Many of the most stressful times in my life haven’t even been the busiest.
But looking back they were times full of confusion and unhelpful habits and thoughts.
Stress isn’t just a matter of being overworked, it’s a matter of feeling directionless and overwhelmed without knowing what to do about it or where to start!
So I’m going to lay out some steps of where to start if you want to be much less stressed.
Here’s what to cut out of your life if you find you always seem to be stressed no matter how much time off you take.
1) Staying up late
There are always going to be special nights where you’re up a bit late.
But making a habit of staying up late and paying no attention to when you go to bed is a bad idea.
It’s also true that using your smartphone or computer too long at night can exacerbate sleeplessness and eye fatigue.
Do your best to get to bed at a similar time each night and get at least five to six hours of restful sleep per night.
2) Getting up late
A direct side effect of staying up too late is getting up late.
When you arise at a late hour you tend to have a much more stressful day.
There’s less time left to get anything done, and what’s worse is that you throw yourself out of sync with your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
We’re all designed to sleep with the dark and arise with the light.
When you consistently throw that out of whack you start messing with nature, and stress and exhaustion are inevitable byproducts.
3) Having no schedule
Staying up late and getting up late can be part of a schedule, for example in shift workers and night nurses.
But more often than not they are part of not having a firmly set schedule.
With the pandemic and remote work this became an even more prevalent issue in society.
The truth is that many of us just aren’t that disciplined when left to our own devices.
That’s why it’s important to start keeping a schedule, even a very basic one.
Winging it with no schedule is a recipe for stress and confusion.
4) Eating junk food
What we put in our bodies matters so much, and it’s a sad fact that so much of the processed food available to us is total junk.
Junk food isn’t just chips, candy and donuts.
It’s also so much of the fake bread in the grocery store, corn-syrup-saturated products and drinks, trans-fat-filled foods.
It’s vegetables sprayed within an inch of their life to promote freshness or get them to ripen rapidly after delivery.
It’s important to start eating more healthily: eat moderate portions and buy higher quality, organic food.
Eat less, eat better. You’ll feel much less bloated, stressed and tired.
5) Working for abusive people
If you have a job where you work for (or with) abusive people, it’s time to take whatever steps necessary to find a new job.
I realize that not all of us have the ability to find a new job.
That’s a reality of life for many, especially considering that finding work can be its own form of work!
Not everyone has time for that, and the stress can really add up when your work environment is toxic or full of people who don’t appreciate you.
But if your workplace is a toxic place, don’t beat yourself up for it.
At the very least realize that it’s not your fault and that the stress you feel is warranted. Don’t make the stress worse by blaming yourself for the behavior of colleagues or superiors.
6) Giving in to bullies
Bullies make life hell.
If you’re always feeling stressed and aren’t quite sure why, look around to see if there’s a bully in your life:
Somebody who doesn’t respect your boundaries, who manipulates you and mistreats you.
Bullies aren’t always the pushy alpha males of stereotypes.
Your bully may be a mousy work colleague who’s always undercutting you at work…
Your bully may be your own child who’s trying to guilt and shame you into getting their way.
Find your bully and stand up to them: let them know you won’t take it anymore.
7) Biting off more than you can chew
When it comes to how much is on your plate, I mentioned at the beginning that stress isn’t always about being overworked.
But sometimes it is.
And one of the most common ways this happens is self-imposed:
We over-promise and bite off more than we can chew.
With friends, colleagues, hobbies and many responsibilities to our friends and families, some of us have trouble saying no.
If that sounds like you, then there’s a good chance you’re just heaping too much on your plate.
Whether it’s your work life or your personal life, it’s important to not bite off more than you can chew.
Respect yourself and take it slow.
8) Taking others’ problems onto your own shoulders
If you’re a highly empathetic or helpful person it likely hurts you to see others suffer.
You want to help if you can, and that’s a noble sentiment.
But taking on other people’s problems as your own can become a toxic addiction and hike your stress levels to the moon.
It’s important not to saddle yourself with responsibility for the problems of others.
Remember to take care of yourself first.
This relates to the next point…
9) Blaming others for your problems
The flipside of taking on others’ problems is blaming your own problems on others.
In some cases maybe they really did mistreat you or act unfairly.
But focusing on who’s to blame puts you in victim mode.
It also leads to a lot of stress:
Nights spent awake thinking of how poorly the world is treating you are terrible for your psychological and physical health!
Unless who’s to blame relates exactly to proactive decisions you’re making as a result, try your best to leave it be.
10) Never taking time for yourself
This doesn’t just mean lying in a hammock or taking a minute to read.
It means doing what you need to in order to de-stress a little, whether that’s a spa day or a stupid action film that leaves you feeling pumped up.
We all have a different ritual to unplug a little, so find yours and make sure to implement it into your work week.
Speaking of work…
11) Becoming addicted to work
Work addiction is a very real thing.
It can result in earning more and short-term success.
But it’s always better to work harder and shorter than longer and less.
If you find that you’re getting addicted to work as your go-to activity, you need to be honest with yourself about whether it’s stressing you out.
If not, great.
If yes, lessen the amount of time you’re spending at work.
12) Leaving things until the last minute
Leaving things until the last minute is a classic source of stress.
This relates to going to sleep too late, but it can become a habit throughout the day and in many ways.
When you rush yourself and create “do or die” conditions on a regular basis, you spike your cortisol and jack up your stress levels.
It’s as simple as that.
13) Having toxic friends
The people we surround ourselves with say a lot about us and also influence us significantly.
I don’t personally believe in cutting off “negative” friends or this “positive vibes only” mantra.
It sounds absolutist to me and kind of inauthentic!
But it is true that highly toxic friends will lead you down the wrong path.
By toxic I mean those who are engaging in self-defeating behaviors, risky and illegal behavior or a decidedly nihilistic or oppositional approach to life.
They can still be your friends, of course, but it’s important not to spend more time than necessary around such folks.
They absolutely will get in your head and affect how you see the world and perceive your own potential.
14) Staying in abusive or stale relationships
Abusive and stale relationships are a major cause of stress.
Many people stay in them because:
- Breaking up is traumatic and hard
- They are scared to be alone or not meet somebody
Frankly, I totally get that.
But the problem is that the long-term damage of staying in awful relationships is much worse than just ripping the band aid off.
No shirt, no shoes, no problem
Some stress is inevitable in life.
But if you cut out the behaviors above you’re going to be a lot less stressed.
Start focusing more on your own priorities and don’t let the expectations and judgments of others control your mind.