Stress is one of the biggest causes of health problems in many people's lives: it can cause heart disease, depression, anxiety attacks, sleep problems, auto-immune diseases, weight problems and more.
But we’re busy—how do we drop the stress levels down while still getting our jobs done, taking care of ourselves and our families?
The busy person might have no time for weeklong meditation retreats, mini-vacations, or weekly counseling sessions. So what can be done?
I’m going to be brief about this: there are five small things you can do. A few shifts in mindset, a couple actions that take only a couple minutes. These won’t solve the most severe stress problems, but they’ll help most of us.
Instead of being in the stressful task-switching mode, take your next task, let everything else go, and just be in the moment with this one task. Let yourself be immersed in this one task, letting go of the feeling that you need to quickly rush through it, that you need to get on to the next task. There will always be a next task—the nature of task lists is that they’re neverending. So let those other tasks come later. Just be in this one task, like it’s your entire universe.
Fear is causing you to be stressed, not external factors like your job or family problems. Those external things are just a part of life, but they become stressful when you fear failure, fear people won’t like you, fear you’re not good enough, fear abandonment, and so on. This fear is based on some ideal (and you fear not getting that ideal): you have an image that you’re going to succeed, be perfect, have people like you, be comfortable all the time. These ideals are a way to be in control of the world that you don’t actually control, but they’re hurting you by causing fear and stress. Instead, let go of control. Be OK with chaos and uncertainty, and trust that things will work out. You’ll fear less and be less stressed.
We get upset at other people because they don’t meet our ideals of how they should act. Instead, try accepting them for who they are, and recognizing that, like you, they’re imperfect and seeking happiness and struggling with finding happiness. They’re doing their best. Accept them, smile, and enjoy your time with this person.
When things are getting stressful, take two to three minutes to take a walk and clear your mind. A short walk does wonders.
You don’t have to meditate for 30 minutes to get the benefits of mindfulness. You can do a quick body scan (see how your body is feeling right now) in 10 seconds. You can pay attention to your breath for 30 seconds. You can watch your thoughts, fears, ideals for a minute. You can walk mindfully, paying attention to your body, your feet, your breath, your surroundings, as you walk. You can do each of these kinds of mindfulness practices in little bits throughout your day.
And beyond: If you have extra time after doing those things, I have a few other recommendations that will help. Eliminate unnecessary tasks on your to-do list, reduce your commitments by saying no to people, start a regular 5-minute meditation practice, eat healthier, exercise regularly, spend some quality time with loved ones, get more sleep, drink tea.
I should note that many people cope with stress in unhealthy ways: alcohol, smoking, drugs, unhealthy eating, lashing out at people, watching TV, procrastinating. Ironically these cause more stress. Instead, learn to cope without these crutches.
This article originally appeared in Zen Habits and is reprinted with permission.