Stressed, anxious, overcommitted—the unholy trinity the undermines mental health and wellbeing for so many people today. I’d argue that chronic stress is the number one threat to health and happiness. Yes, even more detrimental than modern diets, being too sedentary, overexercising when we do exercise, and all the other ways we mismanage our genes nowadays.
By and large, we accept chronic stress as a standard, even inescapable, part of life. To some degree, that’s true. It’s hard to detach from workplace demands, financial pressure, social media and other time sucks, and the generally frantic pace of modern life. That said, most of us have more control over our daily schedules, environments, and habits than we choose to exercise. We don’t set the boundaries we need, nor take even relatively small steps to mitigate life stressors. Why is this so challenging?
Paradoxically, simplifying life and making it easier almost always involves some investment of time and/or money up front. Don’t let this deter you. This is a short-term investment for long-term payoff, which you deserve.
Do What Works for You
The last thing any of us needs is more stress, and getting advice that’s not applicable or realistic can be super annoying. For example, I hate when people tell me to Marie Kondo my house. I like my stuff, and I don’t want to get rid of it. It’s put away in closets and the garage not bothering anyone. Leave me alone, minimalists!
With that in mind, take what you need from today’s post and leave the rest. Do something, though, to make your life a little easier.
Start With a Stress Inventory
Get out a piece of paper and make a list of all the things that are weighing on you: major life stressors, but also the arguments that you have on repeat with your partner or kids, and small tasks you keep moving from one to-do list to the next instead of just taking care of them.
Next, separate your list into things you can control and things you can’t. For situations you can’t control, brainstorm ways to relieve your stress about them. For example, if you’re caring for a sick family member, could you ask friends to take turns driving your kids to sports practice or dropping off dinner? With stressors you can control, identify the steps that you’d need to take to alleviate them.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What is one way I can ask for help or one task I could delegate to someone else?
What is one thing I could buy, or one person I could hire, that would significantly reduce my stress?
What is one thing I could say no to (even if I already said yes)?
What is one easy thing I could check off my list?
Then, choose ONE to address. Just one. Take the first step.
Asking for help, saying no, and tackling those nagging little tasks become easier the more you do them. Often it’s just a matter of breaking the inertia and getting started. Figure out what you need to feel calmer and more relaxed, then do it.
And don’t forget to reward yourself! Adulting is hard. Rewards can be an essential part of instilling new and better habits.
Ideas for Simplifying and Making Your Life Easier
Technology – Yay or Nay?
Technology can increase or reduce stress depending on how you use it. Here are four ways you can use technology to your advantage:
Put a bill on autopay.
Link your Google calendar to your partner’s or teen’s so you can see everything in one place.
Calendars aren’t just for appointments and meetings. Use your calendar to make sure you have time for the things you want to do, not just the things you have to do. Also block off time to clean your house, connect with your partner, exercise, and practice self-care.
Download an app or browser extension that will solve a problem for you. For example, my husband and I both put the AnyList app on our phones so we can share shopping lists or packing lists, which saves a ton of hassle and repeat trips to the store. The OneTab extension for Chrome has revolutionized my professional life. When you have a bunch of tabs open—because you fully intend to read those 15 articles you’ve pulled up—click the OneTab button. It saves all the websites in a list, then closes the tabs. No more staring at a sea of open tabs while your browser freezes. Do you know about Google Keep, a cross between Notes and Stickies in your Google apps?
Set limits on technology, though. Set specific times to check email and social media, then stick to them. Turn off notifications. Put your phone in a different room. Download Inbox Pause so your email only gets delivered at certain times.
Email is a significant stressor for most people. If you dread your inbox, here’s what to do:
Set aside some time one day. Put on some music or a mindless TV show. Get a glass of wine or your favorite mocktail.
Take a deep breath and open your email.
Create folders and filters for emails you want to keep receiving but that you don’t want cluttering up your inbox.
Once you’ve done that, unsubscribe from everything you don’t want anymore.
The goal is to get to the vaunted “inbox zero,” then stay that way!
The busyness of daily life can easily become overwhelming, so it’s important to build pauses into your days.
Use the Pomodoro technique.
With Pomodoro, you do focused work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break. Download an app like this one that lets you organize your to-do list and reminds you to stop for a breather. Use those breaks wisely:
Listen to a song, either a calming one or a pumping-up one
“Brain dump” in your journal for a few minutes to clear your mind
Get a hug
Schedule “do not disturb” blocks during the day.
Use those times to focus on work uninterrupted, check something off your to-do list, or take a nap if you need it. Parents or caregivers who can’t carve out time every day, can you find an hour or two each week where a friend or neighbor kid could hang out with your kids to give you a break, even if you don’t leave the house? Maybe you and your partner could each take one Saturday afternoon a month where it’s just “you time.” Make sure it’s on the calendar!
Take a proper lunch break.
This has been a game-changer for me during quarantine. It’s so easy to work straight through lunch or use your lunchtime to catch up on email or other tasks. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to eat and chill. Maybe check in with social media during this time, but even better, listen to some music and relax.
