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All any of us really want is to live a stress free life. But the question is – how can we achieve this? While there will always be things beyond our control, as humans, we have to learn to stop self-sabotaging. So many of our daily stresses are caused by our own toxic behaviours learned over a lifetime of watching others make the same mistakes. It’s crazy the unlearning we have to do as we go through life. Trying to re-educate ourselves about the things society has taught us. Everything from relationships and friendships, to setting boundaries and co-dependence, to our relationships with food and exercise. So many of the habits we pick up as we grow are actually poisonous for our mental health.

This is nobody’s fault, so don’t go blaming the people who raised you. After all, they’re just as caught up in it as you are. We’re all in the midst of the process of unlearning and changing behaviours. It’s a minefield and just as you think you’ve got a handle on one problem, often another will pop up to remind you how imperfect you are. But if anything, that’s one of the things I find most beautiful about humankind – we are all a work in progress. As long as we are willing to do the work, there is always a hope that we will reach the next level of happiness and consciousness.

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girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

How will this give me a stress free life?

Just stop, take a second to clear your mind and empty your thoughts. Now try and maintain that for 10 minutes. Just see how many times your mind starts to drift and think about things again. Now add into that all the hours you spend daily overthinking, worrying, obsessing, feeling guilty, feeling like you’re not doing enough, regretting, questioning… This constant buzz of noise and stress is going on in your mind every second of every day. Exhausting right? Think of it like a radio that’s blaring out static at top volume all day long while you’re trying to go about your day. Imagine if I told you all that noise could be reduced to a light hum – and it all depends on you.

Think about how much happier, calmer and more in control you would feel without all that noise. You would be free to listen to something else, to focus on other things and to finally be your best self. Imagine all that you could achieve if you didn’t have that constant buzz ringing in your ears. Clear thoughts = happy mind and stress free life. Want to know how you can achieve this? Read on…

Why come to terms with our toxic traits?

The truth is, you don’t have to do this. You can go through your whole life lacking in self-awareness – many people do. But the problem is that when we have toxic traits, we tend to keep attracting toxic people and toxic situations into our lives. For example – many people will have various toxic relationships, whether they are co-dependent, controlling or even abusive. Of course it is never acceptable for someone to be abusive towards you. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from my own experiences of domestic violence. It’s that we may without even realising have toxic traits that brought us into contact with an abusive person in the first place.

One thing I really learned from my previous relationships was that my always seeing the best in people and trying to fix everything, is actually toxic. It’s a trait that means I often ignore red flags and forget to set boundaries and stick to them. If you’re someone who often feels stressed or lacking control of their life. It’s possible that your reactions to situations are sabotaging you. Dealing with them head on by identifying and changing your behaviours could be the key to a stress free life.

girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

Which toxic traits should we look out for?

Taking on everyone’s problems and trying to “fix people”

This is a huge one that so many of us are guilty of, including myself. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, it just means that you’re willing to invest too much of yourself into someone who doesn’t want to change. The big problem with this? Often you lose yourself in the process and don’t realise until too late that you can’t change them. I’m a big believer in the cup idea – that you need to make sure all your own needs are met and that your cup is full, before you can take care of anyone else. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries – it doesn’t mean you will lose people. If you do, it’s because they were gaining something from you when you didn’t have boundaries. This is not the kind of friendship or relationship you want for a stress free life.

How to apply to your life:

  • If you have someone in your life who is a constant crisis or drama, you need to question whether they add anything to your life.
  • Always remember – you do not exist to fix the problems of others. Just like they do not exist to fix your problems.
  • Focus on you, so when someone comes along, they are a nice addition to your life but your life is not dependent on them.
  • Read: Addicted to Helping: Why We Need to Stop Trying to Fix People

Living vicariously through others instead of focusing on you

Do you feel like you’re constantly waiting for your life to start? That you’re waiting for the day you can start living your best life? Perhaps you tell yourself that you can start having fun when you lose X amount of weight, or find a boyfriend, or earn X amount of money. Well the truth is, that day will never come – if you constantly wait to start living, you will always find an excuse not to get started, Living vicariously through the lives of your favourite Instagrammer or always wishing you were that gal in the movie is no way to live. Instead of always looking to others to see how much of a great life they lead. Realise that what is portrayed on social media is a tiny, and very curated peek into the life of another. It is not the full picture and while it’s great to find inspiration in others, it shouldn’t be a replacement for you living your own best life.

