Category Archives: stress

Productivity paralysis? 6 daily habits that help you get shit done

Daily habitsA little while ago I made a big life change, leaving my grown-up job for the greener pastures of freelance writing. It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still struggling to get into my productivity groove.

My current daily routine looks something like this: press snooze button, rush out of bed, quick shower before husband leaves for work (optional), throw down strong coffee. Yell at my kids to get their bloody shoes on cos we’re late and mum was supposed to start work 10 minutes ago. Throw sobbing children at childcare worker. Drive home erratically. Procrastinate. Check email. Check Facebook. Drink more coffee. Check Facebook again.

At the end of most days I tally up my ‘productive’ work hours and feel crap about myself.

So obviously I need to form some new daily habits.

Here are 6 daily habits I’m implementing this week in the hope they become as routine as my morning caffeine palpitations.

1. Green exercise
Working at home is bloody hard. I often fall prey to creativity-sucking cabin fever. So I’m getting out and doing some green exercise. A brisk walk/bike ride/stretch in nature can positively impact your health and wellbeing, relieve stress, and promote concentration and clear thinking. I’m sure there is a park or a little grassy area close to you, so no excuses. Get out there.

2. Mindful eating
I’ve got work to do – ooh what shall I eat? Chocolate or an apple. Yes, chocolate. Shit, no chocolate. I wonder if apples and peanut butter are a good combo?

Eating has become a form of distraction for me. I eat in front of the computer or on the go. I make dodgy choices. So I’m making a conscious effort to eat food that makes my body happy and to sit down when I’m eating (away from smart devices). I’m also trying to eat more slowly. Chewing until each bite liquefies makes your food more easily digestible, allowing you to absorb the maximum nutrients. Taking your time also helps your body notice when it’s full.

3. Meditation
I may have mentioned this – meditation doesn’t come naturally to me. I need short, guided meditation or else my chatty mind gets all anxious. I’ve been a fan of Headspace for a while, but my daily meditation habit has become more like weekly. So I’ve signed up to a paid program for some additional incentive and scheduled meditation minutes into my work calendar. The other issue is that when I do manage to meditate, I fall asleep. Which probably means I need to…

4. …Get 8 hours’ sleep a night
According to sleep experts, 6.5 to to 9 hours of solid sleep every night can lower stress levels, may reduce weight gain and can even lower your chances of premature death. Fewer than 6.5 hours a day and your risk of dying early increases by 10%. More than 9.5 hours and your chances of dying increase even more than if you sleep too little… Who would have thought that a lie-in could be life-threatening?

The time you go to bed is important too. According to the 24-hour chi cycle, the gallbladder detoxes the body from 11pm and 1pm, while the liver detoxes most effectively from 1am-3am. So get to bed before 11pm and help your body flush those nasties out.

5. Breathe
I sometimes feel like I’ve been holding my breath all day. Shallow breaths deprive the brain, blood and cells of oxygen, affecting concentration, making you feel grumpy and stressed, and stimulating the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Focus on your breath for a moment. Breathe deeply in and out of your nose. Fill your lungs. You’ll get an instant dose of calm.

6. Digitally disengage
This is the biggest time-sucker for me. I work at a computer and spend so much time on social procrastination – flicking between writing, checking email, Facebook, blogs, the weather. It stops me facing the difficult stuff – the stuff I’m actually supposed to be doing. Be a hard arse with yourself. Close your browser and email. Turn off all notifications for Facebook, Twitter etc. If that’s still not working, unplug your modem or go somewhere that has no internet connection/WiFi – apparently these strange places do still exist.

Each of these daily habits takes just minutes to do. They may add up to an hour a day, but think about all the time you’re currently wasting on unproductive ‘stuff’ and you’ll see it’s an hour well spent.

Start small. Choose 3 habits and give it a week. Let’s get into the productivity groove together and get into a new habit – making shit happen.

Wanna find out how my ‘habits’ week went? See my Happy Habits Update (warning: it gets messy…)

Image courtesy of gratisography.

