With the chaos across the globe and in your everyday life, it can be easy to overlook seemingly minor stressors. Sometimes it’s easy to identify the daily habits that induce stress such as consuming large quantities of caffeine, overloading on processed foods, or over-scheduling appointments and activities to the point of burnout.
But often the daily habits that heighten stress levels are less obvious. Experiencing them sporadically likely won’t have much of an impact, but they can become habitual and deeply embedded into your daily routine in conjunction with numerous other stressful habits.
The build-up of seemingly insignificant normal actions and behaviours may be contributing to everyday tension, fatigue, and rising levels of cortisol, a hormone released by the body when it’s under stress. Unmanaged cortisol levels can lead to headaches, digestive problems, anxiety, and many other psychological and physiological symptoms.
Fortunately, once you identify the habits that are plaguing you, you can take steps to address them, putting you in control of how stress affects your overall health. The following are eight daily habits that may be contributing to your overall stress level without your realising it.
1. Constantly Running Through To-do Lists
If you weren’t able to think through the things you want to accomplish in a day, you wouldn’t get anything done. To-do lists, whether written or mental, keep you focused and organised. But they become counterproductive when you’re constantly running through them. Excessively planning and obsessing over what you want to accomplish can trigger anxiety and hinder productivity.
It’s important to find ways to be productive while maintaining your sanity. This can be done by prioritising to-do lists, being realistic about what you can and can’t accomplish in one day, checking items off one at a time, practising mindfulness to stay present, and rewarding yourself for your hard work.
2. Binge-watching TV
When you’re under stress or need to relax, you may turn to the television to help you “turn off” your brain. Watching TV typically helps you to feel relaxed, although it can depend on what you’re watching. (Your brain may favour comedies, and shows or movies you’ve seen before.) However, those feelings of relaxation often cease after you’ve turned the TV off. You may feel antsy and unproductive after binge-watching Netflix, a contrast to the satisfaction often felt after a workout or catching up with a friend.
There’s no harm in unwinding with a good show after a long day at work. But watching TV for hours on end can disrupt sleep and take time away from other activities that safeguard you from stress and promote health such as exercise, meditation, and connecting with others.
Oftentimes you procrastinate when you fear failure, aren’t sure how to do something, or just simply dread putting forth any effort. Regardless of why you procrastinate, the pressure to throw something together at the last minute is not only unpleasant and daunting, but can also induce high levels of stress.
By tackling something important now—rather than putting it off to the last minute—you can lessen the demand it puts on your time, energy, and overall well-being. Develop a strategy for getting things done on time (or early!) such as breaking down tasks into smaller chunks, creating a schedule, and rewarding yourself along the way.
4. Being Late
Occasionally you will fall behind schedule. But if you find yourself consistently waking up late, rushing to make appointments, or hurryingly paying bills just before they will be sent to collections, then it’s likely adding stress to your day. Similar to when you procrastinate, the pressure that results from having to accomplish something within a short time-frame can induce anxiety and exhaustion.
Leave yourself plenty of time, whether it’s to pay a bill or to get across town for a meeting, to avoid the stress that is inevitably associated with running behind. Set reminders on your cell phone to help alleviate the stress of having to rely on your memory alone.
5. Running on Autopilot
How often do you stop for your morning coffee without engaging in conversation with the barista? Or rush through breakfast with your family, distracted by thoughts of the hundreds of things you need to accomplish that morning? This is the norm for many, thanks in part to technological devices that make it easier to live life efficiently without having to engage as much in it.
When you go through your day on autopilot, you’re less likely to notice and engage in those seemingly simple moments that can make life so enjoyable (and alleviate stress) such as:
- Connecting with a stranger.
- Making a child feel listened to.
- Enjoying a good cup of coffee.
Instead, you run from one obligation to the next, unaware of the stress you’re accumulating along the way. By practising mindfulness, the act of bringing attention to the present moment, you’ll find yourself more relaxed and engaged in the world around you.
The modern world has no shortage of external stimuli. Technological devices are just one of many contributors to an already-over stimulated society. In addition to being connected via social media, news alerts, and texting, other contributors of over-stimulation are plugging in your headphones, over socialising, or overloading on caffeine and sugar. Your brain isn’t wired to process endless stimuli without leaving you overloaded and stressed out.
Fortunately, you can choose what you pay attention to. Limiting phone usage, listening to calm music instead of the news on the way to work, decluttering work-spaces, and declining a social invitation when you feel the need for some downtime are just a few ways to prevent over-stimulation. Make a habit of checking in with yourself; become more attuned with what your body and mind are telling you they need.
7. Lack of Routine
Your brain inherently favours routine. You prefer to know what to expect versus fearing the unknown. Routines are more easily established when you are in a steady job and living situation. But sometimes you fall out of a routine (not always by choice) and are left feeling directionless. This creates space for worry and insecurity.
Having something you know you can depend on every day—whether it’s getting up at the same time every morning for some peaceful, alone time, or working out in the evening after work—will provide your brain with a dose of consistency it can crave.
8. Surrounding Company
Think of all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis: bosses, coworkers, friends, family members, fellow commuters, and cashiers, just to name a few. Some may alleviate stress while others trigger it. Observing how you feel after an encounter with someone is a sure way to find out which category they fall under. Do they leave you feeling energised or depleted? Supported or anxious?
You have more control than you realise over the influence people have on you. If a friend becomes increasingly toxic, you can walk away from the friendship. If your boss’s demands are causing one-too-many sleepless nights, you can speak up. You can choose to react differently to the stress they evoke within you. Instead of becoming completely overwhelmed, you can limit the time we spend with them, practice mindful breathing, or steer the conversation in a direction that feels more pleasant and less stressful.
Avoiding big stresses can be easy because those stresses are more visible. The smaller stresses, however, sneak up on you. Take the opportunity to review your life for these eight stressors and take the suggested steps to help manage them. Your mind and body will appreciate the assist!