The Land of Chronic Stress (and how to move far, far away)

I’ve been there. Lived there in fact. And I sometimes still visit there, but much less frequently. You may know the place too and have possibly unpacked your bags and started moving in. Its buildings are tall and dense so you rarely get a glimpse of the sun. The wind rages fiercely through the streets always in your face, never at your back. The air is so heavy with pollution you can barely breathe.

Yep, the land of chronic stress. It’s a big, dark, ominous place and too many of us live there for too long, struggling to catch the next train out. The problem is that the longer we stay there, the more damage it does to our health, both physical and psychological.

The American Psychological Association reports that “untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system.” and that “stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.”

Aside from the health effects, stress can keep us from being our best at work and in relationships. Productivity is hampered, and we move through the day without being mindful and present, and therefore don’t accomplish much that is truly essential to our goals and dreams.

Experts say the key to relieving chronic stress is to change our everyday behaviours. We’ll not only be calmer and healthier, we’ll begin to thrive and enjoy an abundant life. But we all know that changing our behaviours isn’t easy. It takes hard work to change daily habits for the better.

There are, however, some practical things we can do to change the environments around us so to encourage new behaviours and strengthen our mental and physical fortitude. These strategic refreshes to our home and workspace will set us up to be successful in moving away from chronic stress and living more peacefully and productively.

1. Before all else. declutter and deep clean.

A stressed space is one full of clutter, dirt and noise, and lacking comfort. And our spaces are a mirror of ourselves. So the first thing to do when you want to de-stress yourself is de-stress your home and office spaces, where you spend 90% of your time.

Clear out all clutter by finding proper homes for everything you need to keep (ie. that which is either truly useful or beautiful to you), and donate or toss the rest. Be brutal here — don’t keep old papers and files and clothing that takes up space but doesn’t add to your life. Clear lots of space on your floors, counters, chairs, benches and desktops. Then clean everything from top to bottom — using natural cleaners of course so that you don’t add chemicals to the air that will further stress your system.

2. Ground yourself in your space.

Without going too woohoo on you, Feng Shui philosophy states that we live life through our senses, and if we are too caught up in mental activities such as working on our computers, texting, attending meetings, watching screens, and worrying, we need to ground ourselves again so that we can be present in our sensory world. Our homes and offices can work to ground us with a few simple hacks.

First, eliminate all electricity running into your space that is not necessary. That means plug all computers, TVs and phones into a power bar and turn it off when not in use. Check that all large appliances in your home are properly connected, and unplug any small appliances that you rarely use. Don’t have electronics in your bedroom. Period.

Second, introduce plants to both your home and office spaces to absorb excess electrical energy, freshen the air, and connect you with nature. And introduce other earth elements like rocks, shells or wood and keep them where you can touch them — maybe in a bowl on your desk or as a table centrepiece. Seeing and touching these natural decorations will help ground you.

3. Create comfort zones.

Make it easy to relax and rewind at home. Set up a comfy chair for reading, doing crossword puzzles or watching your favourite Netflix show, and have a luxurious blanket and functional task light nearby. Make sure you have a side table or stool next to your chair so it’s convenient to place a hot drink. And speaking of drinks, set up a little coffee and tea station in your kitchen so that it’s crazy-simple to brew a cup quickly when you need it. If you like taking baths, stack lots of fluffy towels near the tub and keep a jar of Epsom salts filled on the counter. Invest in quality bedding and pillows for your bedroom, and make sure the colours in your bedroom are calming; good choices include creamy off-whites or neutral earth and sea tones.

And don’t confine comfort just to your home — your workspace should be comfortable as well. Add pretty things that are both functional and beautiful to your desk space. Hang a piece of calming art or a favourite inspirational quote. Invest in an ergonomic chair and keep a throw and/or pillow on it so you can stay warm and cozy. Bring in your favourite slippers or chunky knit socks and keep them in a little basket on the floor. And make sure the lighting is good — if you have bad overhead lighting, bring in your own LED lamp and use it instead.

4. Organize health zones.

Set up your home and office to reinforce good health habits. For example, keep your fridge stocked with healthy snacks, and a jar on your desk filled with your favourite granola bars. Buy a really pretty glass water bottle to keep with you at all times. Keep your weights and workout shoes in a basket where you’ll see them every day and can’t ignore them. Have a playlist ready on your phone for 15-minute walking breaks at work. Hang a yoga mat on your wall with hooks so you can easily take it down for a few minutes of stretching. And if you want to get really creative, figure out a way to make a standing desk — I used my IKEA dresser and it works really well — you can check it out here.

5. Use essential oils.

The use of essential oils in aromatherapy is key to improving physical health and well-being. Essential oils carry highly concentrated forms of biologically active compounds of the roots, bark, leaves and petals of flowers, plants and trees. Any number of studies now prove that essential oils are beneficial in relieving anxiety, depression, pain and in boosting mood, clarity and productivity. The medical profession has embraced essential oils as therapeutic.

Using essential oils like lavender, clary sage sandalwood will naturally make you feel relaxed and grounded., and relieve anxiety. Peppermint and rosemary have been shown to improve memory, energy and alertness. Lemon and cinnamon can improve concentration and focus.

Purchase a humidifying diffuser for your desk and nightstand, or make your own room mist. You could also burn natural soy or beeswax candles in these scents.

6. Encourage silence.

Constant noise can create stress, so we need to set up our homes, and even our offices, for some quiet time. At home, add curtains so you can pull them to mute noise from outside at night. Designate a space to sit in peace, without music or TV or computers or family members. Have something in this space that reminds you of your “happy place” so you can close your eyes and visualize being there. Meditate on this or just on your breathing for 10 minutes a day, then work up to longer periods. Write out a mantra and have this where you can see it in your quiet space.

At the office, drown out noise from your officemates by wearing noise-blocking headphones. Start a silent hour once/day in your area and encourage everyone to keep to themselves and save questions and chit chat until after the 60 minutes has passed. Turn off phone and email ringers and sound notifications, at least during this hour if not for good.

7. Overhaul your nightstand and your bedtime routine.

Your bedroom is your sanctuary where you need to rest and relax. In addition to a comfy bed, your nightstand also plays a role in promoting serenity. Clear it of anything that would cause stress, such as smart phones, computers, work stuff, receipts, money, or just plain old junk. Keep it simple with a bowl or tray for a lip balm and a place to put your watch. Add a vase of fresh flowers or a green plant. Try to use a stand with a drawer or a shelf underneath to hold one or two books for reading at night plus a journal and pencil. Get in the habit of going to bed at least 30 minutes before you need to sleep, and spend half of it writing and half of it reading. Use your journal to write down your feelings, your high-level long-term dreams and goals, or simply what you’re grateful for each day.

Ready to get serious about moving away from chronic stress?

I have even more practical steps to help you set up your home and office spaces to intentionally work for you and your health and productivity, plus tutorials and source guides for using essential oils, making all-natural cleaning solutions, making meditation easier, and tons more. Hop over here.