How to apply to your life:

  • Cut down your social media. Are your feeds bringing you joy, or jealousy and negativity? Curate your feed so it inspires you.
  • Make a list of things you have always wanted to do but put off until…. , then make notes of how you could achieve your goals.
  • Focus on yourself – ignore the rest of the world, get your head down and work towards making them a reality.

Not trusting your gut instincts

This is one that can have the most dangerous impact on our mental health and our future. We are so constantly bombarded by the media and society ideas that we need to be in a relationship to be happy. Or that we need to have children to complete us. Even that we need to be skinny in order to be a decent human being – that our worth is decided by our weight and appearance. No wonder we’re so messed up and confused – no wonder it’s so hard to have a stress free life. But somewhere in all of this is that little voice in the back of our head just screaming to be heard. We need to learn to strip back the noise, to connect with ourselves more and to trust our gut instincts in order to live a stress free life and avoid bad situations.

How to apply to your life:

  • Don’t rush important decisions and don’t let other voices cloud your own judgement. Trust yourself to make the right choice for you.
  • Meditate – practicing meditation is basically the art of clearing your mind of noise and connecting to yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no if something is niggling in the back of your mind. You don’t have to explain your choice. You owe nothing to anyone.

Not accepting who you truly are

Do you like yourself? Be honest. Can say you really like the person you are, without attaching anything to it? – “but i wish I had longer legs” or “but I wish I had a better job” or “but I wish I was more like…”. If the answer is no – then you have more work to do. That isn’t a bad thing – we’re all a work in progress and we’re all at different stages. It’s a growth process and for some it’s slower than others, some never even get there. But the first step towards growth is realising where you’re going wrong and what you need to work on. The next step, is implementing this in your daily life with small changes that make a big difference if you are consistent. If you want a stress free life, this is an important stage of reaching that goal.

How to apply to your life:

  • Make a list of all the things you love about yourself. Read them aloud to the mirror. Pin the list up where you will see it daily.
  • Become your own best friend. Change the way you speak to yourself. Is your inner monologue kind? Or are you harsh and unforgiving?
  • Use tools like saying daily mantras each morning and practicing gratitude – each night list 3-5 things you are grateful for.
  • Read: Psychology Today – The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance

girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

Letting the emotional and physical clutter build up

You know how you feel so much more angsty when your home is a mess and your life is crazy busy? Well, letting this clutter build up can have a dramatic effect on your mental health – whether it’s emotional or physical. I’m definitely someone who hates having a messy home or space – I have to have a huge clear out and I like to live as minimally as possible. It makes a big difference to make your home a place you enjoy being, a place where you can truly relax and unwind. Piles of dirty laundry, dust and washing up are not conducive to a relaxing environment. So invest in your space by sparing time to clean and clear it, even the process is soothing for your mind. Much like with physical clutter, it can be easy to let emotional clutter build up if we don’t spare the time to deal with our emotions. This can cause stress and anxiety, and can really affect our day to day life.

How to apply to your life:

  • Have a Marie Kondo-style clear out. Make a pile of stuff to take to the charity shops or sell on eBay. Make it a space you love, that calms you.
  • Ask yourself daily, how do you feel? Be honest – are you stressed? Overworked? Tired? Take the time to deal with those emotions.
  • Make a list and ask yourself how they can be turned into a positive. What steps can you take to help rid yourself of this emotional build-up?

Not eating well, drinking enough water or sleeping enough

Always remember that you are no different to a dog – you need to be fed, watered and get enough sleep in order to be happy. And a daily walk certainly helps to keep your mental health in good order. It’s crazy how easy it is to forget these basic things when we’re stressed or overwhelmed. I know that food is always the first thing to go for me – if I’m stressed out I just forget to eat. Then that in turn affects my sleep and undoes all my good practices.

How to apply to your life:

  • Set yourself a target to drink 2l of water daily.
  • Aim to get 8 hours of sleep each day – if you’re not hitting this, rearrange your bedtime/wake-up time. Track sleep with a Fitbit or sleep apps.
  • Assess your diet – too much sugar or drinking too much coffee? Focus on fruits and veggies, eating a balanced diet and pre-prep meals.

