If you’ve ever tried yoga or guided meditation, you know the routine: Before you begin, you close your eyes, check in with your body, and breathe.
This simple exercise helps you recognize where you’re carrying stress and, by identifying it, begin to eliminate it. The act of awareness puts you back in control.
So, stop what you’re doing right now, close your eyes, and just… breathe.
How stressed do you feel? If you said “very,” you’re not alone. A recent Gallup survey found that 55 percent of Americans feel stress during most of their day. And while that number is higher in the U.S. than in most other countries, it’s clearly a global problem.
These days it’s easy to feel like the world is spinning out of control. And lack of control—that feeling of powerlessness—is one of the biggest causes of stress in your life. As a result, you’re less happy, less healthy, and less productive than you know you can be.
How can you flip the script? What can you do right now to make 2020 the year you reduce stress, reclaim control, and remove the barriers standing between you and what you want to achieve?
Bring the focus in
As humans, we tend to focus on bad news. It makes sense; your brain is wired to spot (and hopefully avoid) danger. As a consequence, you pay more attention to what’s happening around you than what’s happening inside you.
While you may not be able to change the whole world (although more power to you if you can), you have more control over your life—meaning the factors that directly affect you—than you realize. Start by letting go of what you can’t control, and bring the focus in to the one thing you can control: you.
Sadly, many people don’t try to change or even avoid negative situations for the simple reason that they feel powerless. Three areas, in particular, where most people say they’d like to make a change but feel unable to are: health, finances, and career. Not coincidentally, these are the three areas where you have the greatest potential for action.
The key is to take one small step today. Your journey to self-awareness, growth, and accomplishment starts now. Just choose your path, take a deep breath, and begin.
I want to reduce stress around my:
De-stress your health
At the start of each year, goals like losing weight, quitting smoking or drinking, and exercising more appear on countless lists of New Year’s resolutions. Clearly, we’d all like to be a little healthier. So why do 92 percent of resolutions ultimately fail?
The problem is that the goals you set may be too vague.
It comes back to control. If you don’t clearly define what your goal is, you’ll never know when you’ve accomplished it. That uncertainty causes you to feel powerless and out of control, leaving you stressed and unhappy. This raises the level of cortisol in your body which, among other things, increases your appetite and pushes you to overeat. And so the cycle begins.
You can reclaim control by being specific.
What does a specific goal look like? “I want to lose weight” is not specific. “I want to lose 10 pounds by July 1st” is. The more clearly you can define and quantify your goal, the easier it will be for you to stay on target.
Here are some things you can do today to get started:
- Use Evernote’s Get Fit template to track your progress toward your exercise and nutrition goals. Habit tracking is a powerful tool that many people, including comedian Jerry Seinfeld, have used to help them stay focused.
- Keep a journal to record the things that cause you stress, and your reactions to them. Like deep breathing, this can help you identify (and change) stress-inducing patterns that negatively impact your health.
- Use Web Clipper to save healthy recipes you find online. Tag them by ingredients, occasion, or style to find them easily later.
- Create a meal plan and shopping list for the week in Evernote.
Pro tip: Share a public link to your Get Fit template with family and friends so they can see your progress and cheer you on.
De-stress your finances
You can debate whether or not money is actually “the root of all evil,” but it’s hard to deny it’s a major cause of stress. It seems there’s almost no income level that is completely immune to the effects of financial anxiety.
If you ask someone earning $20,000 a year how much they would need to live stress-free, they might say “$100,000.” But ask someone earning $100,000 and they might say “$250,000.” Someone earning that income would no doubt mention a higher number still. And so it goes.
Surprisingly, researchers have found that the actual dollar amount is not what’s important. Sure, being able to meet your basic needs (food, clothing, shelter) is a given, but beyond that, the key is “the ways in which you are able to direct your income to purposes that are likely to bring you happiness and satisfaction.” In other words, having the power to take control and spend your money how you want to.
You can reclaim control by deciding where your money goes.
The road to financial freedom is long. But regardless of your income, you can make it easier by tracking your spending now. Once you have awareness into where your money is going, you can decide what matters most and start to make changes that put you back in control.
Here are some things you can do today:
- Create a budget with Evernote’s Save Money template, and set aside a little extra each month to save or pay off debt.
- Set reminders for bills and other money-related tasks you need to complete.
- Use your phone’s camera to take pictures of bills and receipts. Save them in Evernote and add tags to sort them by expense category.
- Make comparison shopping easier by creating tables in Evernote. Enter prices from different retailers and compare them side-by-side to make sure you get the best deal.
Pro tip: Share your Save Money template with your spouse, or anyone else with whom you share financial goals or responsibilities, so you’re both on the same page.
De-stress your career
Few experiences in life are as stressful as the process of searching for a new job. From dealing with recruiters and online application systems, to preparing for interviews and negotiating salaries, the anxiety of the job hunt is universal.
Once again, the main culprit is a feeling of powerlessness. Did they receive your resume? Who are you competing against? What if they don’t offer you the job? All these unanswered questions contribute to a sense that you’re not in control of your own future.
Even if you currently have a job, the picture is no rosier. Workplace stress is pervasive—over 60 percent of Americans say they feel it three or more days per week on average—and is marked by a feeling that your time and your priorities are being dictated by others. Hospitality workers, journalists, and executives all complain of having too much responsibility and too little authority.
The common theme is a sense that you have little or no control over your day-to-day activities. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter if you’re searching for a new job or unhappy in your current one, it can feel like you’re trapped.
You can reclaim control by being proactive.
Here are some things you can do today:
- Clip job hunting resources like LinkedIn postings, recruiter emails, and company culture pages, so everything you need is in one place.
- Practice answering interview questions in a note, and use it as a study guide before your big day.
- Prioritize your daily to-do list with the most important items at the top. Tackling these tasks early in the day creates a sense of accomplishment that makes the day feel progressively easier.
- Track your workplace successes so you can see your wins accumulate. Every time someone praises your work or you see concrete results, jot it down in a note.
Pro tip: Your “wins” note doesn’t have to end when you leave a job. Keep adding to it year after year and look back with pride as your career grows over time.
As you head into the new year, stop and take a moment to check in with yourself. While you may feel powerless right now, recognize that you have within you the ability to take control and reduce stress in your life. Small steps will add up to big wins, and you can use the momentum of those victories to make 2020 your best year ever.