Are you stressed out? I’m sure you know the symptoms–difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, headaches, stomach aches, heart pounding, that sense of anxiousness. How can you manage your stress levels? Things won’t change unless you change them, so you need to start by taking stock of how you are living your life.
Find Your Stressors
First, identify your stressors. Take a look at your schedule, your household, your job, your relationships… Everybody’s stressors will be different. The important thing is to think about it and make a list.
- Have you scheduled too much for your kids?
- Do you make too many social or volunteer commitments?
- Is your house a mess and stressing you out? Or maybe you’re killing yourself trying to keep it clean?
- Do you hate your job? Do you hate your boss?
- Do you carry too much of the load in your relationship with your partner?
You know what things cause stress. Now you need to figure out what to change. You need to do some soul-searching here. Why do these things cause stress and what can you do to change it? You must divorce yourself from all feelings of guilt, obligation, and commitment when making the list. You must banish all thoughts of “I can’t”, “I don’t have time”, “what will people think”, etc. Identify just one or two things to change to start. Here are some things to keep in mind to help make this journey easier.
Learn to say “no”.
Learn to say “no” to others and learn to say “no” to your own sense of obligation or guilt. You have control of your choices. Set your priorities and stick to it.
If you have trouble saying “no”, try these simple techniques:
- I would really like to say “yes”, but I am not sure I can make it work given my other obligations. Let me think about it and get back to you tomorrow. By doing this, you don’t have to make a decision on the spot, you can think about it, and you’ve set expectations that you might say “no”.
- I am happy to help. I am free on Saturday before 10am. Help on your own terms.
Say “no” to yourself too. Don’t let your sense of obligation to others or your perception of what others think is right (e.g., what a good mother does) guilt you into saying “yes” to things you can’t handle.
- Your kid probably doesn’t need to do soccer, ballet, AND tennis.
- Every meal doesn’t have to be hot and homemade. (I’ve served store-bought hummus and baby carrots for dinner and no one suffered.)
- You don’t HAVE to volunteer for the school pageant just because they asked.
Teach people how to treat you.
If you let people walk all over you, they might just do that. If you have a relationship that is causing you stress because of how you are treated, have the conversations to start setting boundaries. Be clear. Don’t apologize for wanting to be treated equitably and with respect.
- You can ask your partner to help out more with the baby.
- You can let mom know that she should call before stopping by to make sure you have time to spend with her.
- You can tell your boss that if he gives you more advance notice, you can do an even better job with assignments.
Find a way to set boundaries clearly and respectfully. Don’t be an enabler. If you indulge their behavior, they have no incentive to change.
Remember the basics–eating, sleeping, and exercise.
When you’re stressed, these things are more important than ever. And it can be harder than ever to make sure you are eating healthy, sleeping enough, and getting some exercise. Prioritize changes that will let you do these things. You will physically feel better and it will make everything easier.
Try breathing techniques.
There are a myriad of breathing techniques out there to help with stress, anxiety, and panic– the 5-2-5 technique, the 4-7-8 technique, etc. Go find one you like (a quick google search). They don’t take long to do and they have proven results. If you prefer a more guided approach, check out the Calm and Headspace apps. These techniques can be helpful on a daily basis to help keep things even keel, and they are good in a pinch in moments of extreme stress.
Don’t let fear of change stand in the way of progress.
If you want things to improve, that means change and doing things outside of your comfort zone. Fear of change is natural and okay. Recognize it, embrace it, and be proud of yourself for pushing through it. (Don’t forget your breathing techniques! They can help you get through the fear.)