It has been a stressful 12 months, that’s for sure. The way the world is looking right now, 2022 doesn’t seem like it will take it easy on us either. It is becoming increasingly important to become resourceful in today’s society. With the world becoming more complicated by the minute, we have to be able to keep a balanced life.
Being able to manage our stress is a large part of living a balanced life. One of the most efficient ways to manage stress is to create habits that positively impact your stress levels. Once these habits are created, you almost don’t have to think about your stress levels anymore, you will be managing it on autopilot!
What Is A Habit?
We all utilize a multitude of habits throughout our day, whether we realize this or not. Habits are simply behaviours that we perform without thinking. Common examples of this include brushing your teeth before bed, getting dressed for work and even smoking. Our brain makes use of these for a reason. Having a lot of habits creates a lot of free time for our brain to do work on other more complicated tasks, like reasoning and emotional control.
But if we all make use of such habits, how did we get them? Once we have them, is it also possible to get rid of them? Well the answer can get complicated, but there are examples out there that help explain the formation of habits pretty well.
One example that you might personally relate to is being distracted by your phone doing work. Take a student that is sitting in a library and working on their course material. They have all their pens and books neatly laid out on the table, as well as their phone. As they are working, a notification pops up on the screen of the phone, and without even thinking about it, the student reaches over to check on that notification. It turned out to be a simple message from mom, so the student quickly replies. But he decides to also check up on his facebook page, as well as his Instagram. 30 minutes later, the student realizes he has just wasted a good chunk of his study time.
A habit is always triggered by something. In the case of the student, the habit was picking up the phone to check social media, while the trigger was the notification pop-up or the vibrating of the phone. Once we are exposed to the trigger, we continue on to the habit. At the end our brain expects some kind of reward. Taking your mind of a difficult task like studying to go and enjoy some social media browsing is a big dopamine rush for your brain. Hence the final reward was the dopamine rush.
In the case you want to unlearn bad habits such as in the example of the student, make sure you read my article about unlearning habits and behaviours here! Let’s go into some more detail in how we can actually form habits!
How To Form Positive Habits
The basis for forming new habits is a lot of patience and persistence. Habits can take more than 30 days to solidify into your personality, so if you give up after just a couple of days, chances are your newly created habit just won’t stick! That being said, there are some tips to make it easier for you so that you are able to stay motivated long enough to successfully create your new habits!
1. Start with a small habit
With the new year 2022 quickly approaching, we are seeing a wave of new year’s resolutions. Just like the previous years, the same mistakes continue to get made! People simply start out too big! When you want to create a habit of getting in shape, do not start of by expecting to go run everytime you come home from work. The motivation to keep this up will last about 3 days, and then you’ll never go back to it again. If you want to make something a habit, remember that it can take up to a month before that habit sticks. So make sure you are able to stay motivated for a month!
Instead of trying to go for a 5k run every 2nd day, start out small. Say you will go for a walk around the block 3 times per week. Now do this for a month! Simply going for a walk is no big deal, and you’ll easily be motivated and disciplined enough to stick to it if you are really looking for a change!
2. Build your habits up slowly
Building up on the previous section, now that you have been going for a walk 3x per week for a month, now you can begin to start increasing the difficulty. Your body and mind are used to go outdoors now. It is now the time to increase the intensity of the time spend outside. Replace the walks with jogs, and make sure you find a healthy way to train to reach your 5k goals!
3. If your habits get too complex, break them up
Once habits start to get very complicated, make sure to break them into chunks. After successfully running 5k, you might want to go for a triathlon. This also includes biking and swimming. Don’t expect to train all of these other sports with the same intensity as your running. Now you have to spend 1 month going to the pool 3x per week to just swim some casual laps. Now that your mind is expecting you to go swim on a weekly basis, you can begin to increase the intensity of your training. The same goes for the biking part.
4. Keep track of your progress
An incredibly important part of habit forming is that you are able to keep track of your progress. Everybody makes mistakes, doesn’t matter if it is your neighbour or the world’s best athletes. People miss training sessions, make mistakes, or simply fall of their path for months. The only way to catch yourself making errors, is to keep a progress file in which you are able to see your history.
Don’t expect to fail, but plan for failure. Before you start a habit, analyze the things in life that can happen to stop your habit from materializing. Going back to the running example, expect an injury to occur. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on trying to make this a habit! You just have to make sure you are as consistent as you can be, but don’t beat yourself up over mistakes or missed opportunities.
How To Reduce Stress Using Habits
1. Get in the habit of exercise
Exercise is known to be one of the best methods to relieve stress, so turning it into a habit can be really advantageous for us. Exercise is able to do this due to its ability to relieve tension, anxiety and anger. All of which are closely related to stress. But how do we know how much and what kind of exercise we need?