Allowing toxic people to remain in your life

We’ve all done this at one time or another – some of us repeatedly allow these people into our lives. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a one-time or repeat offender, the goal is the same. If you want to live a stress free life, you need to get comfortable setting boundaries and cutting people out if they are not adding to your life.

How to apply to your life:

  • People change and people grow – your growth might spark toxicity in others. Sometimes people just grow apart and it’s okay to cut contact.
  • Toxic people will always cling to any attention you give them. You need to cut them out and no longer give them the space to affect your life.
  • Always remember – choose 2 solid friends who add to your stress free life over 10 who damage your mental health and bring drama.
  • Read: 3 Signs a Toxic Person Is Manipulating You (and What to Do About It)

girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

Not realising when to set boundaries

Boundaries are vital to a stress free life and they’re something that I’ve learned a lot about in the last few years. Sadly with both friends and partners, I’ve found that I’ve had to assert my own need for space from their toxicity by cutting them out of my life. The truth is, some people are just poisonous because they cannot reach a level of self-awareness where they can see the damage they are doing to themselves and others. These are the people who will never grow and these are the ones you cannot change. The change has to come from within you, and you need to be the one to set the boundary otherwise they will take and take until you have nothing left.

How to apply to your life:

  • Ask yourself what the person is bringing to your life – joy and happiness? Or stress and anxiety? Is this a one-off situation or constant?
  • If it’s the latter – this is a toxic person. Try to explain the situation to them and say you need to cut contact for a while.
  • If the person is unpredictable or even violent, cut them off completely. If you can’t cut them off – try reducing contact to a minimum.
  • Read: 10 Way to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries – Psych Central

Holding on to grudges and anger

It might be that boyfriend who cheated, or it might be a “friend” who pinched your style or an idea for work. It could be over something big or small – but for some reason that anger remains as fresh today as it was when the incident happened. Holding on to grudges and anger is sometimes just human nature – but it can have an unhealthy effect on us and turn us into bitter, negative people. Yes it’s okay to be angry if someone takes advantage or hurts you in some way. But feel it in the moment, and then try your best to deal with the emotions so that you can let go of your anger. Holding grudges affects no-one but you. All the energy you pour into being mad, is energy you waste that could be spent on living your stress free life and exploring your own creativity. It’s entirely possible to cut people off and move on, without holding a grudge.

How to apply to your life:

  • Express your anger in the heat of the moment, or meet after to explain calmly. No contact? Write a letter – you don’t have to post it!
  • Feel your feelings – don’t bottle them up. Cry, scream into a pillow, rant – do whatever you need to do.
  • Take control and know you don’t owe that person an explanation or even forgiveness. Move on and be happy – it’s the best form of payback.

Placing moralities on food, exercise or work ethic

This one is rife in our society. I hear it daily – people saying that they’re being “good” and exercising, or that they better be good and not eat cake. Much the same as the word “productivity” – these words are splashed around to make us place morals on simple things in life. We equate eating treats, not exercising and taking a break with morally wrong decisions. While eating salad, exercising all the time and working too hard is considered the pinnacle of what it means to be “good” It’s why so many of us struggle to take time off and relax. We have anxiety at the thought of slowing down and just “being” because we’ve always been told that “to do” is morally good.

How to apply to your life:

  • Change your language – you’ll be surprised how powerful this tool can be. Focus on finding balance instead of following the crowd.
  • Take time each day to stop and just “be”. Whether this is meditation or quiet time – just focus on slowing down and living that stress free life.
  • Take the time to stop others who make the same mistake and explain this to them – help change their way of thinking.
  • Read: Clean eating and dirty burgers: how food became a matter of morals

Settling for less than you deserve

A lot of the time this is caused by lacking in self-worth and because a person doesn’t accept who they truly are. If you want to live a stress free life, you need to learn to set boundaries and to realise your own value. Whether this is in your family, at work, in a relationship or a friendship group. If you cannot see your value, why should anyone else? It all starts with you – when you start asking for more, you start getting more. If you always settle back into old patterns, if you always lack in self-confidence or don’t feel happy in your life, you will never reach the next level. So many settle for less because they are afraid to be alone with themselves – but this is where the real work begins. Don’t shy away from it.

