8 Tips for Creating a Life with More Joy and Less Stress
Most of us who haven’t yet retired live busy lives. After all, we’ve got a lot to do: A job, children to raise, parents to check-in on, and errands to run. What’s not to be stressed about? Although our responsibilities and obligations aren’t likely to fade, our stress can. The mindset with which we approach the world around us is the number one factor determining our happiness.
Here are eight time-tested guidelines for a life with less stress and more joy:
1. Clarify Your Top Priorities and Control What You Can
Take time to plan and prioritize. The most common source of stress is the perception that you’ve got too much work to do. Rather than obsess about it, pick one thing that, if you get it done today, will move you closer to your highest goal and purpose in life. Then do that first.
Remember also that some things are beyond your control. Has a parent with dementia said something unkind? Remind yourself that while you can’t prevent these remarks, you can control how you react to them.
2. Laugh often
Laughter is a healthy way of relieving tension. It decreases levels of stress hormones while increasing the primary neurotransmitter for contentment, endorphin, and our body’s own natural pain reliever. It also brings people together, which is always beneficial. Did your senior mother try to make coffee with cat litter? Allow yourself to laugh it off instead of getting flustered.
You can also work actively to add laughter to your life. Place a higher priority on spending time with loved ones who make you laugh. Get a daily dose of your favorite sitcom on Netflix-streaming or Hulu if it’s not on TV. Or try Laughter Yoga. Its practitioners note that science has found the body is unable to differentiate between natural laughter and forced laughter. For this reason they actually suggest that people make themselves laugh and have group laughter sessions, advising students to “fake it till you make it.”
3. Have Empathy for Yourself
Those stressed out from working, parenting or caregiving should try not to be too hard on themselves. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and don’t blame yourself for difficulties or bad outcomes. During the hardest times, work to soothe and reassure yourself. Try repeating a favorite prayer or self-affirming mantra, reminding yourself that you’re doing the best you can under difficult circumstances.
While a few hermits may claim that the solitary life is ideal, the psychological and medical communities agree that it’s important to spend quality time with friends and family. Organize regular monthly get-togethers with friends in a social setting that you can look forward to, such as a dinner club, a Bunco or Maj Jong game, or a movie or book club. Also take advantage of opportunities to make socializing therapeutic. If you become overly stressed from caring for an aging parent, join a support group.
5. Practice Self Care
Body and mind are interconnected, so our bodies will be best poised to cope with stress when we are well nourished and in reasonable shape. Exercise, of course, is key. Nutrition is also crucial. By now, most of us understand what constitutes a healthy diet, but how we consume our food may be just as important as what we eat. Take the time to savor your food. Sometimes we can’t avoid scarfing something down quickly to keep us up and running. Even so, at least once a day try to eat or drink something really delicious, like a small chunk of fine cheese, an imported chocolate, or a glass of nice wine.
6. Look on the Bright Side of Life
Optimism, or positive thinking, has been linked by researchers to increased health and happiness. While there’s some evidence that our level optimism is genetic (or heritable), that doesn’t mean we that we don’t have any choice in the matter or that we shouldn’t make optimism a goal. That would be, well, pessimistic.
7. Get Enough Sleep and Rest
Sleep is restorative and is one of our body’s ways to mitigate stress. How do we get more sleep? A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute found that learning some simple but surprising guidelines can help improve sleep duration and quality significantly:
- Spend less time in bed
- Get up at the same time every day
- Don’t go to bed until you feel sleepy
- Get out of bed if you’re not sleeping
8. Be Here Now
Another way of putting this is, “live in the moment.” If we live our lives always waiting for some hoped for point in the future (for example our next vacation) we discard the here and now, which is all we really have. American author Henry James wrote, “Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”