Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered, “how did I let myself go this far?” Years have flown by while your head was down focusing on the needs of the day. You lost sight of your ultimate dreams and goals. It’s easy to get distracted when you are caught up in the daily struggle to survive another hectic day. Gone are the times when you were in school, before kids or marriage, when it seemed you had enough time for friends, sports, books, hobbies, the gym or whatever spontaneous adventure sparked your curiosity.
The stress of living a life in disarray, feeling out of control, being pulled in countless directions, is a recipe for discontent that leads to an early demise. The quality and quantity of your life is diminished. You cannot present the best version of yourself when you are exhausted and uninspired.
Don’t fret. As evidenced by the fact that you are reading this, you are a proactive, dynamic individual capable of change and adaptation. And since you have read this far, you must be interested in making a change. Here are 4 ways to reduce your stress, become more productive and be a better human:
#1 – GET OFF YOUR ASS AND EXERCISE
The demands of a career and family can be overwhelming. One of the first things you sacrifice when your schedule gets overbooked is exercise. Isn’t it funny how P.E. and physical activity at recess were so important when we were school kids, yet, as adults, we act as though we’ve graduated from having to break a sweat?
Countless studies like this one from the CDC have shown how regular exercise can drastically reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and incidences of certain cancers. Even as little as 30 minutes of exercise 3 times a week have proven to strengthen bones and muscles, control your weight and increase your chances of living longer.
A few years ago, I started going to the gym before getting to the office. I found myself more energized than ever; I now arrive to the office with my brain warmed up and the ideas flowing. I no longer feel sluggish and I am not falling asleep at my desk after lunch anymore (see #2 for more tips on this topic).
Maybe you are not a gym rat…Consider the following: everyone that works more than 4 hours in a work day is entitled to at least a 30 minute lunch break. Instead of spending that half hour or hour sitting on your duff eating fast food, put on your sneakers and take a brisk walk around the neighborhood around your office. This is another great way to stave off that after lunch lull.
Start off slow. When you consider how drastically you can improve your health with just 90 minutes of exercise each week, you will really want to dive in. Pace yourself and come up with an exercise plan that ramps up gradually. Check out a few of my favorite workout plans for people who travel or don’t have endless amounts of time to get their sweat on.
#2 – EAT BETTER FOOD
Jack LeLane was on to something when he said you should eat food in a form that closely resembles how it looked when they pulled it out of the ground. Common sense tells us that eating whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes is better for us than double cheesburgers and pizza.
But let’s be realistic for a minute: A life lived without ice cream is no life for me! You don’t have to cut out all of the processed, artificially sweetened junk food bathed in high fructose corn syrup altogether.
Just as with exercise, take it nice and easy when you are getting started. Start by avoiding the Burger Joint for a greasy meatball wrapped in a muffin with cheese on your way to work. Instead, pick up a cup of greek yogurt (check the label…anything with less than 14 grams of sugar is good). Mix in chia seeds and hemp hearts for added measure. After yogurt, have a hard-boiled egg and a quarter cup of mixed nuts.
Having a few servings of greens in the morning is also important for digestion. I find a Kale and Spinach mix or a Spring Mix of greens the best (supermarkets sell a week’s worth prewashed for a few bucks). Blend them into a quick smoothie with some frozen berries in the morning and you won’t even taste them.
I like to eat mixed veggies between breakfast and lunch. Carrots, Celery, Broccoli and Cauliflower are great to snack on. You can either buy them separately or get one of the trays you’ll find in the produce section of the grocery store. Throw in a banana and that will get you to lunch.
WATER IS ESSENTIAL TO YOUR HEALTH. You should be drinking at least a gallon of water each day. This will give you the feeling of being full and help you get through your day eating less.
For lunch, you should eat something nice and light. I recommend left-overs. You should be cooking dinner as often as possible making an extra helping that you can take to work the next day. This saves money and gives you more control over what you eat. If you have to eat out, I’d recommend Subway. The chicken and turkey sandwiches with tons of veggies are MUCH better than a burger or nacho-rito.
Soon after you begin making these changes, you will start to notice changes. For one, your trips to the crapper will be more regular and productive. If you constantly suffer from a dip in energy after lunch (fighting off falling asleep at your desk?), this will surely make things better.
#3 – WRITE IN A JOURNAL
Organizing your mind is not unlike organizing your home. The clutter created after a day of living in it can be unsettling. Just as you are well advised to clean up every day (make your bed, do the dishes, take out the trash, etc.), so too should you tidy things up in your mind every day.
A journal or diary entry at either the start or end of the day is a great way to take an inventory of your thoughts and emotions. Think of it as giving your mental living room a daily lick and a promise. You don’t have to write a doctorate thesis or a harrow tale of woe…just a few thoughts about what is going on and how you feel about it.
The act of writing allows you to look at your words from a new perspective. Many a breakthrough have come to me through this simple exercise. Writing at the start of the day reminds me of a disk defragmentation. Everything seems to run more smoothly afterwards.
#4 – GET MORE SLEEP
It seems silly that I would need to add this one. What’s more silly is that few of us actually get enough sleep. The fact is, our physical and emotional well-being are inextricably linked to getting the right amount of sleep.
Sleeping is when the body repairs itself from the damage we do to ourselves throughout our waking hours. Experts suggest here that lack of sleep prevents weight loss and contributes to poor eating habits.
A full night of restful sleep also contributes to a more positive mood. Studies have linked sleep deprivation to poor cognitive function and diminished mental acuity. Forget about studies for a minute: you know that you are cranky and irritable when you don’t get enough sleep. You are a more productive worker, a more generous spouse, a more caring friend, a more patient parent and generally more pleasant to be around.
There may be a few more things you’ll want to work on to be the best human. These are some of the first steps needed to get started toward this goal.
What would you add to the list?