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3 ways to reduce stress around a busy schedule

Speaking as someone going through a second lock down, it feels like we had a flash of normality before we got catapulted back into the vacuum of screen life and home-schooling. I will put my hand up and admit that I’m finding this round a lot harder than the last. I’ve yet to bake anything, my daily wardrobe is a rotation of stretchy pants and my sense of humour often goes missing.

However, as I chat to my bestie who lives in Queensland, I’m reminded that stress is relative.

Not everyone is enduring isolation but most of us are managing the juggle in the wake of a ‘new normal’ and none of us are immune to stressful days. Learning how to support ourselves in good times and bad is an essential skill.


Self-Care is Queen

Lockdown or not, self-care is critical to how we function.

Many working women, (particularly mums) tell me they put little focus on prioritising themselves until the wheels come off. This is because the concept of `self’ and `care’ is often confused with indulgences like a day spa or tropical retreats. As fabulous as they are, for many it’s rare and for some of us it’s a genuinely a pipe dream right now!

Self-care in real terms means taking a maintenance approach to your mental and physical upkeep. If you consider your average daily schedule without throwing in the gloomy headlines and our changing world, there’s no shortage of stress triggers.

While we are built to respond to short term floods of adrenaline and cortisol, prolonged stress takes a significant toll on almost every system in your body. What may start as being snappier and more reactive, can build over time to anxiety, depression, and other physical illness.


The Magic of Micro Habits

Integrating helpful habits into your daily routine is a sustainable way to short circuit stress and soothe anxiety as it’s rising. The aim is to practice engaging our parasympathetic system which allows the body to go into rest and digest mode, enabling you to feel calm and safe.

What puts the magic into micro-habits is that they’re small and require minimal effort to slot into your schedule. Behavioural research suggest that bite sized habits are easier to maintain and like compound interest, the benefits build up.

So, what can we do to short circuit stress on the go?

If you keep it small but practice these mini – habits daily, you’ll be surprised how much better you feel.


Micro Habit # 1

Start your day tech free for minimum of 30 minutes

What?! …I hear you cry … Stay with it – because how you start your day sets the tone for the rest of your day.

Instead of activating your stress response the second you wake up with work emails and other media, commit to skip the scrolling and tv. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts and ground without screen-based diversions. You’ll be more productive, less distracted, and ready to take on the rest of your day.

On waking reserve your time to start your day being present.

Time with the family
A cuppa quietly on your own – if you can get that luxury!

If you can over time, extend your tech free window particularly on weekends.


Micro habit # 2

Practice Box Breathing

This is a fantastic breathing technique that can be used anywhere, several times a day when you can feel your anxiety levels spiking. Commonly practiced by those in high stress professions (think ER medics and navy divers) box breathing dials down the effects of an adrenaline cortisol overload, helping to calm the mind and relax the body.

If you have a big presentation coming up, you’ve had a difficult meeting, you’re feeling overloaded or you can’t sleep, practicing box breathing is an instant rescue.


Box Breathing Method

Repeat the cycle 4 – 5 times until you feel noticeably calmer. If you would like a demonstration, YouTube has plenty of examples.


Micro habit # 3

Use the S.T.O.P technique to create space for yourself

This mindfulness technique is another wonderful way to diffuse stress in the moment. It enables you to create space and pause.
It’s also a useful method if you’re in danger of reacting in the heat of the moment or if you’re feeling irritable, emotional and not at your best. In addition, it’s a powerful way to interrupt episodes of self-judgement, self-criticism and negativity we can subject ourselves to when we’re stressed.

S: Stop what you’re doing. Take a pause and acknowledge whatever you’re thinking in this moment.
T: Take a few deep breaths and gently bring yourself in to the present moment. Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale
O: Observe what you are experiencing in that moment.
What physical sensations do you notice?
What emotions are you feeling right now?
What are thoughts doing?
What assumptions are you making about yourself?
What stories are you telling yourself?
P: Proceed gently by asking yourself:
What is the one most important thing I need to focus on right now? OR
What is the kindest thing I can do for myself right now?


Remembering to practice these techniques may take some getting used to, but with persistence they will become second nature and you’ll notice your stress levels dial down more quickly and easily.


RELATED: Why we need authentic connection now more than ever


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About Maya Looker
Maya is a coach, facilitator, clinical hypnotherapist, and meditation teacher. She established Head Start Wellness after spending 20 years in the corporate sector diligently following the path to senior leadership.

It was while training as an executive coach that Maya realised putting the `Well’ into her `Being’, was inextricably linked to her sense of joy and purpose. Motivated by her real-world insights into the challenges of commercial environments, she decided to blend her business skills with a lifelong passion for health and wellness.

With a penchant for a good strategy on a page and a lot of empathy, she now packages practical ways to supercharge your wellbeing. HSW offers programs for teams and busy professionals who want to design balance and be effective, with less stress, more joy.

To discover more visit Head Start Wellness.


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Po Box 224
Keilor East VIC 3033

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