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6 simple ways to cope with feeling overwhelmed

how to cope with being overwhelmedI missed a blog post the other week. You may not have noticed, but for me it was a big deal. I’d made a promise to myself you see — when something’s got to give, it can’t be Wellbeing bites. Not the blog.

But it did give.

I made the time, honestly I did. I sat down. Clicked Add New Post… and I couldn’t write.

You see, there were emails flagged in my inbox waiting to be read/actioned, piles of laundry, a messy house, paperwork to be filed, impossible freelance deadlines I’d said yes to, bills to pay, work projects and tasks to finish, a family that needed quality time, and meditation and exercise I wasn’t finding time to do.

I was overwhelmed. “Too much”, my brain and body kept saying. I pushed on. But I still wasn’t getting it done. And what I was getting to was getting done half-arsed.

When you feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to see straight. Here are a few coping strategies that might help.

1. Prioritise and delegate
What truly needs to be done? Really — do you need to clean the bathroom? Will it matter? Will it affect your quality of life? If the answer is no, eliminate it. If yes, ask do I have to do it? Delegate if you can. With what’s left, make a to-do list, order it by priority, and tick stuff off when it’s done.

2. Say no
Do you say yes a lot? Are you constantly trying to please everyone and meet their expectations? Are you scared of looking weak or missing out? Over-burdening yourself leads to decreased effectiveness, and eventually, to burnout. Not productive. Say no when you can. Set limits. You’ll be amazed how much respect people have for you, your time and your talents when you use that one tiny word.

3. Single task
When I’m overwhelmed I tend to flick between tasks, getting nothing finished. Research has shown that you can only process one activity at a time. Multi-tasking makes you feel scattered and even more overwhelmed. Do one thing at a time.

4. Stick to a schedule
Scheduling is not just for work. Book in time for your kids, a monthly date night, time to exercise, a few minutes a day to meditate, an hour a week to write your blog. Use your phone calendar or write it in a diary. Whatever works for you. And stick to it.

5. Sleep
One of the first things to go when you’re overwhelmed is sleep. But sleep is non-negotiable. Lack of sleep causes irreparable damage to our brains. So take a nap, cut down on caffeine and alcohol and find time to exercise — a National Sleep Foundation‘s poll found that people who exercise regularly experience better quality and more consistent sleep than those who don’t.

6. Put it in perspective
I found this quote through my old friend Google. I don’t know who said it — some genuis.

“Being overwhelmed comes from a breakdown of your thoughts about your life, not a breakdown of your life.”

At the risk of sounding like an arsehole, are your over calculating the life altering-ness of this particular problem? Will the sky fall? Look back and you’ll realise that almost all of the problems you’ve ever had are no longer problems. They got solved. It worked out. Trust that this will probably work out too.

Feeling overwhelmed is our body and brain’s cry for help. You can ignore it, let it debilitate or panic you, or see it as an opportunity to slow down, reassess and reboot.

Today I clicked Add New Post, stayed on the page and rewrote things according to my rules.

Overwhelmed with love for Wellbeing bites? Of course you are! Sign up to follow WB by email and I promise I won’t overwhelm you with anything other than you signed up for. 

Image from www.gratisography.com

Why second-hand stress is contagious and how to avoid cracking it

Second hand stress contagiousEver had gastro? It’s officially my least favourite highly contagious illness. My house has been in the throws of it for the past five days and no one has escaped its gut wrenching grasp, (including my poor in-laws who had travelled interstate to spend time with their darling grandkids…)

I knew we were all going to get sick. You knock about with people with gastro; you get gastro. You hang about with people who have a cold; you’re going to get a cold.

But did you know that stress is just as contagious? And can make you much sicker?

A recent study by St Louis University in the US has found that simply being around another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make you stress out. And the more you genuinely care about the stressed out person, the more likely you are to ‘catch’ their stress.

Apparently three-quarters of us are already stressed. And stress is worse for your health and wellbeing than a tantruming 2-year-old with gastro. It takes over, making your body put off essential processes like wound healing, digestion and immunity. Stay stressed for long enough and we’re talking heart attacks, strokes and depression.

