5 proven habits to overcome stress

Stress is what provokes the leading causes of death. In effect, stress is the #1 killer that’s threatening to ruin us. “According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.”

The way we overcome stress is by managing it effectively and creating habits that enable us to live a productive, stress-free life. Habits take time, but you can always begin to implement them today. Expecting a masterpiece in only a few hours won’t cut it. Habits take discipline and focus.

Many of us are living with stress, anxiety, fear, and insecurity about what will come next in our lives. Some of us get so used to it, we may not even realize it. So we start to worry. And when we worry, we either do not commit to action, or we begin to internalize stress, which manifests itself in anxiety. When we do make a move, it’s rushed and feels forced. It feels like we’re not really ourselves. We hurry.

We lose.

As a bestselling author of books on emotional intelligence and values, I know how important it is that we master the habits and routines that we perform every day. It’s critical for us to become great planners! Once we do, we become more efficient. We get quicker. Then, we don’t need to hurry.

The reality that we need to wake up to is that intelligent, diligent, and focused habits are the saving grace for us to live a productive, happy, and healthy life. The more prepared you are for each day, the more productive you will be. No magic pill. While a positive, industrious mindset will help you, you’re so much better prepared when you create habits.

Here are five proven habits to overcome stress.

1. Great habits are born from planning

Psychologist Robert Epstein explains that planning is our best weapon for managing stress:

“Fighting stress before it even starts, planning things rather than letting them happen, that means planning your day, your year and your life so that stress is minimized.”

Epstein’s survey was also able to track stress management with participants’ overall levels of happiness. “The association was very strong,” says Epstein, “suggesting that nearly 25% of our happiness is related to our ability to manage stress.” Source: Time Magazine

Planning isn’t sexy. Let’s get that out of the way. It’s not going to give you results now. So as a result, many people don’t do it. Instant-gratification thinking clashes with the real world. It’s a lie. Results often come many steps after the first step that we’ve taken.

It’s only when we begin to plan and exercise patience, and couple that with the experience of living — that we understand this. It’s much harder in life to go off memory alone and achieve big results. Planning gives us the confidence that we need, it helps us prioritize and engenders an affirmative feeling of positivity that we are well organized and structured.

Once you start doing this, you’ll realize that multi-tasking only makes things worse.

2. Root-cause analysis

If stress is the cause of our productivity downfall, then a basic root-cause analysis will be helpful. By understanding why we’re stressed we’re better able to conquer any worries, fears, and obstacles that surround it. This is precisely what clinical psychologist, Susan Heitler believes.

“ My #1 technique for dissipating stress is to solve the problem that is producing the stress. Unlike most stress-reduction methods, solving the problem removes stress at its roots. Problem-solving usually has three steps:

1. Face it

2. Clarify your specific concerns

3. Create a plan of action”

Confront your reality. Get clear about what’s concerning you.

3. Become immersed in your deep work

“The first step is to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention, with skill rather than inertia.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

We’re best when we focus on one thing at a time, in short, powerful bursts of concentrated, focused work. When you’re in flow, you feel as if time has stopped. Everything else (like stress!) doesn’t matter anymore. This allows our brain to do less “busy” work like worrying, fretting, and expending emotional energy and helps us hone-in on what’s most important.

Deep focus and concentration help us to visualize and do the work we want to accomplish. By quieting your mind and fully immersing yourself in a situation, you are able to increase motivation and leave stress behind.

4. Future retrospection

Take this from Danny Southwick, a researcher for the High-Performance Institute, and University of Pennsylvania research assistant for Grit author, Angela Duckworth:

“Last November, researchers at Korea Business School and the University of Iowa published an article in Psychological Science showing that people are much likely to accomplish goals when they engage in something called “future retrospection.”

What is future retrospection? Simply put, future retrospection is imagining yourself as if you’ve already accomplished your goal, and then planning backward about all the steps that you had to take to get there. Doing so increases productivity, motivation, and confidence. Backward planning also reduces the amount of stress people feel as they pursue their goals.”

Don’t worry about what you haven’t yet done. Plan it from the future. It works. And your stress will wash away.

5. Lifelong learning and curiosity for improvement

Habits lead to productivity. Habits breed consistency and prevent your mind from wandering, worrying, and stressing out over things that don’t matter. This gives you more creative time, more time to rest, and time for leisure. Habits form the cornerstone for a productive life, and they fuel the planning that is needed to propel you forward.

Take this from Charles Duhigg, New York Times bestselling author of the book, The Power of Habit:

“When psychologists have looked at quantum changers, what they found is these are people who suddenly became very deliberate about their habits. There’s something almost magical about understanding how habits work because studies show that once you understand, once you think about the structure of a habit, it becomes easier to change that habit. And once you change that habit, you start making these small, incremental adjustments to your day that over a year or over a decade can add up to a huge difference.” — Charles Duhigg Source: HBR

What can we learn from this? Well, namely, that life is about learning, growing, and moving forward with curiosity. Correcting mistakes, getting better, and using that new information to power our journey.


  • Plan your days and you’ll remove the ambiguity that can lead to stress
  • Get to the root of the problem
  • Get in the flow and focus intently on what you’re doing with presence
  • See yourself already accomplishing what’s in front of you
  • Form habits and be willing to change how you think and actBefore you know it, you’ll be living stress-free. You’ll be living the life that is rightfully yours.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

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