Life seems to have a way of getting crazy just when we don’t have time. There’s your child’s homework assignment that they forgot was due…tomorrow. An impending deadline at work that can’t be delayed any longer. What about the band concerts, dance lessons, or basketball games for your kids? School, church, and family obligations and responsibilities that we “have” to do. How do we balance all the demands on our time and energy?
Recently, I came to the point of realization that it wasn’t physically possible for me to accomplish and meet all my obligations the way that I had envisioned in my head. It was possible (though difficult) to meet the responsibilities on my list, but not in the way that I wanted them completed. Having realistic expectations of what I can and need to accomplish within the parameters of my life was a hard realization for me. I don’t just want to complete a task; I want to excel at that task. However, my overly high expectations of myself were leading to feelings of stress, anxiety, and negative self- worth. How do we combat these dueling feelings of inadequacy and the need for perfection?
Sounds simple enough right? However, how often do we sit down and write out all the demands on our time and energy for a day and then rank them? Try taking just 5 minutes and jotting down all the things that you need (or think you need) to accomplish for that day. Is it reasonable? How do you feel when you look at the list? Is it empowering and motivating? Or, do you feel the stress and anxiety like I did when I looked at mine? If your list is motivating, then you might have a good balance. However, if you react like I did, that’s a good indication that you are over-extended and need to pare it down a bit. How can I cut out something I “need” to do?
For those of us that suffer with perfectionistic tendencies, it’s hard to accept that less than perfect is good enough. Do we really need to be on every PTO committee at our children’s schools? Or, is being on one “good enough”? Are there things on your list where you can give yourself permission to be average? Adjusting the expectations that we set for ourselves can be a difficult thing to do, but I’ve found that being more flexible about what is and isn’t acceptable leads to a lot less stress.
After completing the first two steps, I realized there were several areas of my life where I’d created exceedingly high expectations. I had scheduled myself into a corner that didn’t allow for any deviation. Allowing for some flexibility in my schedule is very freeing; I don’t have to be doing something all the time. When something unexpected does pop up, I’ve left enough leeway to adjust accordingly.
I’ve learned that being able to look objectively at various aspects of my life and see where I can make improvements by doing less, either physically or mentally, is necessary at this stage. I simply can’t be or do all the things that I tried to tell myself that I had to. However, by carefully evaluating and choosing to prioritize the things most important to me, accepting that sometimes less than “perfect” is good enough, and allowing flexibility be my new mantra; I have a sense of strength, empowerment, and resiliency that was previously lacking.
At the beginning of November my mom sent me a text that read “I just saw my first Christmas commercial of the season…. I’m starting to feel anxious.” It was meant as a joke between us because of how early the commercial side of Christmas starts. All joking aside, Christmas can be a very stressful time for a lot of people. Personally, I can become overwhelmed at Christmas time. The shopping. The parties. The neighbor gifts. The decorating. The list goes on and on. I thought sharing some tips on how I stay peaceful and stress free during this time of year would be helpful.
1) Identify what triggers your anxiety during the holidays. This seems like a no brainer, but is so important to decreasing your stress. Is it handing out neighbor gifts? Is putting up Christmas lights going to send you over the edge? Figure out what causes so much anxiety and then…
2) Identify what causes you the most joy during this time of season. Cookie making? Decorating the tree? If it brings joy write it down. At this point you should have a list of what causes you stress and what causes you joy. Once you have that list…
3) Prioritize. This time of year is not about doing every last Christmas activity, or attending each and every party to which you received an invitation. If that is what brings you joy then by all means please enjoy those parties. If party attendance is on your list of triggers then prioritize which parties are the most important and regretfully decline the others. The idea is to bring joy into this time of year and push out the things that cause so much stress. This may change every year. One year at my house, to decrease stress, we only put up stockings and a Christmas tree. Another year we only attended select Christmas parties. We prioritized what was important to us and let the other stuff fall by the wayside.
4) Make special time for yourself and your significant other. There is so much emphasis on family this time of year. That is such a wonderful thing. I love being together with my family and close friends. Sometimes we forget that we need time for ourselves that does not include Christmas shopping or planning Christmas magic for our family. Take some time for yourself to relax and enjoy the sights and smells of the season. Take time with your spouse to be together without throngs of people around. It will make a big difference.
5) Be grateful. Being grateful always grounds me to be content and joyful. Especially at this time of year I love to keep a daily gratitude journal. It helps keep me centered on what I already have instead of what I need or want as gifts from other people. Everyday take an inventory of the blessings you have in your life. It will create a wonderful perspective for the season.
