I recently wrote about how to manage pre-trip anxiety and how I alleviate it (or at least try to).
But a friend recently asked me a bigger picture question. Specifically, how I manage stress given the demands of my work as well as all the travel I do. Internally I thought, “Sometimes not very well.” But externally, I gave her an answer that is closer to the truth more often than not.
The answer is that I have a series of habits I practice that help me focus, alleviate stress and stay organized. There’s nothing magical about what I do. There’s no secret sauce. Except that I try to have a high level of awareness around my thoughts, surroundings and environment. This means that I’m relatively tuned in to what makes me anxious, what’s causing me stress and what calms me and allows me to see the bigger picture rather than getting caught up in the negativity.
The beauty of these habits is that they are all portable. While I started these habits at home, most of them I can easily do while I’m traveling–even in-flight!
My daily habits
Journaling – I started journaling late last year when I was feeling unfocused with regards to my business. I felt like there were SO many things that needed to be done that I didn’t know where to start. My journaling began with me jotting down notes at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. I tracked exactly what was going on for me during these times: how I felt, what I was eating and why I felt I was distracted and unable to focus on the important tasks at hand.
What this did was really help me get focused and get into a creative mode. I was able to make correlations between what I ate and how I felt afterward as well as what was stressing me out and how I was dealing with it.
When I felt I had some success with that, I then tuned into what other people were suggesting about journaling. During a podcast I listened to, the meditation teacher suggested writing daily gratitudes as IF what you were writing about was already true. In other words, I expressed gratitude for things that were goals, not things that were actually true right now. The idea is that by putting intention in that direction, they will become true.
I then heard an interview with the actor Ethan Hawke. He talked about his method of understanding a character by writing long journal entries about exactly who that character was. He included all their traits, good and bad. So I did that about myself. I wrote about who I wanted to be. If someone were to do a deep dive into Ideal Beth, the notes about my character–a la Ethan Hawke–were all there. That allowed me to visualize who I wanted to be and how I wanted to be seen by others.
My journaling now consists of a combo of things: notes from particularly interesting conversations I’ve had and what I’ve learned; things I’ve learned from podcasts including books I want to read and other podcasts I want to listen to; and gratitudes not only for what’s presently true but also for what will be (this I believe helps me shape my future).
Meditating – On most mornings, I get up and meditate using the Insight Timer app. Typically I meditate for either 12 or 15 minutes. If I can make it all the way through, I’m delighted. But before you get too impressed, know that many times I end early. Still, most mornings I do sit for meditation. I calm my mind for however many minutes I’m able before the rush of the day starts. And that I call success.
30,000 foot mode – I love the new year because it feels like a fresh start. It IS an opportunity for a fresh start. December is usually a slow month work-wise for me and that allows me to catch up on work and prepare for the start of the year. Come late December/early January, I feel so excited about what lies ahead. I can plan and think about my personal life and business from what I call the 30,000 foot mode.
I realized this year that if I could do that in late December/early January, why couldn’t I do that monthly? Why not weekly? Well then, why not daily?
That’s part of the reason why meditation and journaling have become so important to me. These two things allow me to see things from the 30,000 foot mode. Meditation forces me to slow down and also helps me to not overreact throughout the day to small (even not-so-small) things. And the journaling gives me an outlet when the small (even not-so-small) things take over.
As I learned from meditation classes, if you can meditate and focus for 30 seconds, you can do it for one minute. If you can do it for one minute, you can do it for five minutes. If you can do it for five minutes, you can do it for ten minutes. And so on.
The same is with my 30,000 foot mode. If I step back and see the big picture once a year, I can do it once a month. And if I can do it once a month, I can do it once a week, once a day and every moment of the day.
Exercise – I can’t begin to describe how much exercise has enriched my life in the past few years. And on so many levels. The obvious benefit is that I’m in better physical shape. But exercise also keeps me in better emotional and mental health as it reduces stress and anxiety. Running is my go-to exercise right now. It’s something I can do while I’m traveling and I can spend as much or as little time doing it.
But running isn’t for everyone.
Whatever way you enjoy getting exercise, do it. Today! And if you don’t enjoy it, do it anyway. You’ll eventually find something that resonates with you (yoga, pilates, Zumba, dancing, Crossfit, weight training, running…). A five-minute walk can lead to a 10-minute walk can lead to a 30-minute walk and so on and so on.
Healthy eating – I’m fairly aware of the affect food and drink have on my mood, sleep and how my body feels overall. I’m also aware that when most people travel, it’s a special time, a vacation, and they often ignore how they feel so that they can join in and experience everything during a trip. But this often leads to lethargy, naps and coming home from a trip weighing quite a bit more than when you left home.
I know you’ll hate me for saying this but I usually lose weight when I travel. It sounds difficult but it really isn’t. For me, when I’m on the road, I rarely snack and I walk a lot. These things combine to help me stay in relatively good shape even on the road. And it’s really not that difficult, it just takes some willpower. Here’s how I eat well on the road.
No news is good news – I rarely pay attention to the news. I know that might sound like I’m being ignorant but I just can’t allow myself to be bombarded with all the negativity that’s forced upon us in the constant news cycle. It makes me sad and anxious. The reality is that very few news items will ever have an affect on my life so I don’t want or need to get caught up in it. I do see major stories come across my Facebook feed when they are posted by friends. I can then make a conscious choice to seek out more information. But I can no longer have NPR on in the background throughout the day. And while I know people do it, to have the television news on all day long (even for a short period) is unfathomable to me. It’s dramatic entertainment that serves very little purpose other than to get people wound up.
Reduced social media time – And speaking of serving very little purpose…I’ve stopped posting to Twitter because, frankly, I can’t stand Twitter. I have no judgement about other people who use it but it’s just not for me. I’m still on Facebook and get some enjoyment out of it but have unfollowed a lot of people of late (start hating on stuff and I may keep you as a friend but will likely never look at your posts). And I’m starting to dig on Instagram more and more because it’s just pretty. No news. No hating. Overall, I’ve reduced my social media time a lot and I’m far happier for it. 🙂
I think it’s fair to say that we are all bombarded with so much input these days that it’s difficult NOT to be overwhelmed, anxious and stressed out (or is it just me???). Simply becoming more aware of what’s causing you stress is the first step in helping reduce it.
What do you do to alleviate stress on a daily basis?
Golden Buddha – Craig Loftus
Travel journal – Amazon