Stress is talked about so much these days. Everything from the Sunday lifestyle section of the newspapers to personal blogs seems to have taken on topic of stress at some point. The feeling of being close to a burnout, of being overwhelmed and distracted by one’s own stress is such a familiar feeling to almost everyone these days. It got us thinking about some common elements behind why we all lead these stressful lives.
1. You have too much on your plate.
How many of us really knows where our priority lies? The truth is that for most of us, more than one thing matters–we care about the work that we do and where we live, about our partner and our children, about success, health and retirement plans. It is the 7-dishes-on-1-plate problem; we all juggle many things all at once. No wonder “I’m tired” is one of the statements you hear most often.
SOLUTION: Be honest about what matters to you and sacrifice for that! Take some things off your plate.
2. You do not get enough sleep.
Because you’re constantly juggling several things all at once, you probably do not get enough rest. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a night. But having 7 hours of sleep a night and a full-time job means that not much time is left for the other aspects of your life (less time for yoga, less time to spend with your loved ones, less time on Twitter and Instagram), So, if time is the thing that none of us has enough of, we tend to steal some of it from this recommended “minimum 7 hours of sleep.”
SOLUTION: Make sleep not what you do at the end of the day, but a priority!
3. You do not dare to say “No.”
It is difficult to say “No.” It is especially difficult these days because culture encourages us to always say a resounding, unambivalent “YES!”. Haven’t we heard that the successful person is the one who always says yes? “Do you want to do come camping with us this weekend?” “YES!” “Want to have dinner?” “Yes!” “Can you try and make it to this networking event before you rush home for your daughter’s birthday?” “Yes!” And so, you are spread thin. You do not want to let anyone down. But successful people are not Yes men; they prioritize, they pick and choose and see to their own needs.
SOLUTION: Learn that you can say no! People’s appraisal of you is based on more than whether you say yes or no on any given day.
It is for a good reason that Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been on many bestseller lists since it came out in 2011. As with the noise in your head, the physical clutter around you (whether on your desk, in your car or in your kitchen or bedroom) can create stress. This is because clutter is a physical manifestation of things not done, decisions not made, a reminder of unfinished or neglected business in general.
SOLUTION: Cultivate a habit of regular housekeeping; it is a good way to maintain mental health.
If you have lived long enough on this earth, you will realize that people are difficult. Or rather, people are well meaning, yet relationships are difficult. This is your relationship with your mother, your child, your lover, your friend, your employer, the man making your salad at Salad Stop. People are difficult because they never meet your needs in the exact way you think you want them to. And so they frustrate you, creating yet another layer of stress through your disappointment over expectations not met.
SOLUTION: Let go of your expectations about each relationship you have in your life, or adjust your expectations to meet the real person in your life rather than the ideal in your head.
6. Bad health.
Just as our busy lives cause us to take time off sleep, we make compensations of this kind all the time. We get a quick lunch at KFC because we are stressed and need the taste of salt, oil and batter as a quick pick-me-up. We come home too tired to hit the gym. We drink too many cups of coffee and organic food is too expensive. And so we bring our sleep deprivation and our headache to work and the hours feel longer than usual. Afterwards, we need more caffeine or fried food, and so the cycle goes on.
SOLUTION: As with getting a good night’s rest, make your health a priority. Good health is the real fuel you run on; you can’t run on low or no gas.
7. You are not where you need to be in life.
If you talk to people, you realize that however they differ, an overwhelmingly large number of people feel that they are “behind.” They are “behind” because they are a partner at their firm but aren’t married; they are “behind” because they have worked at their small business for 7 years but haven’t made the big buck; they are behind because they are just starting their Master’s degree at the age of 35. But if everybody feels this way, then surely the idea that you should be at a certain place by a certain age could be pure fantasy?
SOLUTION: In the words of the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”
8. You are a perfectionist.
Have you ever thought (usually with regret) that you’re just not enough of a perfectionist? I have news for you, this is the type of thinking perfectionists indulge in. You spent 16 hours a day on a project and take a shower with a sinking feeling, a rankling feeling that you are wasting time. You’re thinking, surely people who are actually great at what they do would have put in many, many more than 16 hours. Of course you do good enough work, but something is chasing you; you are never able to walk at a calm and even pace in this journey called life. In fact, maybe you compare the ideal life to the training sequences in the Sylvester Stallone Rocky movies. Believe me, I understand.
The noise runs on in your head, like a personal noise machine. You are so used to this mode of thinking that you hardly notice it, it’s like breathing to you. But they do have a name for it, it’s called perfectionism. Being a perfectionist means living with the rankling feeling that you can always do better. Just as anorexics feel that they are just never thin enough, perfectionists feel that they are never good enough.
SOLUTION: Learn that the standards are in your head and don’t get too addicted to the rewards. The problem is that perfectionists DO end up doing better work and they are rewarded for it. Use this compulsion to spur yourself on but be canny about it; understand it as a compulsion. Don’t use it to beat yourself up.
A man who is addicted to water can be a very good swimmer. But this is not a virtue; he just likes water very much. It is the same with your perfectionism.
We live in a culture that tells us that if we don’t have the money for it now, we can always pay later. A culture of credit and instant gratification. Having a credit card is great because it gives you some breathing room when you’re traveling, or a chance to spend more for a special occasion. But for a lot of people, before they know it, they’re in over the head. This is the same with any other kind of credit system–the installment payment for a car, the mortgage on a property. Hardly anyone can afford to buy a house without a mortgage these days, yet debt accrues, interests accrue, and shouldering the burden of chronic debt is a primary cause of stress for many families these days.
SOLUTION: Listen to our grandparents’ generation. Always spend slightly less (and never more) than you can afford!
10. You need to be in control.
You can control the amount of debt you live with, and actually, you can control how much sleep you get (well, unless you are parent of a newborn). You can also control how much you work. But given all that, there are many things in life that you cannot control. Parents get a sharp taste of this when they raise children and learn just how little are really in their control. At some point, you learn that things do happen outside of your personal will, motivation, intention and plans.
If not being the scriptwriter for the universe stresses you out deeply, you are likely to live with an anxiety always hanging over your head.
SOLUTION: Accept that you cannot control everything, and that in fact sometimes things work out even when you are not in charge, just as they can well not work out even when you ARE in charge.
One of my good friends once showed me his favourite prayer: “God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can change, and wisdom to know the difference.”
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