Ever have one of those days? You know the kind I’m talking about: when you barely have time to grab your morning coffee, when your one-minute personal check-in is on the walk to your next meeting, when you come home from work at 7 p.m. feeling like you made time in your day for everyone—except yourself.
There’s no denying it: Stress will always be a part of our day-to-day lives, but it can take a toll on our long-term health. So, instead of tearing through best-selling self-help books or creating lofty goals on how to make this upcoming fall your best (and most stress-free) yet, here are some manageable ways to refocus and recalibrate so you can feel better about today, tomorrow, and the days to come.
1. Do five-minute phone calls with friends and loved ones.
Unless you have an hour-long commute after work, setting aside a block of time to catch up with friends and family can be tricky. Instead, opt for a quick five-minute call to say hi, ask what’s going on, or wish them luck for an important project or event. A few minutes of casual conversation with someone you care about lifts your spirits without sucking up your time.
2. Declutter your space.
Let’s face it: decluttering can be a daunting task, but organizing a space where you spend a majority of your time—whether it’s at work or home—has countless aesthetic, emotional, and mental benefits. Dedicate one morning this weekend to sorting through your clothes, books, shoes, or papers to determine what you want to keep. Get rid of anything you don’t love or use on a regular basis. Keeping only the items that bring joy and ease to your life will make your closet, desk, or home so much more inviting and accessible. Plus, you’ll have a renewed sense of energy after discarding the items that weighed you down—both literally and figuratively.
3. Only complain when you can offer a solution to the problem.
We all need our vent sessions, but complaining for complaining’s sake is actually counter-productive: you’re feeding your thoughts with negative attention, instead of looking for a solution. Is your internet connection too slow? Make a quick phone call to your provider to get it sorted out. Is traffic on the way to work terrible? Leave earlier or take a different route. Most problems can be easily remedied. If you can’t find a solution, then the situation is likely out of your control and complaining won’t do anything to fix the problem.
4. Look people in the eye when you speak.
Maintaining eye contact is easy when you’re listening, but try doing it when you speak as well. Direct eye contact builds confidence and fosters a connection between two people in conversation. It also makes you appear more trustworthy, self-aware, and self-assured.
5. Do a five-minute kitchen clean.
In just five minutes, you can take out the trash, wipe down your counters, sweep, and throw away any expired items in your fridge. Having a tidy, organized kitchen space will make your post-work dinner prep a breeze, and studies show that keeping your kitchen tidy can actually reduce stress-eating and result in weight loss. Plus, cleaning for five minutes every day is so much easier than spending an entire Saturday scrubbing your counters and floors.
6. Try a new activity.
Sometimes you feel most energized when you test the limits of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve wanted to visit the cool coffee shop down the street, learn to play guitar, plan a trip out of the country, or try Zumba for the first time—whatever piques your interest, go for it. Experiencing new things leads to increased productivity, renewed creativity, newfound perspectives, fun memories, and—at the very least—an interesting story.
7. Practice self-kindness.
Observe your habits, behaviors, and thought processes—are you gentle with yourself? If not, try to pinpoint why and when this occurs, then do your best to actively offer yourself compassion and grace. It could be as simple as taking the time to pay yourself a compliment when you wake up in the morning (try a positive sticky-note on the mirror in your bedroom), or saying “no” to happy hour plans with friends so you can unwind with a book and glass of wine on your couch. Or maybe it means writing down one thing you did each day that made you feel proud, whether it was as big as tackling a new project at work or as small as finally remembering to floss.
8. Break a sweat every day.
However you want to do it — running, walking to work, playing basketball, gym training, furniture rearranging, sex—make sure you get in a sweat every single day. Staying active has infinite physical benefits, and beyond those, it spikes endorphins, making you feel happier post-sweat session.
9. Check your bank statement every two weeks and choose one thing you can cut out.
Can you deactivate that auto-subscription service? Can you eliminate your monthly pedicure? Can you cut your happy hour bill in half? Do your best to find one thing, however small or seemingly insignificant it may be, and get rid of it. Chances are you won’t notice the loss, but even if you do, the extra money you’ll be saving will offset the pain of sacrificing your daily latte.
10. Keep a gratitude journal.
The best way to pull yourself out of a funk is to actively focus on the good in your life. If you have a few minutes on the train in the a.m., pull out a notebook or the Notes app on your phone and jot down three things you’re grateful for, big or small. It doesn’t have to be extensive: a bullet-point list will do. Taking the time to thoughtfully consider what you’re thankful for puts your life in perspective—and allows you to focus on what you’re lucky to have, instead of what you don’t have.
