When It’s All Too Much: Three Tips for Managing Stress

Stressed man Stress has always been a part of our lives. Forty years ago, people had stress and worry that were significantly different from what most of us have today. Without the Internet or cell phones, they were able to disconnect from every detail of their friends’ and families’ lives when they went home; they would have to wait until the next time they saw someone, or talked on a land line, to find out what had happened in their life.

Many people today long for a time when they can disconnect from the day’s events, limit the demands placed on them, or just relax. We have constant pressure to get more done. With each new technology, our lives get simultaneously easier and more complicated. Technology keeps us connected with more people more often, and this connection has a price. We have added emails, tweets, and Facebook feeds to our already long list of daily chores. We multitask to try to stay ahead of these demands. The problem with multitasking is that switching between tasks makes us less efficient overall and begins to burn us out. Even when we are getting more done, the quality of the work is often poorer. Studies show that multitasking has negative physical effects on our bodies, too. It can mimic a “crisis,” releasing hormones into our bloodstream to counterbalance and restore our systems to “normal.”

As a psychologist, I regularly see individuals and couples in my office who are “stressed out.” When they describe what they do in a given day, it is astonishing. These individuals have large demands on their time well into the evenings. Some are even “on call” after normal work hours and are required to be available at any time. These demands affect their diets as well as their ability to get quality sleep.

Once, a man came to my office and wanted me to teach him how to relax. He had a dream of owning a small house on a lake with a wrap-around porch. He saw himself sitting on the porch in a chair that rocked, listening to the crickets, with nothing to do. So I set out to help him develop strategies that limited the demands in his daily life. He had to prioritize the things he would attend to every day. He also had to build self-care into his lifestyle.

After several months of practice, he was managing things in his life much better and feeling more in control of things. The final test would be to use these newfound skills by planning a trip to a lake and renting a house with a wrap-around porch. So he made his plans and booked the trip; he was eager to see how he would handle himself.

A few weeks passed. When I saw the man again, he told me about his experience at the lake. What do you think happened?

He drove several hours to the house, got unpacked, and sat on the porch. Within an hour or two he was bored, so he packed his things and returned to the city. Was this “final test” a success or a failure?

For this man, believe it or not, it was a success. During his brief experience at the lake, he figured out something about himself. He was able to make his day-to-day life more rewarding.

Here are three strategies to help you determine what needs to be in your life plan:

  1. Start by looking at/writing down what you are responsible for doing each day. Once you have the list, look at which things bring you joy and which things drain you. Limit the things that drain you, if possible.
  2. Begin to prioritize the responsibilities that you have. This list can include daily, weekly, or monthly responsibilities. Consider limiting or withdrawing from the responsibilities that are lower priorities. It may be difficult to say “I can’t do that any longer,” but if you can’t set limits, your life will continue to feel out of control.
  3. Figure out what you can add to your schedule that qualifies as self-care—any activity that rejuvenates or builds you up. Examples might include a massage, joining a sports team, reading, or sitting on the porch and enjoying the sunset. Do something every day (or nearly every day) for yourself.

Change is difficult; even getting started can be difficult. Experiences define us, though, and life is about the lessons and what is taken away (negative or positive) from each experience. The goal here is to gain a better understanding of your strengths and limitations, which can assist you in developing a life plan that makes you feel more content instead of overwhelmed and longing.

Is today the day you begin to take steps toward managing your stress?

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, LMFT, Worry Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • ed

    April 14th, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    I know that I always say that I wish my life had less stress but I think that at the core that makes me a liar.
    I don’t want less stress because I know that this means less action and quite honestly I think that is what I thrive on.
    Vacations don’t really suit me, I am generally ready to get back to the hustle and bustle in about three days. So many be I am the odd one who does a lot better under pressure than not.

  • Jody

    April 14th, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    All of the tips kind of sound like a good groundwork for leading a successful life overall. Find a way to let go of some of the stress and you will probably be surprised at how much the rest of your life can open up and be free too.

  • Garrison

    April 15th, 2014 at 4:25 AM

    For our own mental and physical health there are times when we need to take a step back and determine if there are some things that can be eliminated or delegtaed to others. It is not worth it to be such a workaholic and enjoy the job but at the same time know that weat you love could likely be killing you. There are bound to be other people who can take some of that responsibility off of you and allow you to concentrate more fully on the things that you really do love and care about. It doesn’t mean having to give up everything but there are certain to be some things that don’t necessarily have to have you signing off on and that someone else could be perfectly capable of managing and dealing with.

  • stephen b

    April 16th, 2014 at 4:34 AM

    Those I would just throw my hands up in the air over are the people who profess that they hate the stress and want to rid some of it from their lives but who don’t mean this at all and thrive on it, like it makes them a martyr or something.

  • Jess

    April 18th, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    Oh yeah, the list has helped me a ton.
    When I made my list like you suggested, I saw really quickly that there were lots of things that I felt responsible for that in the end really were not all that important to keep in my day.
    If it didn’t seem necessary, I tossed it, that’s it, no more.
    So many of my burdens have been lifted!!

  • Andy Hahn Psy.D

    June 3rd, 2015 at 10:08 PM

    I think your advice is wonderful and incomplete.stress I think is more dependent on what motivates you.In very over simplified terms, I think we can describe matrices of motivations and matrices of what will be most stressful for any individual person.

    to use the level that is the focus of this article, in my experience, about one third of the population is particularly motivated by responsibility 1/3 by approval and one third by safety. stress will be tied to the nature of the motivations.

    on a different level, about one third of the population is particularly motivated by the need to preserve the self, one third by the need to connect and one-third by the need to belong. Again, what is particularly stressful will depend on the primary Need.

    to go back to the level of the article,the best way for people whose motivation is responsibility is to Accept their fear that they don’t know their own heart’s desire. Only then, can they really begin to shift away from their compulsion to be responsible and to start feeling comfortable focusing on their own self care.

    we can make similar statements about people in each of the categories about their motivation and what they need to accept about themselves.

    finally, in my experience,1 of the simplest Interventionts for relieving stress is Stress Release.

    simply place your hand lovingly on your forehead and let yourself experience it as a hand of the most supportive parent comforting you.

    Hope this is useful.

    Andy Hahn Psy.D

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