How to apply to your life:

  • Read a book called The Secret – it’s all about the power of manifesting your future and it will change the way you look at the world.
  • Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. Choosing yourself over others is the ultimate in self-worth and valuing yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to turn down friendships and relationships. By ridding yourself of the crap, you make space for new things in your life.

girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

Always focusing on what your life is missing

Perhaps you don’t have the flash car, or the high paying job, or the fancy house. Do you notice how a lot of the time when we look at what our lives are missing we focus on material possessions? This is the product of living in a capitalist society where we are constantly bombarded with ideas that we need to buy things to be happy and live a stress free life. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Buying that new top or that new mascara might bring you an instant buzz of excitement and happiness – but how long does that last? Instead of looking at what your life is missing. Focus on what you have and how lucky you truly are. Stop aiming for material goals and instead invest your money and your time into experiences and people who bring joy into your life.

How to apply to your life:

  • Make a list of what your life is missing – then ask yourself why you really think you need these things in your life.
  • Now make a list of all that you have in your life – let those positives cancel out the negatives.
  • Stop buying unnecessary stuff. Start spending your money on experiences with loved ones and see how your mental health improves.

Focusing on the negatives and complaining all the time

It can be so easy to see the negative in every situation. But honestly? Everyone gets sick of people who complain all the time – including the people complaining! You’re not helping yourself to live a stress free life and you’re driving people away. If you always look for the negatives, it is all you will see. Instead, change your perceptions of your reality, and you will change your reality. Focus on the good, kind and wonderful people in this world. Focus on spreading joy and light, and it will be returned to you. If all you put out is negativity, that is all you will get in return.

How to apply to your life:

  • Catch yourself when you have a negative thought & correct it with a positive one. The more you do this, the more it will become second nature.
  • Each time you go to complain or spread negativity, pinch yourself. It’s entirely possible to train yourself out of negative patterns.
  • Compliment people – set a challenge to compliment 5 strangers. See how lovely it is to spread a smile and you will want to continue.

Obsessing over every possible outcome

Imagine if all the time you spent worrying and imagining all the ways things could go wrong, you suddenly had free. What could you achieve? What would you have time for? The possibilities are endless. It can be all too easy to get caught up in anxious thoughts and stresses instead of aiming for that stress free life. But the less you allow yourself to get caught up in these spirals, the more time you have free to invest in yourself and your future.

How to apply to your life:

  • When you feel yourself starting to obsess, block thoughts with physical activity. Go for a run, do a HIIT class – exhaust yourself and your brain.
  • Learn to meditate and start to clear your mind. Take control of your brain and focus on the NOW.
  • Each time you start to think “What if?” Say out loud to yourself, “What if I just get on with it and stop worrying?”

Letting worries over the way you look dominate your thoughts

No-one is perfect. Everyone has flaws and it’s those flaws that make us unique and beautiful in our own way. Have you ever noticed how even someone who is less attractive physically can be absolutely magnetic? It comes down to their confidence and happiness. Instead of getting lost in their own self-destructive thoughts of what is wrong with their appearance. They focus on what they love about themselves and truly accepting who they are. They radiate positivity and love, and the joy shines out of their face like sunbeams – as Roald Dahl would say. Living a stress free life is often just about acceptance of what you can’t change and this is key here.

How to apply to your life:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. Make sure the media you consume represents a range of body types/colours/sizes to balance your thoughts.
  • Whenever you start having a negative thought about your body, replace it with three positive things you love about the way you look.
  • Start investing that time into building friendships, or your career, or relationship – see the difference it makes to the way you feel about yourself.

girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

Not knowing when to slow down

This used to be one of my worst habits and was a really hard one to break. I’m still working on it, but forcing myself to slow down was one of the best things I ever did. We live in a very work/money drive society but often this attitude towards work and being “busy” all the time impacts our mental health. Stepping back towards a stress free life means slowing down and really taking time for yourself. As I mentioned before, we humans need balance and it’s not feasible to be working every hour of every day. This is how you end up burning out and crashing. This is why a lot of people suffer breakdowns, because they simply push themselves too hard. If you want to lower your stress levels, slowing down and cutting back might be an important part of this.

