If you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed and exhausted there are three aspects of your life you should address to change your life for the better
A few months ago, I was feeling anxious, irritable and resentful. I was constantly worrying about how much I had to do, so much so that I often became paralysed and achieved nothing at all! This was having a negative effect on my health, work and relationships. I desperately wanted to change my life for the better but I wasn’t sure how.
I was annoyed at myself because I thought I had all this stuff sorted! Previously, I had made great headway in improving my life and yet here I was, again, sinking in a stinking pile of negativity. I decided I had to go back to the drawing board. I took a fresh look at all the research into what makes us happy and productive human beings so I could start to feel better again.
After re-reading dozens of psychology, self-help and self-development books I came up with three key areas of my life that needed to change. I have outlined these issues below and offered a variety of solutions later in the article. I hope they can help you change your life for the better too.
The three key strategies that can change your life for the better
To be honest my attitude stunk. I was constantly moaning about how much I had to do and how tired I was – I was boring myself! On top of that, I wasn’t getting much done and I was feeling resentful of others. I was trying to do too much, probably because of my people-pleasing tendencies and my driven personality! I felt trapped and helpless.
Because I was lacking energy, focus and confidence in my abilities, I was struggling to get anything done. I felt really awful.
I realised that my attitude needed to change and I’ll get back to that later. But I also began to acknowledge that my lousy attitude was partly due to not taking care of myself and the resulting lack of energy.
Because I was struggling to focus and feeling tired all the time I wasn’t getting much done in the week. This meant I was constantly catching up on the weekends. In fact, I was actually mainly worrying about catching up and still not getting much done.
So, I was never taking a proper break. I wasn’t sleeping well because I was anxious and overwhelmed. I had also let my self-care routines go. Worst of all, I was forgetting to eat regular meals because my routine was so out of whack.
It’s little wonder that I was feeling exhausted, negative and irritable. But I was really struggling to break the cycle of overwhelm and negativity. It felt like I didn’t have time for self-care because I had so much else to do!
I tried numerous ways to get my routine under control including writing lists and planning my days and weeks but nothing seemed to work. I couldn’t stick to any of the plans I set. Looking back, I realise that I was planning too much and that was why I always felt so behind. But when you have a busy life it’s really hard to find things to cut out. Luckily, when I began to address my attitude and energy I was able to organise my life better and actually have the energy to (mostly) achieve the things I planned.
Then by simplifying my life wherever possible, I was finally able to get back to feeling happy with my life.
3 ways to change your life
It seemed clear that my lack of focus and productivity, my negative thinking and my lack of organisation stemmed from a lack of energy, so I decided to start there. If you are looking for the simplest way to change your life I suggest you start by working on your energy too.
When we feel anxious or stressed, or have negative thoughts, our bodies switch into fight or flight mode. This is your body’s way of dealing with a perceived threat.
The fight or flight response triggers the body’s sympathetic nervous system. This stimulates the adrenal glands to produce hormones including adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones increase heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. They also affect other organs such as your digestive system, liver and kidneys.
When you are in the fight or flight response you may feel your heart racing, your breathing become faster, your mouth goes dry and you may also feel some uncomfortable feelings in your tummy.
It can take up to an hour for the body to return to normal levels. This means if you have anxious thoughts often, your body is in this state most of the time!
This is an exhausting way to live and may be why anyone with anxiety feels tired so much of the time. It can also affect sleep and digestion which just adds to the lack of energy and low mood. So, if you want to feel better, you need to address this and learn to relax more.
You can do this in any way that works for you. Many people find a few minutes of meditation each day helps. If you have found that meditation hasn’t worked for you in the past remember that it doesn’t matter if your mind wanders during meditation. It will! This doesn’t mean you have failed. Simply focus on your breathing, and if you notice your mind has wandered, bring it back to your breathing.
If you sit for ten minutes and your mind wanders for 9 of them you have still had a successful meditation. You are becoming more aware of your thoughts and that is all meditation is.
If meditation is not for your relaxation techniques and yoga can also help, as can walking in nature. In fact, exercise is a great way to burn off all that disruptive energy. Alternatively, do whatever you find relaxing whether that is drawing, photography, cooking, gardening or fixing cars.
But do try to find time to relax for a few minutes every day – it really can change your life!
In addition, whenever you are feeling stressed or anxious, take some slow breaths. This can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and stop the fight or flight response in its tracks.
You also need to take care of the basics of physical care such as sleep, eating well and exercising.
