A life in balance and without stress may seem like a distant dream when you’re in the eye of the storm. But achieving the right balance is often much easier than you think. Be inspired by Oxford’s 6 tips for a life full of energy, mental stamina and balance!
Stress can affect us all. Whether you live a hectic student life with lectures, project deadlines, social activities and high expectations, or are ensconced in a career with meeting appointments, deadlines and a family life to attend to as well. The risk of at some point being struck by a feeling of inadequacy and loss of perspective is high. We all have a limit in terms of how much we can overcome and manage as human beings. Without the right tools, the risk of exceeding this limit at some point in your life is immediate.
To avoid getting to that stage, it’s worth following Oxford’s 6 simple tips for a balanced life. And not just a balance in your studies or in your job, but in your whole life – because you are present 24 hours a day in your life, so it’s important to look at your life as a whole.
3 of the tips focus on mental health, while the other 3 focus on physical health. Because both these are connected – the mental and the physical – like yin and yang.
Saying things out loud or writing them down is important, both to bring structure and clarity and to avoid everything piling up, eventually adding the last straw. So, grab a pen and paper and start creating balance in your life!
The three pieces of advice for mental balance:
The three pieces of advice for physical balance:
Turn your mindset around, so that you focus on the tailwind instead of the headwind.
They say that it takes five positive comments to off set one negative one. It’s remarkable how important the energy we are exposed to from others in our daily life is to our well-being. If you have a busy life, where you often feel inadequate and behind in your tasks, then it’s easy to focus only on the resistance you feel. In the cycling world, people often talk about headwinds and crosswinds, about how hard it is and the demands it makes on the cyclists. When you go for a ride on your bike, you’ve probably noticed how tough the headwind feels, and how much it can define your experience of cycling. The tailwind, however, we rarely notice – it’s just there.
Spend time and energy on the people who give you energy instead of draining you. Because if the 5 positives and 1 negative are to add up, then you need to create far more positive relationships in your life than negative ones. This gives you a better opportunity to follow others’ wheels and seek shelter when you are hit by a headwind.
Share your thoughts with others
Grappling with issues and concerns all on your own rarely leads to anything good – whether in a study environment, a workplace or in your personal life. But if you share your thoughts with others, you not only get solutions and other points of view, you might also ﬁnd that once you articulate your problem or concern, it suddenly seems less complex and insurmountable. This relieves your inner pressure and prevents your inner dialogue and thinking from growing into stress.
Daring to share your thoughts requires a healthy environment and an open culture, where people feel safe and secure enough to express their ideas and thoughts. It might be worth starting by highlighting your concerns and issues. Write them down and share your notes to open up the dialogue. You’ll ﬁnd that most people are happy to get involved and give advice.
Develop your friendships with colleagues/fellow students
A solid network doesn’t need to be big to be strong. Close relationships strengthen both your self-esteem and your self-awareness, and are an important safety net in your daily life. A safety net that can be worth its weight in gold the day you need help. The more you give, the more you get back – this applies in all aspects of life. So make sure you nurture your relationships, both at work and in your study environment – they may end up as friendships oﬀering priceless value and support.
Get support from friends and family
Your loved ones are the most important pillars of support and sources of help when you notice signs of stress. Daring to open up and talk honestly when something is wrong is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign that you have been strong for too long. Too strong. Instead of trying to hide your worries, think about how you would feel if one of your loved ones came to you and conﬁded in you. You would hardly perceive them as weak, and you would certainly oﬀer all the help you could. So, use your friends and family – it’s what they’re there for.
Prioritise and plan
Imagine that you have set out to climb one of the most difficult mountains in the world. In a secluded part of the world, with freezing temperatures, winds and low oxygen levels in the air. It is only achievable if you have complete control of the entire process. If you don’t, the risk of things going wrong on that mountain is imminent. So, before you start climbing, you need to prioritise and plan – what’s important to carry in your backpack, which is the best route to take, what challenges can you expect along the way, what’s the weather forecast, and who will you depend on to reach the top of the mountain? Any sensible climber must prioritise and plan to minimise the risk of making catastrophic errors.
If you want to minimise the risk of being hit by stress in your everyday life, prioritisation and planning are also key factors for a healthy work/student life and private life – a healthy life overall.
