Dear Stress: It’s not you, it’s me. We need to break up.

Dear Stress,

We’ve been together for a while now. In some ways, I can’t imagine life without you. There’s something so intoxicating about ruminating over all the things I need to do.

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Yet, I’ve always known this is a bit of a toxic relationship. No doubt, I’ll be happier without you.

A Harvard University survey confirms this fact: 25% of happiness relies on how well we manage stress.

Despite knowing I’m better off without you, stress, I know you can be quite persistent. So, I have a plan in place to resist your temptations.

  1. Just say no

Nike may not like this, but I’m adopting a new philosophy: Just say no. Over time, I’ve accumulated a few too many “good but not great” commitments. And too much of a good thing becomes burdensome. So, I’ve got a renewed commitment to focus on the things (and people) I love. This is a big step towards avoiding your close relative “overwhelm”.

  1. Make a list

There is something so calming about reviewing my Master Plan. This central task list is the best way I know to re-evaluate my commitments and find ways to streamline, scale back and seek help. The same Harvard University survey mentioned above found “those who plan well tend to feel less stressed”.

(This video provides a short summary of what makes for a great Master Plan).

  1. Block time

It took me a while, but I now realize worrying about something is like doing to task two (or three or seventeen times, depending on how many times I ruminate over it). Now I do my best to clear my schedule and get it done. Once I dig in, I’m often surprised with how much more manageable it is – relative to how much I built it up in my mind.

  1. Check email less often

I’ve never been one to believe we need to respond to emails instantaneously. After all, if there is an emergency, they will call us. We’ve all had the “did you get my email” call. And now research shows this more focused approach is good for lowering stress. University of British Columbia research found people who check email obsessively experienced more stress than those who check email a few times a day.

  1. Clear work-life boundaries

With constant connectivity, it’s easier than ever to work anywhere and anytime. But this doesn’t mean we should be working all the time.  Ironically, stress levels were found to be higher at home than at work, perhaps because people often feel divided. As a recovering workaholic, this is a tough habit to break. But I’m now much better at parking my work with clear work-life boundaries. Not only is this helping to lower stress, it’s also allowing for more meaningful connections with my loved ones.

  1. Strive for good enough

I’ve always strived to make things as good as possible, at both work and in life. Logically, this seems like the right approach. But I’ve come to learn striving for perfection is actually one of the top sources of stress – not to mention both unrealistic and unnecessary. Now I ask myself “Is it good enough?” rather than “Is it perfect?”

  1. Take breaks

I admit it, I used to think breaks were for wimps. But I’ve put my skepticism aside and have reluctantly built some breaks into my day. I’ve come to treasure this time with no agenda, no list and nothing to account for the time spent – other than feeling calmer, which is a pretty awesome benefit. It’s even better when I take my break outside. My next mission is to start regular meditation. I’m working on it. (And sometimes that’s good enough).

  1. Stay present

Back when I was hanging out with you (stress) all the time, my mind was constantly spinning, thinking about all the tasks still undone. Thankfully, my Master Plan allows me to write it down, plan for it and then park it. If I catch myself obsessing about it before its time, I bring my mind back to the present. Mindfulness is a powerful way to reduce stress. And when all else fails, I take deep, slow breaths to combat stress. Take that stress – now I have Buddha on my side.

  1. Seek help

Let’s be clear, stress – you’re not just preying on me. I’ve got a team of people to lean on to ward you off. Friends, family, colleagues, advisors; all of them are ready and willing to assist. They’re also pretty helpful by simply listening as I talk through whatever obstacle I’m facing. All I needed to do was get over my silly reluctance to ask!

  1. Apply the 90-year old rule

Sometimes I find myself stressing about truly silly things, which really don’t matter in the long run. I’ve learned to overcome this by asking myself, “Will this matter when I am 90 years old?” Of course, the answer is no for practically everything I’ve ever worried about. This becomes a reminder to trust things will work out.

  1. Burn it off

While my ancestors metabolized the stress hormone by running away from saber tooth tigers, I’ve taken to burning off stress at the gym or soaking up the stress reduction benefits of yoga. Even something as simple as a brisk walk helps me feel calmer. And with my new treadmill desk, I can fit brisk walks into my desk-job.

  1. Sleep like a boss

I don’t need to tell you what you’ve been doing to my sleep. You keep the thoughts swirling around my head, making it hard to both fall and stay asleep. It doesn’t help that the brain regions associated with excessive worrying and anxiety light up when you don’t get sufficient sleep. From now on, I’m making sleep a priority. No more afternoon coffee. No sleeping beside my smartphone or any other flashing lights in my bedroom. And when all else fails, I’m reminding myself: “The day is done. I have faith in my ability to tackle this tomorrow.”

  1. Laugh it off

The other day, I could feel stress sneaking up on me and I decided to walk it off. I walked right over to my friend Moya’s house. The next thing I knew, we had our feet in her pool and were literally crying with laughter. Within a few short minutes, I was feeling great again. And this is no surprise according to research. A Mayo Clinic study found laughter makes it easier to manage stress with the added bonuses of boosting your immune system, improving our mood and many other benefits.

So, are we clear, stress? No need to text. No need to call. I’m moving on. I’d like to take the high road and wish you well but be warned, I’m going to do my best to help others steer clear of you as well. While I may not be successful every day, I guarantee your days are numbered.

Sincerely,

Ann

PS – Are you ready to break up with stress? Have you already severed ties with this toxic companion? Please share your experience and suggestions in the comments below.

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