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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, therapist in Silverdale, Washington
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