Are you relaxed? Or stressed?
Do you find you’re always looking at a screen, but don’t know how to switch off, either your gadgets or your mind?
Do you have a to-do list that NEVER seems to end?
Would you love to reduce stress, take back control, make time for relaxation, and still achieve more every day? Then read on…
Busy lives can be stressful. We all know that stress is not good for us, but do we know just how damaging it is, or exactly what it does to our bodies and minds? And sure, we may know intuitively that relaxation has positive effects, but are you aware of just how beneficial it is for our bodies, minds and productivity? So just how can we stress less and relax more? I have a two step solution we can explore below.
In evolutionary terms, the stress response is vitally helpful, but it was only ever meant to be an acute survival mechanism. Problems arise when stress becomes long-term, because it affects your whole body: heart, lungs, stomach, muscles, skin, fertility, weight, pain and – crucially – your immune system, while increasing vulnerability to anxiety and depression.
Long-term stress is arguably the biggest health concern of the 21st century, because it is linked with so many serious conditions, and reduces productivity so that even the economy suffers. The key to managing stress is organisation, because this affords time for relaxation.
Physically speaking, relaxation counteracts all of the above, and can even lower the risk of stroke. Mentally and emotionally, it improves memory, libido and decision-making ability, and actually protects against anxiety and depression. It’s easy to see how one can offset the other. Yet with so many priorities to juggle, it’s little wonder that many of us neglect our need for time out.
The good news is there’s a brilliant new analogue tool that truly helps. This little miracle is a beautiful paper diary and productivity planner called Trigg. As the name suggests, it provides a framework for mapping out your life, using key points to navigate the things you need to do while keeping you on track with the things you want to do. With space for relaxation and reflection, it’s the perfect opportunity to improve your life-work balance and ensure you’re getting time to unwind.
It can be difficult to relax when there are constant demands on your time and the to-do list will never be complete. Too often, rest and relaxation are seen as indulgent, time-wasting, or lazy, yet taking time out for R&R is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health, and also (perhaps more surprisingly) for your productivity. Yes, taking a nap can be tactically efficient.
But for high-achievers, little downtime appears in the average week, so you need to consciously plan time for relaxation and fun, and ideally to create healthy habits so that this becomes routine. That’s why a good diary or planner is such a useful tool.
Short of retreating into a cave, we can’t remove stress from our lives, but there are two things we definitely can do: manage and cope better with stress, and consciously make time to relax. For both strategies, planning is key. In short, good organisation leads to better mental and physical health.
Working out all your priorities (separating the important and urgent from the rest) ensures you’ll take care of the big stuff, such as your long-term dreams, goals and ambitions that usually fall into the ‘important but not urgent’ category and as such are often sidelined by daily admin and pressing deadlines. Just knowing you’ve got it all covered can be a big relief in itself.
Unfortunately, often we use digital tools to manage commitments, so the intended solution actually adds to the problem. Too much screen-time adds to stress and decreases our ability to switch off. Using paper and pen rather than technology is massively beneficial.
First of all, it offers space for a digital detox: as we’ve noted, time away from screens is vital. Second, the act of writing helps us to focus our minds and organise our thoughts. Research shows that when we put pen to paper we learn and remember more effectively than when we use a laptop. Writing on a page also stimulates creativity and makes room for experimentation.
Furthermore, Trigg asks you to sketch out a personal manifesto, and provides space for daily focus, as well as a weekly opportunity for reflection, including both gratitude and lessons learned. The result is a time management tool that helps you identify values, priorities and stressors, reflect on successes and learn from mistakes, and to actually schedule relaxation.
So, how to unwind when you have the time? Physical exercise is an excellent stress-reliever, and it can be as simple as taking a walk. Spending time in nature is also really beneficial, and if you can combine the two, so much the better. When you can’t get away, simple breathing exercises can really help. Regular meditation, self-hypnosis and yoga are excellent and there’s plenty of information available. The trick is to find something you like, that works for you, and develop a daily habit. As with most things, consistency is the key to success.
A diary with space for notes and reflection is especially helpful, because journaling is a superb way of both identifying and soothing stress. By recording the cause of your stress, along with your thoughts and feelings, you can see how to address it.
It’s no accident that Trigg is so effective: the team consulted productivity experts, executives and psychologists to create their game-changing innovation. As a mental health practitioner, I was drafted in to help with the research and development of Trigg, and I can promise it’s a fantastic solution.
It’s exciting that just one change (incorporating a paper diary or planner such as Trigg into your daily routine) can have so many far-reaching benefits. Life is always going to involve stressful times, but it doesn’t automatically mean getting stressed out. If you love the idea of being organised while detoxing from the digital, having more time to relax, play, and focus on what matters while improving your mental and physical health, then I really can’t recommend it enough. Put pen to paper, find your flow, and you’ll marvel at the benefits in no time.
PLEASE NOTE: The gorgeous Trigg Life Mapper 2017 is available at Kickstarter ONLY until Wednesday 5th October, 10pm BST, for delivery in December, making it the ideal Christmas gift. Do NOT miss out!
HOW TO MANAGE STRESS USING TRIGG
- List ALL your commitments and use the quad to define your priorities: the fewer per day, the better. Focus is key.
- Plan your time for everything, including relaxation and exercise. These are essential elements for optimum health and productivity.
- Use paper and pen to manage your commitments, to better focus your mind and limit your daily quota of screen time.
- Journaling: write down the cause of your stress, along with your thoughts and feelings. Once you understand the problem (and writing it down is a great way of clarifying the situation) you can begin to address it.
- Be grateful for what you have: it’s scientifically proven to improve wellbeing.
- Don’t beat yourself up about mistakes, but learn from them and move on.
- Take the opportunity to create your own personal manifesto: what are your values? What does it mean to live as YOU?
OTHER GREAT WAYS TO MANAGE STRESS AND RELAX
- Take a walk: this really helps with creativity and problem solving.
- Spend time in nature: green spaces, trees, and coastal areas are all soothing.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. Minimise your caffeine intake ( 3 cups max per day)
- Listen to music (and dance if you like!)
- Spend quality time with friends and family.
- Foster good sleep habits.
- Focus on breathing well. Here’s a great simple breathing exercise to try from the NHS
- Meditation is fantastic for many people: try the Headspace app to start for free.
- Regular self-hypnosis is amazingly calming and really boosts creativity. Call Emma at the Seymour Clinic or visit the NHS-approved Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) to find a hypnotherapist near you.
- Yoga: for information and local classes try the NHS Livewell page
- Get professional help: if you’re overwhelmed and struggling to cope, make an appointment with your GP or contact Emma at the Seymour Clinic.