Earlier this year, I posted a blog about my struggles with anxiety. I truly appreciate everyone who read the post and offered support. I was inundated with emails, texts, and direct messages with a common theme: I too struggle with anxiety. To learn that others struggle with this condition was not unforeseen, but I was surprised by the characteristics of those who responded -they were professionals who I consider to be at the top of their field. When I began managing my anxiety I felt a lot of shame; I associated this condition with weakness and ineffectiveness. But the individuals who reached out to me are the antithesis of weakness: they are smart, hardworking, dedicated, and successful. I think educators are especially susceptible to anxiety and stress. Students, parents, and staff depend on us, and we want to meet their needs and exceed their expectations. To manage anxiety, I had to examine my lifestyle and make adjustments. I wish there was a silver bullet I could offer, but it doesn’t exist. However, I would like to share several strategies that have helped me boost mindfulness and reduce anxiety.
In the past, I had a distorted view of sleep and equated it with weakness. I would eschew sleep, and while others rested, I worked. Sleep seemed like a waste of time, and my late night work sessions took place in a quiet house, which provided solitude. My life of minimal sleep continued until I made a powerful realization: sleep deprivation was prolonging my work day. When I get at least 7 hours of sleep I feel better, I’m more focused, and consequently, more productive at work. When I get fewer than 7 hours of sleep, I tend to be less efficient, and consequently, I take more work home at the end of the day. It’s a vicious cycle.
A recent research study found that the body removes toxins from your brain while you sleep. So if you enjoy being edgy, lethargic, and full of brain toxins, keep burning the midnight oil. If you are seeking a healthier lifestyle, be sure to get your rest.
Exercise is essential if you want to reduce stress and feel better. I think many of us equate exercise with pain and find it unpleasant. It doesn’t have to be this way. Pick an activity you enjoy and focus on being active. Go for a walk, play basketball, join a gym, hop on the treadmill, go for a bike ride, or buy a subscription to Beachbody. Exercise is a diversion that allows me to release stress. It benefits the mind, as well as the body. A daily exercise routine can energize your entire day- it will also help you sleep better.
Exercise is essential and so is a healthy diet. You will never outrun your fork. View food as fuel, not a gateway to happiness. Do I enjoy a donut or a cheeseburger? Absolutely! But I have noticed I don’t enjoy how they make me feel 30 minutes later. A healthy diet will boost your energy level and help you feel better. There are many different diet options, but a good initial strategy is to simply track your daily caloric intake. Apps such as MyFitnessPal make it easy to track what you eat. Food prepping (preparing meals for the week) is also a valuable practice. I’m less likely to grab fast food if I have already prepared a healthy lunch option.
Sleep, exercise and a healthy diet are critical components to a healthier lifestyle.
A hobby is essentially something you enjoy that takes your mind off work. If it’s the right hobby, you enjoy it so much, you lose track of time-this happens to me when I blog. Two years ago my doctor asked me, “What are your hobbies?” I couldn’t answer the question, and that is really sad. I think many of us are so focused on work and other responsibilities that we fail to take time for ourselves. What if your doctor asked you the same question? Would you have an answer? If not, get yourself a hobby.
Embrace the Habits of Successful People
Dealing with stress and maintaining a healthy work-life balance is not a new dilemma. Many peak performers freely share their keys to success, including how they manage stress. Podcasts are a useful resource to learn about the habits and values of the influential. One of my favorite podcasts is the James Altucher Show. Altucher’s guests share their stories and are incredibly vulnerable, openly discussing frailty, adversity, failure, and how they overcome these challenges to be successful. A key habit many of his guests employ is meditation.
I was skeptical at first, but I started meditating four weeks ago and find it refreshing. In a world of ubiquitous noise and communication, 20 minutes of uninterrupted daily silence is enjoyable.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
A podcast guest make a profound statement last week when he said, “I had to stop comparing my blooper reel to the highlight reels of other people” I constantly do this, and I suspect you do too. No one is perfect, and when we put others on a pedestal we devalue our own worth. This is why I’ve recently minimized my time on Facebook. I’m not anti-Facebook, but I tend to compare myself to the perfect life portrayed by many on the site. Two weeks ago I was Googling “how to fix a water heater” while my newsfeed was inundated by posts highlighting vacations, job promotions, and new car purchases. I’m very happy so many friends and acquaintances enjoyed good fortune. However, I feel like I’m doing life wrong when someone is in Fiji and I don’t even have hot water…or even a bottle of Fiji water. A proliferation of highlight reels has occurred with the rise of Facebook. Resist the temptation to base your self-worth on your newsfeed.
Delay Gratification, Not Happiness
I wrestled with how to describe this sentiment until I stumbled across a blog by James Clear. Clear writes, “Most of us, at some point or another, think that we will be happy once we achieve a particular goal.
- I’ll be happy after I…
- graduate from college
- make a million dollars
- get married
- lose 40 pounds
- get a job.”
My entire adult life I have held the belief I will be exponentially happier with each attained goal. But that really isn’t true. It’s not that I’m unhappy, I have just noticed that accomplishing a goal doesn’t sustain happiness. This phenomenon is known as the arrival fallacy. Essentially, accomplishing a milestone isn’t the real prize. The reward is what you learn about yourself along the way. You overcome challenges, build friendships, and discover that you are capable of much more than you imagined. Goals provide opportunities to challenge yourself, but it’s more about the process than the end result. There is no finish line, just a fresh start each day. We have to take time to embrace happiness each day.
Happiness really isn’t a destination, rather, it’s a choice. The seven aforementioned strategies help me prepare my mind, body, and soul for each day. Feel free to share any strategies that help you do the same in the comments below.