Even though I was getting eight hours of sleep, I still felt tired.

A blood test ruled out an iron deficiency and thankfully there were no signs of a life-threatening disease. It was only when my doctor asked if I was under stress that the lightbulb went on.

Often, the simple explanation is the best one. And I hadn’t realized just how much pressure I was putting on myself to do all the projects I’d taken on, spend quality time with my family, keep the laundry under control, try to exercise, etc. And my perfectionist tendencies and eagerness to take on new things only made things worse.

It was like a low-grade fever that’s not enough to stop you, but still drains your energy without your realizing it.

That was years ago, but the same tired feeling is back. This time, the reasons are more obvious.

With the added stress of COVID, US elections, Brexit, the global economy just to name a few, there’s plenty of worries to go around.

So, if you’re feeling tired, stressed and a little overwhelmed, you are not alone

The question is what can you do to break the tension of the constant low-grade stress?

What I’ve found works well is to find moments of love and laughter. I’ve been amazed at how quickly these can defuse the stress and get me back to a calmer state where I can feel good about things again.

Sprinkle them throughout your days and weeks and you’ll be much better equipped to handle what comes your way.

Here are three ways to go about it:

  • Acts of kindness
  • Positive people
  • Physical activity

Let’s start with the first.

Engage in acts of kindness

There’s nothing like human connection to break the tension and remind us of who we are when we’re at our best. And doing something kind for someone else takes the focus off of your own situation and helps you feel good about yourself.

For example, I’ve made it a point to call friends who live alone. In this era of social distancing and periods of lockdown, the feeling of isolation is most acute for people who live alone. And if you can meet up for a coffee, even better.

And here are some other ways to show kindness if you need some inspiration:

  • Send a care package. When I was away from home for the first time in summer camp, my parents sent care packages with my favorite snacks every couple of weeks. It was such a happy memory to receive something in the mail from people who care about me. Even now, I still love getting packages. You’re never too old to enjoy a care package!
  • Write a letter. If a package seems “over the top”, a handwritten letter sent by good old “snail mail” can bring just as much joy to the receiver. Let them know what you appreciate about them and why you’re grateful to have them in your life.
  • Offer to help. If you know they have a project they’re pursuing, see how you could help them make it a reality.
  • Find a way to say “yes”. If they ask you for a favor, see if there’s a way you can say yes that makes it a win/win for both of you.

Which brings us to the second strategy.

Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself

When there’s low-grade stress in your life, it’s all too easy to fall into negative self-talk and the downward spiral that sets you up for. And when you’re feeling tired, it’s harder to think well. It’s also easier to get pulled down by people who are cynical or negative.

That’s why it’s so important to spend time with the right people. Those who lift you up and remind you of what you’re like at your best.

For me, it’s my immediate family and my team. Since we’re separated by as many as eight time zones, we make the most of our virtual visits on Zoom and our family WhatsApp group. And in our team Slack, we have a special #random channel for posting happy, funny or inspiring things from outside of work.

For you, whether it’s friends, family members or colleagues, the key is to identify the subset who make you feel good and spend as much time with them as you can.

This is especially true for people who can help you laugh out loud. Laughter is a great stress buster. Like the time I was worried about an issue at work and my husband cracked a joke that made me burst into laughter, which is all it took to get back to a constructive mindset.

It could even be someone you don’t know who helps you feel good about yourself. For example, a comedian who makes you laugh, a TEDTalk that inspires you, or a writer who helps you with your mental game.

The key is to hang around with positive people, whether in person or virtually. And funny videos are great too.

And this takes us to the third strategy.

Do something physical

Our bodies aren’t designed to sit at a desk all day and stare at computer screens. Yet that’s what most of us do, even more so when we’re working from home.

The thing is, the “sit and stare” mode can be hypnotic. I don’t even realize I’ve been working at my computer for hours until I look out the window and see that it’s dark outside. And that’s also when I feel the tension in my shoulders from hunching over the keyboard.

Clearly all of this is only adding to the low-grade stress in my life. Maybe the same is happening to you?

To combat this stress, it’s important to build in breaks where you can do something physical.

Whether it’s a full-fledged workout, doing some calisthenics or simply taking a walk, physical activity releases “feel good” brain chemicals. And this will help you be more productive when you do go back to your desk and be a better person with the people you care about.

In my case, since we’re in lockdown for the next few weeks and all gyms are closed, I’ve joined a virtual program that my local CrossFit gym is sponsoring.

I signed up for the Handstand Push Up program, which required that we video our first attempt and post it to our WhatsApp group to establish a baseline. Afraid to attempt a “kipping handstand push up” (that’s when you go from a headstand to a handstand by bending your knees, then kicking up and straightening your arms at the same time), I got my husband to come “spot” me for moral support.

The result was hilarious because my attempt was a complete failure and I couldn’t stop laughing! Not only did combining physical activity with laughter feel great, it reset my nervous system and the rest of my day was more fun. And the video generated a huge amount of camaraderie from my fellow gym members when they saw it.

This is how to do a kipping handstand push-up…
And this was my first ever attempt at it…

Don’t let it bring you down

Since every day is pretty much the same when you’re working from home, it’s up to each of us to build in breaks to renew your energy and get inspired again. And these three strategies can help you find those much-needed moments of love and laughter:

  • Engage in acts of kindness – who could you reach out to and help today?
  • Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself – which people put you in a positive state and how can you spend more time with them whether in person or virtually?
  • Do something physical – when can you carve out even a few minutes to step away from your desk (or couch!), move your body and release some of those “feel good” brain chemicals?

Even though there’s more than enough stress and uncertainty to go around, you owe it to yourself to get in an inspired state as often as you can.

Which of these ways will most help you deal with the stress and break the tension that’s hidden all around us? 

Leave a comment – I’d love to know!