How to avoid catching second-hand stress

1. Identify stress-head warning signs

How do you feel when you start to get stressed? How does your body react? Shortness of breath? A pounding headache? Losing your shit at your nearest and dearest? Figure it out. Then you can start to….

2. Avoid your second-hand stress triggers
Does walking into your workplace make your heart start beating like a nineties house track? Do certain people make you anxious? Do over-tired kids make you want to pull your hair out? Avoid these situations whenever you can. If you can’t, seriously consider changing jobs or swapping kids (joking about the kids). Alternatively, you could…

3. Think carefully about the company you choose
If you’re around stressed people a lot, think about why you are surrounding yourself with people who feel bad about themselves, or who allow others to make them feel bad about themselves. It’s not a flaw to be stressed, but you don’ t need to immerse yourself of the misery of others. If you’re having a hard time disconnecting, shift your attention to those you care about, who care about you, and who have a positive outlook on life.

4. Look after your health
If you’re anything like me, when you’re stressed you tend to stop exercising, reach for the comfort food (and the wine bottle) and stop doing all the stuff you know is good for you, like yoga and meditation. Then you spend countless hours berating yourself for how shit you are. Instead of that try to…

5. Be mindful about your mindset
Talk to yourself with encouragement and love. Stop being your own worst enemy. Practise mediation, breathe, walk. Be grateful for what you have. Think about what makes you happy and do it.

Like most contagious illnesses, stress can cause acute pain and suffering. But you don’t need to let it get the better of you long term. Only you can choose how to react to stressful situations. Only you can choose how you are affected by others’ stress.

Choose happiness instead. It’s as contagious as stress. And it’s much easier on your gut.

Like this post? Oh I do hope so! Show your love by following Wellbeing bites by email. Your loveliness is my happiness. Let’s spread it around…

Cracking under stress photo by Bernard Goldbach

Fear — stop being scared and get stuff done

Last night, I was thinking about all the things on my to-do list: migrate my blog, set up a Facebook fan page, build my freelance writing business, put together a plan for exercising and eating well, practise meditation and yoga each day… the stuff that’s important to me.

Lying there, I realised that I have been ticking stuff off to-do lists recently. I’ve researched kinder programs and schools, given my husband marketing and copy ideas for his theatre project, helped build Lego helicopters, created advertising campaigns for clients at my day job. I’ve been kicking some serious goals.

But not my goals. My to-do list has been stuck at the same point for months. 

So why is it easier for me to ‘do’ for other people? Why can’t I find the time to help myself?

Lying in bed, I realised. It’s fear. I’m scared. 

Doing the stuff on my to-do list means I have to start living my dream. But what if my dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

I might migrate my blog and lose the readers I have. I might create a Facebook fan page and get no likes. I might put myself out there as a full-time freelance writer and get no work. I might not stick to my exercise plan. I might eat cake and drink wine. I might find meditation makes me angry again if it’s scheduled in. I might start to hate yoga…

The fear of what might happen.
The fear of disappointing.
The fear of being disappointed.
The fear of not being good enough.
The fear of other people judging me.
The fear of losing money.

The fear of failing. 

Suddenly my dream becomes a nightmare. All because of fear.

How to feel the fear and do it anyway

Be aware and accept
You’re scared. So what? Everyone else is shitting themselves too — at least everyone who’s doing something on their own genuine to-do list.

Ask yourself: what’s the worst case scenario?
Be rational about your fear. Would you be OK? Unless your to-do list includes bungy jumping without a rope or naked yoga in the Arctic, the answer is probably yes. The worst case scenario may not be ideal, but you’d be alright.

Be in the moment
When you accept what’s happening now, it’s really hard to fear a future that doesn’t exist. Practise mindfulness. Be in the moment. The fear will dissipate.

Do something proactive
Stop procrastinating. Procrastination is fear at its most debilitating. Start. Do one small thing on your to-do list. Spend 20 minutes on it, then give yourself a 10-minute break.

