Whether you’re switching careers, moving homes, coping with a loved one’s illness, or feeling overwhelmed by a hundred little things (we’ve all been there), stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s a state of being that comes and goes as often as our Instagram feeds update, but it’s also something we can easily manage with a few fool-proof strategies.
So, rather than trudging forward with your head down and hoping for the best, try implementing these simple habits, mindsets, and schedule changes to limit stress and bring more calm to your everyday life.
1. Time-block your schedule.
Time-blocking consists of designating a specific amount of time for each task you need to accomplish during the day. You might give yourself 30 minutes to answer emails, 20 minutes to call catering companies for your best friend’s bridal shower, and two hours to tackle a big presentation your boss asked you to prepare.
The best thing about time-blocking is that it focuses on task progress, not completion, making it much more flexible and approachable as a form of time management.
2. Declutter the part of your home that’s bothering you the most.
Instead of making lofty goals to declutter your entire home à la Marie Kondo, focus on your biggest problem area. Which part of your home causes you the most anxiety?
Is it the storage closet you can’t open for fear of collapsing under an avalanche of random stuff and old coats? Maybe it’s the bathroom countertop you can no longer see because it’s cluttered with makeup and half-used bottles of lotion? Whatever irritates you every day is worth taking care of so you can feeler calmer and more productive in your space.
3. Take everything one step at a time.
Simplify your life by handling everything you have to do, no matter how small or seemingly easy, one step at a time. Instead, break it into steps: and prioritize certain plans and actions.
4. Make plans with friends once a week.
No matter how busy or chaotic your schedule seems—and no matter how many texts it takes to solidify a plan—carving out time to connect with the people who make you happiest is never a waste. Cook dinner together, check out a new café, take a workout class, or meet up for an evening stroll. That quality time together keeps you feeling supported and happy. Plus, venting or confiding in a friend about problems you might be facing is a great way to relieve stress and gain some outside perspective.
5. Spend time outside every day.
A healthy dose of fresh air is one of the best ways to instantly lift your mood, especially if your job or daily routine keeps you stuck indoors under artificial lights for more than a third of the day. Go for a walk right after you wake up, take your lunch to a park, or catch the sunset. It doesn’t have to be complicated—just get outdoors when you can.
6. Make sleep non-negotiable.
Don’t try to get eight hours of sleep every night—actually make it happen. Work backward from when you need to wake up in the morning. If you set your alarm for 6 a.m., aim to be well on your way to dreamland by 10 p.m. the night before.
Try not to make excuses for why you need to stay up later, either. Think about your sleep schedule the same way you’d think about arriving to work on time. Both should be non-negotiable.
7. Develop a relaxing nightly routine.
While you still have the energy and motivation, do whatever you need to do to set yourself up for success the next day: make your lunch ahead of time, pack your gym clothes, glance at your schedule, and organize your to-do list. Once you’ve taken care of business, dedicate the remainder of the night to unwinding. That might mean soaking in the bath, listening to music, calling your best friend, or stretching on your yoga mat.
8. Exercise every day.
When you have a jammed schedule, you might think an hour-long workout will hinder your to-do list progress or slow you down, but that’s actually rarely the case. A quick sweat session boosts your energy levels, brightens your mood, and lets you channel your stress and anxiety in a healthy way, so when you’re finished, you’re more likely to be productive and focused on the task ahead.
9. Keep your to-do list flexible.
Rather than creating a master list of everything you’d like to get done (but probably don’t have time for), keep your to-do list realistic. Limit it to the most important things you need to accomplish that day, and leave a little space for any unexpected tasks that might pop up, like scheduling doctors’ appointments or going grocery shopping.
And if you don’t finish everything on the list, don’t beat yourself up. Think of your to-do list as the outline to an essay: helpful for keeping you on track, but also totally adjustable.
10. Say no more often.
Start practicing saying no to things you have no interest in or no time for. It might be the second happy hour invitation you’ve received in less than a week or a side project your manager asks you to spearhead during an upcoming long weekend.
Learning to say no—in a respectful, but firm way—is a crucial skill that not only gives you the confidence to manage your time better, but also gives you more freedom to say yes to the things that really matter to you.
11. Wake up 30 minutes earlier.
Instead of spending 30 minutes under your sheets scrolling through social media, get out of bed and use that extra time to do something that makes you feel productive, rejuvenated, and prepared to take on the day.
Meditate, read the news with your morning coffee, squeeze in a workout, take your pup for a walk, catch up on emails, make an elaborate breakfast, or just enjoy getting ready without feeling rushed.
12. Schedule rest and leisure time.
Like exercising or eating well, relaxing is a key component to taking care of yourself. Regularly scheduling time to kick back and do you means you’ll be that much more energized and mentally prepared to tackle the inevitable problems and annoyances that pop up throughout the week.
You don’t need to plan a fancy spa day or weekend away, either (though that never hurts)—just clear a couple hours for an activity that helps you mellow out. Read the book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for weeks, grab a long lunch with a friend, or laze around in your PJs all day with a good Netflix series.
13. Stop documenting everything and start enjoying it.
As fun as social media is, spending all your waking hours plugged in can leave you feeling anxious and on edge. At least once a week, commit to turning your phone off or leaving it in the car during a social event or solo excursion. It’s fun to relive your memories through photos and Snapchat videos, but it’s even more special to fully enjoy your experiences while they’re actually happening.