Things don’t always go as we plan. We can either stress out about it or learn how to go with the flow. Below is my quick guide to learning to stress less and enjoy more.
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A few months ago, I was out with some friends. I was in the middle of a conversation (I can’t remember what we were talking about) when one of my friends told me I was laid back.
I stopped in the middle of our chat. I’m what now?
Laid back is something I always tried to be, something I admired in others and wished I was, but it wasn’t something I thought I’d ever actually be.
You see, I’m a creature of habit. I like my routine. If I don’t get to be in my routine I get stressed out. I don’t know how to rearrange my time table so that I can get done all the things I need to get done. And there’s always so much to get done. When one thing gets pushed everything gets pushed. I get so overworked and so overwhelmed that I just have to have a day at home to get all that stuff done. Then when I actually get that day to be home to get all that stuff done, I’m so tired that all I want to do is sit on the couch and watch Netflix, so now I have to schedule time to relax and AH!
At least, that’s how I used to be.
Since moving to Austin, I’ve reshaped my life quite a bit, and I’m not just talking about adjusting to location. I’ve completely reshaped my mindset. I’ve learned how to go with the flow and in doing so have become much less stressed. Although I still like having a routine, I’m no longer a slave it. I find that I’m more social. I have more free time. I’m happier. I have, it turns out, become the laid back person I always wanted to be. I attribute a huge chunk of that to the move, but I also attribute it to myself, to not being afraid to get the life I wanted.
Going with the flow isn’t always the easy thing to do, but I find it is almost always the best thing, at least for me. So, for anyone out there who can relate to feeling constantly overwhelmed and not knowing how to let things roll off your shoulders, this guide is for you.
1. Realize you can’t control everything
You can plan as much as you want, but even the best laid plans go awry. Things come up that we can’t control–a last minute meeting, a kid that needs to go to the doctor, an overwhelming urge to nap.It’s simply a fact of life that things won’t always go according to plan. If you try to control every piece of your day you’re only setting yourself up for failure and disappointment. The moment you realize you can’t control everything is the moment you’ll be freeing yourself from so much unnecessary worry and stress.
I’ll give you an example of something that used to stress me out: laundry.
It’s a silly, mundane part of my weekly routine, but laundry used to stress me out to no end. A huge part of that stress was the fact that the laundry for my apartment building back in Brooklyn was only open from 9am-9pm. There were three washers and two dryers for 60 apartments. If I wasn’t the very first person down to the basement on Sunday morning at 9am, I’d have a long line ahead of me to get my laundry in. Since I didn’t get home from work until 7:30pm on most evenings, I wouldn’t have enough time to do laundry after work, and odds are the machines would be taken then anyway. Therefore, if I couldn’t do laundry on Sunday morning, I’d be out of luck until the following week at which point I’d have twice as much laundry to do. Try as I might to wake up early and get down to the laundry room first, it didn’t always happen. If doing my laundry got pushed that meant doing my grocery shopping got pushed which meant my meal prep got pushed which meant my blogging got pushed which meant my whole week was derailed. The feeling of being overwhelmed would take over.
Now, I have the incredible benefit of having my very own washer and dryer. Perhaps only city dwellers will understand how amazing this is or why it makes me feel so much less stressed, but I wish I could have told stressed out New Yorker Nicole that’s it’s all ok. If the laundry machines are taken, there is always a laundry mat to go to. New Yorker Nicole, you can’t control the laundry lines or even if the machines work, and that’s ok. It’s all going to be ok.
2. Remember what’s important
To that point, when you start to feel stress building, remind yourself what’s important. In my New Yorker Doing Laundry scenario, is it really the most important thing in the world to do laundry? Should I prioritize waiting in the basement for a machine to open up over other chores or plans? When you find that your plans start to come undone, look at your to-do list. What is the most important? Start at the top and deprioritize everything else.
This works at home, at the office and when it comes to your social life. Make sure you do the important things around the house, and save everything else for another day. When you’re at work, look at your meetings and your project lists. What must be done first? What meetings must be attended? Do those things, go to those meetings, and save everything else for another day. When it comes to your social life, what events are the most important? Is it your kid’s recital or your friend’s birthday? Carve out time to go to the important things and make the others nice-to-go-tos.
You don’t have to, nor should you, take on everything all at once. Do the big things first, then the medium things, then the bitsy things. Feel good about what you can get done and remember you don’t have to do it all yourself, which brings me to step three.
3. Ask for help & cut yourself some slack
When your to-do list starts piling up, ask for help. You have a family. You have friends. You have co-workers. Who would enjoy doing the tasks you don’t enjoy? Who’s strengths are our weaknesses? Go to them. Get something off your plate. Odds are they’ll be more than happy to help you shoulder the burden, and odds are it won’t feel like a burden to them at all.
One day Will saw how overwhelmed I was getting over the silly laundry and he offered to go the grocery while I waited for a machine. The 45 minutes that saved me felt like the world being lifted off my shoulders. It didn’t bother him in the least, and it made me realize that I didn’t have to do all the things all on my own.
On the same note, cut yourself some slack! There are only so many hours in a day. There’s only so much you can do! Do what you can, when you can. When you realize you can’t do it all, and when you become ok with that, life will become significantly more enjoyable. I promise you.
4. Take a look at your environment
This is a big one, and one that isn’t always easy to get a handle on. Look around you. Is your environment conducive to the life you want to lead? If you want to be stress-free, is your environment stress-free? Is your job one that leaves you feeling overwhelmed more than overjoyed?
I was pretty happy in New York. I liked my neighborhood and my apartment. I liked my job. I liked the convenience of having so many great places a subway ride away. But I’ve never liked crowds. I’ve never liked feeling rushed. I’ve never liked feeling like I’m competing with everyone around me. New York also had all those things, and I was feeding off that negative energy. I wasn’t living in my ideal environment.
I wanted to be more stress free. I wanted more fresh air and more options for outdoor adventures. I wanted a city environment without the fast-paced, cut-throat feel. So I moved, and the move has worked wonders for me. Now, I’m surrounded by trails. It’s sunnier. It’s less crowded. I get to work from home. It’s exactly what I need.
Of course, a big move isn’t feasible for everyone. If you find you’re living in an environment that doesn’t suit your personality, what can you do to make it more suitable? Can you switch your seat at the office or work from home once a week? Can you clean out your apartment? Will getting a dog make your environment happier? Can you carve out a small section in your house for a home gym or the reading nook you’ve always wanted? Can you get a relaxing candle or diffuse your favorite essential oils?
Our personalities often mimic the environment we’re in, so if you want to be more go-with-the-flow, surround yourself with spaces that make you feel good and carefree.
When life starts throwing you curve balls, take a deep breath and remember #1.
6. Do what makes you happy
This is the biggest change I’ve made and my number one tip for anyone who wants to lead a more laid back life. You have to do what makes you happy. That should be the most important thing.
I used to turn down plans with friends so that I could do that stupid laundry. I used to skip happy hours to come home and do chores I didn’t really feel like doing. And for what?
Over the last year, I’ve become so much more social. I’ve done so many more fun things because I let myself do so many more fun things. I don’t let myself worry about all the little mundane chores. They have a way of getting themselves done (especially now that I ask for help – see step three). I let myself enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning before diving into work. I make plans to hang out with friends on a weeknight. I take a break at lunch to play with Moose.
When you’re doing things that make you happy, nothing else matters. You can’t stress when you’re happy. You can’t worry. When you do more of what makes you happy, you’ll find that you start becoming more laid back by default.
Happiness first, all else second. That, is going with the flow.
Do you consider yourself a laid back person?
What would you add to the guide?