Worrying whether you sent that email, stressing over getting your project in on time, feeling anxious about a meeting. Overbearing boss, your spouse, kids, parents, utility bills, demanding customers, stress can come from anywhere. And it keeps coming day after day like a relentless wave. You might find yourself tossing and turning at night chewing it over or losing time staring into space trying to think of solutions through a fog of panic. But when there’s so much coming from so many directions where do you start?
Identify what kind of stress it is
There are three main categories of stress. Identifying which type of stress is getting to you is the first step to dealing with it.
Stress you can do something about right now
Can you deal with it right now? Are you able to have that conversation today, send the email, tidy up the room, make that payment?
Stress you can do something about later
Does it need to wait till later? Is the person you need to speak to not available until next week? Do you need to stay in your job until you find another one? Is it going to take time to pay back that loan?
Stress you can’t do anything about
Maybe one of your relatives is ill, your house has been flooded or you’ve been made redundant. Some things are out of your control.
So how do you combat the 3 types of stress?
Mark three columns on a piece of paper, one for each of the above categories. List down everything you’re stressing about in the appropriate column.
What difference will categorizing it make?
Your brain is not a good place to keep to-do lists. It will keep reminding you of things at inconvenient times like when you’re trying to sleep. This is because it has an urge to complete them. A study showed that waiters are very good at remembering an order before it’s completed but once it’s done they forget it. This is good when it helps drive us to complete projects. However sometimes it’s not helpful, like in the middle of the night when you can’t do anything about it. So the best thing to do is get your stress list out of your head onto paper. Then your mind doesn’t need to remind you about it and you can start to make a plan.
Making the plan
If you can deal with it now do it. Think how good it will feel when the conversation is over, the email sent or the room tidied. Doing the thing is often less stressful than thinking about it. Plus you get the bonus feeling of relief and accomplishment afterwards.
If you can’t do it right now when can you? Schedule it in. Once your brain knows it’s in the diary it can give you a break from going over and over it.
Is it going to take a long time or involve a number of tasks? Break it down into steps and schedule them in. Again once your brain knows you have a handle on it it can ease off with the reminders.
If there’s nothing you can do about it is there something you can do to mitigate the effect? Maybe you can make your ill loved one’s life easier by doing their shopping. Perhaps it’s time to start looking for a new job or investigating new careers. Taking positive action can fulfil your brain’s need to do something about it. Some people find exercise and meditation helpful too. Writing down how you feel about something and sealing it away in an envelope has also been shown to be effective at giving the mind a sense of resolution.
Once you know what kinds of stress you’re facing you can spend your energy on changing what you can rather than wasting it on worry and anxiety. Even if it’s a stressor you can’t get rid of there are things you can do to mitigate it’s effects.