Modern life is so stressful – I often find myself wishing for simpler times. I guess everyone gets a little wistful for a less hectic life. I had so many therapy appointments to get to daily when our son was small, I kind of fell into the routine of being super busy, and now, down time feels foreign. In the past year or two though, the level of stress I was feeling started to overwhelm me, leaving anxiety and hypersensitivity in its wake. I found some simple steps that helped me enormously – and I’d like to share them, in the hope they can help someone else reduce stress they’re feeling. They’re in no particular order…
1 – Have Boundaries (and Enforce Them)
This is so hard for so many people, and it was for me too. I am pretty stubborn by nature, and I am really particular about certain things. I am also a Brit, in America, and that often brings its own set of cultural annoyances (why do some Americans think burping or yawning without covering your mouth is ok?). There are just some things that I struggle to compromise on, but, add into this my compulsion to be polite and to try and make things work.
I, like many women, struggle with the in-law relationship, and, after many discussions (some of them rather loud and tearful), the hubster and I have agreed that our boundary for visits is 3 days. After this, it noticeably falls apart – there are arguments, tension and drama, and no-one has a good time. 3 days and we all part friends having enjoyed spending time together. We needed to find a reasonable boundary and enforce it – it’s been a struggle – but, the situation was spiraling irrationally out of control and bordering on anxiety attack-inducing for weeks ahead of a visit – with me running through every thought of what could happen, for every waking moment.
What’s another example of a boundary? Saying no to an activity you don’t enjoy? Not spending time with someone who you don’t get along with? There are so many things in life that we go along with for a quiet life, but, it won’t help your stress level. Learn to say no. And stick to it. As an adult, you do have that right and it will reduce stress you feel in those situations.
2 – Get (Professional) Help
As a fiercely independent type, I don’t ask for help. We rarely used babysitters and never had family close when our son was younger, and we never asked, nor expected help. As you go through any life journey though, your experiences, whilst they shape you, they can also damage you. Our journey with autism gave me incredible insights into so many things, but, it left me traumatized, guilty and anxious. So often, I felt guilty for what I might’ve done, or a failure for what I had yet to recover, or experiences I didn’t feel I could cope with for my son. So many emotions, and, even though I am generally determined, practical and rational, it’s not healthy to be your own echo chamber. My husband would try to help, but, his experiences were so different from mine. I resented giving up my career, I felt like a complete failure, never good enough, and not worthy of reward. It’s not good for a marriage, and it wasn’t good for me as an individual.
So, I got help and saw a therapist. Sometimes all you need is to have someone to talk to, to vent to, to question with, to see if you are some kind of antisocial personality disorder-ridden narcissist, or whether your concerns are valid, and your reactions somewhat normal and reasonable, and all you need is the opportunity to organize your thoughts and work on the problems. Talking help reduce stress, and it helps to have a completely neutral person, who can actually help you figure things out. It’s not weak to ask for help – it’s smart. I am much less likely to fall apart over the little things these days, sometimes even surprising myself… such as when my hard drive on my dear departed laptop developed the click of death recently.
3 – Edit Your Social Media
Social media is a wonderful thing – it helps me stay in touch with family and friends across the pond, see news, local events and special offers from businesses I love, and generally share things with my social circle. But, it cab be brutal for your self-esteem, especially when you’re just ‘down’ and have all kinds of self-doubt.
We are always told in life that it’s your own journey that matters – don’t compare yourself to others. It’s difficult when social media has become its own form of ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses”. Those beautiful photography family shoots people have done where their family looks PERFECT, and, you’re sat there after having shouted at your child for not doing something he was asked 15 times to do, with your hair having split ends on split ends, bringing a new definition to ‘feathered hair’. Or, that someone’s kiddo has just been admitted to Harvard, on a full athletic scholarship at 14. Or that someone is vacationing in yet another luxury resort, for the eighth time this year. So, the first one is legit, and the others are ‘slightly’ exaggerated, but, the effect is the same. Remember that people rarely post the ugly on social media – it’s almost always the highlights. They probably have the same boring, frustrating, disappointing moments as everyone else, they just don’t admit to it.
Then, look at the comments on any local news site – people are generally hateful in them. A computer gives people a level of shielding that they use to say things they might never say in person. People are less civil, less kind.
I found that hiding the constant show-off types helped me. It wasn’t that I wished them ill – not at all. I am happy for their success, but, at the same time, I need people who are authentic. That constant level of sunshine and perfection is not that. It’s too fake for me, and it negatively affects me. I am not a perfect person, but, if I can see a little less of it, it reduces my stress level and my own feelings of inadequacy. I also found that not commenting on any form of news thread helps.
Having managed many Facebook pages over the years, I know that admins post controversial content to GET engagement, regardless of the civility of the discourse – it’s a tactic and it works. Getting into an argument with a random stranger over someone’s civil rights is not my idea of a fun time. Think about it – would you rather spend 30 mins in a Facebook thread arguing with a stranger, or spending time with your family? You could be taking a hot, relaxing bath, or drinking a nice fruity cocktail! You could choose something productive like clearing old emails out, or, heck, even playing Candy Crush is better for your mental health than that. Seriously – step away from social media that doesn’t add any positive feelings to your life.
4 – Feed Your Soul
There are so many things that can do this – it all depends on you! For me, it might be reading a new book, having locked the bedroom door and taken a nice cup of tea with me, or, it might be taking a trip somewhere, or enjoying dinner with friends.
For others it could be setting a goal, like running a marathon (or never in my case, some people are just not runners) and actually working out a training plan each day, where time is carved out just for your needs.Everyone needs something for them. Feeling like you are doing something just for yourself, and not to please anyone else can work wonders. It’s ok to treat yourself to time, cake, experiences. In the words of Loreal, you are “worth it”. Having a little something for yourself is a really good way to reduce stress in your life.
5 – Edit Stuff
There is a huge movement at the moment on minimalized life – do you really need all that “stuff” that is cluttering up your life and home? Are you paying storage fees because your home is literally overflowing? Or have you just put off getting rid of things you no longer use or need?
The trend now to do this household purging all in one go, but in my opinion, that needs to fit the individual. I had so many things I hadn’t finished sorting out (and it’s still ongoing), that it was just too much, and they were scattered all around my home.
I am a frugal type too – I like to be able to recoup money from things we no longer need if I can (sell them on Ebay or Facebook Marketplace), and donation is usually my second choice.
For me, the best approach is to break the de-cluttering down into bite sized chunks. I itemize the donations as I fill the box and once I have maybe 2 boxes full, I drop them off. Then they’re gone, and the vacant space gradually appears. Sometimes I will have some help, if say my mum is out for a visit, in which case I can get through more, but, the more that I get out of the house, the better I feel. It really is true – it does feel better to have less clutter. I still have so much to do, but, with each box I drop off, or item I sell, I feel lighter.
What are your favourite ways to reduce stress in your life?