For many years, I thought the phrase “stress-free life” was a pipe dream. A paradox, even. After all, there’s no such thing as a life where every single thing runs smoothly like butter. It just doesn’t work that way.
But we can get as close to a stress-free life as we can by knowing how to deal.
It’s not a magic trick, though. The road to successful stress management is paved with habits that we need to practice consistently.
In this article, I’ll discuss the habits of people who never let stress get the best of them. Hopefully, they can help you hack your way to a stress-free life as well. Let’s check them out!
1) They set the tone for their day
People who are highly skilled at handling stress know that the secret to a good day lies in being intentional from the moment they open their eyes in the morning.
Where many of us would hit the snooze button repeatedly then jump out of bed in a panic ten minutes later, they’re up bright and early.
That’s because they carve in a few minutes of stillness and set their intentions for the day. They might take a few deep breaths and visualize how their day would go.
I learned how to do this back when I was still teaching. Every morning, I’d sit with my cup of coffee, close my eyes, and imagine how my class would unfold.
In my vision, I’d start with greeting my students warmly and assisting them with stashing their bags in their cubbies, then begin the day with some upbeat songs. From there, we’d go on to our lessons, the class humming with good and peaceful vibes.
Of course, reality doesn’t always work out like that (especially not in a preschool classroom!).
But because I took those precious minutes at home to gather my thoughts and do some deep breathing, that initial peace carried forward and shielded me from the stresses that actually happened.
2) They move their bodies
What else do people with effective stress management skills do to combat stress? They make sure to incorporate regular exercise into their day.
You don’t have to go overboard with the weights and the treadmill like you’re training for the Olympics.
If a rigorous routine is too much for you, you can simply keep moving throughout the day.
I like biomechanics expert Katy Bowman’s concept of nutritious movement. She says, “Movement, like food, is not optional.”
Here are some ways she suggests we do that:
- Walking or biking
- Mixing up our sitting positions (bouncy ball, anyone?)
- Choosing more active ways of doing our household tasks (check out how here)
The very act of moving your body releases feel-good hormones and goes a long way towards managing stress.
3) They stay mindful
Another trick for getting stress under control is to stay in the present moment.
I’ve found mindfulness to be hugely helpful in my everyday life. I used to do things on autopilot, especially when I had a packed schedule and I had to rush through everything.
That would lead to a lot of mistakes, as so often happens when we do tasks without paying close attention.
With mindfulness practices like deep breathing, meditation, and attentiveness, though, I learned how to be more present in every little thing I do. It may not seem like much, but for some reason, it makes me slow down and injects a sense of peace in me.
So even though it may be chaotic all around me, I can filter out the noise and focus on what needs to be done.
4) They look at the bright side
This is another way of filtering the stimulation our senses receive. When things get too stressful, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frazzled.
Has that ever happened to you? It has to me, and in my younger years, I’d respond by looking at all the negatives and overthinking how I could have done things differently.
However, be careful not to confuse this with toxic positivity. People who don’t let stress get the best of them still look at things realistically, while also keeping an attitude of hope and grace.
And of course, gratitude. Thinking of your haves instead of your have-nots do help with seeing the silver lining and keeping stress at bay.
5) They manage their expectations
Speaking of looking at things realistically, let me take a moment to talk about expectations. For people who can manage stress like a pro, this is extremely important.
You see, life becomes infinitely harder when we’ve got unrealistic expectations. Then, when they’re not met, we feel crushing disappointment and stress.
That’s why it’s crucial to set expectations that are doable, not just for ourselves but for others, too.
For instance, you might be expecting your partner to know what you want for your birthday – an out-of-town trip. And when they plan a low-key dinner date instead, you’ll feel stressed, feeling like they don’t love you.
But look at it from your partner’s side – how would they know what you want if you didn’t verbalize it, right?
In short, because you had this unrealistic expectation that they should’ve been able to read your mind, you ended up feeling stressed. Unnecessarily so!
6) They plan but stay flexible
This is closely related to managing one’s expectations. How do you react when your plans go awry?
Do you wring your hands over it, or do you pivot and adapt?
Let’s say you’re hosting an outdoor party. You’ve planned it down to a tee, but on the day of the party, several things go wrong – it rains out of nowhere, the caterer is late, and so on…
Stressful, right? I hear you!
Well, that’s life…sometimes it all goes well, and sometimes, it throws you a punch in the gut.
Take a page out of the stress management pros’ handbook – plan, but be flexible. Leave room for mishaps. And enjoy yourself just the same!
7) They know how to say “no”
Ah, my biggest struggle and #1 source of stress many years and many jobs ago. I used to be a “take-on” person, a real go-getter type. And I have to admit, a major people-pleaser.
The boss needs volunteers for a big project? I’d raise my hand.
A coworker asks me to do a task for her despite my own full plate? Sure.
A co-parent begs me to spearhead the annual fundraiser committee? No problem!
The result? Crash and burn. And worst of all, I’d blame all those people instead of seeing the real culprit.
I just didn’t know how to say “no” when the situation called for it. So take it from me, the earlier you know how to do this, the more practiced you’ll be in managing stress.
8) They ask for help when they need it
Think you can do it all? Think again. That’s if you want to be able to stay unflappable in the face of stress.
Those who never let stress get the best of them understand the value of asking for help. For them, it’s not a weakness; it’s simply another way to not feel overwhelmed.
After all, why run around like a headless chicken when you’ve got friends and family to help you out?
And when it all really feels like too much, why not seek help from a mental health professional?
From my personal experience, opening up to someone lightens the burden immensely. Sometimes, just the act of venting to someone who’s willing to listen can already relieve stress. Sometimes it’s enough to know you’re not alone.
Not only that, it can also give you a fresh perspective you didn’t – or couldn’t – see due to the stress.
9) They avoid drama
That’s right – people who don’t let stress win know to steer clear of unnecessary drama.
What kind of drama am I talking about?
Gossip. Heightened emotions. Other people’s conflicts.
If you’ve ever been embroiled in such situations, you know how energy-draining they can be.
On the other hand, avoiding drama has so many benefits:
- It frees up energy and mental space for more important matters
- It keeps your (personal and professional) relationships healthy
- It prevents negative emotions like anger, anxiety, or resentment from building up in our systems
- It builds up your reputation as a positive and level-headed person
So, the next time you feel some drama coming your way, take a step back and let it pass you by. It doesn’t need to touch you and taint your peace of mind.
10) They balance work and play
Real talk: Work pressures and responsibilities are among the top causes of stress in adults.
I think we can all agree that too much of one thing is never good. That’s why we must always strive for balance.
Those who feel like they have pretty chill lives are those who’ve gotten the work-life balance down pat. They work hard, sure, but they play hard, too.
They have healthy outlets for stress, such as creative hobbies, sports, or just plain sitting and relaxing, having a beer with friends.
That way, life’s responsibilities and problems don’t occupy every waking minute of their lives, and they can take a breather before it gets to be too much.
These habits might take a while to show results, but believe me, as long as you practice them consistently, you will see a difference in the way you handle stress.
You’ll feel more capable, calmer, and less prone to anxiety and outbursts. You’ll get a better sense of control over your life.
Best of all, when stress comes? No sweat – it won’t be the enemy it used to be anymore!