How to apply to your life:

  • Look at your working hours/extracurriculars – do you still have time to relax around these or are you constantly busy? Cutting back is okay.
  • If you’re being overworked, speak with your manager and explain the situation. Either look to spread the workload or cut back your hours.
  • Don’t forget to look at your exercise/lifestyle as well. If you’re working out or partying too much, this could suggest underlying issues.

Forgetting the present moment is all we have

I’ve been reading The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, and it is the perfect book for centring you and making you realise what is important. So many of our stresses and worries come from forgetting the present moment and living either in the past or future. Instead of being angry at what happened or worrying about what might be – we need to get back to the present moment. Focusing on the here and now means tackling any problems is much more achievable and we are more likely to do it. How are we feeling? Are we thirsty? Okay so we get a drink. Are we tired? Okay so we sleep. Staying present reverts us to following our instincts and focusing inward.

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How to apply to your life:

  • Start doing daily meditation practices – these help bring you back to the present moment and the more you practice, the easier it is!
  • Try yoga – if meditation doesn’t work for you, try a yoga class or video and focus on your breath. It has the same effect.
  • Always take a second to breathe before reacting & realise all we have control over is our own reactions. Pause & consider before you react.

Feeding your own insecurities

We humans love to revel in misery and to spiral in insecurity. But the truth is, you have complete control over this process. You know when you have a bad break up and you sit on the sofa and cry, eat junk food and cut yourself off from people? Well allowing yourself to behave like this long-term is just feeding this negative mindset that you cannot cope without the person. Forcing yourself to get up, go to the gym, eat well and do things that make you feel good – this fills you with positivity that allows you to get over a person faster. But we don’t always do what is good for us, or what will give us a stress free life. Whether your insecurity is over infidelity, over your big bum, over your lack of qualifications… Stop feeding this insecurities by telling yourself lies and negativity.

How to apply to your life:

  • Don’t expose yourself to people who feed or inspire these insecurities – whether in real life or in the media/social media.
  • When you feel this way, stop yourself. Identify the thought and replace it with a positive thought.
  • Don’t engage in behaviours that encourage insecurity – eg. don’t check his phone, don’t weigh yourself

Caring about what other people think

We’re all social beings and it’s natural to care what other people think – but it’s important to not let this take over. Also, it’s vital that you ask yourself whether you are caring about what the right people think about your choices. Not everyone’s opinions on your life are valid and many can be harmful. If you value people for their experience and they are respectful at sharing them with you – it can be great to care what these people think. However, if you care just because these people are “popular” or “cool” then you really need to assess whether you care for the right reasons. If you want a stress free life, these people may no longer be welcome in your life.

How to apply to your life:

  • When people share their opinion on your decisions, ask yourself – what is motivating them to comment? Is it constructive, or toxic judgement?
  • If you choose not to do something, ask yourself – is this your choice or were you influenced by what others think?
  • Remind yourself that everyone loves to give an opinion, but often people know nothing about your situation/choices.

girl on beach in Mexico, stress free life

Living in the past instead of planning for the future

While we should always focus on the present moment, that doesn’t stop us from setting goals for the future that we can action today. But the problem is that so many of us are living in the past worries and stresses that we can’t look forwards. If you’re struggling to imagine your future, perhaps you are spending too much time in the past. Sometimes we just have to step back from our thoughts and get some perspective. Why worry about things that have already happened when you could invest that time and energy in you?

How to apply to your life:

  • Make a list of short-term and long-term goals – then add steps of how you can achieve them.
  • If you start to obsess over the past, acknowledge it and ask yourself the value of that thought to your future.
  • Everyone has a past, but those who build bright futures are those who leave the past behind them.

Which toxic traits are you tackling? Which of these are you most guilty of? How have you tackled your own toxic habits to help change your future?

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Comments:

  • hayley-eszti

    July 15, 2014

    Thank you for sharing this, I needed this today!

    reply...
  • Becky

    July 20, 2014

    I relate to this so much, having graduated two years ago and being stuck in a boring admin job makes it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. I’ve started taking some more time to myself which has helped, a couple of minutes to myself while drinking a mug of peppermint tea does wonders.

    reply...
  • July 21, 2014

    I plan to stay where I am for at least a year while I figure things out, rather than rushing into something which could potentially be worse. This growing up malarkey isn’t as fun as we thought it would be 😉

    reply...
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    July 1, 2016
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