A life less stressed: five easy ways to curb your daily anxieties

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Harriet Hall
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Recent political events, the economic downturn and the pressures of modern life can all get a little much sometimes. Here features editor, Harriet Hall, sets out her daily coping mechanisms for avoiding that ever-looming life crisis. 

As if 2016 wasn’t rubbish enough, 2017 isn’t exactly turning out to be a walk in the park, a barrel of laughs, all hunky dory. And I’m not just talking about Brexit and Trump. Compared with the golden years of our Baby Boomer parents, us Gen Ys have got a lot to contend with.

We came of age in the midst of the worst economic crisis since The Great Depression, our stagnant salaries are being guzzled by skyrocketing rents, we’re unlikely to see our names on the title deeds of a property until we are well into middle age and even pensioners are earning more money than us. Meanwhile, we won’t be able to retire until well into our seventies, by which point our pensions will be meagre and global warming will probably have destroyed most of the earth.

On top of that, we’ve got the fresh hell of being referred to as ‘millennials’ – a word only ever used in a negative context: ‘Snowflake millennials can’t handle Trump’s racism,’ ‘spoiled millennials spend their flat deposits on brunch,’ ‘flaky millennials don’t stay put in one job for more than two years.’

Heck with all that going on, it’s no wonder that more of us than ever before are being diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of adversity, but us humans are a strong and resilient breed. It’s all about coping, learning to get by until the day that you are flying high, Lighthouse Family style.

So, next time you’re lying on the floor feeling fragile and lost, or staring out of the bus window on the brink of an existential crisis, vow to implement just one of the following changes in your life, and see what difference it makes.

1. Start saying no

It’s Friday night after a hellish week at work and you’ve been counting down the minutes until you can head home and crash in front of Netflix while you gorge on a dirty takeaway. But, at 5pm your Whatsapp group beeps with an impromptu drink invitation and you think ‘sure, why not just one?’ After all, your friend Steph has had a pretty tough week herself. Then, an email comes through from your boss. She wants you to do a big presentation on Monday, which means taking Sunday to prepare. She asks oh so politely – plus, it’ll be a good career move. You say yes to both. 

In what feels like record-breaking time, your state of mind goes from calm to anxious, your chest tightening as though someone is pressing down upon it. You cast aside your planned downtime and you know it’ll be another week before you tackle your mounting personal to-do list.

And here’s where we’re all going wrong. Our constant need to please everyone, coupled with a never-ending fear of missing out exacerbated by social media and instant messaging, means we rarely say no. 

Before you try to please everyone else, look out for number one

No feels like a negative, selfish word when you have to turn someone down. But, ultimately, it’s only yourself you’re being unkind to by saying yes to things that are only going to cause you undue stress.

Try to say no to one thing you don’t want to do every day, however big or small it is. No to that overtime shift that will exhaust you, no to being a bridesmaid at your less-than-great mate’s wedding, no to a blind date with your friend’s recently-single flatmate. No, no, no.

Say no to the things that, ultimately, will drain you, and the people that make you feel drained. Save your yes for the things – and people – that bring you real joy. 

2. Stay in your own lane

I often feel like I spend my life peering over the shoulders of my contemporaries, desperate to know if they’re doing something differently – if my way is the ‘right’ way, or if they’ve got a better idea of what’s going on, themselves. I think ‘wait, she’s my age but she’s already done A, B and C, and travelled the world as well?’ It’s enough to drive a person mad.

One of the best pieces of advice a very wise friend gave me, is to “stay in your own lane.”

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy”. Because of course you’re going to feel like shit if you compare yourself to that one anomaly person who seems to have crossed off all the major life milestones before the age of 30, and made it look easy in the process. 

We’re all convinced that we are the ones dragging behind, whilst everyone else is a huge success.

We’re all convinced that we are the ones dragging behind, whilst everyone else is a huge success. We’re all drowning in imposter syndrome while we stalk someone on Instagram who we are convinced has a better set up than us.

Instead of constantly charting our progress against that of our peers, we should simply look ahead. Stay in your own lane, keep a steady pace and a clear focus, and you will get there. If you insist on following others, then you’re only going to end up at someone else’s destination and then have to do a U-turn or something. This is a driving metaphor, after all.  

