The rat race. The treadmill of life. The daily grind. Whatever you call it, it’s rarely a positive feeling – long hours, monotonous days that merge together, stress, anxiety, and that overwhelming feeling that nothing will ever change.
Unfortunately, more and more people are feeling this way and it can be incredibly hard to break the grind. Especially if it feels like your very survival depends on your job. But it doesn’t stop there. Then there are all those responsibilities outside of work: dropping off and picking up kids from school, getting their homework done, helping out your own parents, being a good friend… Not to mention a seemingly endless to-do-list. The same one that’s supposed to make you feel more in control of life!
But slogging away at life is no way to live! It only leads to more stress and unhappiness.
It can also prevent you from being able to gain better work opportunities – because you’ve got nothing left to give! Most importantly, it can impact your family. No job or amount of “busyness” is worth losing a true connection with the ones you love.
The good news is that you don’t have to live this way. The choice really is in your hands. You may not be able to change the hours you work, the length of your commute, the amount on your paycheck, the number of people that rely on you, the needs of your children, or that list of things that really need to get done – but there are some key things that can make each day brighter.
Here are 10 healthy coping mechanisms to combat those daily stressors and help you get your emotional well-being back to its happy place!
1. Get Moving
What’s the first thing you neglect when you’re crazy busy? That’s right – exercise. Who has time to work out when you’ve got so much on your plate, right? Wrong. In fact, exercise is one of the most important things you can do to make even your busiest day better.
Many studies support the idea that exercise helps improve mental health, self-esteem, and brain function. The leading theory is that the increase in blood circulation to the brain is responsible for the boost.1 Amazingly, you only need to try it yourself to feel the instant effects.
Start your day at a gym close to your office (or home office), or start running (it’s free!). Just 30 minutes a day is enough to boost your mood and enhance mental clarity.
2. Practice Gratitude
The Dalai Lama says, “Appreciate how rare and full of potential your situation is in this world, then take joy in it, and use it to your best advantage.”2
In other words, take the time to be thankful for what you do have in your life. If you’re alive, living in a country that’s not ravaged by war, and have food on your table, you’re already more fortunate than a lot of people on this planet.
It’s easy to come up with things that you don’t have, and it’s easy to allow these things to shape your day and your life. And, when you dwell on what you lack in life, it will make you feel miserable and affect your mental health. But, when you feel blessed and thankful for the good in your life, it can profoundly impact your day in a positive direction.3
One of the easiest, most powerful ways to practice gratitude is to start a gratitude journal. Find a few minutes each day – perhaps first thing in the morning with your coffee, or last thing at night – and write down three things you’re grateful for. It’s often more powerful to write why you’re grateful for each thing as well. That’s it!
3. Enjoy a Hobby
Don’t live to work, work to live. Which is to say, don’t make your life all about work. Instead, focus on creating a life that truly makes you happy.
To do this, you need to figure out what makes you truly joyous. Long term, this could mean taking fun vacations or adventures regularly (and they don’t need to be expensive).
But you also must “work to live” on a daily and weekly basis, giving yourself fun things to look forward to – to break up the monotony. What would make your week brighter? What hobbies do you love? What have you always wanted to learn? Who makes you happy when you hang out with them?
Perhaps it’s a weekly dance class, ukulele lessons, playing in a team dodgeball game, or hitting up a weekly quiz night with friends. Pick one thing this week and fit it into your schedule. Just get started.
4. Take That Lunch Break
Lunch breaks were made for… Breaking. Stopping. Halting. Walking away from your desk. Seems obvious, right? Unfortunately, many people take lunch at their desks to save time or clock extra hours. But your brain needs a rest. It needs a change of scenery. It’s begging you to take it for a walk, if only to a lunch or break room. It’s also a great chance to chat with your colleagues and inject a little social time into your day.
But it’s not just your lunch break. Several micro-breaks throughout the day can further boost your productivity and mood and help lessen stress and anxiety. A study on this idea assigned call-center workers 20-minute “progressive relaxation” breaks. During this time, they participated in meditation-like activities. The results found that the workers who took this break were better at coping with stress in the afternoon. It also showed a positive impact on their blood pressure and sleep quality.4
Make a promise to yourself that you will take every lunch break this week. Go for a walk in the sunshine, grab lunch at a new cafe, join your workmates for a chat, read a book, or meditate. As long as you put away the work, and refresh your mind… you’re on the right track.
