9 Ways You’re Creating Unnecessary Stress

by Ruth Klein on December 5, 2013

“9 Ways You’re Creating Unnecessary Stress”

By Esther Chapman, Good Housekeeping Online

If your usual response to “How are you?” is “Overwhelmed!” then it’s time for a change. Believe it or not, you can avoid most things you stress about with a few simple actions. Stop worrying about these self-inflicted problems and create a calmer, happier you.

“I’m overwhelmed with an ever-growing to-do list.”

Whether at work or at home, we’re never totally free of things to do . There’s always more cleaning and emails to answer. That won’t change, but we can adjust the way we approach our to-do list.

Solution: Prioritize

“Ask yourself or your manager, ‘What are my top-three priorities?’” says Ruth Klein, a creative brand strategist, productivity coach, and author of Time Management Secrets for Working Women. “Everything else will have to wait. Or, if it can’t, delegate.

It takes courage to admit you can’t do it all, says Klein. But waiting too long to ask for help leads to what she calls an “overwhelmed crisis,” which saps energy and time you can’t afford to lose. Instead, realize where you’re truly indispensable and let other people handle the rest.

“If I don’t do it myself, it won’t get done right.”

Perfectionism and pride can may us think we have do it all and do it well. “This leads women, especially, to take on too much. For instance, if we approach the holidays thinking we need to have a clean house, a gorgeously decorated table, and the perfect, homemade Thanksgiving dinner, we can make ourselves crazy,” says Elaine Ducharme, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist and a blogger at www.yourmindyourbody.org .

Solution: Think of Others

Beat this way of thinking by considering the message it sends, suggests Ducharme. Seeing you strive for unrealistic ideals spurs loved ones to believe they have to be perfect too. They may also fear that you are secretly judging them. Yikes! “People around us appreciate when we don’t do it all because it reveals our human side and allows them to get involved and help out,” Ducharme says. Practice letting some things go. It will help everyone feel more at ease.

“My kids’ activities eat up all of my spare time.”

Many families spend every evening and weekend in the car, traveling from one activity to another and even eating meals on the go. That may seem like a necessary evil in today’s competitive society – after all, doesn’t your kid need to excel at math club, piano, and water polo to get into their top-choice colleges. 

Solution: Pull back

The stress of a crazy activity schedule can interfere with more important goals, like family unity and getting enough rest. So limit the extras. Your kids may protest, but eventually, they’ll thank you. There’s no hard and fast rule on how much is too much – it depends on your family’s dynamics. Limiting your kids to one or two activities at a time will keep the calendar manageable. “It is my observation and experience that children would prefer family time [to structured activities] – that is, time spent feeling happy and seen and validated,” says Klein.

“Technology keeps me ‘on call’ all the time.”

In 2008, Gloria Mark, a professor at University of California, Irvine, cghk-08-woman-talking-phone-lgn-94061467onducted a study that asked two groups of people to perform a task that required focused attention. One group experienced frequent interruptions, while the other had none. Surprisingly, the interrupted group completed the task faster, but they also displayed higher levels of frustration, time pressure, effort, and stress.

Herein lies the problem with technology. “We tend to get distracted very easily by all the people and information accessible through our gadgets. Technology has turned the volume up on multitasking. As a result, we move our attention around frequently, and that leads to stress,” Mark says.

Solution: Unplug

Build a technology-free time block into your schedule, maybe during lunch or before you go to bed. And ask yourself throughout the day, “Is it really critical to be doing this?” If not, set your phone or computer aside, advises Mark. You may begin to see that everything still gets done without the need for a 24-7 connection.

“I say ‘yes’ to too much.”

Yes, I’ll chair that fundraiser, host that dinner, workghk-05-school-baking-sale-lgn-62740021 overtime on that project, take Mom to the doctor… Many people (especially women) have trouble saying “no,” leading to a packed schedule with limited time to take care of themselves. What gives?

