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Stress Test: Is Your Stress Self-Served?


In my last post I mentioned that I’d been working on an article about stress and how people often choose it. Then of course, stress chose me and I ended up writing instead about what to do when that happens.

This week however, I’m looking at my overflowing plate of stress and realizing I chose to scoop everything on it myself. I’ve basically “yessed” myself into being overextended (again). I think a lot of us are guilty of this. For such a tiny word, “no” can be extremely difficult to say. And when we don’t, we end up committing ourselves to more than we can handle.

This is even more common this time of year, as Thursday is Thanksgiving, aka the kickoff to a whole season of stress. I for one am thankful for the knowledge that when I choose to add a stress to my plate, I can also choose to take it back off. See if answering these five questions doesn’t help you do the same. Believe me, it not only works for reducing the stress you’ve already served yourself, it also helps with practicing portion control in the future.

1. What’s bothering me? It’s good to know specifically what you’re dealing with, so make a list (you know I love lists!) of all the things that are currently causing you stress. It doesn’t matter how big or how small the thing is—if it’s stressful, write it down. My own list currently includes, “The house is a mess,” “I told three friends I’d meet for lunch this coming week, but I don’t really have time,” and “It’s my son’s birthday (today!) and I haven’t picked up a gift or even a card yet.”

2. Am I responsible? Ask yourself this question for every item on your list and highlight the yeses. In my case, the birthday dilemma and the lunch dates are all me. As for the messy house—well, I could blame my family, except I’m the one who let the housekeeper go. I still feel that I made the right decision, but in making it, I have to take responsibility for the subsequent stress of having work, three kids, four dogs, and no help.

3. Okay, so I did it…can I un-do it? The answer is almost always yes. But the problem is that sometimes un-doing something has negative consequences for others and for us. If you can gracefully bow out of something without serious impact, then do it. A simple call saying, “I’m so sorry, but I’m not able to do XYZ after all,” should do. If it really isn’t a big deal, the person on the other end should understand. I’m going to keep this in mind when I reschedule those lunch dates.

4. Can I lighten the load? John Heywood said, “Many hands make light work.” Recruit a mini committee and delegate what you can. I’m practicing my, “Sorry kids, until I hire a new housekeeper, you may have to take on some extra chores around the house,” speech. Another way to lighten a load is to reduce the scope of a commitment. For example, if you agreed to be snack mom for your kid’s soccer team and have a big presentation due at work, don’t bake homemade granola bars. Pick up something pre-packaged, such as sliced apples and string cheese, which are still healthy options.

5. Is there an end in sight? Unless whatever is stressing you out is an ongoing responsibility, then focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. I recently chatted with a friend who was feeling really overwhelmed by her duties on a committee for a gala fundraiser. Since it was too late to un-commit, and unlikely that she could delegate any of the tasks she’d agreed to do, I suggested she focus on how few days there were until the event—and all the stress involved with it—would be behind her. Sometimes reminding yourself that, “This too, shall pass” helps make the stress leading up until it does more bearable.


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