5. Set Boundaries
One of the biggest problems with office hours today is that there are no office hours. Everyone is switched on and “leashed” to their electronic devices 24/7. In a culture that promotes the idea that working harder equals greater success, people feel they need to always be available to their boss/company.
But you owe that to no-one. In fact, you owe it to your family not to be plugged in. Just as you give your office hours to your job you need to give your home hours to your family. Just as you try to build a career at work, so you must work to build a happy family unit at home. Healthy relationships take work and yet, sadly, they’re always the first to suffer.
France passed a labor law in 2016 giving workers the right to disconnect in order to take better care of their health and to give them a better work/life balance. Basically, an employer has a duty to regulate the use of emails and ensure that they’re not happening after work hours.5
But if you can’t move to France, you can still do this for yourself.
When you’re outside of designated work hours, you must learn to set boundaries on other people’s requests, or they will think it’s okay to “bug” you 24/7. One way to do this is to create an automatic email response that tells people you won’t be checking emails until the next morning, or until Monday morning if it’s the weekend. Turn your phone to silent when you’re spending time with your family, and refrain from checking it. Better yet, leave your phone at the front door with your keys.
6. Find Your Support Network
Everyone needs a support team that always has your back. It could be a group of friends, a family member, a mentor, or all of the above. It helps to have key people in your life who can listen to your ideas and goals and offer positive, honest feedback. These people truly care about your success, and they have your best interests at heart.
Catching up with your support crew should be something you look forward to as a release from those mundane work hours. This is a way to get you out of your routine and around people who both lift and inspire you.
Figure out who you want on your support team and make a note of it. Then, plan to meet one of those people each week over coffee, dinner, or a drink. Or, you could take a hike together or play a game of tennis.
7. Celebrate the Victories
You’ve worked tirelessly for years on a promotion/project/dream job, and now it’s finally happened! You always thought that you’d throw a huge party the day this happened, but now you’re just tired and relieved. So, you just keep grinding into the next thing.
But it’s so important to celebrate the victories. It’s one of your key healthy coping mechanisms against the grind. Even small micro-wins (Hey! You just got another subscriber on your email list – high five!) need to be acknowledged, as they can brighten your day and bring positive energy to your soul. You accomplished something! It’s what gives you a reason to keep going after getting those bigger results.
Treat yourself the next time you meet that big deadline, hit a milestone towards your big dream, or slog extra hard on a project at work. Go out to dinner with family and friends, buy yourself those new shoes, or make that vacation reservation. Or, just buy yourself an extra large slice of pie. Do whatever makes you feel great. Celebrate those victories. You’ve earned it.
8. Keep Your Goals in Mind
Sometimes, it can feel like you’re aimlessly working long hours towards nothing. And that’s the soul-crusher right there. As humans, we need goals to motivate us – not just to achieve things, but to give meaning to our lives.
Have a long, hard think about what your dream life looks like – perhaps you’d love to own your own business, or you’re saving towards a home?
Now, you need to break down that goal into smaller, conquerable parts. This makes it less of a mountain. These smaller goals need to be specific actions that will help you get closer to your big goal. They will also get you through those long days of the mindless grind.
Break down your big goal into smaller parts on a whiteboard, or in a diary, so you can visually track your progress. Don’t forget to celebrate each small milestone as you cross it off. Create a visual reminder for your goal that you can keep at your desk – maybe it’s a picture of a remote Tuscan villa because you dream of visiting the Italian countryside. It can – and should – be an image that motivates you. You could go even further and create a dreamboard of many images that motivate you. These can be powerful antidotes to daily stressors.
Free Yourself from the Shackles of Everyday Life
When you chain yourself to your work, your computer, or your smartphone, how can your mind be truly free? How can you be fully present for those you love? But, it doesn’t have to be that way – you get to choose. The daily grind is beatable if you put some boundaries in place alongside joy-provoking, healthy coping mechanisms. Because, ultimately, your emotional well-being is far more important than any job.
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies, keep reading here:
How to Relax Your Mind Like an Urban Monk
Why You Need Sleep (4 crucial health benefits)
5 Ways Meditation Can Make You Happier (and improve your health!)