The stress and uncertainty of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic can cause an increase in stress and anxiety. Even though nobody likes disruptions, there may be one positive aspect I’d like to bring to light today: disruptions can make space for positive change. With a little resolve, you can use this surplus of free time to build new habits that can improve your life.
Today we'll look at 15 ways you can diminish stress and anxiety while setting yourself up to take advantage of whatever life has to offer you now and in the future.
You can enact some of these during self-isolation, but now is the time to evaluate these simple strategies, so you'll be ready to apply them once we're back to our regular lives.
1. Set Goals And Write Them Down
Find a special place to make this list: a new journal, a stack of colored index cards, or a digital document you keep on your computer's desktop. Make several list headings for different lengths of time. For example, create a column for each of the coming months, the next year, five years, ten years, or whatever increments feel right to you.
Now take some time to think about what you'd like to achieve over the span of your life, both short-term goals and long-term. Write some down, but don't be too precious about it. You aren't carving these goals into stone.
The list will change as you’ll accomplish some goals, and others will cease to be important. Just as life changes, your goals can change, but writing them down remains a powerful way to check in on where you're headed and assess your progress.
2. Plan The Future, But Live In The Present
This goes for both fantasies of the life you hope to live, and anxiety about what challenges the future holds. It's important you develop a clear path to follow into the future — one that will take you where you want to go. But to take the next step, your attention has to be in the present.
Don't get so caught up thinking about the future that you ignore what's happening around you right now. Be sure to appreciate the people, places, and experiences that constitute your life in the present. They provide your resources and support for moving forward.
3. Examine Your Weaknesses
It's important to know your strengths so you can use them effectively. But it's also important to objectively analyze your own weaknesses. Don't be afraid to take a long hard look at what you're not good at. By understanding where you fall short, you can start to figure out why you're not successful in certain endeavors. Then you've got the information you need to do the work to improve.
It can be hard to accept that you're not so good at certain things, but it's crucial you set aside your ego and recognize you have areas where you can improve.
4. Accept Constructive Criticism
Sometimes we simply don't have enough perspective to see the ways in which we could improve ourselves. Getting input from a trusted and supportive outside source is essential to growth. Be sure the persons offering you constructive thoughts are acting in good faith, and aren't simply there to tear you down. You need the help of people who want to help build you up by helping you identify room for growth.
It might sting a little at first, and you might want to dismiss criticism immediately. Instead, say thank you, and sit with the new perspective you've gained. You might find that a little time and thought helps you to pull something useful from the observations of a compassionate critic.
5. It’s OK To Fail
Believe it or not, failure is required. We grow by attempting to take on new challenges – and failure is an inevitable part of that process. Don't dwell on the times when you didn't get it right the first time, or when you disappointed yourself. Acknowledge those are part of your journey to achieving your goals and they are experiences that taught you about yourself and your process of growth.
Examine your failures, embrace them, learn from them, and then keep moving forward. If you're not experiencing any failure, then you're not challenging yourself.
6. Don’t Complain
Complaining never helps. It puts your focus on perceived problems and obstacles, instead of solutions and successes. Pay attention to the impulse to complain and figure out the source. Are you tempted to complain about how difficult your goals are to achieve? Consider that instead of complaining, you should be celebrating your ambitious attempts.
Are your complaints about a situation you feel unable to change? Divert that energy to liberating yourself from that situation. What are the steps you could take? Who could help you change your circumstances?
We all experience discomfort and dissatisfaction — complaining about it takes up time and energy that could be used to improve your life.
7. Stop Giving Up
Failure is part of a forward process, it provides lessons you can learn from, making you smarter, stronger, and more prepared for success. But when you give up, you lose everything you've gained along the way.
The worst part about giving up is that you'll never know how close you were to the finish line. The old adage “the darkest hour is just before dawn” applies here. If you're feeling exhausted and like you may never make it to your goal, that could be a sign you're actually close!
