There’s been a lot written on the importance of reducing stress in our lives. And we’ve all heard what chronic stress does to our bodies and overall health. It’s a topic I talk and write about a lot. Why? Because reducing stress is important to our productivity and our health.
But so many of us run on auto pilot. Even though we know we should make changes to our lifestyles, it can be hard to make changes. Even if we’re aware that stress is a problem in our lives, we often don’t take the simple steps we should when it comes to reducing stress.
I can relate to that. It’s no secret that I came very close to losing this life I love and everybody who matters to me in it a number of years back. I was a “Workaholic Wanda” who was trying to do everything and be everything to everybody… and I was literally killing myself in the process.
“Literally killing myself in the process” is a key part of that last statement. I knew my choices and lifestyle were unhealthy, but I chose to ignore the warnings – until I couldn’t ignore them any more. I got a wake-up call that led me to make dramatic changes to my stress-filled life.
Since my wake-up call, I’ve made it my mission to help others make healthier, conscious choices for their own lives, so they can get more done, with less stress, and have a balanced life that honors both their business and personal goals.
I’ve found that reducing stress is a combination of awareness, acknowledgement and choices. If you understand what’s causing the stress in your life, you can make the changes you need to make to minimize it.
Identifying Causes and Reducing Stress
Technology, Social Media & Distractions
Reducing stress has gotten to be even more of a challenge in recent years. We face more distractions in our lives today than ever before. We’re constantly tethered to a digital world where there are no boundaries. We look at (and feel the need to respond immediately to) emails, texts, calls and social media status updates anytime, anywhere – even while driving or when we’re supposed to be relaxing on vacation.
In a recently released survey, the APA has identified constantly checking our devices as a significant source of stress in our daily lives. And this new stressor doesn’t just affect us as adults, younger generations are experiencing higher levels of stress due to technology too.
Technology and the ability to stay connected is both a blessing and a curse, in my opinion. I think the key is to realize that and make conscious choices in how we handle having boundless information and connectivity at our fingertips, especially since we’ve developed habits that have us unconsciously checking our various devices up to 150 times a day, according to ABC News. And that stat was from 2013. Just imagine how much more ingrained those habits have become now!
All that checking, responding and posting causes a lot of distraction from whatever we should be doing and adds stress because we’re not getting things we need to accomplish done. And every “ping” we hear makes us feel a sense of urgency, even though most things really aren’t that urgent at all.
Setting boundaries is the answer here. Then stick to the boundaries you set. Turn off notifications for email, texts, and social media status updates, then only look at your phone when you take a break or during time you set aside for checking. I even leave my phone in another room sometimes when I have a lot on my plate and need to minimize distractions or when I’m spending time with my family. It helps me stay focused on what’s important at the moment and goes a long way to reducing the stress in my life. Basically, I get more done, with less stress. I control the distractions, they don’t control me. And that’s a win!
It’s often the things we put off or haven’t done that keep us awake at night and cause unnecessary stress. In a 2016 article, Psychology Today states that people procrastinate for different reasons. They also state that our culture has become fertile ground for more distractions and ways to procrastinate than ever before. And we don’t seem to take procrastination seriously, in spite of the fact that the stress and anxiety it causes can adversely affect our health.
Yes, procrastination can be a stress-inducing productivity killer. So, how do we win the battle over procrastination? I have a few great suggestions that have proven effective in the years I’ve been a productivity expert
1) Schedule tasks you dread for first thing in the morning when your energy level is highest and you’re least likely to get distracted.
2) Break big, overwhelming or intimidating tasks or projects into much smaller pieces that are easily tackled. Be sure to set deadlines and time frames for completion of each of these smaller tasks, so the entire task is completed by the final deadline. This also helps you see progress and have reasons to celebrate successes along the way!
3) Strive for your best, not perfection. The need for perfection is a huge source of stress in and of itself. This one aspect of reducing stress could be a whole blog. Anyone who struggles with perfectionism will tell you how hard it is to get anything done when you’re burdened with the notion that every project must be perfect to be considered done. So, if you’re a perfectionist, cut yourself some slack, remind yourself that your best IS good enough, and focus on getting things accomplished.
Okay. I’m not trying to insult your intelligence by stating the obvious here, but over-scheduling can cause a lot of stress. Fortunately, it’s something we can definitely get a handle on.
The strategies for reducing stress in this area also seem obvious, yet many of us forget because we’re running on auto pilot or just choose not to use them. They are:
- Say no sometimes! There are only so many hours in the day. Make conscious choices about how and where you’ll spend that time. If something is going to jam you up to the point where you’ll dread doing it, say no or no for now.
- Prioritize and define! Determine what really matters and prioritize the activities that will 1) help you reach your goals, 2) bring you joy, or 3) help you take better care of yourself so you can live a long, fulfilling life.
- Add buffers to your schedule! If you think something will take 45 minutes, block off an hour or more to allow for projects or appointments that take longer than you anticipated. Many of us get tripped up by being too optimistic about our time and how long things will take. So, plan for and allow for buffers in your schedule.
- Schedule personal time just like you would a business meeting or anything else! Be sure to block out time for yourself and activities you enjoy. Whether it’s family time, time for exercise or a hobby, or time with friends. We get the things done that we schedule and make the time for. So, schedule time for you.
If we could just focus on the solutions and strategies in these three areas, it would go a long way to reducing stress in other areas of our lives. The strategies are so simple. And less stress is good – for our health, our relationships, and our businesses.
Here’s a little stress-management story I found. It’s a short, quick read, but contains a powerful message. Enjoy!
And you can click here for more tips for relieving stress from a blog I posted back in May 2017.