We do many things we aren’t even aware of that spike our stress. That includes everything from saying yes too often to worrying what others think to ruminating about the past. (See more in this previous piece.)
But once we name these habits, we can move from knee-jerk reactions to mindful practices.
As Kathleen Hall, Ph.D, said, “The more mindful you are, the less stressed you are.” Hall is the founder and CEO of The Stress Institute and The Mindful Living Network. She’s also author of four books including Mindful Living Everyday.
Below is a list of three stress-boosting habits she regularly sees in her work. Maybe you see yourself in one or all of these. And if you do, you might find the practices and tips to be helpful, too.
It’s human nature to put tasks off. But procrastination probably spikes our stress tenfold, Hall said. It easily distracts us, triggering frustration and anxiety, she explained.
We can lose our ability to identify what is a priority and what isn’t, she said. We start to live in a state of avoidance, which only fuels our fear and hesitation.
Many of us tend to berate ourselves for procrastinating, which only sabotages our progress. So it’s important to pay attention to our self-talk.
Hall encouraged empowering yourself, and speaking in supportive ways. She shared these examples: “This is a challenge,” and “I will learn a lot doing this project.”
She also stressed the importance of being realistic about how long a project will take. This is critical because you might need to say no to other things to make time and space to focus on the project, she said.
To prevent procrastination, Hall suggested immediately reviewing mail and other tasks and assigning them a priority number and priority pile. Instead of stressing out about what’s where and what is a priority and what isn’t, you confront the task right away and devise a plan of attack, she said.
2. Maintaining clutter.
“Being surrounded by stacks of files, tons of to-do lists and a refrigerator full of expired food is very stressful,” Hall said. It’s stressful when you can’t find what you’re looking for at home or at work. It’s stressful when you don’t feel comfortable having anyone over.
Being surrounded by clutter makes you feel out of control and angry, she said.
Clutter initiates shame, accompanied by guilt, frustration and overwhelm. To get out of this spiral, Hall suggested the buddy system: Pick a person you trust to be accountable to.
And think small steps. For instance, buy several small boxes. Pick one room to start. Put all the clutter into these boxes, and stack them in the corner, Hall said. (This makes the room look neater and cleaner.) Every night or weekend, open several boxes and throw out what you don’t need (or love), and organize the rest, she said.
At work, Hall suggested clearing off your desk by also putting the contents into a small box at the corner of your cubicle or room. Add your favorite colors, photos you love and plants you enjoy, she said. This helps you claim your workspace “as a place of beauty, organization and efficiency.”
Again, be kind and gentle with yourself during this process, Hall added. Remember that it’ll take some time to work through your clutter, she said. “Imagine it as a spiritual journey that is blessing you with freedom every step of the way.”
(This organizational/decluttering method also might resonate with you.)
3. Managing your inbox.
Checking email continuously throughout the day can lead to exhaustion and burnout, Hall said. But it’s likely hard to stop, because your inbox feels like Niagara Falls.
Some statistics show that the average worker sends and receives over 100 emails a day; or spends half of their working day in their inbox; or spends 13 hours a week on email.
To handle email overload, Hall suggested sorting email by priority and putting emails into the appropriate folders (such as a folder for emails that don’t require a rapid response).
Also, let colleagues, clients and supervisors know that you check email every two hours, but they can reach you by phone for anything urgent, she said.
Unroll.me has helped me. It’s a free service that combines your email subscriptions into one neat email, which you receive once a day.
Alexandra Franzen recently wrote this great piece on email guidelines, which you might find helpful.
Stress can seem nebulous and feel unruly and overpowering. But naming your triggers goes a long way.
According to Hall, “Each of us has different stress triggers and a varied degree of stress resilience.” The key to an enjoyable life, she said, is to become aware of those specific causes. Then you’re able to identify solutions and practices that can help.
Of course, change isn’t easy. But as Hall said, “Change is the most natural and normal thing that has to happen…Change equals life.”