Weddings, graduations, ball games, work – the summer months are not only the best, but usually the busiest. You know that everything you have lined up on your calendar is going to be fun, but just the visual of one blocked-out weekend after another stresses you out. Stress loves to attack us when our lives are packed full. By sharing my story of how I stayed calm with healthy habits during the six busiest months of my life, I hope to help you to thrive through your own.
Back in January, I knew 2016 was going to be busy. My fiance and I were planning on attending around 10 weddings throughout the year, most of which meant traveling out of state. We also had our own wedding to plan for, (now only eight days away! How did that happen?!).
As if that wasn’t enough to think about, I decided to go after my dream of becoming a full-time writer. Why not develop my side hustle further during the busiest few months of my life?
While many might argue that perhaps this year wasn’t the best time to add something so huge to my plate, my fiance’s belief in me was so strong that I couldn’t help but believe in myself, too. With that kind of support and momentum, there would never be a better time to make my dream career a reality.
In February, I made a commitment. I would continue to work my full-time job, plan our wedding, and build up my freelance writing business so I could quit the 9-5 by the end of the year.
As someone who suffers from stress-related IBS, that commitment sounds like a marathon stomach ache waiting to happen. Over the last few years I’ve had phases of constant stomach aches, the kind that linger all day and suck the breath and happiness out of you. In the long process of getting to the root cause of them, I finally learned that inner anxiety was the culprit. It confused me because I was rarely outwardly stressed, but I constantly worried about things on a more internal level and my body reacted negatively.
The solution? Manage my stress. Easy-peezy.
Well, we all know that doesn’t happen over night. But I did work at this in the months before life got busy, before I committed to freelancing, and before we started traveling more. I implemented some new stress-relieving practices into my day. Over time I saw the benefit these healthy habits had on my mindset and consequently, the way my body handled what I would have considered to be stressful situations.
Because I had been working on keeping my stress levels down by establishing healthy habits prior to my busy time, I was able to fly through the last six months gaining clients, progressing on my short story collection, taking writing courses, making memorable vacations out of friends’ and family weddings, and planning my own, all without pulling any all-nighters to meet deadlines or suffering from my usual stomach aches.
I’ve enjoyed every bit of this journey, and I’m even quitting my job today, four months earlier than I set out for.
I am fully prepared to get married in a week, and although the last six months have been quite a roller coaster, I’ve never felt so good, healthy and positive.
What helped me stay calm without sacrificing my sanity during these chaotic months? No matter how busy your life is right now, practicing the following six habits will allow you to be mentally and physically prepared when perceived stressful situations arise:
Make time to do what you love every day.
Life gives you plenty of distractions from doing what you really enjoy. Too many times we get caught using those excuses to put our passions on the low-priority list. If your passion project doesn’t aid in solving the day’s issues, you think, why waste my precious time on it?
Because it’s what you LOVE to do! If you don’t have time to do what you love and enjoy, then what is the point? I wake up early and start every morning with 30 minutes of creative writing. This isn’t nearly as much time as I’d like to spend on it, but I love going about the rest of my busy day knowing that I did what I enjoy, that I contributed to my long-term goal of becoming an author. No matter how busy I get, no one can steal that time from me.
Even if you only have 15 minutes, making a daily habit of feeding your passions gives you a gratifying sense of control over your time.
2. Use exercise to fuel your energy.
Moving and challenging your body gives you energy to meet the tasks of your day, which is why you should treat exercise as a non-negotiable. Find a plan that you enjoy but that also challenges you, and schedule your workouts into your days. Don’t even question whether you’re going to follow through with it or not. Just show up for it every day. Treat it like any other high-priority task on your to-do list. When you take away the decision part of it, you’ll be amazed by how easily exercise becomes habitual.
