Stop for a moment. Think about your life as it is right now: the good, the not so good, and your work and personal stuff all blended together. Now add 20 children to that mix. Can you imagine how different your life would be? Your responsibilities would likely grow exponentially and you would need a lot of help along with solid systems to keep things from becoming overwhelming.
Though this scenario might sound a little far-fetched, it was a reality for Johann Sebastian Bach who had 20 children. This fact was featured in an interview I read recently with David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life and the best seller Getting Things Done.
I was fascinated by Allen’s comments about the reason why people in Bach’s day probably didn’t feel as overwhelmed or stressed as many people do today:
Another reason a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed is because people are not in true survival or crisis mode as often as they have been in much of our history. The interesting thing about crisis is that it actually produces a type of serenity. Why? Because in a crisis, people have to integrate all kinds of information that’s potentially relevant, they have to make decisions quickly, they have to then trust their intuitive judgment calls in the moment. They have to act … they’re very focused on some outcome, usually live–you know, survive.
I think Allen might be on to something. When your choices are clear and it’s obvious which thing is the most important, you can make decisions more quickly and feel sure (not stressed) that you’ve selected the right option.
But, do you really need to be in crisis mode to cope well when everything seems urgent and important? You likely do not (and will not) face some of the challenges others did in the 1700s, and it’s fair to assume that most of us don’t have to care for 20 children. That said, you will probably feel the pressure and strain of multiple competing priorities from time to time. What you experience may not fall in the crisis category, but even so, there are small steps you can take to fight off feelings of stress. You may need some time to think through the root cause of your anxious feelings, and, once you do, you’ll have these seven strategies to help you conquer them.
- Eliminate some projects. You might have taken on more projects than you could reasonably manage, or perhaps, they turned out to be more complex than you initially thought they would be. Look at all the things you’ve committed to doing and, when possible, remove the ones that are causing significant stress and/or delegate them to someone else.
- Re-structure your commitments. If your project is not something that can be easily delegated to someone else, think of ways to make adjustments that can make it more manageable. If there are deadlines, are they flexible? Can you switch roles (become a team member verses a project lead) or share the lead role with another person? Look for alternate ways to stay involved with less pressure.
- Keep a positive mindset. The next time you feel like your head is about to explode, remember that you don’t have 20 children! And, if by chance you do (or it feels like you do), try to keep an optimistic attitude. You might need a little help to refocus your energies in a more positive way, so whatever (or whomever) tends to cheer you up, go find them. Take a minute to make a list of things that make you happy and keep it close by for when those moments arise.
- Pace yourself. Do you ever notice that when you rush around, your brain sometimes does the same thing? You think you have to rush to get everything done, but the only thing that frantic pace does is make you move your feet a little faster. Instead, slow down a bit. You’ll be able to think more clearly and come up with a reasonable plan to manage your priorities for that day.
- Do nothing. Plan for days when you’ll relax and give yourself an opportunity to recharge. Taking breaks can help you to reduce stress and be more productive once you get back to your responsibilities.
- Be excellent, not perfect. Reaching for perfection will make it more difficult to remain stress-free. The notion of perfection is just that — a lofty idea, one that is impossible to attain. Trying to achieve perfection takes a lot of mental energy, wastes your time, and leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Excellence, however, can be achieved by anyone. Have a plan ready, strive to do your best, and put those notions of perfection aside.
- Stay healthy. The three things that you perhaps have the greatest control over are what you eat, how much you exercise, and how much sleep you get at night. Did you know that what you eat as well as the the amount of water you consume can affect your mood? The results of a recent study showed that even mild dehydration “dampened moods, increased fatigue, and led to headaches.” So, be sure to keep healthy snacks close by and stay hydrated throughout the day.
There is no magic pill that will erase all stress from your life, but you’re not without tools to help you keep stress at bay. Test out some of the tips shared today to see how well they work for you.