Small changes can go a long way in soothing stress. Here's what Angela learned from 10 days of trying out new, calming routines.

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Stress has this habit of creeping into our lives. The length it stays and the impact it has varies, and depends on whatever it is we’re dealing with at the time. I don’t know about you, but occasionally I reach a point when the best thing for me to do is to stay still and refresh.

Like a lot of people, I pride myself in knowing what’s good for me, but sometimes we get carried away with the hustle and bustle of life, and it all becomes a little bit too much. Recently, I decided to put words into action, and ideas into play – I set up a morning and evening routine and tried my hardest to stick to them. The results? Amazing.

Disclaimer: I am not a health professional, so what you’re about to read is the personal account of someone who’s just trying to listen to her body, heart and mind… and at times struggles with motivation!

Wake up and stay still

Each morning during this process of what I like to call ‘How To Achieve Calm In 10 Days’, I made a conscious effort to take five minutes after waking up to lie still, be aware, and be with my thoughts. I’m not going to lie – the first couple of days were tough, because my first thoughts were either, “Oh no, I’m falling back to sleep” or, “I wonder what that burger meant in my dream”. Eventually though, I got the hang of it and just focussed on my breathing.

This little change in routine made such a difference and I found that once I actually got out of bed, I was just that little bit more ready to tackle the day.

Get off social media and into books

As a writer, I have a natural love for reading. I find that transporting yourself into someone else’s world for a brief moment in time is one of the best ways to escape reality and activate the imagination. Unfortunately, I’ve become victim to the endless scrolling of a digital screen.

But really, cutting back on screen time is simple. Set yourself a time during which your phone is on lock down. The new iPhone update actually has a feature called Screen Time, which helps with limiting time on the phone and social media. From 9pm until 12pm the next day, I have no access to any form of social media on my phone, which has helped me get back into reading. It’s such a little switch in my day, but it’s given me back an activity that’s important to me.

Look at exercise as a way to reflect

I enjoy exercise – I love the high you can get from knowing you just did something to challenge yourself. A mixture of aerobics and strength training is my go-to. Despite this, I knew that I was in desperate need of something that didn’t require burpees or squats. I was craving something that asked for one move only – running or walking.

I began by telling myself that I would take time after work to unwind, no matter how busy or tired I was. I’m lucky enough to live five minutes from the ocean, so after work, I gave myself two options to get myself moving – a headland/beach walk or jump on the treadmill. I’m not a fan of running (and I doubt it’s a fan of me) but I’ve recently gotten back into it. And I can’t believe I’m saying this – I’ve actually enjoyed it!

Physical activity at whatever level is such a great way to refocus our minds and redirect our thoughts towards things we may have been neglecting or avoiding. Going for an afternoon walk or run not only allowed me to unwind from the day’s work, but also helped me transition my thoughts from deadlines back to my personal life.

Say your thanks

At the end of each day, before falling asleep, I made it a point to be grateful. In general, I think gratitude is one of the best and most important things we can have and do in life. Whether it’s being thankful that you didn’t miss your bus or train like you thought you would, or being thankful because you lived another day – whatever it is, say your thanks. It makes a world of difference in how you continue to approach life.

The verdict: 10 days on

I chose to take on this self-inflicted challenge because I felt like I really needed to do something to refresh. When life gets overwhelming, we need to start our journey back to serenity from within ourselves. It’s easy to say it’s what’s on the outside that affects us, but the more I think about it and the more I learn, I realise it’s about perspective. Yes, what’s happening around us can have a strong impact on us, but the power is in how we deal with life from the inside.

That’s when the magic and calm happens. Give these a go – I promise it won’t do you any harm.

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