1. Clear clutter
Oftentimes, chronic stress and indecision go hand in hand. What’s the connection with clutter? People who accumulate clutter tend to have trouble deciding what to do with their stuff (“I’ll keep this catalogue/insurance form/magazine article until I can find the time to deal with it”). In one study, when compulsive hoarders and nonhoarders were asked to make decisions about whether to keep or discard an item, MRI scans showed much more activity in brain areas that regulate decision making, attention, and controlling emotions in the hoarders. In other words, they had a much harder time deciding.
Keep a handle on your clutter and you’ll likely discover a greater sense of control over your life. Start with one small area. For example, make it a solemn rule to completely clean off the kitchen counter every single night, even if that means piling the junk on another surface. Wipe it down with cleanser so it really shines. Savor the sight of a clean surface to reinforce your progress. Then add another rule: Completely clean off the table. And another: Clean out the sink. Continue until you can maintain several areas of your home without clutter.
Conquering clutter is a constant battle with no finish line-you must continue to make those decisions, and not put them off, if you want to stay on top of things. Make it easier by getting rid of stuff you don’t need. Try putting items up for sale on the free want-ad site www.craigslist.org-freedom from clutter is its own reward, but a few extra dollars never hurt either.
2. Learn to focus and calm your thoughts
To quiet down the chatter in your mind, simply close your eyes and focus on your breath, “watching” it flow in and out of your nostrils. If thoughts pop up about the groceries, the bills, or the state of the economy, notice them and then redirect your attention to your breath. Keep doing this for 5 minutes. At first you might spend 20 seconds truly focused on your breath and 4 minutes and 40 seconds redirecting your thoughts away from your worries, but that ratio should improve with practice. This little 5-minute exercise-which, by the way, is mediation, though you don’t have to think of it that way-has been shown to lower heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, anxiety, pain, insomnia, and the production of cortisol-pretty much a one-stop shop for stress reduction. Want better focus? Especially in older people, regular meditation can actually thicken the prefrontal cortex, which tends to thin with age, making it more difficult to pay sustained attention.