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The Power of Planning to Reduce Stress

We are living through an ever-changing time frame. Who knows what the situation will be as you read this article? The stress surrounding COVID-19 keeps adding up. Little things people would normally shrug off are causing tension and frustration. Many of us are feeling out of sorts, fed up, and stressed out.

A lot of this is due to the fact that we are sitting in a seat full of unknowns. When will my children be able to go back to school? Will I lose my job? Will my business survive the current state of affairs? Will we deplete our savings? Will our parents be OK? What about the economy? The list of “concerns” goes on and on.

By focusing our attention on things outside of our control, we can get inundated with worry, just waiting for the next big problem to hit. This in itself is very stressful. Stephen R. Covey explains this brilliantly in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.

To relieve some of this stress, we need to shift our focus to things we can control. By being more “proactive,” we move out of our seat of concern and into our seat of “influence.” Great places to start are with our daily habits: The hours we will work, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of rest, and exercising daily. We can also control how we treat others, our surroundings, and our personal growth. Having some control over these basics can help us start to feel more calm, relaxed, and centred, which will enable us to better handle anything that will inevitably come up.

Erin Wiley, MA, LPCC, a clinical psychotherapist, told Headline:

“Routine is even more important during times of distress or chaos. In order for our minds to function at maximum efficiency, we must have order and stability, and right now it’s harder than ever to have either. […] Simple habits that we may have previously done—making the bed, blow-drying our hair—are simple activities we can do to remind our brain that life is still going on despite the interruptions we are facing.”

My recent consulting sessions have included helping clients create realistic routines and schedules for themselves in the face of all this “new normal.” Our daily routines must include all the tasks required for each family member to survive, as well as activities to help them thrive and reduce stress, with room to adjust as needed.

Are You Ready to Start Bringing a Little More Normal Back Into Your Life?

No judgement here. For a while, even I was floating around. Being a person who thrives in a routine, I felt myself becoming increasingly stressed. That is when I sat down to create a schedule for myself and my family. I started with setting up a personal office space for myself, then got to work on a routine that would help me get my work done, have time for household duties, family fun, and self-care.

Here is a look at what has become my typical Monday-to-Friday lockdown schedule.

Note: This works best for my family, based on our current situation. Create your own schedule to meet your needs, and don’t be afraid to adjust it as needed. I certainly have. Also included are some “supporting wellness tips.”

Plugging things into a schedule helps us feel in control of our day, as we know what we need to do and what is coming next.

Creating a realistic schedule that includes work, projects, fun and self-care during these strange times—or anytime—will help put you back into your seat of “influence.” It will provide you with some “control” in your life, helping you feel more calm, relaxed, and resilient in the face of anything that comes your way.

Teach Yourself a New Skill

Try your hand at painting, learning a new computer program, or perhaps tackle some home improvements.

Try something you otherwise would never have time for. There are online segments for just about everything.

Spend Some Time Outdoors

Plan to spend some time outdoors! One benefit we have during this tough period is more time to spend outside. Exposure to sunlight is important for our health! Often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is made in the skin from exposure to sunlight.

Research has shown potential benefits against cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, influenza, type 2 diabetes, and depression. One study found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy days—and higher levels of serotonin correlate with better mood. So, be sure to get outside!

Planning Meals and Mealtime

Plan out your meals for the week as well as your shopping list, so you have the necessary ingredients on hand. Scrambling to prepare meals at the last minute when already hungry causes unnecessary stress and poor food choices. Sit down as a family to decide on the meals and snacks for the upcoming week. Create the meal plan and grocery list, and then have everyone participate in preparing the food. You can assign specific responsibilities or all do it together. Have fun teaching this important life skill!

When it comes to breakfast and lunch, older children can manage on their own. But “Family Dinners” are essential for me. These family gatherings show amazing benefits; better self-esteem and academic performance, and lower risks of depression, developing eating disorders, and obesity.

Plan Some Alone Time

No matter who we are, we need time to refuel. Work it out so you can have some time alone to do whatever helps you rejuvenate.

