Did you sleep well last night?
Not in cliched terms, like logs and babies, but real, restful sleep?
Or did you toss and turn, unable to silence your frazzled mind long enough to let go of worry for eight short hours so you could face today fresh and rested?
Stress is largely a self-created state of mind. It starts simply: the need to do ‘just a little more’ to keep up, to stay a step ahead, to finish our tasks in a timely manner and attack new ones with fervor.
But soon, one incomplete task (or a task not completed to your inner perfectionist’s standards) allows a drop of confidence-killing doubt to seep in. If you can’t nail this job, how are you going to do the next one? What if something goes wrong in your plan? What if your source doesn’t come through, your enrollments don’t go up, your spending ends up over budget. What if, what if, what if…
It’s a vicious cycle. And thinking you can eliminate stress by crossing off one more task today than you did yesterday is only feeding the monster. The more you do, the harder you try, the worse things can get.
But don’t give up your goals yet. There is a solution, but it flies in the face of everything you’ve come to learn about stress and being overextended.
Spend Time With Your Worries
Yes, you read that right.
See, the problem with adding extra activity to your days for the purpose of trying to get a step ahead is that you’re attempting to outrun your worries in the same way they were created. You’re staying busy in the hopes that if you can do one more thing, you’ll finally get that foothold, that peace of mind you so desire.
And it ain’t gonna happen. It can’t happen. Not that it’s impossible to get work done by doing a little more in bits and pieces, but each action you take to avoid fear only magnifies the fear you’re attempting to escape.
And if you think you can eliminate fear in your life by staying busy, think again.
But you can stop worry dead in its tracks and regain your equilibrium—claim your life—if you take a breath and face it head-on with one of these strategies.
Write It Down
Worry is a wasted emotion, but it does exist for a reason. Its roots bury deep in our minds and hide in the dark corners until we challenge it by forcing it into the light of day. Writing down your fear puts it on your playing field. If it’s a complex concern, list all the parts. Then symbolize your attempt at conquering the fear by tossing it into the trash or, if reverse psychology works for you, post it in a visible space to remind you it’s only a worry, not reality.
Talk It Over
Whereas the act of writing soothes the kinesthetic portion of some of us, verbal release offers a similar pleasure. Speak the worry aloud to yourself or with a trusted friend. Have them question you about the fear as deeply as possible. Examining every last facet of the fear strips away the worry we assign to it, rendering it something far more manageable.
Cut It Out
When you’re stressed, the absolute last thing you want to do is spend time on tasks that have little to no relevance to what you’re trying to accomplish. Be ruthless in evaluating every task you think necessary to your success. Can you delete the task (or project) with minimal disruption toward your goals? Take time to refine your focus on the actual issue causing you consternation and see what parts of it can be delegated or eliminated all together.
Work On It
There are times when tasks can’t be changed, and no amount of talking or taking notes helps. In those cases, the best way to lower worry is to change the endless loop in your mind through action. Small, mindful steps work better than spending large chunks of time on the work–each completed action is a successful step in itself and builds momentum in the process. Make a list of what needs done and check each task off as you finish to see your progress and quiet the nagging whispers that you’re not doing enough.
When stress threatens to steal your peace, tame it with attention, not neglect. Putting your thoughts and tasks in perspective through words, decisions and choices brings them into reality where you hold the power.
Beth Morrow is a freelancer, educator and program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential summer camp for teenagers with diabetes. She blogs about education at www.CanWeJustRead.com. Connect with her on Twitter: @BethFMorrow