possibly be taken as a fool by “[“fake news”]”. I can personally attest that after awhile you will be less stressed when you hear an idea which is different than your own, and you will be able to communicate and connect with far more people!

Thomas Kociela — Consultant: I have been helping individuals and organizations continue to grow and even thrive during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is 100% possible if you apply the best strategies and BELIEVE that it is possible to thrive! Unfortunately, applying all of the best strategies without a firm belief in a positive outcome will equal 0% success. I would love to help, I welcome a conversation!