New year, same loooong list of to-dos? Us too. We’re stressed just thinking about it. But research shows repeatable routines are calming. So we rounded up some easy improvements you can make to your everyday routine to get the most out of it. Cut to you keeping calm, carrying on, focusing on the fun stuff, etc. Remember: You’ve got this.
In 2014, health incentives and behavioral economics expert Dr. Milkman and her colleagues coined the term “temptation bundling.” It’s when you pair something you don’t like doing with something you do. Their research shows it can help you reach a goal and/or stop procrastinating. Because you’re giving yourself an immediate reward. Making it perfect for all those tasks you tend to push to the bottom of your list.
The trick is to identify tempting activities and productive or beneficial ones that complement each other. Aka require different levels of effort and concentration. Some ideas: Fold laundry while you watch TV, catch up on podcast debt while you vacuum, call your BFF as you pick up your prescriptions, read while you walk on the treadmill…you get the idea.
The right playlist doesn’t just create an ambiance. It can cue up a good mood. In fact, studies have shown that the brain releases feel-good chemicals when you hit “play” on songs you enjoy. Listening to music has also been linked to lower levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol and improved blood flow. It may even be able to ease pain and help you handle anxiety-inducing situations.
Generally, experts say slow music can help quiet your mind and relax your muscles. While upbeat music with positive lyrics can energize you. So crank the volume on your faves as you get ready in the morning, exercise, and do anything else that doesn’t require your full attention.
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Because when it’s shining bright, you can shine far. Sorry not sorry. Research suggests sunlight improves cognitive performance, gets the serotonin (hint: one of a few “happy hormones”) flowing, and helps you sleep at night. Seeing the outside world also makes it easier to keep track of the time of day, which may keep tension in check. All of these outcomes have mood-boosting and stress-busting side effects.
If possible, make it outside while the sun’s up. If not, try setting up your work area or spending time near a window. You can also get a lamp or light box that mirrors the effects of natural light. Actual mirrors can help bounce light to expand its reach, too. Ready, set, (safely) soak up the sun.
Toys. Books. Shopping bags. ‘Important’ mail. Some stuff seems to multiply all on its own. And clutter can make it difficult to relax, both physically and mentally. It distracts us from what we need to get done, makes it hard to find things when we need them, and can create feelings of guilt and embarrassment. Because our minds like order, mess can also trigger stress and a fight-or-flight-like response that causes us to do anything but clean it up.
Spending a small amount of time tidying each night can prevent clutter stacking up in the first place. It also breaks something seemingly big into smaller chunks, which science shows helps boost productivity. Pro tip: If you live with others, enlist them to help.
Sure, deadlines keep us organized. But they also hang over our heads. And, for most of us, money is constantly on our minds. So bills basically live at the intersection of Stress Street and Ugh Avenue. Enter: auto-pay. Letting tech do the heavy lifting for you means you won’t have to keep track of every single due date.
It can also help you save money because it ensures you’ll never get hit with a late fee. Some lenders, banks, and service providers will even give you a discount for putting payments on autopilot. Just make sure you're linking a bank account that always has enough $$$ to cover any automated expenses.
When things get overwhelming, you’ll wanna do all you can to feel in control. Optimizing — and sticking to — your routine can help with that. So can relaxing and enjoying downtime when you get some. Our last tip for you? Make this the year you finally get rid of that “get me off this hamster wheel” feeling. Aaaand breathe out.
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Skimm'd by Elizabeth Smith, Jana Pollack, and Jessica Kelly
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This list has a yoga mat, an aromatherapy stick, and a tea mix to help you chill. Breathe innnnn, breathe out.
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