Women tend to focus on the expectations of others, says Robin Haight, a licensed clinical psychologist. “That puts the person into the trap of not being able to say ‘no’ to people because we don’t want to disappoint them,” she says. “When a focus on others’ priorities trumps our own priorities, that can be a self-induced source of stress.”

Solution: Put you first

Break the “yes” pattern by examining your own needs – from more sleep to uninterrupted “me time” – and make them top priority, suggests Haight. Also, consider that part of the problem could lie with your own desire to look invincible. Remember, saying “I can’t do that right now” actually shows strength and self-confidence because you’re willing to stand up for your needs.

“My finances are a train wreck.”

Money stress is real and understandable. But it can also become destructive and counterprodghk-06-paying-bills-lgn-52847612uctive if we focus on the wrong things. “We worry about what could happen. Or, we focus on the past, spending an inordinate amount of time beating ourselves up,” explains Nancy Moliter, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Ill.

Solution: Live in the present

Stop fretting about the things you can’t change and focus on what you can, such as looking for a job, creating a budget, or curtailing spending. “This is called mindfulness,” says Moliter. “Stress comes from focusing on things we cannot control, which makes us feel helpless and hopeless. Instead, you must ask, ‘What can I do right now, each day, to get more control over my spending.’ When you focus on that, invariably you’ll feel a sense of calm.”

“I’m the go-to person for friend and family drama.”

We may feel obligated or even honored to be the sounding board for ghk-08-woman-talking-phone-lgn-94061467our loved ones’ problems – until it gets to a point where you’re carrying another’s emotional load. If you’re losing sleep or obsessing about someone else’s issues, consider this a definite red flag.

“Sometimes focusing on other people’s drama is a way of avoiding our own issues,” suggests Haight. “You may be gaining something by playing this role, feeling important or needed. But it’s not a mutually satisfying relationship. It will leave you drained and even angry.”

Solution: Set boundaries

You may need to take a break from a friendship or tell a family member that you can’t do anything more to help. Even better: Encourage that person to seek help from a professional counselor who can offer a more unbiased, clinical perspective. In doing so, says Haight, your relationship will return to a healthier, more equal footing, and you’ll have the energy to address any of your own issues or unmet needs that drew you into the drama in the first place.

“I’m always running late.”

We all cut it close now and then. After all, we get distracted and can’t always predict the unexpected things like traffic.

Solution: Look withinghk-09-running-late-time-watch-lgn-24504041

But when “running late” has become your default mode, it’s time to look inward at your beliefs and practices. “If you ask yourself every time, ‘What is causing me to be late?’ you’ll start to see a consistent theme or two that’s driving your tardiness,” says Klein, who specializes in time management.

In other words, “I had so much to do and couldn’t pull away earlier” may translate to “I’m overwhelmed and trying to do too much.” Or, “Something always comes up and makes me late” may really mean

“I’m allowing others to dictate my time.” Once you’ve identified the reason for your constant lateness, you can take steps to change your thinking and that, in turn, will change behavior.

“My ongoing health problems hold me back.”

Dealing with a long-term illness or permanent injury can wreak havoc on your life physically, financially and emotionally. Thankfully, scientists have uncovered ways we can tap into the brain’sghk-07-relaxing-doing-yoga-lgn-50983336 power to reduce stress and even lessen chronic pain.

Solution: Visualize calm. It actually works.

Ducharme helps her patients develop practices like deep breathing, regular exercise, picturing positive things and even laughter, which all release beneficial chemicals into the body and brain. “We use a lot of relaxation techniques, things like visualization and imagery. This may not totally get rid of the pain, but when we’re anxious or angry, our bodies release chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol that make our bodies tense and make pain much worse,” says Ducharme.

She also recommends thinking in terms what you can do, rather than what you can’t: “You can say, ‘OK, I have chronic pain, but it’s not going to ruin my life. I can figure out when I have the least pain and go on a walk during that time.’ Then that walk helps release chemicals like serotonin and dopamine that will lessen your pain for the rest of the day.”

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