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I Can’t Take It Anymore! Three steps to escape chronic stress

There I was, in the middle of high-fiving my boss when I realized that stress was going to kill me. This was back when I believed that using self-pressure and pushing through fatigue was the key to success. Now I know that stress is not necessary—never mind helpful—to accomplish a goal or be successful.  On […]

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There I was, in the middle of high-fiving my boss when I realized that stress was going to kill me. This was back when I believed that using self-pressure and pushing through fatigue was the key to success. Now I know that stress is not necessary—never mind helpful—to accomplish a goal or be successful. 

On the day of the high-five, I had rushed into a meeting with my boss, a family medicine doctor who was also a high-functioning stress addict. 

“Have you lost weight?” she asked. 

“I think so,” I said. “It’s been so busy, and when I’m stressed it’s hard to eat.” 

A proud smile came over her face. “Join the team!” she said. “I usually lose one to two pant sizes when things are busy. Big things are happening!” She raised her hand for a high-five. 

My limp hand rose slowly to meet hers.

This, I thought, is really [email protected]#ked up.

That was the moment I knew I had to find a way out. 

For many of us, it seems as if stress is unavoidable because life is constantly demanding more. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way out. 

Here’s a 3-step method that I use with my coaching clients – and in my own life – to de-stress, refocus, and feel confident about approaching life’s demands. 

Step 1: Fill up your cup first 

It can be difficult to see the faintest possibility of a different path if we’re exhausted, trying to make it through another day, or worrying about what’s next. Filling up your cup is a ritual of nurturing yourself a little bit every day so that you don’t feel empty. 

LET’S TRY IT: 

  1. Choose a specific time of day that is protected for you. This will be your time, without interruptions. I choose early morning, getting up before my family does, so I have a quiet house and can nurture myself before giving to others. 
  2. Protect this time with equal dedication as you would something that you consider to be high-stakes and critically important. This time is critically important and it will positively influence everything else you do. Here’s a little commitment statement for you to complete and then refer back to:  “I will protect time between _____ and _____ to fill up my cup first. I’m protecting this time the same way I would protect time for _____________ (something you consider critically important) because everything I do will benefit from this time to nurture myself.” 
  3. Explore what delights you, gives you a spark of wonder, or feels restful. This could be something like journaling, meditating, yoga, or walking in nature. Write your ideas below or complete the following:  “What I really want to do right now is ___________”

The more consistent you are with protecting time to nurture yourself, the more likely it is that this will become your new normal. 

Step 2: Practice knowing that it’s already done   

While taking a fiction writing class in college I convinced myself that the story I was writing was already done—I simply needed to move it from the “story world” to the blank pages in front of me. I’d repeatedly think, Thank God it’s already done! Phew! Now all I have to do is type.

I’ve since learned that this practice has remarkable effects on the brain. Removing the mental threat (in this case, a deadline) quiets the fight-or-flight nervous system that gets triggered when the brain detects danger (not enough time). Instead, it activates the rest-and-digest response (we’re safe; all is well). While feeling calm in rest-and-digest mode, you are able to be your most thoughtful and creative self. Simply put, you literally think better

LET’S TRY IT: 

Complete the following:

  1. Right now I’m feeling anxious, stressed, or worried about _________ 
  2. My ideal outcome would be _____________________________________ 
  3. Now imagine that your ideal outcome is reality. Notice your emotional feelings as well as the physical sensations in your body while knowing that it’s done. Write what you notice here: _________________________________________________________

Sink into those feelings and experience them for at least 30 seconds.

Step 3: You have Guidance—practice listening!

It’s not only artists and poets who receive inspiration and insight. We all have access to brilliance. Think of a time when you knew something but you couldn’t explain why, but you did, and it turned out to be true. You may refer to it as Guidance, a muse, intuition, or the Universe—whatever you call it, it’s there. Try tapping into it. 

As you do, you may have new ideas that move along a project more quickly or insights about who to ask for help. 

LET’S TRY IT: 

  1. Set the intention of being “all ears” to receive guidance and inspiration. Write your intention here_________________________
  2. Ask for guidance from your source of inspiration. You could try this:  “Dear (Universe), I would love some guidance right now with . . . “
  3. Get still and see what happens. My experience is that guidance tends to come when I stop overthinking something or when I switch gears entirely, like going for a walk. If you feel stuck – it’s okay – relax or try doing something that feels enjoyable. 
  4. Be alert for subtle nudges or coincidences. I’ve yet to have a message from my source of inspiration that’s written in the sky. Instead, I’ll be drawn to a random book that I suddenly must-read. Or I get an energizing idea while driving. Or I start to repeatedly think of a person who I haven’t thought of in a while and I must reach out. 
  5. Write down any subtle nudges or coincidences you’ve noticed here (you can always come back and add to this)_________________________________________________________: 

As you start to practice these three steps, you’ll be on your way to approaching life’s demands with more ease and living a life free from chronic stress. Imagine it, feel it, know that it’s done and follow the path to move it from the “story world” onto the pages of your life.  

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