Implement a Morning Routine and Bedtime Routine
Getting routines in place can be a hassle, but once you have them established, they create both calm and structure in your day. Even though they might seem like obligations at first, routines actually give you less to think about because they become automatic. More routine = fewer decisions = more mental space.
What to include in your morning routine
Adapt this to make sense for your life, but here are some ideas:
Get up, drink some water, make a cup of tea or coffee; do NOT look at your phone right away
Step outside and get some fresh air
Do a meditation or breathing exercise
Do some gentle movement or, if you want, a structured workout
Make your bed
Take a shower
Check in with your schedule and to-do list for the day only once you’ve gotten through your routine. I like to use a good old-fashioned planner, in which I only write in pencil. On Sunday nights, I fill in my calendar for the week and make to-do lists, both work and personal. Each morning I look my planner, see what’s on tap for the day, and adjust my to-do list based on what I got done the previous day.
Again, pick and choose what works for you:
Put on your blue-blocking glasses, of course, and put away electronics
Spend 10 or 20 minutes going around your home and picking up clutter, putting dishes in the dishwasher, wiping down counter—make it so you wake up to a clean(ish) home
Prepare bags and lunches for school or work tomorrow
Lay out exercise clothes or pack a gym bag
Take a shower
Meditation or breathing exercise
Read a book
Whatever you do, start your routine early enough that you can go to bed on time. Having an evening routine will help you not get sucked into Netflix or Instagram at bedtime, too.
Simplify Your Food
If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time in the kitchen, especially right now with kids and spouses all at home for every. meal. Here are some ways you can free yourself from spending your whole life in the kitchen:
Prepare big batches of grilled chicken, shredded beef or pork, hamburger patties, hard-boiled eggs, and roasted vegetables. Wash and chop fruit and vegetables to grab quickly for snacks, salads, and stir-fries.
On Sunday night, pack lunches for the whole week. Make jar salads, egg muffins, and chia puddings to grab quickly.
Personally, I like the flexibility to decide what I’m eating each night, but other folks like to plan a week’s dinners in advance and do all the shopping at once. Pick what works best for you.
For simplicity’s sake, all your meals can be one meat + one vegetable, or repeat your favorite recipes over and over. There’s no reason that dinner has to be something new and exciting every night.
Use rotisserie chicken as your base for everything
Simplify Your Home
I know, I know, I said that I hate when people tell me to Kondo my home. Still, I admit that it feels great to pack a box off to the donation center. You don’t have to get rid of everything that doesn’t bring you immense joy, but still—what do you have lying around that could give someone else more joy than it brings you?
That aside, if I can impart one piece of wisdom in this post, it’s that it’s easier to keep your home clean than to deep clean it when it’s filthy. If your living space is messy and causing you angst, block off a few hours this weekend. Check out my post about how to clean almost anything. Then get scrubbing.
Once your home is clean, break it down into simple daily tasks that maintain the cleanliness so you don’t have to do massive deep-cleaning again for a while. Put a bottle of all-purpose cleaner and some rags in the kitchen and every bathroom. Make a quick wipe-down part of your evening routine, as I said above (this is a great job for kids).
Clean bathrooms more thoroughly on Saturday, wash sheets and towels on Sunday, fold and put away laundry on Wednesday— whatever makes sense for your schedule. Delegate tasks to specific people, or use a chore chart with kids. One person cooks, another person loads and empties the dishwasher, that sort of thing. That way, there’s no question about whose turn it is.
Simplify Your Workouts
If you’re struggling to make movement part of your daily routine, put workouts in your calendar. Set aside that time and make it non-negotiable so you don’t get overscheduled and miss your “me time.”
On the other hand, if you’re flirting with overtraining and burnout, throw your training log out the window. Stop being regimented with your exercise. Leave your heart rate monitor at home.
Go for a less-is-more approach. As Mark says, JFW (just f&*$%ing walk). Focus on joyful movement, moving for fun. Sign up for the MDA Microworkout Challenge and only do formal exercise for a few minutes a day.
Embrace Good Enough
When life becomes too complicated, embrace the concept of good enough. Toss out your to-do list once you’ve crossed off the non-negotiable items. Say no to every extraneous invitation or work request without feeling the need to justify your decisions.
Stop exercising and just move your body around.
Let your house be a little messy. Your kids don’t care if their laundry is folded; they can pull clean clothes straight from the laundry basket. Don’t make your bed.
Give yourself permission not to worry about stuff that really doesn’t matter in the long run. It’s good practice in this unpredictable world.
Summary: 8 Ways to Make Life Easier
Use technology to your advantage.
Reduce unnecessary email and social media use that increases stress.
Create pauses in your day. Take breaks and give yourself time to breathe.
Bookend your day with calming morning and evening routines.
Spend less time in the kitchen with meal planning and prepping, and by embracing convenience options.
Reduce clutter and take simple steps to maintain a clean home enviroment.
Go for shorter, less regimented workouts; but make sure you’re blocking off time in your day so you have time to move your body.
Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.
As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.
Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life. For more info, visit lindsaytaylor.co.