Focus on what you will gain 

If you push past your fear and do what you want to do, what will you achieve? Financial security? Creative freedom? Happiness? The ability to make a difference to others? Be bold. Be brave. You’ll never live your dream if you don’t step out of your comfort zone.

Say no to other people — just for a while
Put yourself first for a bit. Be kind but be firm. Say no, I can help you out in a few days/next week, but right now I’m concentrating on my stuff. Don’t fear being seen as selfish. Reasonable people will understand and probably respect you for it. And by giving to yourself you’ll have so much more to give to others.

Revisit your to-do list. Make a pact with yourself to start ticking things off. Everything you fear is in your head. Stop feeding your fear. Face it and you’ll realise it’s not that scary after all.

If you’re here at Wellbeing bites you’ll see I actually got off my bottom and did a couple of things on my list. But yeah — I’m scared you might not like my blog. If you do like Wellbeing bites/Apple a Day, please sign up to receive email updates. 

Wine, wellbeing and why one glass is not enough

This is a difficult post for me to write (no, not because I’m drunk thank you). The truth is I love a glass of wine or two in the evening. That delicious slosh of shiraz hitting glass after the kids have finally gone to bed represents a little bit of ‘me’ time.

I work hard. I parent hard. I deserve it don’t I?

But recently, I’ve been pouring a glass while the kids eat dinner. Or sipping along to the nightly episode of Octonauts with my 4-year old. My 21-month old yells “mumma wine?” when I reach into the cupboard…

Oh dear.

I’m not saying having a glass or two of wine is a bad thing. Studies have found that red wine is good for your heart and could even contain cancer-fighting properties — although newer studies are refuting this claim (ignore those for now).

But when it becomes an unconscious, and nightly, habit, maybe it’s time to look at why you’re reaching for the bottle. And why it’s so hard to have a night or two off.

Here are a few tips to help keep your wine habit in check.

Identify your wine o’clock triggers
What makes you reach for a drink? A stressful day at work? Kids who won’t go to bed? Money worries? Identify each one of your triggers and be mindful of them before you next reach for the wine bottle.

Find an alternative, positive habit
Rather than having a wine after a bad day, take a walk. When the kids give you a rough time, take ten minutes to meditate when they eventually go to bed. Money worries? Make yourself a cup of tea in a proper cup and saucer. OK, it’s not the same but think about the cash you’re saving by not drinking wine.

Enjoy quality over quantity
I recently bought half a dozen drinkable cleanskin wines that were about $8 a bottle. All six were gone in just over a week. But buy a $20 bottle, and you’re much more likely to have one glass, savour it, and save the rest for another night. Also, don’t buy in bulk. If you don’t have wine in the house, the extra step of going out to the shops might help you have a booze-free evening.

Try not to drink alone
Again, this is a tricky one for me. When my kids are in bed and my husband’s out, there’s nothing better than a glass of wine to accompany an episode or two of Revenge or True Blood… But drinking should be a sociable activity. Regular solitary drinking has been linked to heavier drinking and more alcohol-related problems.

Keep you wine habit in check, but don’t go cold turkey
How many times have you said (usually with a hangover) “I’m giving up the booze” or “this month’s a dry month” then failed within the first few days and felt crap about yourself?

Once or twice eh? Me too.

Try baby steps. Buy less. Commit to an evening exercise class. See if your partner or housemates will cut down with you. Set yourself achievable goals, like three wine-free days a week. Just try not to reward your abstinence with a wine binge! If you lapse, don’t beat yourself up, but don’t give up. Give it another go.

I’m off to grab a coffee with a friend I haven’t seen in months. We’re going to a child-friendly cafe. There will be no wine. The afternoons are easy.

It’s the evening and the already open bottle of wine in my kitchen that will be the challenge. It’s just one night but you know what they say — abstinence makes the heart grow fonder…

I’ll let you know how I go.