Schedule breaks throughout the day
You can’t stay focused and attentive for a whole day without taking breaks. As with physical exercise, where the muscles need to rest and recover, your brain and your mind also need “a breather”. It’s easy to become absorbed in chores and to just keep going, so plan when you need breaks in advance. For example, set your phone to beep every two hours, and prioritise the breaks – they are important for you to stay focused throughout the day.
Prioritise the most important tasks for early in the day
Start your day by drawing up a to-do list – what’s important to get done today? Write it down in order of priority, then start with the most important task ﬁrst. Once you’ve completed the task, tick it oﬀ or cross it out – then the next point is automatically your next ﬁrst priority. A to-do list may seem trite, but it’s a great tool. It not only gives you an overview, it also releases the energy needed to think about the task at hand, rather than constantly having to remember all the other things you need to achieve.
Delegate tasks you can’t or shouldn’t manage on your own
No one can be the best at everything. One of the biggest reasons that we succumb to stress or “burn out” is that we expect, or think that others expect us to do everything ourselves. That it’s easier to do everything than to take the time to teach others how to do the job.
But however insurmountably diﬃcult it may seem to have to delegate a task, it’s an equally big relief to pass parts of the task on to someone who is just as good, or better, at solving it. Set expectations right from the start in your study groups or with your colleagues, so that everyone knows their role and knows who they can go to if they encounter problems.
Split large projects into smaller ones
If, at ﬁrst glance, a project seems overwhelming, write it down. Start by describing the project’s goals and deadlines. Preferably split the project into smaller subprojects, and break them up into speciﬁc tasks. Assess the time needed, and set a deadline for the subprojects. If there isn’t enough time, decide whether to agree a new deadline or delegate.
As tasks and sub-projects are completed, tick them oﬀ. You will ﬁnd that breaking projects up into speciﬁc tasks makes them much more manageable and also highlights any stressful issues right from the start.
Reduce negative habits/thoughts
You’re on a battered raft in an open sea. You haven’t eaten for days, and your water rations are running out. You don’t know your exact location, only that in the next week you’re likely to reach trafficked waters, where you may be rescued. How do you stay alive for that long? The lack of food and drink, physical exhaustion and the resistance of the sea will be major factors. But your thoughts and your mindset will be crucial if you are to manage to get there alive.
Does your circle of thoughts spin upwards or downwards? Do you see problems or challenges? Is the glass half full or half empty? … your inner dialogue is essential to how you face the day. You are not alone, but only you alone can change your perspective on things.
Not everything is 100% perfect – live with it!
It’s easy to start feeling inadequate when you’re bombarded daily with “the perfect life” in advertising, in ﬁlm and media and on social media. From what we see and experience, we create our own expectation of what we need to complete and achieve to live the right life. To be good enough.
But none of us is perfect! And none of the people we surround ourselves with are perfect either. Remind yourself every day that you are good enough. Write it down, maybe every day for a while. Practice using the phrase “never mind”, because there’s so much to be gained from those little words. When you say “never mind” to something, you not only acknowledge a problem, you also acknowledge that you can’t do anything about it and that you have moved on.
Think positively and don’t let the small stuﬀ get you down
It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This applies to many situations, also stress. But it takes a lot of straws to break a camel’s back. So, the more straws – the small stuﬀ – that you can learn to ignore and cast aside, the greater the chance you have of avoiding the back breaking. And coming down with stress. Small comments from others or incidents in the workplace, in your studies or at home can seem annoying and hit you harder than intended. Focus on your goal for each task or each project, and tell yourself that you won’t let the small stuﬀ ruin it. If you write down all the little things that aﬀect you on paper, they will be easier to relate to and won’t seem so overwhelming.
Enjoy all the things you have no control of anyway
There will always be things in your daily life that you have no control of. If you work in a large organisation or are studying at university, there will probably be decisions and frameworks that you won’t ever be able to inﬂuence. There will also be a physical environment and events in your life that you can’t manage and control. In modern life, we are used to having control of and managing an incredible number of things. So it can feel stressful when we suddenly come across things that we can’t do anything about. But they exist and will always be there throughout our lives.
So the way you approach these uncontrollable things is crucial to whether they aﬀect you negatively and add stress. If you can’t do anything about it, turn it into something positive, and enjoy it. If you faced a headwind on your bike on the way to class – be happy about the extra exercise it gave you. If a decision was made over the one you thought was better – be happy that others took responsibility. Perhaps you can learn something from things being done diﬀerently, whether the result is positive or negative.