I wake up early enough so I can get my creative writing and 30 minutes of exercise in before starting the work day. In the past six months, I think I missed only one of my scheduled workouts during the week, and I was surprised by how much I dragged at the day job. When you get in a habit of giving your body a healthy dose of exercise, your body begins to crave it. Your body begins to notice when you deny it of that energy.
It feels great being a week away from my wedding and knowing that I didn’t slack on exercise this year. In the midst of it all, I was able to reach my fitness goals. And thank goodness for that habit, because I don’t think I could handle the added stress of hoping my dress fits okay!
3. Eat well for brain power.
Running through the KFC drive-through because you’re too busy to cook dinner does not save you anything. Several nights of that will cost you in time getting out of your head fog, money paying for medical bills, and self-loathing when it comes time to put on your wedding dress.
Eating the right foods–lean meat, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats–is essential for the mental energy needed to complete your work and to give it your best effort. This is an area that is worth taking the extra time to prep and plan for, because without it you’re in for even more challenging times with your health.
I see the time spent cooking with my fiance (or watching him cook while I pretend to chop vegetables) as a relaxing break from work. It’s an hour that we both look forward to in our hectic days. Do what you need to do to make eating well fun and easy, an enjoyable part of your day.
4. Don’t skip on sleep.
Sleep is a big one for me. Without at least seven hours, I am a completely different person. I’m cranky and pretty worthless when it comes to work.
When you have deadlines to meet, you may be tempted to stay up all night to get everything done. Instead, try looking at your week as a whole ahead of time. Sundays are good for doing this. Pencil in when you can complete everything you need to work on. Schedule these things assuming you’re getting your full sleep every night. Doing this allowed me to wind down and get to bed by 10 each night knowing that I had a set time the next day to finish what I was working on.
Being well-rested allows you to have more energy and be more present and focused in your day. You don’t want your lack of sleep to catch up with you when the fun weekend plans come around. You will never get ahead or even get by coasting if you’re behind in sleep. Make it a priority.
5. Give meditation a try.
I know…meditation… woo woo. This was hard for me to come around to, but it was so highly recommended for stress relief. I wanted to give it a solid try in hopes of fighting off the anxiety that kept bringing me stomach aches. Surprisingly, I didn’t find that I got much out of meditation until I really got busy with more freelance work. It felt too forced at the beginning, but when I used meditation as a transition between my 9-5 and my freelancing, between freelancing and winding down for the night, meditation worked wonders for me.
Deep breathing and clearing your mind instantly calms your body. You don’t have to do any hour-long chanting nonsense, just close your eyes for five minutes and pay attention to your breath. Try to forget what you were just working on, and focus on starting fresh for the next batch of work or activities.
6. Less booze.
I never said these habits would be easy, and I learned this one the hard way. With my upcoming wedding, of course I had a bachelorette party. My bridesmaids threw my party over the 4th of July weekend, and thank goodness for the long holiday; it took a full three days to recover! Work still had to be done, deadlines to be met.
Hangovers do not make for an easygoing day of work. Since I could use the weekends to get ahead on my freelancing, I wanted to feel my best and have energy to enjoy my work. With summer weddings and cookouts and parties, alcohol is everywhere, but it’s not so hard to have fun without drinking if you have the right mindset. Keep the greater goal in mind of what you want to accomplish and you certainly won’t feel like you’re missing out.
Maybe I would have gotten even further along in my freelance business if I pulled all-nighters, skipped my creative writing and exercise, spent less time cooking, or missed out on the fun things I had planned on the weekends. Sure, I’d have the business all figured out, but I would have been so out of balance with the rest of my life. The stress would have still been there along with the stomach pain. I would have probably lost passion toward this goal, and that would have been a shame.
Because now I get to ditch a huge part of what kept me so busy – the 9-5 corporate job. I get to focus full time on the work that I love.
Whether your schedule is packed or not, I encourage you to try adding at least one of these habits into your life. You’ll be happy you did when things get crazy, and you’ve already got some healthy non-negotiables to keep you sane.