How’s having a little less wine been for you. Did it bring the good? The bad? Maybe it brought out the plain old ugly? I’d love your comments. And while you’re here, sign on up to follow Wellbeing bites by email. You have to verify your email after you enter it but I promise your inbox will be happier for it….

*Even too much wine is not enough drawing by Sam Brown, explodingdog

Why FOMO is making us miss out on health and happiness

When my oldest son was a baby, he wasn’t a big fan of sleep. We used to laugh (hysterically, in our sleep-deprived state) that he had severe fear of missing out, or FOMO.

Today, the whole world seems to be suffering from FOMO, and the epidemic is no laughing matter. Apparently FOMO’s having some seriously negative impacts on our wellbeing and mental health.

According to a news.com.au article, a recent study found that “lower levels of need satisfaction, general mood, and overall life satisfaction related to seeking out social media engagement only insofar as they related to higher overall levels of FOMO.”

And it’s a vicious circle. People who have FOMO check social media more often, which only increases their FOMO symptoms.

Facebook is a prime example of FOMO in action, with its potential to cause insecurity, envy and anxiety.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Facebook.

I use Facebook to:

  • post (retouched/usually with filter) photos of my family and me
  • circulate these awesome blog posts
  • boast about the good stuff (like 75% of us) and whinge about the bad stuff (like 36% of us).

I don’t use Facebook to:

  • tell the world about my completely average day where nothing out of the ordinary happened
  • post photos of myself looking average with no makeup
  • post average out of focus photos of my kids that aren’t particularly cute or funny.

See the pattern? The ‘average’ stuff doesn’t make the grade.

And yet you look at friends’ Facebook posts and think wow, he’s so photogenic, her kids are so clever and beautiful, his job is so amazing, her life is so much more interesting than mine.

Why is my life so ‘average’?

You know you do. I do it too.

Suddenly that idea that Facebook causes insecurity, envy and anxiety doesn’t seem that far off the mark does it?
Facebook (most social media actually) is a movie trailer. It’s all the best bits. The car chases, the first kisses, the explosions and the heroics. IT IS NOT REAL LIFE.

So what can we do about FOMO so it doesn’t turn into insecurity, envy and anxiety?

Be in the moment and be grateful for your ‘now’
Take a minute to realise that you will always be missing out on something. You will never be able to simultaneously travel the world, marry the love of your life, be glowingly pregnant, be free and single, be an incredible parent, look like a supermodel, run a marathon, quit smoking, lose weight, get your dream job, win the lottery, build a house. It is impossible. Enjoy what you are doing now. Enjoy who you are with at this moment.

Take a digital detox
Yes, I’ve banged on about this before but seriously, just switch off for a bit. A few days ago, I left the house without my phone. I freaked out (FOMO). What would I do on the train? How would anyone contact me? But as the day went on, I actually quite enjoyed it. Since then, I’ve limited my social media use and banned phone checks at wake up and lights out.

Be social in other ways
Make a point of organising an actual face-to-face catch up with friends. Family overseas? Call or Skype. Take a walk outside and look up rather than at a screen. Enjoy reaping some real-life return on investment.

Try JOMO instead of FOMO
FOMO is all about fear. JOMO (joy of missing out) is about joy. OK so its a bit of a lame acronym but the thinking behind it makes so much sense. FOMO is filled with ‘shoulds’ — I should be doing more cool stuff, I should be travelling, I should be more attractive… JOMO is about just being — enjoying the here and now and not missing out by frantically trying to record it through rose-tinted specs for the sole purpose of social media sharing.

You can join the fight against FOMO right now. Turn off your phone. Mute your social media alerts. Go outside and look at the world. Talk to someone.

You never know what you might be missing out on.

If you like this post, please sign up to follow Wellbeing bites by email and/or leave me a comment. You could also share on Facebook (or like Wellbeing bites’ FB page) or Twitter but it kinda feels wrong to suggest that considering the content of this FOMO post….

Don’t panic part 2: revisting anxiety and kicking panic’s butt

I’ve blogged about anxiety on Wellbeing bites once before — and about my own experiences brought on by panic.