You spend your Sunday at the local flea market and wander around looking at a strange mix of old antiques and useless objects. In the top drawer of an old dresser, behind forgotten keys, kitchen utensils and unused belongings, you find an old pocket watch. The watch has stopped. It hasn’t been wound up for decades, and when you open it, you can see that all the gears have rusted together. The otherwise delicate clockwork has become a worthless item due to a lack of care and attention.
Our body was designed for movement. All the muscles, tendons, fibres, bones and joints are created with one purpose – movement. The last centuries of inventions and advances have made it possible for man to stay alive a whole day without moving. But if we don’t keep our body in shape, it slowly decays and loses energy – and then we can no longer perform at the level we used to.
Physical exercise lifts your energy levels, your focus and your mood
You get what you give! This is true in many areas of life, and especially when it comes to physical exercise. The energy you put into your workout, you get back in the form of generally higher energy levels, increased desire and motivation, a clearer view of things, and you’ll see an improvement in your mood. Both immediately during and after exercise, in the form of the increased amount of endorphins (the body’s happiness hormone) that is released. And as you get ﬁtter, you increase your overall well-being, both physically and mentally. So your investment of time and eﬀort into training doesn’t just come back 1:1 – it provides a huge return with both interest and compound interest. Make sure you set aside time and space in your everyday schedule for exercise. Don’t feel guilty about having to steal your way to alone time to exercise – this is time that both you and your surroundings will enjoy.
A minimum of 30 minutes of physical exercise per day – every day!
If you’re not used to spending time on exercise, the 30 minutes per day may sound like a lot. But then think about the amount of time you spend on commuting, shopping, studying or working, as well as all the other daily chores. And not least, your daily screen time! If you steal ﬁve minutes from each of these activities, you’ll quickly have 30 minutes available. Physical exercise is great for counteracting stress and maintaining your body in general. And even though intensive training with a high heart rate several times a week is important, it doesn’t have to be every day. Physical activity can also be a walk, a table football game in the students’ café or half an hour with the kids on the trampoline.
Many people ﬁnd it motivating to log their exercise sessions, writing down their times and distances. This allows you to track your progress as you get ﬁtter.
Organise your work space so that you get proper ergonomics and variation throughout the day
As important as being physically active is in order to avoid stress and lifestyle diseases, it’s equally important to think about organising your space optimally when you’re not moving. You spend many hours a day sleeping, and probably know that feeling you get from sleeping in an uncomfortable bed, on a friend’s couch or in a car. Your workplace is every bit as important as your bed, and whether you work in an oﬃce, sit in lectures or work in a shop, you should consider how you organise your environment and how you strain your body on a daily basis.
A good chair and a modern, height-adjustable desk is a matter of course in many workplaces today, but in a study environment or a shop, it can be harder to inﬂuence your posture. So, think about how you sit or stand, and make sure you avoid too many unilateral and monotonous movements. Create variation throughout the day. Stand up, sit down, get up when you’re on the phone, take the stairs (every time), and if necessary do some stretch exercises for your neck, shoulders and arms during the day.
Eat healthy and nutritious food
The headlights sweep across the asphalt at high speed, and the noise is deafening. It’s been over 18 hours since the race started, and both drivers and equipment must withstand the high speeds and the enormous pressure for another 6 hours. During a race like the 24-hour Le Mans, it’s essential that engines and cars can withstand the heavy loads for a long period of time. The diff erence between success and failure is small, so every little detail counts. And unless every little part in the engine compartment is trimmed and maintained down to the last detail, the car is unlikely to last the distance.
Keep your engine and driver – your body and your brain – in the best possible shape, and make sure you use the right “oil” in the engine. This will better equip you to withstand the challenges of everyday life, and will ensure that you don’t end up in a ditch when the pressure is on.
Reduce your sugar intake to maintain stable energy levels throughout the day
Stable blood sugar levels are important for perform your best for a whole day – both physically and mentally. If you are stressed out, your blood sugar levels rise for a while, so that you can withstand the potential danger that your brain thinks you are facing. If you don’t eat healthily and regularly, your blood sugar levels will drop rapidly, at which point you risk compensating by eating and drinking unhealthily – because you need a quick sugar hit.
With a healthy diet and regular meals and snacks throughout the day, you can maintain stable blood sugar levels all day long. You’ll feel fresher for longer and will be able to do more – and you avoid the 3 pm sugar slump, when it’s all to easy to be tempted by chocolate and soft drinks.