3. Dare to be average

My Sunday to-do list usually goes something like this: I do the cleaning and ironing, imbibe all the Sunday supplements, wash my hair, do my nails, visit my grandparents, then nip to the shop and buy a tonne of fresh fruit and veg, with an eye to waking up early on every day, blasting up a Nutribullet, whipping up a packed lunch, and sauntering out of the house feeling like I am winning at life and plugged in to that elusive zeitgeist.

By Wednesday, it’s all gone to shit. My hair is matted, my nails chipped, there’s rotting fruit in the kitchen and clothes scattered around the living room from the week’s panicked mornings. Not a Nutriblast in sight.

Striving for perfection is only going to result in disappointment and, probably, exhaustion

I feel useless and like I’m failing at life, and I’ve only just manage to squeeze in time to sleep, whilst trying to catch up with everything and manage some semblance of a social life. 

Because that’s the thing: striving for perfection is only going to result in disappointment and, probably, exhaustion. Prioritise what actually matters to you. Now I prioritise seeing my grandparents, ironing on a need-to-wear basis and simply trying to enjoy life as me, not as the perfect domestic goddess-cum-current affairs and pop culture genius version of me. Because she doesn’t exist. Living in reality is the key.

Instead of trying to be the best at life, dare to be average. Dare to let things go. Dare not to care when you do drop the ball.

4. Be your own business

You know how your boss needs you to work every day from 9-5 to keep the company running? Well, you need you to keep you running.

What I mean by this is you are the director of your own company, you are the CEO of your life, you are the boss of you. And unless you dedicate the same time and attention to looking after your own wellbeing as you do that of your bosses and your friends, you’re not going to get the outcome you want.

You are the director of your own company, you are the CEO of your life, you are the boss of you.

Decide what your business is and nurture it, set your own life goals and your own targets, check in with yourself now and again for a life appraisal. Write down how you think things are going, deem to make changes and check back in a few months. And set yourself a schedule that you cannot overrun. Limit yourself to what is actually achievable.

If your business isn’t succeeding – if you’re not feeling at the top of your game, book in a personal brainstorm. Figure out what exactly you love/hate/like/feel indifferent about in your life, and strive to change it. Strategise yourself and make a change. If you’ve been feeling stuck for a long time, then you’ve probably been doing something wrong. Find out what it is. 

Just as you’d schedule in time to see your friends, you should schedule in time to see yourself and heal yourself. Create a spiritual place of comfort in which to mentally regroup, reflect, rationalise and put a stopper in any potential catastrophic thinking that is sneaking its way into your brain like a Machiavellian tapeworm. 

5. Close the mental tabs

Think of your brain like an internet window. If you’ve got hundreds of tabs open at once then you’re likely to start functioning at a much slower pace. Instead, separate out the windows and deal with them one at a time. Compartmentalise and cross-off. It will feel sweet. When you look at everything at once it can overwhelm even the calmest of minds.

We all want to feel ‘woke’ to what’s going on around us, to be able to join in on that discussion at the pub about which celebrity did or didn’t have an affair, or that Jeremy Corbyn has issued a three line whip on a Brexit vote. But how much value does knowing this information before anyone else really bring you? If it’s big enough news you’ll find out eventually.

Switch off your push notifications for all apps, mute those Whatsapp conversations and bask in the glory of silence.

Ushering in some self-control when it comes to your phone and social media can be a real life-saver.

Realistically, and in case of emergency, you don’t want to go entirely AWOL, but if you do want to resist the glorious glow of your smartphone for longer than five minutes, you can switch it to greyscale. According to The Atlantic, this makes your phone less visually appealing, and when you’re tempted to grab is for procrastination, it puts you off. 

Whatever your method, ushering in some self-control when it comes to your phone and social media can be a real life-saver. Us digital natives are used to living every second of our lives online, and social media’s incessant demands can make this feel entirely necessary. Additionally, while it may feel as though the world is crumbling down around us, it’s not really the case – we can thank our little hand-held devices and push notifications for putting that idea in our heads. Sometimes five minutes of ignorance is bliss. 

And hey, chances are you’ll survive a day this way. Maybe even longer. Watch your stress levels plummet.

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