How to decrease stress and anxiety
The link between procrastination and stress is straightforward - the more you’re stressed and the less confident you are about your ability to fulfill a task, the more you’ll procrastinate.
So, if you decrease stress, you will also likely procrastinate less.
Decreasing stress temporarily may not resolve the mental block that causes you to procrastinate at all, but it will help you take more initiative.
Let’s take a look at some causes of stress and how to address them.
When you look around yourself at your desk, what do you see? What do you hear?
Do you see screens full of notifications? Do you see clutter lying about? Do you see reminders of all the things you have to do?
Do you hear people’s conversations? Do you hear honking horns of the cars outside? Do you hear people screaming, complaining, cursing?
All of these things can pile up into a heap of stress.
Remove stressors from your surroundings
What in your surroundings stresses you out?
Here's a short list for a start:
- Long to-do lists
- Too many opened browser tabs
- Many notifications on any screen (computer, tablet, phone)
- Cluttered desk
- Loud background noises
There are many other things that can stress you out, but these are frequent.
How can you remove sources of stress from your work environment?
Shallow, fast breathing
We don’t think about our breathing often. It happens without our conscious control, so we don’t pay it much attention.
When we become stressed, we start breathing faster and therefore more shallowly. That in turn leads to a feeling of nervousness and anxiety, which tightens our muscles and can make us feel even more short of breath…
This mostly subconscious process doesn’t help us.
Studies have shown a strong association between anxiety and respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath.
Shallow, fast breathing can exacerbate stress and anxiety to unmanageable levels.
Take a deep breath
When we breathe deeply and slowly, our stress levels decrease. Any kind of slow breathing can work, but techniques where the exhalation is about twice as long as the inhalation are particularly effective at calming our nerves. Breathe into your belly to take the deepest breath possible.
Whenever you find yourself stressed, try taking 10 deep belly breaths. It’s simple and it works.
Plateaus and stale to-dos
Plateaus are stressful. You make a bit of progress, and then you hit a plateau. You finish one part of a project and can’t bring yourself to start another part. You write a chapter and then don’t feel like starting another one.
And so the to-dos on your list grow stale. You stare at the same items, day after day, week after week. And every time you look at your list, you feel a little more stress.
Take a step forward, any step
The single best way to get rid of the stress caused by long-put-off tasks is to take them on, at least partially.
Putting off creating a presentation? Take 5 post-it notes and just idly sketch out what the first 5 slides could say.
Putting off editing your school paper? Take 1 paragraph and edit it.
Putting off cleaning the house? Start with one room, or even one part of it.
Any step forward you take will relieve a disproportionately big part of the stress that accrued in the previous days, weeks, or months.
Sometimes, you find that the task you stressed about for 3 months was done in 15 minutes of effort.
Take a walk
You’ve probably heard about how you have to grind and hustle and put in 18 hour days, and while some of that may be important, there’s a lot to be said for taking a long walk.
Studies say that taking a walk through nature boosts your ability to concentrate and at the same time reduces your stress levels.
When you need a bit of extra motivation to start, a walk can do wonders, certainly much more than endless scrolling of various social networks.
During a walk, you have the time to revisit why you do what you do, what you can actually do today, what the most important thing is right now… and other questions like this that bring you bit by bit closer to feeling more motivated to actually make progress.
Find some time in your day for a simple walk through a park or woods.