8. Focus On What You Can Control
There will always be factors you can't control. If you obsess over them, you give them more power. Instead, make a conscious effort to redirect your attention to the factors you can control. Figure out what you have the power to change, and the possible outcomes of making those changes. Then you have possibilities for impactful actions you can choose from.
9. Don't Let Fear Be An Obstacle
If you're making choices based on fear, then you're probably not engaging in deep critical thinking. Fear is an important human emotion, but it should be treated as information you use to move forward. Don't let fear lock you down without an examination of whether it's warranted and what's causing it. Once you've taken a clear look at what is causing this emotional response, you can make a measured decision about how to proceed. In short: face your fears and learn from them.
10. Focus On What Motivates You
Observe yourself. What tasks inspire you to put in maximum effort? Is there something you relish that other people find dull, difficult, or unbearable?
If you naturally put a lot of effort into a task, that's a good sign that you have a capacity for it. Use that natural inclination to your advantage by expanding that part of your life. Figure out what makes you willing to work hard, and see where else you can locate that source of motivation.
11. Create A “Bucket List” And Start Working Through It
Have a look at your list of goals. Are any of them experiences you hope to have? How many of them are fun?
Make a list of things you'd like to do, see, or try in your life. They can be big or small, silly or beautiful, easy or difficult. Now start. Pick something from your list, figure out what the first step is toward doing that, and take the step. It could be as simple as sending an email, looking up travel information, or placing an order. Even if you can't take the first step yet (because of the pandemic, or another obstacle) do what you can to set yourself up to take it in the future.
12. Take Care Of Your Mind
This list focuses on emotion and mental strategies for living your life to the fullest — which makes your mind the common denominator among these many tips. Keep your brain in tip-top shape by challenging yourself with your activities and media intake. Try a new type of puzzle, watch a new type of television program or learn a new language.
Make sure the activities you choose each day keep your brain engaged and working. Just like a lack of exercise will atrophy your muscles, a lack of mental engagement will atrophy your mental capacity.
Your brain takes cues from your facial expression to release chemicals that influence your emotional state. This process, called facial feedback, gives you an extraordinary ability — you can smile your way to feeling better.
Studies have found that smiling improved participants' immediate emotional state.1 The impact isn't large enough to affect the symptoms of depression, but if you're feeling a little down and need a lift, try a smile!
14. Stop Trying To Please Everyone
Sometimes you unconsciously set unrealistic goals for yourself. You can't please everyone. Set clear boundaries with the people in your life so they know how much you have to give, then stick to them. It doesn't mean people won't be disappointed that you aren't making them the most important thing in your life, but recognize their disappointment is the result of their own unrealistic expectations, not any shortcoming on your part.
If you let yourself get spread too thin by trying to make everyone else happy all the time, you won't have the ability to effectively care for anyone, yourself included.
15. Find The Time For What You Want To Do
Take the time to do things you enjoy and to pursue your own goals. If you dedicate all of your time to doing what other people want of you, you'll soon wear yourself out, and lose the joy in your life.
It's important to honor your own need for enjoyment and contentment. When you make time for yourself to do what you want to do, you recharge the batteries that give you the energy to do things you're less excited about.
Remember, actions that bring you closer to your goals might not always be fun or easy, but if the result is one you want, think of the work to get there as part of the desired destination. You actually do want to do the difficult things that get you where you want to go!
What This Means To You
It's possible that not all of these strategies are the best fit for you, so choose wisely, but choose boldly. Start with one or two, set them as goals, write them down, and evaluate your progress each day.
Remember that these tips can apply to many different parts of your life, from your pursuit of optimal bone-health to your personal and professional aspirations. If you can't start implementing these changes yet because of self-isolation, make a plan for how you'll start when you're able to.
Celebrate your victories, and accept your failures as a necessary part of your forward progress toward ultimately accomplishing your goals and living your life to the fullest.
I’d like to end with one of my favorite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi:
“The future depends on what we do in the present.”
Stay hopeful, stay strong, and remember that you never stop growing.