Once you begin to relax you may find that you are sleeping better. However, having a regular nighttime routine can make a real difference to your quality of sleep and your energy levels. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. You should also consider avoiding screens for at least an hour before bed as these emit blue light which can disrupt sleep hormones.
Making sure you eat regularly will also keep your energy levels and mood steady. You don’t need to go on a strict diet, but providing your body with the nutrients it needs will improve your overall vitality. If you can, limit caffeine and sugar as these can cause energy highs and lows and affect your mood.
A moderate amount of exercise can give you more energy in the long term. So try to have a walk outside most days. If you are feeling exhausted and burned out, however, this is not the time to start a strenuous exercise regime. Take it slowly at first until you begin to feel better.
Fun and relationships
A meaningful and rewarding life is not built only on eating well and getting things done. To be truly happy most of us need to feel like our lives have some meaning and that we have a connection with others. Do something every day that makes you feel happy, even if it is just watering the flowers in your window box. Also, spend quality time with the people you love whenever you can.
Do something every day that makes you feel happy
If you can squeeze in some time for hobbies, passion projects or volunteering, even better as these are all proven to increase happiness. However, I don’t want you to add a load of things to your to-do list. So start small by fitting in some simple pleasures and cuddles every day.
Improving your attitude
Once you start taking better care of yourself you may find your negativity begins to slip away. You will be feeling more energetic and optimistic so will be better able to deal with life’s ups and downs. However, giving yourself a positive mental boost can really help keep negativity at bay. The two things I find that make me feel most positive are affirmations and my gratitude journal.
Affirmations that can change your life
There are mixed opinions about the benefit of affirmations. Some psychologists claim they don’t work because we don’t really believe them. For example, when we say ‘I am rich and happy’ our brain decides this information conflicts with existing evidence and so disregards it.
However, I have found that there are two affirmations that really do work for me. The first is
I choose to live in joy, love and gratitude
This affirmation doesn’t conflict with existing information. Plus it helps me realise that I have a choice about the way I think. I find it really helps. The other affirmation that works for me is from a loving-kindness meditation, but you can repeat it to yourself anytime you like.
May I be happy – May I be healthy – May I be at peace
.Again this information does not conflict with any pre-existing information I hold about myself. You should try to repeat the affirmation in a gentle way, rather as a gift to yourself than as a desperate need. Again, it really does make a difference.
In my personal opinion, the gratitude journal is the quickest way to switch out of the negative thinking spiral.
When you are consciously looking for the good in your life, you are less likely to get sucked into pondering all that is wrong with it. It’s so simple, too. Just write down three things every morning that you are grateful for. Spend a few moments on each item to really let that feeling of gratitude and appreciation soak in
Hopefully, having got your energy levels up and your negativity down life is already seeming much more manageable – perhaps even joyful. However, if you are still struggling to stay on top of things then now is the time to see if organisation techniques can help.
The first thing I suggest is to take a really good look at your life, all your commitments, habits and hobbies and see if there is anything that can be dropped. Now I know this is hard. Often it’s difficult to see what we can give up in our busy lives. But it’s worth really looking to see if you can find anything to cut out, combine or delegate to free up some time and energy.
Perhaps you could relax your housework standards or have a takeaway once a week, get a friend to walk the dog or make excuses to get out of a committee or meeting that you feel is not a good use of your time.
Remember that this is your life, and as far as we know the only one you will get. Don’t let other people use it all up for you. Take charge and make sure you are leading the life YOU choose. This really is key to finding a way to change your life into one you love living!
The more things in your life that become routine the fewer things you will have to plan. Have a set morning routine, after-dinner routine and evening routine to get all the daily tasks done.
I am not an organisation guru. In fact, if you are looking for detailed advice you might want to go elsewhere. However, I have found that planning works best when you keep it simple. If you use a day planner, a week planner, a calendar and a diary as well as various lists you will get into a muddle.
I have a diary in which I write everything I have to do. I fill it out monthly, with all the work and family commitments as well as any other events.
Then, each day, I write a list. I transfer the appointments from my diary to this list and I can then add any extras that come up, such as buy eggs or reply to an email. I try to keep each day’s list to three main tasks as this prevents overwhelm. But I can add as many little things as come to mind so I have a reminder of everything I need to do.
Often, I’ll add a note to this list during the day to remind me to add something to my diary. Then, at the end of the day, I transfer anything new that has come up during the day to my diary. I then use my diary to write the next day’s list.
I hope that exploring these three areas: energy, attitude and organisation helps you change your life for the better. Here’s to living a happier, healthier and more productive life.
I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for staying on top of things and living a joyful life. Please share them with us in the comments below