How to reclaim time and reduce stress levels effectively

By Dr Jenny Brockis.

The problem with the perception of time poverty and stress is that the two go hand in hand. As the feeling of time pressure rises, so does our experience of feeling stressed.

While we benefit from some stress to lift our game and boost performance, feeling short of time reduces our capacity to manage our stress effectively, leading to mental fatigue, emotional lability and black-and-white thinking.

Why do we feel so rushed?

We’re living faster, thinking faster and cramming more into our daily routines. It’s not that we have any less time than before, but we’re spending way more time ‘doing’. We fill every spare nook and cranny of time available to us with the stuff we feel we must do, along with all those not-so-hidden extras of updating our social media, tweeting and texting, while drowning in a sea of incoming email.

Our wonderful new technologies, designed to save us time, have morphed into gadgets we can no longer function without, and keep us tied to a hyper-stimulated world that is always ‘on’.

Can you reclaim time?

Time poverty is merely a perception, because, despite the loud protestations of ‘not having enough’, we still all have access to the same 24 hours, 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds every day. The problem is we created this illusion of time poverty because we forgot that we weren’t designed to operate at full speed 24/7.

By changing your perception of how fast time is passing, you can quickly reduce stress levels and restore a sense of calm. This allows your mind to relax and function at a higher level.

Block your day

Your brain evolved to apply your focus in short bursts. This was extremely useful when, as hunter-gatherers, we needed to pay attention to where we might find food, shelter or a mate, and to keep out of danger. But heavy workloads have led to the assumption that everything on our to-do list is urgent and requires our full attention immediately, elevating stress levels that never get a chance to switch off.

It’s far better to prioritise the top three items that simply must be done no matter what else happens on the planet today, and block the day into chunks of 25 to 90 minutes that you believe is sufficient to complete these, and only these, tasks. This done, you feel rewarded and your brain enjoys a nice dopamine surge, motivating you to continue with some other work that is now approached in a calmer, less-stressed manner.

Unplug from the grid

While the idea of managing without your mobile, tablet or laptop might put you close to a state of panic, research from Townsville’s James Cook University suggests that while our technology makes our brains operate faster, it also adds to the perception of time having passed more quickly.

Enjoying a higher processing speed may be regarded as an advantage, but if this is adding to your stress levels, take a technology break and unplug from the grid, even for 15 minutes. It’s time well spent to boost focus and provide a reality check on just how much time has really passed.

Other studies have shown how periodically disconnecting from technology helps reduce stress levels, lowers blood pressure, enhances wellbeing and leads to higher performance.

Take time out to still your mind

With all this time pressure, it can be hard to find the time to think. The most important appointment of each day is the one you book to still your mind.

Whether you are the CEO, manager, team leader or employee, pressing pause and taking 15-30 minutes to reflect gives you the space required to lower stress, gain clarity of thought and regain a sense of having enough time.

Your choice of thinking space is the one that suits you best. This may be behind a closed door and a do-not disturb sign, outdoors for a run, a spot for listening to music or undertaking a meditative practice, or another location equally conducive to reflection.

Reclaiming time feels liberating and empowering. Less stress contributes to better thinking and greater brain health, giving you the energy and vitality to power through your day and enjoy your brain’s full potential.

Dr Jenny Brockis is the Brain Fitness Doctor and author of Future Brain: The 12 Keys to Create Your High-Performance Brain (Wiley), available online and at all good bookstores. Visit www.drjennybrockis.com

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