Avoiding Stress Instead of Just Managing It
by Julie Bailey, LCPC
We talk a lot about managing stress or trying to reduce it. But what if we could just simply avoid some of it to begin with? Below are some suggestions to help you do just that.
Suggestion #1: Start saying “no” sometimes. Part of our stress originates in our overwhelming expectations of ourselves. We create to-do lists that are unrealistically long and then beat ourselves up when we don’t accomplish everything. To make your list more manageable, start saying “no” to a few things. Don’t keep agreeing to take on more than you can reasonably expect yourself to be able to do. This may even mean saying “no” to yourself about some things as well. When your to-do list is more realistic, you can actually avoid the stress you would feel if your list were unrealistically long.
Suggestion #2: Stop expecting perfection from yourself all the time. By all means, always strive to do your best. But also realize that you cannot always function flawlessly. You will make an occasional error or mistake and it is ok. You are human. Try not to think about things in such a black and white manner — just because something isn’t absolutely perfect does not mean that it is an utter failure. You can avoid a lot of stress if you begin to offer yourself a bit of grace and accept that no one, including you, is perfect.
Suggestion #3: Stop comparing yourself to others. We create so much unnecessary stress for ourselves when we guilt ourselves for not being as thin or rich or successful as someone else. Life is not a competition and shouldn’t be treated as such. We are all unique individuals with different talents, abilities, life circumstances, and priorities. Stop making assumptions that everyone else’s life is perfect except yours — because everyone else most certainly does not have it all together. What you see on the outside may not give you the slightest hint about that person’s struggles. If you want to avoid some stress, just be happy for others when good things happen to them and remember that you are not competing with them. Keep score in basketball, not in life.
Suggestion #4: Get organized. If you’re constantly stressing over losing your keys or your phone or your debit card, come up with some sort of organizational plan and make it a routine. Put your keys on a lanyard so they are easier to find inside a purse or bag, and create a designated place to leave your keys. And then make a habit of always putting your keys in that same spot. Organize your papers and your bills so that you know where to look when you need something. Use calendars to keep track of your appointments, when your bills are due, and when birthdays and anniversaries roll around. Avoid the stress of being late because you couldn’t find your keys. Avoid the stress of forgetting your anniversary. Avoid the stress that comes with that late fee. A few minutes spent organizing will be time you will never regret.
Suggestion #5: Stop procrastinating. When we put things off until the last minute, we end up creating a lot of stress for ourselves that we could have avoided. When we’re hurrying and trying to finish things before the deadline, we may lose sleep over it and still not produce a final product that is our best work. Try to change your habits and start working on big projects in advance. This allows you to perform to your highest potential, to have time to pick up a missing ingredient, or to ask questions if there are things you don’t understand about the instructions. Remember how stressful it was to try to finish at the last minute? That is stress that can be completely avoided.
Suggestion #6: Get plenty of sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, we are not capable of coping with things nearly as well as we could if we were well-rested. Lack of sleep negatively affects our moods, making us more easily irritated and frustrated — and stressed. When we’re tired, tasks seem bigger and more difficult. We don’t have enough physical or mental energy to do everything we need or want to do, which seems to just add to the stress even more. The good news is that this is stress that could be avoided. Give sleep the priority it deserves and then enjoy the benefits of what a well-rest “you” can accomplish — with more energy and less stress.