Eat more omega-3 fatty acids – it’s a great mood booster
While omega-3 fatty acids prevent lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, thrombosis and diabetes, they’re also great for boosting your mood and reducing symptoms of depression. Omega-3 strengthens your memory and concentration.
Seafood and ﬁsh such as salmon, sardines, cod, crab and oysters are rich in omega-3, but if you’re not a fan of ﬁsh, you can also increase your intake by eating more avocados, spinach, broccoli, tofu and nuts. Flax, pumpkin and chia seeds are also good, and make sure you use olive and ﬂaxseed oil in cooking.
Avoid negative stimulants such as sugar and caﬀ eine
If you lead a stressful life, the likelihood that you’ll opt for one of more stimulants is high. When we’re under pressure, we are in a kind of survival mode, and it becomes hard for us to resist temptation. You’ve probably heard yourself saying: “I couldn’t half do with some chocolate right now!” or something along those lines. You’re under pressure and just need to get through it, and that’s when choosing the easy way becomes easiest. Unfortunately, most stimulants such as sugar, caﬀeine, nicotine, alcohol and medicine have the side eﬀect that they reduce and/or worsen your sleep. So you quickly enter a vicious circle, which only makes the stress worse.
When you feel extra tempted during busy periods of your life, help yourself to stay strong. For example, write it on your to-do list – “No sweets today” or “No coﬀee after 5 pm.”. Then it becomes a part of the day’s chores, and you can proudly give it a tick once the day is over.
Get enough (good) sleep
When it comes to sleep, we can learn a lot from looking at the animal world. Whether it’s the bear who goes into hibernation in the autumn, the lion who sleeps 20 hours a day, or the seal soaking up the sun on drifting ice. They all instinctively know how important sleep is to allow them to stay sharp when facing the challenges they have to face when awake. The bear would not be able to find food during the winter, the lion would not be able to catch the antelope, and the seal would be tired and inattentive and not survive long on the ice.
The only creature on earth who consciously forces itself not to sleep enough is us humans. Our consciousness enables us to ignore fatigue for extended periods. At worst, we get our bodies used to a constant state of sleep deprivation. It goes without saying that this impacts our performance, our stress levels and our happiness when we’re awake.
So take your sleep seriously – it makes it so much more fun to be awake.
Regular sleep patterns – preferably 8 hours every night
An adult human’s need for sleep varies from person to person, but is usually between 7-9 hours. This is the time the body needs to complete all the important stages of sleep and to rebuild the cells in muscles and organs. Too little sleep – and too little good sleep – aﬀects your daily life and can quickly become a vicious circle. If you tend to lie in bed thinking before you go to sleep, you would beneﬁt from writing down your worries 3-4 hours before you go to sleep. Make a list, so that you clear your head and are better prepared for a good night’s sleep.
Turn oﬀ all screens 1 hour before you go to sleep
Just as you need to warm up for physical training, the body and brain needs to slow down before going to sleep. To avoid stress – and to avoid aggravating stress – it’s important to prepare the body for sleep. Light decreases the brain’s production of the hormone melatonin, which is an important regulator of circadian rhythms and sleep. Just like natural light, the light from screens, such as those on mobile phones, tablets and televisions, inﬂuences melatonin production. Too much light means that the body and brain don’t get ready for sleep. Organise your chores to avoid screen light before going to sleep. Maybe spend some time reading a book – it takes your mind oﬀ any practicalities and sets the brain free. This helps you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm and helps warm you up for a good night’s sleep.
A calm and dark sleep environment increases the quality of your sleep
Working in a noisy environment with frequent disturbances can be annoying and stressful. The quality of your work drops if you don’t get the quiet you need to immerse yourself and concentrate. At worst, you won’t do your job well. The same applies when you – that is your body and your brain – need to recuperate. When you go to sleep. Poor sleep may be a sign of stress, but it can also be stressful to your body in itself. You miss out on important rest and recovery. The production of melatonin, which controls sleep and circadian rhythms, only happens in the dark. Watching TV, working and the like in the same room that you need to recuperate and sleep in is a bad idea. Make sure your sleeping environment is cosy, quiet and dark. This gives you the best conditions for facing tomorrow with a strong and well-rested mind.
Knowing what was the actual reason why you slept well can be diﬃcult to remember. Write down your advice for yourself in a tracker/form – it can be a great tool for making yourself aware of what is good for you.