Ten Ways To Reduce Stress

by Kim Keller

I try to juggle too many things in my life, so if I’m not careful, I can easily become overwhelmed and stressed out. Sound familiar?

You know what I’m talking about. Trying to balance work, life and caring for someone you love is difficult to do. The worry, the unexpected twists and turns, the combination of serious responsibilities, it can all be quite daunting.

So I search for those little things that I can do to bring perspective and calm into my life. And for me, simplicity is the key.

Here’s my list of the ten easiest and most effective techniques for reducing stress:

1. Drink Tea — When I’m stressed out, a cup of tea goes a long way in calming me down. I just love the smell of steeping tea, and I find the whole ritual of putting on the kettle and preparing the tea to be enormously soothing. Many years ago, my sister Karen bought me a beautiful teapot, and I have acquired quite a collection of old teacups along the way. These items turn the simple preparation of a hot beverage into a lovely ceremony that always feels special. After I pour myself a cup, I’m able to step away, even just for a few precious moments, from the distractions of email and text messages and a ringing telephone, and I marvel in letting the stress melt away as I sip my tea. (One of my favorite teas is called “City Harvest Black,” a combination of Chinese Black Tea, Orchid China Black, Vanilla Bean, and Vietnamese Black. I buy it at serendipiTea, and it is delicious!)

2. Read Something Positive — I’m an avid reader who finds comfort in getting lost in a book. Oftentimes, though, the books I read have heavy topics that contribute to my stress level rather than reducing it. So I have my “go-to books” that I pick up whenever I need extra help to feel calm and centered. My favorite of that group is Thich Nhat Hanh’s  Peace Is Every Step, which was a gift from my sister and a book I highly recommend. It’s filled with simple lessons about how to stay in the moment and important reminders to breathe. Breathing is one of the first things we forget when we get tensed up, but oxygenating our bodies is an essential part of feeling serene and at ease.

3. Take A Walk — It clears my head, and the physical movement releases tension. My favorite path is along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan, where I live. The sight and sound of the water is healing, and the people-watching always puts a smile on my face. Yesterday, for example, I saw a woman wheeling her small dog in an elegantly converted baby carriage, and it’s still making me smile even as I write this. Walks remind me there is life outside of myself. Taking a stroll gives me much needed perspective.

4. Listen To Music — I put on my headphones and tune out the rest of the world. Music quickly transports me. I enjoy listening to soothing, peaceful music, but I find old classic rock and roll equally comforting because of its familiarity and the memories it conjures up in my head. I find these familiar associations calming, and sometimes that’s exactly what I need.

5. Get A Handle On My To-Do List — Usually what overwhelms me is feeling like I have too many responsibilities and too many things that I need to take care of. I always keep a running list, but stress tends to infect my thinking whenever I’m failing to effectively manage it. The key to making my list manageable and effective is ensuring that (a) I’ve included everything — both big and small — that I need to accomplish; (b) I’ve examined all the duties on my list and deleted whatever items aren’t really necessary; and (c) I’ve asked for help wherever I can, because I know I can’t realistically do everything myself. Then I take time to prioritize the remaining duties on the list, which is an essential step. I put all the “must do today” items under a heading of “A,” the “this can wait until tomorrow” items under “B,” and all of the important but least urgent items under “C”.  Then I number all the items under A, B and C in the order I need to complete them. As long as I keep the list current throughout the day, I know I can be pretty productive, and that creates enormous satisfaction and peace of mind. This right here is the glue that keeps me together. If you are searching for time-management techniques like those mentioned above, I recommend you read Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It genuinely changed my life.

6. Clean A Closet — I find it therapeutic to clean out a closet or straighten out a drawer. It’s something I can control, and it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. The clearing of clutter — creating organization — empowers me.

7. Wake Up Earlier — For most of my life I’ve chosen sleeping late over getting up any earlier in the morning than was absolutely necessary. But I’ve discovered that waking up a couple hours before I really need to makes a significant difference in the quality of my day. The quiet in the morning is bliss.  No one is calling. No one is texting. No one is expecting an email reply. I am off the grid for a few glorious minutes. I’ve taken to coveting this “me” time.

8. Make Time To Do Those Nagging Tasks — All those Group C items on my to-do list — you know, the items that are important but not urgent — can eventually get the best of me. They just hang over my head. If I haven’t been managing my time as well as I’d like, letting certain duties slide from one day to the next, the C list can start to bloat. So, from time to time, I schedule a day that is devoted solely to checking those items off my list. It’s enormously satisfying.

9. Find Laughter — I tend to take life, and consequently myself, far too seriously. I realize I have to find ways to lighten up, so whenever I need a dose of levity, I know which friends to call. Luckily, there are lots of places to find laughter. For example, I have a soft spot for The Office. That show makes me LOL, no matter how many times I’ve seen an episode.

10. Remember Small Kindnesses — It can be the smallest of gestures, like a smile, someone holding a door, a kind word. Or just taking the time to really listen to someone else talk. We all want to feel understood. Showing compassion and empathy toward other people goes a long way in keeping me grounded.

For me, it’s really all about living more mindfully. I try to never let the push and pull of my life get in the way of remembering that I have a lot to be grateful for. Sometimes I need to pause, take stock of my life, and remember to take a deep breath.

Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad.  She lives and works in New York City.



8 Responses to “Ten Ways To Reduce Stress”

  1. kayla dietz says:

    thanks for all your tips and comments..helps to know there are alot of us caretakers/family of parents, esp.dad’s with alzheimer’s, etc. somedays you can’t help but feel alone.