We're all familiar with the usual sources of stress — lack of work-life balance, job insecurity, overload of social commitments, financial worries, grief, loneliness, heartbreak, family dramas and more. Sadly, many of these factors take time to resolve and often require the co-operation of other people. That said, there are some hidden causes of stress, which lie within our control, and our lives can be greatly improved once we've addressed them.
Below are 7 often-neglected stressors that can be managed to bring more ease and peace into our everyday.
1. Too much of the bad and too little of the good
Whenever I find myself getting stressed out, the first thing I do is to run through a quick mental list of questions like the following:
- Have I been drinking too much-caffeinated drinks and/or alcohol?
- Have I been having too much sugar?
- Have I been eating too much junk food?
- Have I not been sleeping at least 7 to 8 hours and at a regular time each time?
- Have I not been exercising moderately for at least 150 minutes this week?
- Have I not been eating enough greens and healthy food?
- Have I not been staying hydrated all day?
Usually, my answers to the above would give me indications on what lifestyle adjustments I need to make. Typically I aim towards having 7 hours of sleep, drinking 2 litres of water, eating greens and healthy food for lunch and dinner, and doing 30 minutes of light exercise or movement daily. In addition, I watch my caffeine, alcohol, sugar and fatty food intake like a hawk. I would still regularly treat myself to sweets, chocolates and chips but I enjoy them in moderation.
2. Being constantly connected
Even machines have to be powered down or reboot every so often. What makes us think that we are more invincible than machines and can keep going on without a break? These days hardly fifteen minutes goes by without our attention being hijacked by social media feed, text messages, notifications from our smartphone, emails, e-newsletters, and phone calls. We're either tethered to our smart phones or to our computers. It's no wonder that we struggle to find space for a breather in our everyday life. Make an effort to unplug and disconnect as frequently as you can. Remember, there's no text, email, call or notification more urgent than restoring your peace of mind.
3. Not dealing with food intolerances and allergies
Knowing our bodies and how it reacts to what we feed it are something many of us neglect. Food allergies can disrupt our days with itchy rashes, stomach upsets, runny nose and vomiting while food intolerances can make a peaceful day unpleasant with headaches, bloating, irritable bowels and more. They're certainly a source of physical stress we should be actively managing, not ignore. Some of the most common food allergies in adults are shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and egg and some of the most common food intolerances and sensitivities are dairy, gluten, strawberries/citrus fruits/tomatoes, food additives and alcohol.
4. Letting FOMO & YOLO run your life
Life these days is often laden with a strong fear of missing out (FOMO) as we get bombarded by images of how our lives could be different or better via the social media feeds of our friends and network. Everywhere we go, advertisements drive home the fact of YOLO (You Only Live Once). This makes us question every thing we do or not do. Questions like “am I living my life to the fullest? “, “what if I regret when I'm older what I choose now and my chance to change course is gone forever? “ and more. Overcome this by reminding yourself that perfection is a myth and sometimes good enough truly is good enough.
5. Being your own harshest critic and having unrealistic expectations
Growing up under a tiger mom and working in a zero default environment in my early career have made me a strong type A personality and inevitably my own worst enemy. I often felt what I did wasn't good enough and my goal posts were ever elusive. Each time I achieved or come close to achieving my goals, I quickly shifted them or set new ones. This behaviour is terribly unhealthy. I now combat it by practicing gratitude daily and appreciate things for what they are, not what they should be.
6. Not staying clear of toxic friends
We can practice positive thinking and mindfulness all we want but if we remain immerse in a circle of toxic friends, everyday becomes a challenge to ward off stresses from the people around. As taught in Julia Cameron's The Artist Way, draw a circle on a piece of paper. In the circle, write in names of people who are loving, supportive and caring towards you. Outside of the circle, write the names of people who sucks your time, energy and money or leave you feeling small or down. From there, increase your time with the people in the circle and gradually increase your distance with the people outside of the circle.
7. Having too much clutter at home and at work
It's amazing how just coming home or going to work to a clean desk free of mess can make us feel almost instantly lighter. We pay hundreds of dollars to stay in hotel rooms with minimalistic interior for a good night sleep. If we put in some effort to keep our homes clutter-free, we can have a peaceful haven to return to each day! If you're struggling to stay clutter free at home, check out Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. At work, I started adhering to the clean desk policy several years ago when I was working in Tokyo and it felt so good that I maintained the routine in the countries I worked in after Japan. If you've never maintained a clean desk at work, I highly recommend that you do. For frenzied professionals, it's like owning an oasis of calm in the office!
Which of the above stressors do you relate to the most? How do you manage them and which tips above would you apply after today?