11. Make your bed when you wake up.
It takes less than two minutes (if it takes longer, get rid of your throw pillows) and starts your day on a productive note. Plus, crawling into a freshly made bed at night yields a sounder sleep than plopping on top of your wrinkled, tangled sheets.
12. Read a book instead of browsing your phone.
The next time you find yourself sitting around with a half hour to kill, pick up a book or your e-Reader instead of defaulting to your smart phone and scrolling through social media. Engaging with one story or idea, rather than bouncing between hundreds of little pieces of trivial, often irrelevant news, helps your mind stay calm, focused, and present.
A simple trick to ensure you make the time to read? Carry a book or your Kindle in your car, purse, or briefcase, and open it up whenever you’re standing in line, waiting to meet a friend, or twiddling your thumbs before a dentist appointment.
13. Say “please” and “thank you”—and mean it.
Basic manners go such a long way in creating a positive environment. Being kind is important. Being kind and sincere is even better. The more genuine kindness you offer to others, the more genuine kindness you’ll see in return. Hold the door for a stranger, thank people for their efforts, say “please” when you order your morning coffee, and smile.
14. Focus your attention on the task at hand.
Multi-tasking doesn’t always increase productivity. Focusing on more than one task at a time usually has an adverse effect—we accomplish less and feel more stressed in the process. Be mindful when your thoughts deviate from the task at hand—are you already worrying about the next thing on your to-do list? Or maybe you’re responding to group texts while trying to send out work emails? If so, it’s time to take a breath, put your phone on do not disturb, and refocus. The result? You’ll be 10 times more productive and feel less scattered in the process.
15. Tackle your most daunting task first.
When you reprioritize your to-do list and place your most dreaded task at the top, its power no longer looms over you all day. Maybe this means getting through your flooded inbox, putting together a proposal, or having that call you’ve been putting off all week. Whatever it is, once you check this major box off your list, you’ll feel so accomplished and ready to take on the more trivial tasks thrown your way.
16. Write down your goals and ambitions.
Invest in a small journal to record your life plans and goals. Don’t censor yourself. Simply write down whatever feels exciting and interesting to you—your dream to buy a small boat and learn to sail, your wish to be fluent in Italian, or your hope to have two children.
Taking the time to write down your greatest wants, many of which may have only existed in your mind, is a cathartic and empowering process. Plus, studies have shown that spelling out your dreams in ink can make them feel less intimidating and more attainable.
17. Think before you speak.
Words have immense power—they can uplift people or cut them down. Whether or not there seem to be real consequences involved in making unfair assumptions or judgments about people, pause and ask yourself these questions adapted from a wise Arabian proverb: “Is what I’m about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” If what you want to say has no basis in reality, if it’s hurtful, or if it’s irrelevant, opt for silence over thoughtless words that cause damage.
18. Drink a tall glass of water when you wake up.
Hydrate. Whether it’s cold, hot, with lemon, with honey, drinking a big glass of water first thing in the morning invigorates you, jumpstarts your metabolism, helps your body flush out toxins, and makes it easier to continue drinking water throughout the day.
19. Give praise freely.
The old adage that doling out compliments only gives people an inflated sense of self-worth is ridiculous. Human beings need positive reinforcement and words of affirmation to feel connected and cared about. We need to feel appreciated, valued, and respected.
Be generous with your compliments and praise. If you like your co-worker’s outfit, tell her. If you find yourself admiring your brother’s sense of humor, let him know. Sharing your kind thoughts is the easiest, quickest way to positively impact someone’s day.
20. Make more time for the things you love.
Make time and space in your life for activities you enjoy. Give yourself permission to pursue your interests and cultivate your passions without guilt or fear.
It could be as simple as spending thirty minutes every Saturday morning reading the paper at your favorite cafe, or as time-intensive as setting aside an entire afternoon to work on your latest fiction novel. Maybe it means hosting a monthly dinner party with friends, taking a language course, or spending more time at the park with your pup.
Carving out time to experience the things you love doesn’t just bring you more joy, it also gives you more purpose and a greater sense of fulfillment. Plus, doing things that bring value and meaning to your life makes it easier to deal with whatever setbacks and difficulties come your way.