8 ways to create a less stressful life

In our often-hectic schedules we leave little room to carve out space for ourselves.

By Maria Hoyle
Ah, the serenity.
There you are, the sand between your toes and the wind in your hair and the only decision to make is what to throw on the barbecue tonight.
But as we all know, it doesn't take long for the pressures of work and daily life to take over. That's why we've put together a toolkit of handy stress-busting habits so you can weave a little serenity into your life every day for the rest of the year – even during the busiest of schedules.
Like a cup filled to the brim with anxieties, we carry the pressures and concerns of one sphere into another, ending up overwrought and overwhelmed.
You may arrive home frazzled after being stuck in traffic or with lingering work challenges bouncing around your brain so you're only half listening to your loved ones or, if you live alone, never truly able to switch off and chill.
In the morning, you may arrive at work run ragged by the kids, or still fraught after battling to find a park.
It's important, therefore, to mark the transition between one sphere and the other so you can hit pause and regroup. Here are some simple ways to create a buffer between one realm and another.

1. Separate your work and home lives

When you arrive home from work or your otherwise busy day, don't dash into the house but sit in the car for five minutes and try a simple meditation or breathing exercise.
Apps like Headspace or Buddhify offer short, do-anywhere guided meditations and mindfulness sessions designed for people on the go.
By doing this you send a mental signal to yourself that it's time to let go of the work day and enter your personal realm.
Even if you have to continue working later in the evening (not ideal, but hey, it happens), you'll walk through the door ready to greet the kids/partner/cat in a calm and loving frame of mind.
Do this in the morning too so you can commence your tasks with your mental desk free of clutter.
Better still, park the car a little further away so you can walk and enjoy 10 minutes of your favourite podcast or music.
On a Friday perhaps make a date with yourself to have a café breakfast en route to the office as a 'Yay, I made it through the week!' celebration.

2. Change out of your work clothes

Yes, really, that simple. There's a saying 'dress for the job you want' – so why not apply this to your private sphere too?
If you want your domestic job title to be 'Calm, Relaxed Individual', then have a shower, get comfy, and the 'Office You' will take the hint and slip quietly out the door.
Yes everyone will want your attention and the groceries may need unpacking or the washing machine has to be unloaded, but be firm. Delegate the jobs or simply say, 'Give me 10' and disappear.
It's easy to blame everyone else for not letting you relax – the fact is, it's up to you to enforce it. They'll soon get used to the habit, and you'll be a much nicer person to be around for it.

3. Make a ritual out of something that relaxes you

This can be anything from five minutes' stretching (once you're out of your work clothes, of course) to lighting a fragrant candle, making a cuppa (and sitting to drink it!), going for a brisk walk or watering the plants in the garden.
Whatever relaxes you, do it as soon as you get home. This will set the tone for the rest of the evening.
The start of the day is usually more rushed but you can still set the alarm five to 10 minutes earlier to allow you time to establish a daily habit like sitting outside, stretching, meditating, writing in a journal or even going for a quick walk around the block.
At the end of the week, mark the start of the weekend in some way. Get the kids to help you set the table with candles and/or flowers; have Takeout Friday; make Friday games night… whatever floats your boat.
In our more secular times, many of us can feel that a sense of higher purpose is missing in our lives.
Every day can become a slog in which we're just struggling to meet the mortgage or rent payment. But there are ways to tap into our spiritual sides, even in our modern busy world.

4. Get amongst nature

The most time-poor among us can take five minutes to get outside and contemplate the natural world – even if it's just the flowers in our (or other people's) gardens or the trees at the side of the road.
And at weekends, instead of hitting the mall, make time to be active outside – ideally a stroll on the beach or through bush, but even a walk through a city park does wonders to lift the spirits.
Take this time to be fully in the moment, noticing the sounds, smells and visual pleasures of the natural world. And for the best possible kind of natural connection, don't forget to kick off your shoes and feel the grass between your toes.

5. Do something kind

Compassion is a cornerstone of spirituality, and you can practise this daily, in the smallest of ways.
Pay it forward at a café, tell someone how much you appreciate them, let someone into the traffic with a smile, let an elderly person or someone with young kids into the supermarket checkout queue in front of you, take flowers to a friend who's been feeling down, write a letter, ask your partner or a friend how they are and listen without launching into how your day was… The possibilities are infinite.
Stress thrives on self-absorption so by taking the focus off yourself, you'll be doing yourself the power of good too.

6. Practise mindfulness

Yes, you've heard it a million times before – and that's because it works.
Make yourself a lovely herbal tea (treat yourself to a pretty cup and saucer), wait for it to brew in the pot, and drink it without doing anything else.
Wash the dishes and focus only on that.
Don't multi-task when brushing your teeth or eating breakfast.
Commute without listening to music, the radio or a podcast and simply notice what is going on around you.

7. Read a poem

Deepak Chopra lists poetry as one of his keys to happiness.
And there's nothing that calms the mind and silences the cacophony of our thoughts better than some beautiful lyrical writing.
You don't have to focus on a plot, just the words.

8. Do your morning pages

This practice, outlined in The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, is quite literally what it sounds like.
The idea is that, as soon as you wake up (but yes, go on, get a cuppa first if you need to!) you write three pages. Of anything. Random thoughts, ideas, fragments of dreams, worries… anything goes.
This aim is to calm anxieties, exorcise negativity and get your creative juices flowing. It really works – if you do it every single day.
The beauty of this, unlike a bullet journal or a diary, is that you don't even need to feel inspired. You simply get up, put pen to paper and, from the stream of consciousness, shapes and forms start to appear.
At worst, you will have got a load off your mind. And at best… who knows – out of that early-morning mist of "waffle", the hazy shape of a best-selling author may emerge…

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