Reader Request: Learning to stress less

Hey there friends!

This morning’s post is a response to a reader’s request for some tips on how to deal with stress. Before I start, I should mention that this reader is about the same age as me (23), working in her first full-time job, and although she’s not a mother to any kiddies yet, she wears a lot of different hats that demand a good chunk of her time. I do not claim to be a pro stress handler by any stretch of the imagination, but being in a similar situation to her, I wanted to offer some help by sharing a few strategies that work well for me.

(You may want to grab a warm beverage and put your feet up, because this is a lengthy post!)

6 Tips for Stressing Less

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1. Take care of little tasks right away.

Another way to phrase this would be “don’t procrastinate”, but that sounded negative to me. The key is to take care of little tasks that can (and need) to be done quickly as soon as you get them. For example, a call to book an appointment, taking out the garbage, paying a bill online, etc. These are things that I used to let pile up until the weekend, which was silly because I wouldn’t want to do them any more by the time Saturday rolled around. (If you missed it, also check out my how to make the most of your weekend post.) In short, don’t let the little things pile up into bigger issues that could potentially stress you out.

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2. Schedule time for yourself and avoid overcommitment.

I like to schedule my me time for the weekends, but sometimes I’ll write it in my planner for a weeknight if I know I’ve got a couple of really stressful days to get through. When I moved back to Canada from the Middle East in order to go to university, I felt like I had a ton of lost time to make up for. Unlike my peers, I didn’t have the opportunity to compete on a cross country team in high school, nor did I have access to a number of other opportunities that North American high school students have available. When I started university, I wanted to do everything at once, all while maintaining a decent GPA.

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It’s taken a few years, but now that I’m out of school and in the workforce, I know that these opportunities will keep popping up and it’s up to me to decide which ones to jump at and when. Having experienced burnout first-hand, I also know that knowing when to say yes and no is just as important. Ideally, we’d have enough time to spend doing all of the things we need, want, and love to do (which are not necessarily the same things), but saying yes to others too often and no to yourself is practically setting yourself up to become a stressball.

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3. Find an activity that helps you to relax (really relax).

Remember back in January when I said that I was going to strive for 4 yoga classes each month? This is something that was on my 2011 vision board and it certainly has not been accomplished, but I’ve learned to be ok with it. You see, even though yoga is supposed to be a calming mind-body activity, I often find that it really isn’t calming for me at all. I catch myself constantly checking to see if I’m focusing on my breathing, which leads me to realize that in fact, I am thinking about a million other things that have nothing to do with breathing. Having said this, I still enjoy yoga as a workout, it’s just not the best thing for me if I’m looking to de-stress. What works? It depends on the person, but here are just a couple of ideas:

  • Napping
  • Deep breathing
  • Go for a walk
  • Talk to a friend – in person or on the phone
  • Watch a movie (preferably a funny/happy/positive one)
  • Take a shower or bath
  • Get a massage
  • Read
  • … and if you’re a little odd like me, go grocery shopping. YES, I find this relaxing!

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4. Focus on what is going on rightthissecond.

I wrote a post back in July called Being in “The Now”, and since publishing it, have come to realize that being mindful and present (not necessarily all the time, but at least some of the time) really does help with stress management. Since publishing that post, I’ve become more aware of conversations that I have with people that consist of dwelling on past issues, going round in circles and not getting anywhere. It’s occurred to me that this is wasted energy – there’s not much I can do now about these things because they’re in the past.

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Mindfulness is a topic that I’ve done a lot of reading about over the past year. This was triggered by a feeling that I was always planning ahead, to the point that my weekends would escape me and I’d roll into another week of work feeling no more relaxed than I did when I left the office on Friday. Just like dwelling in the past, constantly planning and worrying about the future is just as stressful. The articles and books I’ve been reading have really helped me to stay focused on the moment, rather than trying to anticipate and plan for things that might happen later. I am still a self-labeled Type A personality, but things just feel a bit more relaxed these days. Bottom line: Tomorrow isn’t a guarantee, so why not make the most of right now?

5. Keep to-do lists manageable.

Lists are something I thrive on. Daily to-do’s, weekly to-do’s, yearly to-do’s and someday to-do’s, I’ve got them all. They help me organize my time and my priorities, and the feeling of being able to cross something off one of these lists is always so satisfying. However, it’s really easy to let these lists get out of control. Instead of helping you to not forget, they begin to overwhelm.

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Ideally, I’d like to be able to accomplish 8 squillion things each day and still have time to sleep, but everyone knows that’s just not realistic. So rather than letting lists run my life, I’ve adopted a Top 5 approach. I’ve talked a bit about it before, but my Top 5 are five things I want to accomplish each day. There’s no Top 6 or Top 10, because any more than 5 can be daunting. This is the number that works for me, but depending on the items, sometimes there might only be 3.

