At any given point in time you are likely to find yourself encountering some amount of anxiety, stress and general discomfort. Every day we are faced with challenges that make us anxious, stressed out and upset and this is just a normal part of life. Even something as simple as being stuck in traffic, running late for work or having to make difficult decisions about what to wear can cause stress and over time these small stressors can add up to have a cumulative impact. They also have the effect of making those really big stressors that much worse when they do occur.
‘Kaizen’ is a term that refers to the process of making lots of small changes over time, with the overall objective of having a large impact thanks to the cumulative effect of all those things. This is a great way to approach stress – by making lots of small changes in your life that are easy to make and thereby drastically reducing the total ‘net’ stress that you feel overall.
Here we will look at some of the best ways to address stress in small ways with lots of little changes. They may seem small but do them all and you might just feel like you can breathe again…
Leave for Work Earlier (or Later)
Did you know that there’s a universal fear that causes stress in everybody in the world? That fear is: people walking at you quickly. If anything moves directly towards you quickly, the human response is to recoil and move backwards and at the same time you will experience a rise in heart rate and blood pressure.
Now think about what happens when you go to work: essentially you face a huge swarm of oncoming pedestrians pushing and shoving their way at you. This is essentially that universal human fear… times a thousand and it means that you’ll end up arriving at work with a heart rate through the roof. What’s the solution? That would be to leave for work that bit earlier, such that you can avoid those crowds, or alternatively leave for work a little bit later if you have flexi-time. Waking up half an hour earlier can give you the chance to head to work before everyone else and to have a quiet 30 minutes in the office with a cup of tea.
Wake Up Earlier
Waking up half an hour earlier has another benefit too even if you don’t go into work early. That is you’ll remove the stress of having to get up and rush to work. Instead of starting the day already late and understandably stressed as a result, you can instead start it with a leisurely bowl of cereal while you watch the news. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot better?
Wake Up to the Sunrise
Better yet, instead of being woken up by a startling alarm – which literally floods your body with adrenaline as you’re shocked out of deep sleep – why not try waking up to a gently sunrise? This can greatly reduce anxiety, stress and is also useful for combating the condition known as ‘SAD’ or ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ wherein patients suffer low mood during the winter months owing to the lack of natural light and the cold temperatures.
Using a device from Lumie, it’s possible to instead enjoy being woken up by a gentle and gradual simulated sunrise with light designed to mimic the wavelength of natural light. There are contenders from other manufacturers too but in any case the idea is to give you the experience of being woken naturally by light that makes you feel fresh and calm at the start of the day.
Remove Things From Your Pocket
One of the things that can cause a stress response (i.e. heightened blood pressure, sweating, anxiety, stress) is pain – even very slight. If you have a large bunch of keys in your pocket with a wallet, then you can bet that those keys are going to be pushed into the side of your leg and this will cause you at least some amount of pain even if it’s not extreme. Again, this is the kind of small factor that can nevertheless be enough to gradually cause you discomfort and put you in a stressed state of mind. Empty your pockets and likewise make sure your clothes are comfortable and in no way causing you to itch or to be in pain. Annoying jeans that you have to keep pulling back up can be equally as frustrating too.
Speaking of clothing, wrapping up warm can also help you to feel more comfortable and less stressed. Being cold causes the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline – which just so happen to be the same hormones/neurotransmitters associated with stress. In other words then, if you are very cold and something stressful happens, then your experience of stress is going to be much higher owing to the fact that you’re already flooded with stress chemicals.
Like the cold, caffeine also results in the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that are associated with stress. Anxiety in fact is actually one of the main symptoms of caffeine when consumed in high quantities and this is due again to the release of the fight or flight hormones. If you’re someone with an anxious disposition, then starting your day with a coffee is actually one of the worst things you can possibly do!
Did you know that people are much more likely to have a stress, anxiety attacks or to angry outbursts if there’s even a faint background noise that’s constant? The same also goes for noises that are too high pitched to be in the range of human hearing. Now think about all the televisions that create those piercing sounds, all the traffic outside your house, the fridge, the washing machine… it’s any wonder that you don’t snap more often!
Reduce Fake Light
Likewise, try to reduce the amount of fake light you have in your rooms – especially your bedroom if you need to sleep there. Unnatural light causes the production of cortisol, which is the stress hormone, and it also prevents you from feeling tired in the evenings. Avoid TV too soon before bed then and make the effort to block out any LEDs or other glaring light sources that might be preventing you from snoozing.
Remove Smaller Decisions
‘Decision fatigue’ might not sound like a serious problem but it’s a genuine thing that a lot of productivity gurus will refer to often. Basically this is the cumulative impact of having to make lots of decisions – however small – all throughout the day. Things like choosing what to wear, what to have for lunch and what to do on a free evening all require thought and energy and can actually create a small amount of anxiety. Ultimately this can then leave you drained and less able to cope when you’re faced with a genuinely big and important decision.
The solution is to try and reduce as many decisions as possible you have to make throughout the day. Steve Jobs famously took this to extreme levels by only ever wearing the same combination of jeans and a black t-shirt. You might not want to go that far but planning your meals for the week and reducing your wardrobe can still have a surprisingly beneficial impact!
So there you go. Make these small changes to your routine and habits and you may just find life in general starts getting a bit easier!