It seems like stress is an inseparable part of modern life; there is so much to do and not enough time. Since it’s really hard to avoid stress today, the only way to cope with it is to find ways to co-exist. In her TED talk named How to make stress your friend, psychologist Kelly McGonigal claims that what you think of stress is what counts - not the stress itself. If you think stress is harmful – then it will be.
This lecture reminds me of an old story my father used to tell me. A man waiting to be executed was surprised to receive a gift box. He was told that he would find his death inside the box. The nervous man opened the box and found another gift box inside. He opened the second box and found another gift box. The process repeated itself, but before he could reach the smallest gift box he died of a heart attack. When people opened the smallest gift box there was nothing inside it.
A positive approach to stress is one way to deal with it. I found a more practical tool to handle stress in a book called The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. Fiore claims that one of the biggest triggers of stress is underestimating how much time a certain task requires. Procrastination follows, since subconsciously we know it will take a lot more time, and that the time we initially allocated to perform this task will not be enough. With procrastination comes stress, as work accumulates and the deadline nears.
A couple of months ago I had a similar experience. I just finished a fun interview and I knew that working on it would be easy. I made the mistake of thinking that easy equals fast. I gave myself 30 minutes to transcribe and edit this interview. I found myself procrastinating this simple task and stressing out about not completing it. I was able to sit down and do the work only after I finally acknowledged that it will take me four hours to complete it and not thirty minutes.
If not managed well, stress can lead to more stress. Sometimes we make the mistake of letting work and other tasks take over our life and forget to take some leisure time. Taking the time to enjoy life takes time from work and things-getting-done, but at the same time it gives us the energy to continue working. When I interviewed business coach Laurie Litwack on the topic of Prioritizing Relationships Amidst a Hectic Work Life, Laurie stressed the importance of including leisure time activities in the calendar and honoring this commitment.
Since I’m the one who conducted and wrote the interview, you would think that I would know better. A couple of weeks ago, after the interview with Laurie, I had a discussion with my networking group about how each of us sets their goals. Some make a list on their cell phone and some print it out and put it by their bedside. I start each week writing my goals on a long sticky note and stick it to my computer screen. I really enjoy crossing items off the list with my pen after each task I complete. One of the women in the group stopped the discussion abruptly and said, “Have you noticed that you are only focusing on work goals and completely ignoring your personal goals?” She was right. I reflected back on my entire sticky notes lists – not one of them included something like “go to a movie,” or “do something fun.” I really love what I’m doing, but life is more than just work.
So here you have it – my 3 techniques to deal with stress:
1. Make peace with stress and see it as a motivator
2. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to complete a task
3. Include leisure time in your weekly to do list
What are the methods and tools you use to handle stress? Please share in the comments below.