Seven ways to cope with stress

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

10 Comments for “Seven ways to cope with stress”

  1. posted by NettyM on

    Related to staying healthy: Maintain healthy relationships.

    For me this means both personally and professionally. Toxic people are a drainon everything – they literally suck the life out of you to try to make themselves feel better. A toxic boss (or spouse, sad to say) won’t allow you to do the other things on the list. You’ll find yourself being far more productive when you’re not constantly hearing negative comments, pressure, and blame. You are more than what these horrible people may say.

  2. posted by Rashelle on

    I’d add one more strategy to the mix: simply pay attention to what is going on in your life, right here, right now. You might be able to nip stressful situations in the bud!

  3. posted by Dawn F on

    @NettyM: WELL SAID!

  4. posted by Violetsrose on

    Comparing modern parents’ busy lives with Bach’s life with his 20 children is nonsense – when he lived the convention would have been for women to do ALL the childcare – he would not have cooked for them, fed them, washed their clothes, changed their bums, got them ready each day, bathed them at night, got up when they cried in the night, nursed them when they were sick, driven them to nursery/school/football practice/ballet – none of these things – even in the picture this links to you see him carrying on with his music, oblivious to what is going on around him
    Now if you’d compared our busy lives with his WIFE, that would have made more sense!

  5. posted by WilliamB on

    The remedies are all good but I think the example of Bach is specious and distracts from the good remedies.

    In addition to Violetsrose’s excellent points, Frau Bach wasn’t caring for all 20 at the same time, that children were raised differently and to different expectations (e.g., less parental oversight, more responsibilities, apprenticeship), and that many mothers had help – hired, relatives, older children.

    I also wonder if David Allen’s proposition – that people back then didn’t feel overloaded as we do now – is correct. Parents in that century faced famine, war, numerous lethal childhood diseases, needing much of the day for the labor to keep a household fed and clothed. And little way around any of these. For example, watching your child get a disease you know will be fatal and that you can’t do anything about, is overwhelming for most.

  6. posted by lafou on

    Put Bach in an apartment with 20 kids and see what happens.

  7. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    Of Bach’s 20 children, only 10 made it to adulthood and of the ones who died young, only one made it to the vicinity of age 5 (haven’t found exact birth and death dates for this one). The oldest and youngest surviving children of Maria Barbara (1st wife) were about 15 and 9 respectively by the time the first child of Anna Magdalene (2nd wife) was born.

    The eldest child being a girl could well have been working (mother’s helper / servant / lady’s maid / governess – depending on the father’s social standing at the time) and therefore neither a burden nor underfoot by the time her half brothers and sisters were born.

    All that being said, parents in those times may have been less stressed about parenting simply because there were less choices. There’s only so much information our brains can handle and they wouldn’t have had things like 20 different lines of toilet paper to have to chose from or 15 different health insurance provider plans to differentiate (and that’s the whittled down list!) or multiple lines of electronic media, let alone paper or parish gossip sources of news to process.

    The survival mode Allen is talking about is when things are so bad or schedules are so tight that all the dross falls away and the truly important things about which decisions MUST be made shine through. When assignments are due, non-essential housework doesn’t happen. 🙂

  8. posted by Doug P on

    All are great ideas.

    I am wondering if Mr. Bach was stressed how stressed his wife must have been?


    Thanks for the great posts.

  9. posted by Layla on

    For engineering students: eliminate some projects by dropping a course, and sleep for 12 hours while your super-friends are studying for the midterm.

  10. posted by Jacky on

    Great article. It would help me release the stress and sharing to my friends to cope with stress too.
    As I know if we don’t focus on stress, we will not feel the stress is stress.

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