Good luck! Hopefully as you create and maintain some good boundaries this year your holiday season will be less stressful and more enjoyable.
Chronic stress causes problems in every area of life, not the least of which is physical sickness and mental exhaustion. Many people’s depression and/ or anxiety can be traced to chronic high levels of stress. We live in a face-paced and complex world with more stressors than ever. The problem is that people who are stressed out don’t feel they have the time to do anything about it- and so the stress gets worse and worse.
When you honestly have very little time to take a step back from life and take care of yourself, you need to get creative about carving out peaceful moments throughout each day. Prioritize and simplify wherever you can, because as the old adage says, if you don’t take time to be well now, you will certainly take time to be sick later. While you’re figuring out how to cut some things out (!), here are some simple strategies you can implement today to de-stress:
I know there have been several questions on this site regarding preferences for solitude, but most of these questions have come from people with diagnosed disorders such as depression, social phobias, PTSD, etc., and the answers provided have been framed in the context of the relevant disorder. My concern is that, despite being depression and anxiety-free, I am becoming increasingly rigid in terms of my willingness to spend time with others, and it is affecting my relationships negatively. I’ve always been a bit of a loner and required a certain amount of time alone, but I’ve also always had plenty of friends and a pretty normal dating/relationship history. However, over the course of the past year or so I have started to really prioritize solitude over spending time with friends, family, and romantic partners to the point of avoidance. It’s not that I’ve become apathetic towards these people or that I’ve stopped liking them. In fact, I still have a strong desire for affection, friendship, and intimacy, but only in VERY limited quantities, and anything beyond that feels like an obligation. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, my girlfriend lives about 100 miles away, so spending a whole lot of time together during the week is not really feasible. Because of this she would really like to drive to my place after work on Friday, spend the weekend with me, and leave Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately I can’t even begin to fathom spending that much time with someone -even someone I love- and so I always have to come up with an excuse for why she would need to leave Saturday morning or afternoon. And to be honest, by Saturday I’m literally counting the minutes until she leaves so I can be alone. I don’t want to be this way. It’s not fair to the people in my life, and I feel like I shouldn’t be in a relationship, even though I am very much in love. Any insight into my problem would be greatly appreciated!
This is the time of the year to say goodbye to summer and hello to increasing responsibilities and the longer ‘to-do’ lists. Here are some tips on keeping the love alive while the pile up continues to grow.
Use Technology to Your Advantage – we have technology buzzing all around us. Why not use it to your advantage? Sending a quick text, an email, a chat or a phone call can take just a few seconds but can send an important message – I am thinking about you and I love you. If you can’t seem to remember to do this try putting an alarm on your phone for random times during the day to remind you until it becomes a habit.
Prioritize and Plan Ahead – When the ‘to-do’ list gets longer we often get lost in the have to, want to, and should do’s, but the clarity of which tasks are the highest priorities seem to get a little cloudy. It is important to prioritize what is important… your relationship. Plan ahead for a date night during the month or week and stick to it. Get the babysitter well in advance and don’t change it. Even if something comes up it sends a powerful message to yourself, your partner and others when you say no because your relationship with your significant other is more important. When things are planned ahead of time they usually come to fruition rather than just saying, “when we have time” because you likely will not have extra time.
Keep Rituals – we should all have a few rituals in our relationship, a kiss before leaving, a couple of minutes after work talking, a glass of warm milk at night together, pillow talk before bed… whatever your rituals are, keep them going. Most of the rituals couples develop are not time consuming, but if you do not remember to do them they quickly get lost in the noise of busyness. Rituals tell your partner you are there, and there is stability in the relationship, something to count on.
Do not let emotions slide – One of the first things I see slide when we are busy, is emotional connection. You don’t have time to sit down, let alone talk about your feelings, right? Wrong… this is the time you need emotional connection the most. When life is busy and chaotic it is essential to feel close to your partner. It gives you a sense of support and confidence that is unique and allows you to focus on whatever you have to do. When we feel emotionally connected we do not need to spend time and energy worrying about the woes of the relationship.
Accomplish tasks together when possible (be creative) –Whenever you can check off a task from the list together and make it time for the two of you it can increase closeness. So, if you have to run errands do it together, make dinner and talk about your day at the same time, even working side by side on your computers can be fun and relationship enhancing if you make it that way.
Be Flexible – We are often told to divide and conquer but sometimes just being flexible is better for the relationship.
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