Daily habits to lessen your stress

Finding inner calm can be the key to handling the ups and downs of our day-to-day lives, says Owen O'Kane. Try this routine to help you stress less daily.

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According to Psychotherapist, author and speaker Owen O’Kane, most of our bad days are caused by an emotional response to an event, rather than the event itself, and if we take simple steps throughout the day to calm our stress response, we’ll feel more in control and less reactive when things don’t go according to plan.

‘These little microinjections can make the most enormous difference,’ he says. ‘Things might still annoy you, but you’ll feel calmer, and more able to understand why you’ve been triggered and how you can get back to a point of stability.’

When you wake up

Instead of rolling out of bed and crash-landing into your day, take a few moments to check where you’re at. O’Kane likens it to getting in your car and doing your safety checks. ‘It’s a vital part of setting out on your day.’

• Ask yourself, where am I today?

How am I feeling physically and emotionally? Once you have a sense of where you are, you can think about what you can do to make your day better or more manageable. You’re not trying to fix your problems or engage with your thoughts; you’re simply scanning your mind and body to see what’s going on.

This helicopter view will you give you masses of information about yourself that you might not have noticed if you’d got up and gone straight into sorting out the kids, making breakfast, checking your emails, or scrolling the news.

If you’re feeling overloaded, you have the chance to look at your diary and see if you can take something out or ask for support. If you’re feeling low, you could send a message to a friend to see if they’re free for a coffee or a chat, which will make you feel better.

• Set an intention for the day.

With your eyes closed, set yourself up to three intentions for the day ahead. Gear your intentions towards what matters to you and makes you feel genuinely happy and at peace, rather than materialistic desires.

• Think of three aspects of your life that you feel grateful for.

When we step into gratitude mode, our brain will naturally start to produce more feelgood chemicals, and it will improve your mood and reduce anxiety quickly.

Early afternoon

It’s time to reassess, says O’Kane. ‘By lunchtime, someone will have annoyed you – maybe they pulled out in their car, turned up late for a meeting, or wound you up with an email or comment.’ Understand why you’ve been triggered and what that’s about, and how you can get back to a point of stability.

‘Things don’t generally turn out as we expect, and we need to try to work with life as it is, rather than what we think it should be. A bad day can be transformed instantly if we pause to review it.’

• Go for a walk.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of keeping going until you’re exhausted, but if you take regular breaks, you’re more likely to stay alert and emotionally stable. Even a short walk in green space will help reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, and make you feel more grounded for the rest of the day.

• Review your day so far.

While you’re outside, think about any tricky moments you’ve had – how did you respond, what negative thinking patterns were present, and what underlying thought patterns might have triggered those feelings? Challenge those beliefs by examining whether your assumptions are true or not, and how you might respond differently.

• Consider kindness.

When we struggle, it’s natural to turn in on ourselves, but if we can flip this by doing something to help or show compassion towards others, it will break patterns of introspection and increase our sense of wellbeing. Think about how you can make a difference to someone’s day, taking inspiration from what would brighten your day, and how and when you can make it happen.

The end of the day

It’s easy for the stresses of the day to become the stresses of the night. ‘Many people roll into bed and don’t switch off,’ says O’Kane. ‘How many times have you ruminated on your day for hours while trying to sleep? Or got up and out of bed because you forgot to defrost the chicken, or logged into your email because you forgot to reply to someone?’

Spend three minutes before bedtime in a restful place (that’s not your actual bed) to dump the stresses of your day, so that you can enjoy more restful sleep.

• Try journaling.

Write down any events that have upset or angered you in the day – notice how you interpret what happened and any thinking traps you might have fallen into. Try writing down a more helpful, alternative interpretation.

• Ask yourself, ‘What did life teach me today?’

Try to pinpoint the moments when you felt strong emotions. Pause and let the answers come to you. Lessons can be signposts to tweaks and changes that you need to make, or can be positive reminders of the things you feel grateful for.

Read more: 8 ways to feel calmer quickly