My panic attacks are much less frequent now but I still get the occasional heart flutter or bout breathlessness that’s a reminder of the anxiety that used to be so familiar it felt like an extra limb. One that was determined to put me off balance.

Anxiety isn’t that healthy level of fear or panic you experience in a high-stress situation. In pressurised environments, being slightly fearful can actually keep you safe — even make you more productive.

This is about frequently feeling excessively high levels of anxiety when faced with the everyday.

Recently, a few amazing, strong people I know have confessed to being overwhelmed by anxiety, including a ‘super mum’ and an exec manager.

No one is immune, so stop feeling rubbish (and stop feeling alone) and let’s kick anxiety’s arse.

Begin with a panic-beating daily practice
Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier. As soon as you wake, spend 5 minutes running through what you know you’re doing today and visualise all going well. Now do a quick ten-minute meditation, some deep breathing or a few yoga stretches. Next, enjoy the little things – savour your morning cuppa, sing in the shower, dance in the kitchen, hug your family. The start of the day sets the tone for the rest.

Be mindful of your thought patterns
When you catch yourself having a negative thought, reframe it into a positive but realistic one. For instance, rather than “I’m never on time and the train is always packed this time of day” try “I’ll leave a little early today. If I don’t get a seat, that’s ok – it’s better for me to stand anyway”.

… and be aware of your reactions to your negative thoughts
Are you a fighter or flighter? When anxiety hits, do you get angry, scream and shout, self-destruct, take harmful action (fight) or freeze up, ignore, procrastinate, avoid (flight)?Being conscious of your reactions helps you to calmly moderate them so you can make a more rational decision about your action (or inaction).

Stop multi-tasking. Master the art of single tasking
Multi-tasking is a myth. Research has shown that your brain can only process one activity at a time, so if you try and do it all, your brain will become scattered and you’ll feel overwhelmed. Instead, ask do I really need to do this? If yes, get organised. Break your day down into chunks, schedule your task time out, delegate, ask for help. Do one thing at a time.

Reduce ‘noise’ and digitally disengage
To reduce anxiety, we also need to reduce the noise. But instant technology means we’re ‘switched on’ all the time. So switch off. Don’t check your email/Facebook/Twitter. Step away from the computer. Turn off your phone. If you’re working and switching off is impossible, check your email once every two hours. If it’s important, they can call or walk over to see you. Amazing eh?

Drink your way to calm
When you’re having a stressful day, do you push through by having an strong coffee? When you get home, do you have a glass of wine to ‘relax’? Me too. But caffeine increases adrenaline so you feel more panicky, and alcohol is a stimulant — resulting in amped up anxiety levels. Try green or chamomile tea instead (yeah, they taste like lawn but they do have a soothing, calming effect).

Take back control of your body
Anxiety often results in physical meltdown. Palpitations, sweats, jitters, breathlessness: panic attacks can make you feel out of control. So take it back. Try breathing exercisesmeditation, yoga or massage. Or just get out of the house and run or walk it off. If you’re in control of your body, it’s easier to take control of your thoughts.

Stop worrying about the ‘shoulds’
My friend the ‘super mum’ thinks she should be able to cope. That she should be able to function on a few hours sleep. That she should be able to juggle work, uni, exercise, socialising, family commitments and romance as well as a toddler who tears the house up – all while being a domestic goddess and looking like she stepped off the catwalk. On the surface, she does really well at it. Except that she’s freaking out. She’s not coping.

‘Should-ing’ is bullshit. Stop it now. 

I think that’s appropriate place to finish up. Let me know how you go with shaking off that extra limb – life’s a lot more balanced without it. And don’t forget to check out the original Don’t panic post.

If you have any tips/tricks/magic spells to deal with anxiety or panic, please leave a comment. Also, if you haven’t already, take a moment to sign up to receive Wellbeing bites posts by email. I promise I won’t spam you — I’m good like that. C’mon, you know you wanna…

Anxiety girl illustration by Natalie Dee