A cup of herbal tea and a good book? A hot bath with lavender essential oil? A full episode of your favourite podcast? Whatever works for you!

Christina’s Routine

Wellness Tips…

6 h 30 – 7 h 15

Morning ritual

Shower  •  Cup of warm water with lemon  •  Quiet reflection/meditation

Creating a morning routine that involves getting dressed, stretching, or deep breathing is paramount for productivity and wellbeing.

7 h 15 – 8 h 00

Latte  •  Healthy, balanced breakfast  •  Revise to-do list for the day  •  Check e-⁠mail

A healthy breakfast provides energy to start you off. Next, it’s important to plan out your day with what you need to accomplish. Working from home, time can slip away, with no official start or end.

I always take 10 minutes at the start of my day to note what needs to get done It will give you a sense of accomplishment as you check things off.

8 h 00 – 11 h 00

Worktime (for me)
or other activities/projects

If you are working from home, plan your hours. I have a morning session and an afternoon session, and if something urgent is not completed, I take a little time during the evening. Remaining flexible under our current circumstances is key.

If you are not working, I recommend that you plan for daily activities and tasks, or maybe even a project you have been wanting to get too.

Have school-aged kids? Determine some activities and projects for them too. Everyone thrives when they accomplish new things.

The morning can be dedicated to educational activities including math, science, or history (lots of resources online). Be sure to include some activities that can be done away from the screens. Reading, writing letters (and mailing them), art, music… Get creative!

11 h 00 – 13 h 00

Break time

Cup of tea/snack  •  Daily fitness or groceries  •  Lunch

It is important to take breaks, refuel with healthy snacks, and so you can keep going.

Plan time for lunch. It is easy to skip meals when we are busy and there is no routine. Skipping meals leads to unhealthy eating later in the day, which sabotages our health-and-wellness goals.

Exercise! Plan to do at least 30 minutes of movement in the day. Studies show that people who exercise tend to be healthier, happier, and more productive. I like to break up the day with a good outdoor run.

13 h 00 – 17 h 00

Worktime (for me)
or other activities/projects

Following a good bout of exercise and lunch, I am fresh to tackle an afternoon of work-related stuff.

If you are not working, or have kids at home, dive back into a project you started earlier in the day or spend some time outdoors.

Projects like scrap-booking or putting together photo albums, going through the book-and-game shelves as well as the closets to purge what we don’t need any more and donating the items are a few more ideas.

Physical activities to get the kids burning off energy can include a good long-distance bike ride, playing tag, setting up an obstacle course or scavenger hunt, and throwing a ball around. The ideas are endless!

17 h 00 – 20 h 00

Prepare and have supper as a family  •  Clean up  •  Light chores

Plan meals and chores. Spending more time at home with a full house means more cooking and cleaning!

Everyone having their responsibilities can significantly reduce the stress and increase the level of consideration in the household.

20 h 00 – 22 h 00

Reconnecting, relaxation, and family fun time or alone time

Plan some time for fun and connecting with others. Set aside the a little time to connect with people we are no longer seeing regularly, or who may be lonely and need a friendly call. Come together as a family or with friends to have some fun! Relaxing, laughing, and connecting are super important for your health and wellbeing.

If you are single, hop onto a Zoom call or have a virtual watch party with friends.

If you have kids, crack out the Monopoly, Pictionary, or Blokus; watch the latest comedy on Netflix; or play cards.

So many options to choose from!

22 h 00 – 23 h 00

Bedtime routine

Bedtime ritual  •  Lights out

Calming bedtime rituals are essential for getting a good night’s sleep, according to experts at Harvard Medical School. We tend to be pretty good at putting a bedtime routine in place for our kids. But our own habits may differ. We can’t load up on chocolate or binge-watch Game of Thrones and expect to sleep well.

Create a calm bedtime ritual for yourself: Light reading, a nice bath, a guided meditation, or listening to soft music are all great options.

Christina Della Rocca, Naturopath, FNLP, Mass.d.

A strategic wellness provider, offering natural solutions and a personalized approach to health and wellbeing for both individuals and organizations.