Each person has a finite amount of expendable energy at any given time. Stress will eat up some of that energy, giving you less to work with. This can lead to even more feelings of overwhelm, and more stress, which uses up more of your energy… You see where this is going, right?
The way to start to break this cycle is to work to conserve your energy. Treat it like a valuable commodity, because it is. Some of the things you can do are:
* Learn to say no – Stop overextending yourself. People who are stressed frequently feel lineup they have to do it all, themselves, backwards and in heels. We feel like we’re trying to hold it all together, or that we need to be there for other people, or that we can make everyone happy.
All of these are impossible, illusions of control, based on fallacious information. The ONLY thing you have control over are your actions and reactions. You do not have the power to hold things together, because Things involve other people, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t even get people to agree on pizza toppings. You cannot be there for other people in any sort of effective capacity if you do not first take care of yourself. This is why the nice airline attendant always insists that you should put on your own oxygen mask first. And it is a n impossibility that everyone will be happy at the same time. It’s just not going to happen.
So, stop it.
Say no to any and all incoming requests that do not involve (1) things being taken off your plate (for real), (2) you getting taken care of, or (3) moving firmly towards one of your top three goals. So, naturally, you are going to need to know what your top three goals are, which brings me to the next thing you can do:
* Pare down your To Do list. This will involve some prioritising and a bit of a reality check. Start by identifying your goals. These can be domestic goals like Havin A Clean Home. They can be personal goals like Be More Organized. They can be work goals like Complete That Project or Get A Promotion. Write all of them down.
Now, figure out why those goals are important to you. What’s your motivation? What will achieving each goal get you? Any goals that involve how people think of you get moved to the bottom of the priority list. You are stressed, and no one has time for that crap.
Having figured out your reasons, you can then start to place values on your goals. Goals that will move you along your life-path are way more important than goals that are about pleasing others. Goals that will ultimately lower your stress levels are great, as long as you’re not killing yourself in the process
So, what are your top 1-3 goals?
At this point, you can go back to your To Do list and match up your tasks with your goals. Obviously, daily chores like getting your kids off to school or feeding your pets are important and are going to have to get done, even if they aren’t attached to your goals; Mark those as Daily. What off of your Daily list can, perhaps with some preparation (like detailed, written instructions or a checklist), be delegated to other members of the household? You may be doing too many things yourself, simply because you think other people won’t do them right. That’s where the preparation comes in. Communication is also important – let them know how important this is to you, and what your expectations are. Don’t assume they know, that goes poorly.
Are there work tasks that can be delegated, or at least assisted with? Delegate, delegate, delegate. And use the same techniques outlined above – prepare and communicate.
Now you can look at your list and identify (1) items that have a deadline, (2) items associated with your top 1-3 goals, (3) items that involve self care, (4) items associated with goals about what other people think.
If you can, evaluate your energy reserves on any given day. How many of the items on your To Do list do you really think you can complete? Prioritize your list accordingly. Be realistic and honest with yourself and decide what can get passed off, moved to another day, or just plain deleted.
If you still have more items than is realistic, you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. Talk to the other people involved and let them know what you can and cannot do. Own your limits, and let others know what more realistic expectations might be. Don’t let them guilt or shame you into taking on more than you can accomplish.
In this way, you can pare down your To Do list and create some breathing room for yourself.
That’s probably enough homework for this week. Bite sized chunks and baby steps are much more useful for stress reduction than All The Information Ever.
This is part of a weekly series on stress and stress reduction. We can all use a little more sanity in our lives, no?