How To Avoid Bad Habits That Can Cause Stress

Who is your worst enemy? Is it yourself? Millions of Americans are living with tremendous levels of daily stress, and while some of it is hard to avoid, a surprising amount of our stress is self-inflicted.

Bad habits like procrastination, perfectionism, and poor self-care routines leave us running in circles and racing deadlines long after we could have finished our tasks for the day. Here are the most common stress-inducing habits and fixes for each.

The Cure For Procrastination

Do you constantly put off your work until the last possible minute? You are not alone. Most people have never mastered the self-discipline to manage their workflow well, making procrastination an almost universal affliction. The good news is that improving your self-discipline will change your life instantly, and it is not as hard as you’d imagine. A few simple tactics are all you need to beat the habit.

The most effective method for dealing with procrastination makes use of a principle called the Zeigarnik Effect, which demonstrates that we are far more likely to complete a task that is underway than a looming not-yet-started job. To trick your mind into getting focused, start a task with the intention of working on it for two minutes, or five minutes — just enough to get started. You may find that you need a break when the time is up, but more likely you’ll find it easy enough to keep going once you’ve begun. And even if you decide to take a break, you are far more likely to come back and finish the job once it’s begun.

Stop Driving Yourself Crazy

Overthinking decisions or second-guessing yourself will drive you nuts and waste tremendous amounts of your time. When you’re faced with a decision, give yourself a deadline. Set aside an appropriate amount of time to research, analyze, and make lists of pros and cons, but when the time is up, make a decision and don’t look back. 

Stop Being So Hard On Yourself

If you expect superhuman results or productivity from yourself, you will always feel overwhelmed. Have you ever tried writing down your expectations for yourself on a calendar? If you expect every day to work eight hours or more, cook healthy meals, work out, spend quality time with your children, do housework,  keep up with errands and chores, and make time for hobbies, romance, and a social life, do the math. It’s just not possible. You’ll have to prioritize and let go of some of your expectations. 

By the same token, letting go of perfectionistic standards will lighten your load tremendously. Most perfectionists are proud of their high standards. Learn to think of perfectionism as an illness to be overcome, and you’ll lower your stress levels and enjoy your life a lot more. Instead of spending your energy trying to be perfect, spend it trying to get comfortable with imperfection.

Don’t Sit On The Cactus

Do you hold on to thoughts that upset you? There’s an old saying that life may hand you a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it. If you dwell on things that upset you, you will raise your own blood pressure. Instead of complaining to your coworkers about the traffic this morning, can you let go of that and focus on how good the coffee tastes this morning? There are many ways to train your brain to focus on positive thoughts, including keeping a gratitude journal or minimizing the negativity, complaints, and sarcasm in your conversations. Don’t give negative energy space in your mind and heart; fill them with light instead. If you aren’t able to do this on your own, consider a short course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you.

Take Better Care Of Yourself

You cannot stay on top of a busy life if you’re not getting enough rest, nutrition, exercise, or playtime. Resolve to become a loving internal parent to yourself. Put yourself to bed on time, feed yourself healthy meals, and make playdates with friends. Addiction psychology teaches us that we are vulnerable to self-destructive behaviors when we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (H.A.L.T.) Learning to recognize these states in yourself and address them appropriately will stop you from making a lot of bad decisions, and learning to care for yourself so you don’t experience them often is a sign of strong emotional health. 

So many stressors in life are outside of our control. We lead busy lives, governed by Murphy’s laws. But learning to control your own internal world, managing your thoughts and behaviors, will go a long way toward easing your stress.