Battling stress is an ongoing journey that will probably never end for me–and very likely for a lot of people–but I’m always ecstatic when I can find something that helps me manage those pangs of anxiety.
Last week’s habit challenge did just that.
This simple method for managing stress came to us from researchers at the University of Minnesota, who found that noting positive events and accomplishments at the end of each day and why those things make us feel good helps to reduce stress levels.
We decided to give the method a try, and we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to unwind a little each day simply by journaling. Here’s what happened:
Heidi Hanna, author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress, believes that incorporating last week’s challenge into her bedtime rituals helped to shift her mind to a more positive state, which helped her get more quality sleep, and reduces stress.
“We have built in a habit of setting an alarm in the morning to wake up, but hardly anyone thinks about setting a reminder to start preparing for bed at night,” Hanna explains. “Creating a bedtime prep-time routine that includes healthy brain habits like gratitude and listing accomplishments for the day can focus our mental energy on things that are positive, preparing the brain and body for a more restful night’s sleep and a more productive day ahead.”
Personally, I often fear that I haven’t done enough during the day, and that sense of what I haven’t done keeps me up at night.
This challenge didn’t make me forget what I had to do the next day, but it reminded me that it’s not the end of the world if I didn’t get everything done, and that I had still accomplished a lot.
Leadership development consultant Laura Calandrella also suggested setting an alarm each night to remember to wind down. She sets hers for 8:50 p.m. and shuts down digital devices. “Sleep is the best way for me to reduce stress,” she says.
In journaling my accomplishments, I noticed the word, “finally” crop up a lot. Like, “Finally got through the stack of books sitting on my desk” or “Finally mailed my save-the-dates.” I think having an endless list of to-dos can add unnecessary stress at times, and this challenge certainly helped alleviate some of that stress for me.
Senior Editor Anjali Mullany agrees, and hates when items on her to-do list get moved down the calendar in her diary, day after day after day.
“I think an unexpected benefit of this challenge was that it motivated me to spend a little extra time tackling those been-on-the-list-forever items. And that’s awesome because I’ll start next week with a shorter list.”
In the mornings following writing down his accomplishments, Social Media Producer Robbie Jones used his commute time to come up with his to-do list for the day. “I didn’t always complete everything, but it helped me organize my thoughts on how to take on the day,” he says.
And when a project he was working on took a turn for the worse, he also journaled what I learned from it, which he says helped him think of a possible new solution.
“When you go through what your successes were during the day, you have a more positive outlook,” he says. “I know that I generally hold onto my lack of accomplishments, but when you focus on the positive, you give yourself a break from putting yourself down. It’s when you step away from problems for a bit that the solutions typically come to you.”
An important component of this challenge was noting why the positive events led to good feelings. This helped me get a better sense of what things impact me that I might not have otherwise considered.
Noting happy events like, “Galo made me a delicious dinner,” or “Caught up with a friend after work whom I hadn’t seen in months,” made me feel less isolated, which was really meaningful.
I think even when we’re surrounded by an office full of people, it’s so easy to feel isolated in our work. Acknowledging the why behind many of my good vibes highlighted that I am not as alone as I sometimes feel.
Mullany found meaning in completing projects for herself, like organizing and decorating her dressing area. “. . . It was so fun, and I’m going to enjoy it every morning and every night. Using it is already making my mornings more pleasurable.” While some of the items on her list were just things she had to check off, like training sessions, others were things she enjoys doing, like editing stories.
“Overall I found this to be a good exercise,” she says. “In general, I think journaling, even a little, is a good idea.”
“I think accomplishment begets accomplishment in an upward spiral kind of way,” Calandrella says. “So even those things that weren’t as meaningful become so when they make room for the important accomplishments in your life. Also, we get better at pursuing the meaningful stuff when we start noticing what gives us a sense of accomplishment.”
For the full discussion, check out the transcript from our live chat about this challenge.