Well the American Heart Association recommends an average of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. By moderate aerobic exercise, they mean training such that your heart rate is approximately 65% of your maximum heart rate. If you have no access to a heart rate monitor, you can also do the talk test. When you are doing your workout, you should still be able to hold a conversation with someone else, while breaking a sweat of course! A light jog or going for a bike ride are both excellent options.
Simply doing this for 50 minutes a day for 3 days a week is perfect for relieving you of stress! I hope you were able to follow the 5k runner example in the previous section. If you did, then you should know how to make this into a habit. Remember to start slow and to keep at it! You will feel relieved as quickly as the first workout! However, if you want to combat chronic stress, you have to ensure you keep up your exercise regime!
2. Mindfulness meditation & journaling
Mindfulness meditation and journaling is all about feeling the present moment and the world around you as it is. Mindfulness teaches us to let go of all the stressful things in life, and simply focus on the now. The classic technique used in meditation sessions is the breath.
You are told to focus on the rise and descent of your chest as you breath. Focus on just that, and do not let your mind run away. Sooner or later, you will find that your mind has wandered into thought, and you are daydreaming about whatever is on your mind at that time. Once you realize you got distracted, you have to come back and focus on your breathing. This strengthens your ability to live in the now and in the present moment. This can be an excellent technique to make use of when you find yourself worrying about the future. Just bring yourself to focus on the moment, and let go of all those stressful thoughts.
Not only that, the meditations themselves are incredibly stress relieving. There are several ways mindfulness helps with stress:
- It increases your focus: Mindfulness allows your emotions to ‘cool down’. It gives you a moment of peace where you are able to make up your mind about what you plan to do in a rational way, without acting purely on your emotions.
- It allows you to see perspectives: During mindfulness journaling moments, you are able to reflect on your current state of being. This allows you to see conflicts in your life from different side, which can offer up new solutions and opportunities!
- You become more aware of your emotions: Becoming more aware of our emotions means we are able to work on ourselves in a more focused manner. Therefore we are able to decrease our emotional stress using specific techniques.
Turning this into a habit is actually quite simple. All you have to do is to do a mindfulness meditation for 10-15 minutes before you go to bed, or after you wake up (preferable both). Like I mentioned at the start of this section, just focus on your breathing, and when you notice that your brain goes into thought, bring it back to focus on your breathing. You should start to feel more relaxed after a couple of sessions!
3. Create good sleeping habits
Sleep is probably one of the most powerful stress reducers we have. Sleep is the primary way that our brain is able to recharge energy. On top of that, it also allows our mind to regulate our emotions. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can can negatively affect our bodies ability to regulate stress hormones. It is very clear that getting a proper 7-9 hours of sleep per night is crucial if you want to be able to manage your stress levels.
Therefore creating a good sleeping habit is vital if you wish to decrease your stress levels! One of the best sleeping habits to create is a proper bedtime routine. Here is a quick list of some of the things this bedtime routine should consist of:
- Go to bed and wake up at consistent times
- Limit your day time naps
- Avoid blue light devices for 1 hour before bed
- Avoid heavy meals 3 hours before bed
- Avoid caffeine 7 hours before bed
I wrote a much more in-depth article on how to sleep better. It goes over numerous things you can do during the day that will positively affect your nighttime sleep. You can find that article here!
4. Learn deep breathing techniques
Taking deep breaths is a great technique to use when you find yourself in the middle of a very stressful moment. It sends a signal to your body to calm down, your heart rate lowers, and you become more focused. This allows you to be more rational, and rely less on your emotions. All of which will help you to destress.
There are several types of breathing techniques you can utilize, but my personal favorite is to make use of belly breathing. It is a basic exercise that can be done anywhere at any time. Utilize this when you feel stressed out, and it will surely calm you down!
- Sit down in a comfortable position, or lay down on your bed. (Laying down might be advised for beginners)
- You place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose. Note that the hand on your chest should move as little as possible, but the hand on your belly should rise and descent with your breath.
- Breath out through pursed lips (mimic whistling motion).
Repeat this exercise about 10 times and see how you feel after. It will have given your mind sometime to calm down, and you should feel a little bit more relaxed.
You can easily make this a habit by doing this before every meal. Before you decide to cook at home or eat out, take a few minutes to get these breathing techniques in!
Finding stress relieving techniques that suit you is a must. It is safe to say that not all the aforementioned methods may work for your particular situation, yet I am certain that some of them certainly will. After all, life is all about self discovery and I am hoping that you are able to learn something by reading this article here today.
I wish you all the best in life and hope you enjoyed reading this article, until next time!