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The items on the list aren’t just things that I need to get done, like going to the bank, running an errand, or returning an important email. Often I’ll put something on like “meditate for 5 minutes” or “spend 20 minutes reading a magazine” because I know that if I don’t make myself do things like this that I enjoy on a daily basis, I’ll eventually feel stressed out. I also know that writing things down keeps me very accountable, so if it’s written, it gets done.

6. Control what you can, accept what you can’t.

Finally, it’s important to remember that situations aren’t inherently stressful. We choose to make them stressful by interpreting them in that way. You might say that sitting in traffic or dealing with difficult people are stressful situations, but often it’s not worth getting worked up about because there’s not a whole lot you can do to make things better. It’s at times like these when I try to remember the whole deep breathing thing – one of the key things that I took away from the book Eating Mindfully last month.

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Next time you’re in a situation that you interpret as stressful, take this challenge:

  1. Count your breaths, and while you’re at it, notice how quickly you’re counting. Chances are, your breaths are probably short and fast, and your shoulders and neck feel a little tense.
  2. Next, make an effort to breathe a little deeper and try to fill your lungs with as much air as you can. Push it all out, and continue taking deep breaths.
  3. After 5 or 10, check back in with your shoulders, neck, or whatever body parts you felt were tense earlier. If this works for you like it does for me, they’ll be relaxed and you’ll be feeling much better already – just because you pushed some air in and out of your lungs!

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There you have it! Those are my 6, but I know you guys are clever and probably have some more to add to the list. Therefore, today I want to know…

What strategies do you use to manage stress?

If you’d like some more tips (and if you haven’t already had enough reading!), check out this awesome article from Greatist.com. I hope you have a lovely day! :)

Comments

  1. Sara says

    Thanks for the post Ange!!! Loved it!!!

    You and I are in the same boat on yoga…I WANT to find it relaxing because I do enjoy the stretching…but usually just find that my mind is wandering off to what I should really be doing while I’m laying dead…er…I mean… in savasana…on the floor…. :P

    You’re fantastic. End of story. Have a great day!! xo

  2. says

    Great post…wonderful ideas!!! I think being present, being mindful, and evaluating the situation in the big situation then releasing it helps me manage stress. Plus, yoga & meditation, working out, walking, cooking, etc. Have a great day!

  3. says

    Stress is so bad, yet so hard to fight! I just pray when I get stressed and I can tell if I’ve been really stressed by my breakouts on my forehead. Glamorous right?

  4. says

    This is such a great post Angela! I use a lot of the above techniques. I also find that going for a quiet walk or run with just my thoughts (no music) is a great way to clear my head. Also, I find that like you said- making sure not to over commit (aka say no sometimes!) is very important. As fun as so many things sound, I have to remind myself there is only so much time in a day, make my priorities, and not commit to more than I can handle.

  5. Nadine says

    Great post! I had to laugh because I also think grocery shopping is relaxing – you’re not alone! One other thing I do when I’m feeling stressed is ask myself what is the worst thing that will happen if I don’t do or resolve x,y, or z right now? Most of the time the consequences aren’t that big, so I am able to step back & stop spending valuable energy stressing over it and usually the task, conversation or whatever is suddenly much easier to deal with. Thanks for all your insights Angela!

  6. says

    These are such great tips, Angela! I used to be so type A and stress over every little thing but have since gotten WAY more relaxed. I think my biggest thing was accepting what I could not control like you said!

  7. says

    This post is perfect. I especially love the pictures you throw in! I just found your blog and am loving every bit of it. As a fellow spin instructor and runner (though I can’t say I’m as accomplished as you–I always seem to be battling an injury!), I hope my blog (www.eatplayluvblog.wordpress.com) can shift towards being more like yours!

    • says

      Thanks Cheryl! I’m glad you found me and have been enjoying my blog so far. I love ‘meeting’ other runners and spin instructors! sorry to hear you keep encountering injuries. Luckily I haven’t been plagued with too many but the odd IT band issue or ankle tweak definitely makes me more cautious. Congrats on starting up your own blog as well – I’m sure it’ll be growing in no time!

  8. says

    Great post, I love the “top 5″ idea, will definitely start doing that.

    Also, as a massage therapist, I definitely believe that everyone should be having regular sessions, as I see so many clients that are suffering some level of stress or anxiety, and it’s great to see them go home with there shoulders away from their ears and getting a better nights sleep following the massage.

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