We are a nation that does too much. The pioneering spirit that built America has become embedded in our blood, and we are dogged in our pursuit to possess more, be more, and accomplish more. We work longer hours than any other industrialized nation; we also take fewer vacations and retire at a later age. With the advances in technology, it’s almost impossible to take a break from work or chores—even our grocery shopping is handled on-line. We are frantic most days because we operate by the notion that busyness is tantamount to productivity, and productivity yields success.
The irony of all this? As a whole, we also feel more pressed for time than ever before, and the constant anxiety that goes along with it depletes our health and happiness. Moderately difficult tasks seem impossible. Self-confidence becomes hard to come by. Days go by in a blur, and we go to bed exhausted instead of feeling accomplished.
How Can We Reclaim Our Health and Happiness?
Here are five simple, time-efficient strategies you can work into your routine to feel more in control of your days and better overall:
1) Step Away from Your Smartphone.
If you’re anything like me, you’re more or less handcuffed to your smartphone and computer from sunup until sundown. You check your email every fifteen minutes. You keep your phone in close reach so you don’t miss a single text or phone call. You scroll through news sites on your lunch break. You skip workouts because you’re afraid of what you might miss out on while you’re away. We think we’re accomplishing more when we’re connected to our electronics, but the compulsion to stay apprised at all times contributes to stress, leads to distraction, and puts us at risk for addiction. The “lure of constant stimulation—the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates—is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions,” Matt Richtel writes in the New York Times. What can you do? Set boundaries for yourself by limiting the time you spend on-line and the websites you visit. Take a walk and leave your phone behind. Unplug two hours before bed. Embrace activities that don’t involve the presence of a screen, whether it’s attacking a crossword puzzle in the morning paper or pulling weeds in your front yard. Disengaging from your devices will allow you to engage more with the world around you.
2) Spend Ten Minutes Tending to Yourself.
Perform a series of shoulder stretches. Soothe your tired hands with a rich lotion. Or use that time to daydream about your upcoming vacation, book a spa appointment, or drink a cup of herbal tea. Listen to a song that moves you, or call a friend who always manages to make you smile. As inconsequential as these suggestions might sound, acts of self-care have vital, long-lasting benefits: They minimize anxiety, prevent chronic stress, trigger relaxation, and remind us that our own needs are just as important as others’.
3) Silence Your Inner Critic By Singing.
We all have one—that pesky nitpicker who sits on our shoulder and points out all of our faults. Mine usually arrives in the hours after lunch, when afternoon gloom and doom sets in with a vengeance—and, I admit, after I’ve spent a few minutes on Facebook, which studies have shown can heighten anxiety, loneliness, and self-doubt. When I realized the amount of time, energy, and emotional space listening to my inner critic was taking up, I began saying, “la la la la” out loud. Believe it or not, but it worked. Stand up to your inner critic by being a detached observer of what you’re saying to yourself. You wouldn’t speak to a friend in such a harsh way, would you? Exercise the same compassion with yourself, and sing, scream, or swear your insecure voice out of you.
4) Rephrase Yourself.
Here’s a quick, easy exercise: Replace the word “challenge” with “adventure.” Wouldn’t you approach the difficulty not as an obstacle but as an excellent opportunity for growth and change? Enthusiasm would replace dread; pleasure would replace pain. The next time you find yourself getting anxious about an upcoming event—a key meeting with your boss, speaking in public, or confronting a friend about a problem—stop wasting time with your needless worry and consider yourself fortunate for having the chance to make progress.
5) De-stress with a Dose of Vitamin D.
I mean this in both the literal and metaphorical sense. If possible, take five minutes out of your hectic day to sit in a spot of sunshine. Eat a few bites of yogurt or a hardboiled egg. Why? Research has shown that Vitamin D is a natural way to curb stress and tension, ease aches and pains, and control blood pressure. Other ways to de-stress with a dose of Vitamin D? De-clutter your desk or inbox. Divert negative thoughts by reading a handful of uplifting quotes on http://www.brainyquote.com/, or close your door and do a couple of rounds of downward facing dogs. Decompressing—even if it’s only through forty-five seconds of mindful breathing—will have an enormous impact on your body and mind.
Now? Get away from your computer, and go enjoy your life.