I know, I know, you rolled your eyes reading that title because you’ve seen 54,878 similar titles of posts that included things like “plan your week in advance” and “turn off your technology,” etc., etc. I know I’ve seen them and I’ve read about 3,542 of them, at least in part. You know what I most often found myself thinking at the end of reading or skimming them? I wondered if the person who wrote it had actually ever experienced an episode of overwhelming stress-induced anxiety, like I regularly did, because the things on most of those lists seemed like cute, “hectic day” kind of solutions. You know, things that I’m sure would make you feel better if you’ve just had a really unusually busy day and your brain is buzzing uncomfortably. I welcome “hectic” days like that because they’d be a breath of relief compared to most days.
See, when I talk about being stressed out, I’m talking about the brink of losing my mental marbles because my home and professional life were wringing me out to the point of no return. How? Okay, let me see, here’s a good example of a typical day in any week: I’ve got 8 reports due in 24 hours, 3 of which I only found out I had to complete in the previous 24 hours, half of which require the cooperation of another team member who doesn’t understand the importance of them getting their shit together so we can turn the effing report in on time, and I just know I’ll end up doing their part, too, and these 8 reports? They’re just “extra” stuff that’s scribbled on a to-do list that’s already a mile long and growing with each e-mail and phone call. Oh, and I need to make an appointment for my dog’s nail trimming and booster shots, which I’ll probably have to take a day off of work for because she’s extremely high-strung and will require my brand of coddling in order not to have a damn stroke. And I can’t forget to stop at the grocery store, did I make a list? Yes, I made a list. WHERE IS THE LIST?? Dammit! I also have to return my mom’s call from 2 days ago, which I swore to her I would in the following 24 hours, so now I’ll only assuage the guilt by stopping by to physically hear the 12 stories that she wanted to tell me, about half of which she will have already told me before, but that I will pretend to hear for the first time (see how not returning her call when I said I would backfires??). I need to plan a date night with my guy because we’ve barely talked to each other in the last week – or has it been longer than that?? And on top of everything, I have to fucken be PLEASANT to people at the office who are part of the reason why I am about to check myself into a mental institution!!
THIS, my friends, THIS little snapshot is what I’m talking about when I talk about being stressed out. Turning my technology off would be like putting a bandaid on a severed limb. Pointless.
In all honesty, the only way to avoid this kind of stress is to not let it happen in the first place. To get yourself in a mindset that YOU are important, too, and that your purpose in life is not to solve problems that you didn’t create for people who don’t give a shit about your mental well-being. BUT, if you find yourself in a stressed out situation similar to my little snapshot, here’s a short list of things that I find effective in my quest to staunch the flow of escaping brain cells. And now that you know what I consider “stressed out,” you’ll know these are the real deal Holyfield 🙂
I know this sounds like a new age yogi wanna-be answer, but I mean it. Stop whatever you’re doing, even if it’s driving, pull over, and take a time-out. Don’t think about anything. Try following this breathing pattern (it helps my “achiever” self to have something to follow, then I felt like I accomplished something, haha): inhale on a count of 8, hold for 4 counts, then exhale for 8 counts, then repeat. Depending on how stressed I was feeling at the moment, I’d do this for anywhere from 10 to 40 (I’m serious) cycles. Oh, and close your eyes. I can’t tell you exactly why it helps, but it helped me to focus on the breathing by cutting off that visual sensory aspect.
What I mean is, be realistic in your demands of yourself. If you’re anything like me, this is tough because you really think you’re the best person to do the things on your list, and you probably are, but at some point, you have to admit to yourself that you CAN’T get it all done in the timeframe that it needs to be done, by yourself. Initially, if you don’t already have a list, make a list of all the things on your “plate.” Now separate them into professional and personal, then further separate into urgent (meaning need to be completed within 24 hours), important but not urgent (meaning within the next week), and important but in the future (meaning within the next month). Anything that DOES NOT fall into these 3 categories should be excluded. Once you have these lists, be honest with yourself about what you could delegate and what HAS to be done by you. Sometimes, just the process of separating my “to-do” list like this helped lower my stress level because it helped me realize that I was putting a red flag on stuff that didn’t need one.
Between me and you, this is the hardest thing for me, and at first, it just created more stress for me because I’d feel ridiculously guilty for whatever or whoever I said ‘no’ to that I’d spend wasted hours arguing with myself over whether or not to just do it or to just call them and apologize and do it. Don’t do either of those things, by the way. Be firm and I promise that after a while (this is entirely dependant on you, “a while” means about 2 months for me), it not only gets easier, it really does lift some of the stress. Bonus is that once you start saying no, word gets out and you’ll notice a decrease in stupid requests. Wouldn’t that be cool, right?
No, seriously, I mean it. Give that shit a time slot, not just an “honorable mention” on your calendar. YES, I mean calling the doggy nail salon, YES I mean that trip to Costco, and YES, I mean your gym session. ALL of it. If it’s something that you intend to do, then you need to schedule it. Even I was surprised at how much this helped me. I mean, I’ve always had To-Do Lists and calendars, but I rarely put the 2 to work together. The difference is pretty amazing. Once I had a spot on my calendar, and I mean a time and a date, I didn’t have to stress about it anymore. Well, not as much as I had been, anyway.
Give Yourself An Effing Break
You’re not a mutant superhuman that only needs 1 hour of sleep and can function with all pistons firing, so stop treating yourself like you should be. I don’t know what your purpose in life is, shit, I don’t know what MY purpose in life is, yet, but I’m absolutely certain that it’s not to stress out about things that won’t matter in 3 years. Maybe not even in 3 days, so for real, give yourself a break, okay? There’ll be lots of opportunities that I’m sure you’ll take to bash yourself, but make sure you also take the opportunities to congratulate yourself on not going completely ape-shit and ramming your car through the front entrance of the Wal-Mart for not having that organizing thing you wanted that they said they had in stock when you looked on line. *ahem* I mean, for keeping it together…yeah, that’s it.
Okay, I’m wrapping this up. Be kind to yourself. You are the only person that you have to answer to at the end of the day (God is not a person, but even HE doesn’t expect you to be perfect, so take a lesson from the Big G).
If something in your life is a consistent and continual source of overwhelming stress, you’ve really gotta ask yourself if it should be a part of your life. Don’t be like me and let it get so far that you get to the point where you stop, mid-sprint, and flip off the judges as you walk off the field (this just means that I up and quit my job one day, not an actual sprinting race or something). Completely stress free is never going to happen for me, and I accept that, but I’m working towards more happiness than stress and I highly recommend the same for you. You deserve to be more happy than stressed and so do I.
My best and warmest blessings,