A few years ago, I lived in a constant state of panic. Whether it was about an upcoming project, having too much on my plate, or just a general state of anxiety, I was constantly battling the feeling that my life was about to fall to pieces. My productivity never wavered, but I was beginning to feel like balancing my work with my stress levels was an impossible feat.
Once this state of mind began taking a toll on my physical well-being and personal relationships, I decided to dig into the root problems of my absurdly high stress levels and deal with them head on.
Two years later, I’m much more stable and relaxed in my everyday life, much of which I can attest to a few lifestyle changes that I am religious about. The habits listed below have completely transformed my mental and physical state and made me a more relaxed but equally productive person than ever before.
1. Eating whole, un-processed foods
When I began cooking for myself instead of grabbing a cheap and probably over-processed meal, I became a more vibrant, productive and happier version of myself. The mind numbing lethargy and dullness I experienced for years immediately dissipated and I literally felt unstoppable in all areas of my life… and still do.
That bag of chips or packet of gummy worms might taste good in the moment, but that crappy gross feeling afterward is thanks to the ultra-processed and chemically-filled ingredients in those foods. And that initial feeling isn’t the only thing that happens; there is compelling evidence that these products negatively affect our stress levels, eating habits and ability to fight chronic diseases.
If you want to create a life you are proud and excited to live, make sure your foundation is solid. And that, my friend, begins on your plate. A good rule of thumb is if you’ve never heard of something in the ingredients list, DON’T EAT IT.
2. Saying “No” more
I used to try and do everything. And when I say everything, I truly mean… everything. A couple years ago, I was an absolute wreck – trying to juggle 18 hours of class with two jobs and an on-campus leadership position. I would beat myself up if I didn’t make it to the gym five days a week, AND I was getting drunk and staying out late with my friends almost every weekend. The inevitable breaking point happened, which led to several weeks of crushing depression, in which I came out the other side with a new goal: STOP DOING EVERYTHING.
I’m not going to sit here and argue that saying “no” is easy. You may feel like you’re letting people down, or you may just have a thousand different passions that you want to live out (this was, and still is, a struggle of mine). But wouldn’t you rather knock a few things out of the park than half ass a million insignificant ones?
It all comes down to prioritizing your time and trusting in yourself. Before you say yes to something, take some time to reflect. Can I realistically take this on right now? Am I truly thrilled at this opportunity? Could I do this long term? Even the seemingly insignificant tasks deserve this kind of consideration, because before you know it, you may find yourself drowning in something that you yourself committed to… and that, my friend, is on you.
Moral of the story: Save everyone and yourself the headache, and say “no” more.
3. Scheduling enjoyment
We all know the benefits of planning out your day/ week/ month in advance. You make a list, maybe even block off specific time frames if you’re feeling extra organized, and tick everything off when you’re done. This method is extremely effective for accomplishing tasks related to work or chores, so why not apply it to other areas of our lives?
I hate the notion of “living for the weekend,” so I’ve taken it upon myself to schedule other activities into my weekly schedule that make Monday through Friday a little less dreadful. They don’t have to be huge or time consuming, but they always add a little extra happiness to my week and keep me sane during the work day. Personally, I always schedule in some form of a workout, a phone call or lunch with a friend, or even just 20 minutes of Netflix time, and I value them as highly as I value all my other tasks. If you plan your day around these simple activities, not only will the week be more pleasant, but you will be just as productive as you would have been beforehand. It’s a win-win!
4. Spending time outdoors
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen my “Morning Movement” videos on my story where I’m outside strolling around in the morning sunshine. I do this for a reason, people! There is massive data supporting the positive effects of just 20 minutes of sunlight per day (even better if it’s first thing in the AM), and once I started implementing this into my daily routine, I noticed a huge improvement in my energy levels and overall mood. Now, I can’t go a day without spending at least a few minutes outdoors; it’s that effective.
Whether you bike to work, eat lunch in the park, or even just walk around the block, you will probably notice these easy and pleasant activities starting boost your productivity and happiness throughout the day. Listen to this recent episode by my favorite Feel Better Live More podcast about the monumental benefits of walking, specifically outdoors, and learn the science behind it.
5. Prioritizing sleep
I could do an entire blog post on the effects of sleep, but instead, I’ll just direct you to the podcast that completely changed my perspective on the critical role that sleep plays in our lives. I’m that person who immediately gets sick if I’m even the slightest bit sleep deprived, but the statistics and anecdotes I’ve learned through research has absolutely blown my mind on the long-term effects as well. Give the episode a listen and you’ll understand why.
I firmly stand by these habits as some of the most powerful ways to enhance productivity while controlling your stress levels, and I encourage you all to try at least one today. Let me know in the comments what some of your favorite lifestyle hacks are!