Are you feeling stressed out today? Are you overwhelmed and overloaded? Do you feel underpaid, underappreciated, or just under water? Guess what? That’s completely normal.
Stress is not unnatural and it’s not uncommon. We all feel stress. In fact, most of us have a feeling of stress at all times.
Stress is just another name for pressure. If we have a deadline, a task that needs completed, or an obligation of any kind, we feel pressure to finish it. When the deadline is well within our grasp, a task is mundane or simple, or the obligation fits our expectations, the pressure we feel is minimal. In fact, we may not even feel it at all! But the pressure is still there.
When the pressure begins to build past those points, we call that stress. What we think of as stress is really abnormal stress. It’s being stressed out.
Here, let me give you an illustration to help explain what I mean. Think of a water hose. If there is no pressure at all, is the hose useful? Of course not. Without any pressure at all, you won’t get any water out of the spigot, through the hose, and onto your rose bushes or tomato plants. And I know how important water is to those two things. I’ve killed many a plant in my day by not applying pressure when needed!
But when the pressure is too much, when the water is coming too fast through the hose, it can get out of control. That’s why you don’t use a firehose or a pressure washer to water your garden. You’d destroy your plants! Pressure is good. Too much pressure is dangerous.
One way we try to deal with stress and pressure is to shut it out. We bear down, push it out of our mind, numb our emotions and feelings, and just try to get through it. That’s like crimping your water hose to cut off the flow. When you try to block off all the pressure, it builds and builds until it eventually bursts! That’s not good.
The biggest stressers we have are the things we can’t control. We can’t control when our kids get sick and we have to stay home from work. We can’t control when someone has an accident on the freeway and makes us late. We can’t control when our computer crashes right in the middle of writing this blog post! The things we can’t control are the biggest reasons for stress. We can’t shut those off at the source, so we try to block them out and then we end up bursting – we explode in anger, we drown in depression, or we treat it with self-medication. None of those are healthy or helpful.
Along with a lack of control, there are plenty of other sources of stress. Too many deadlines. The lack of time to complete a project. An increase in our own workload. Missed or unrealistic expectations. These are mostly within our control, but for one reason or another we let them slip through and cause stress. Which is fine, to some degree. But it can still be unhealthy.
We can’t really live a stress-free lifestyle. But we can live a stress-less life. Instead of shutting stress of completely, we need to learn to manage our stress better. We might think the only two options are to shut it off at the source – in other words, just quit – or block it off at our end – which just makes it worse. Instead, we need to apply filters – like a nozzle at the end of your water hose – to our stress. Here are a few filters you can apply:
I’m not talking about lowering expectations to a bare minimum. Set realistic expectations. How long will it really take you to complete that task? How many assignments can you really finish in a week? What’s the right number of clients you can really handle at this time? These are all expectations that I’m setting for myself right now.
And it’s not just the expectations you put on yourself, but what you expect from others. What should you really expect from others that depend on you or you depend on?
Master Your Time
Make the most out of every opportunity that comes your way. I don’t mean that you assign a task to every single minute of the day and work until you burn out. Layer in breaks and take your breaks regularly. But then get back to work! Don’t make the mistake of scrolling Twitter and Facebook, surfing the web, or playing some computer game and thinking you’re actually working. Use your time wisely.
It’s not just about taking breaks throughout the day, but taking a day (or two!) each week just for yourself. This is about slowing down from time to time so that you don’t run yourself into the ground. It’s also about understanding your own pace. Listen to your mind and body and obey it when it tells you to slow down or stop. The spiritual principle is called “sabbath,” which means seven. Every seven days we should stop and recharge.
Recharge Your Way
And that leads to the last point – recharge often. But don’t recharge the way everyone else does. What’s the right way for you? Some people love to go hiking, fishing, or camping. I gotta tell you, that would stress me out! I’m what you might call a “great indoorsman.” Give me a mystery novel and a comfy chair and I’m all set. But that’s how I recharge. And it may not be how you recharge.
These are just a few ideas about how to handle stress. It’s not about controlling the stress in our lives, it’s about how we respond to stress. Our perception and reaction are the two most important factors in how we deal with stress.
How are you doing? Do you manage your stress well? How do you recharge when you feel stressed out?