What to Do When You’re Busy and Stressed

Mar 9, 2015 | Downloadable Tools for Leaders, Executive Coaching Blogs, Life Coaching Blogs

3 Steps Will Get You Closer to Sanity

During Snowpocalypse 2015, many cities’, workplaces’, and homes’ schedules ground to a screeching halt. Schools were out for several days; workplaces were closed. Our nationwide stress was on display in every newscast.

Parents were stressed because the kids were home and full of energy. Workers were stressed because they couldn’t get to work and get their tasks done. 

Did you stop to ask yourself why a snow day is so stressful?

(Hint: it has nothing to do with the snow.)

For most people, the snow simply meant that life couldn’t continue with ease and convenience…and productivity! My hunch is that the stress you felt crept in because you had planned to be somewhere else, doing something else, and Mother Nature intervened. In addition, your plate was probably already too full so it meant that you’d feel further behind.

So many of us feel this daily pressure to perform, to complete, and to show up. I know I do.

We have expectations of ourselves, but so do our significant others, our bosses, our families, and our friends. We see these expectations creep into our our social calendar. Even our consumption patterns have expectations. We must. run. errands. We must be sure to have everything we need, (plus whatever catches our eye at Target).

There’s a growing voice in our country that I want to  invite you to listen to: let go of stress. Let go of the expectations of a middle-class lifestyle. Let go of constantly working. Let go of seeing “friends” you don’t really want to see. Let go of the need to give your child every experience imaginable.

Let go.

By letting go, you can embrace what is.

Here’s the simple truth: You have made the choice to feel and be busy and stressed.

As a reforming people-pleaser and recovering perfectionist, I have said, “Yes,” when I should have said, “No.” I have chosen to be busy and stressed. I have broken down in tears on a Sunday night because I spent an entire weekend with acquaintances that don’t re-fill me emotionally or spiritually. I have looked at my calendar for the week and thought, “Where are my priorities in here?” I have looked at my bank account and realized I spent my money on nothing that matters.

The Simple Steps

Here is what I have done to let go of stress, define my own priorities, and, in the process, attempted to live my purpose. I invite you to try this too.

Step 1: Stop telling the world how busy you are.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Time poverty is a status symbol.” The first time I heard it, it knocked me on my a$$. I was always talking about how busy I was saving the world. I volunteered soooooo much. I worked sooooo much at a local charity. Woe is me for being so important. As if.

While it was true that I worked and volunteered from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. many days a week, I also let everyone know it by coming into meetings exasperated at how much work I had.

The more we talk about how busy we are, the more we come to believe it. One of the things that has really struck me about living in my neighborhood and mentoring kids through Big Brothers Big Sisters is that those living in poverty can’t afford to be busy. I have a bad habit of asking my neighbors, “Whatcha doing?” And the answer is inevitably, “Watching t.v.” or, “Nothing.”

Before you start your rant about “poor people and satellite cable,” stay with me for a second. These families can’t afford [ballet, soccer, football, cooking, craft] lessons. They can’t afford trips to the museum, zoo, and the movies on a regular basis. Our schedules take money. And families living in poverty don’t have the money. In addition, these families often rely on public transportation for their jobs. What takes us 30 minutes in our car is closer to 1.5 hours by bus…each way. Indeed they don’t have time.

This perspective helps me remember what a privilege it is to be busy with work, friends, and cool cultural events.

Step 2: Embrace your obligations. And own up to what you can’t do.

The second step requires you to get done what you said you were going to do. Many of us (myself included) have a dance with stress before we get down to work. Here’s what my old dance used to look like:

  • Sit at computer
  • Look at task list
  • Try to calm myself by looking at Facebook
  • Tell myself that if I just answer a few emails then I will feel relaxed enough to do work
  • 30 minutes mysteriously flies by
  • Get down to work

Here’s my new dance:

  • Sit at computer
  • Avoid email
  • Get down to work

Be real with yourself (and others) as to what you can reasonably accomplish and still take care of yourself.

Step 3: Make a better choice next time.

Be present. Make a better choice next time.

Life is a series of unfolding events. There’ll almost always be a next time. Breathe.

It’s not your job to save the world.

Just breathe.