Upcoming dinner plans, a half-baked trip to the beach, and a hold waiting at the library are all small stressors I keep in the back of my mind and contribute to my anxiety. My planner is full of scribbles of upcoming plans and reminders to make future appointments. I’m preoccupied by mild rashes, engine lights, and sudden sounds. In an average week, every member of my immediate family and a handful of close friends tell me to “chill” or “relax.”
My baseline stress level is above average. A reminder “not to stress about it,” whatever it may be, is sometimes helpful. More often, it’s an annoying comment, a directive that actually increases my anxiety. And yet, it’s a comment that many of us toss out to our stressed friends and family members without a thought. Indeed, the pressure to “chill” is increasingly another stressor anxious people deal with. At this point, ads for wellness, mindfulness, and relaxation cures increase my blood pressure.
Occasionally, giving in to the social pressure to stay out or take an evening off is the best way you can spend your time. Downtime can serve as a source of motivation or a reward for accomplishing a goal or completing a burdensome task. Of course it’s important to relax and chill.
In theory, a stress-free life may seem utopic, but it’s stress that prevents you from binge watching endlessly when a deadline looms. A healthy amount of stress keeps procrastination at bay. Healthy stress levels propel a work cycle that promotes the completion of tasks and motivates you in anticipation of future projects. The cycle exists to help us achieve the short-term aims that make long-term objectives obtainable.
Unfortunately, too much stress can feel completely debilitating. This ominous state can be difficult to escape if a deadline is hours away or stress has become compounded with circumstances such as grief. Excesses of stress can be paralysing and make it impossible to get anything done.
A Useful Solution for Balancing Stress
Oftentimes, you can overcome debilitating stress by evaluating the sources and asking if it’s something SMART (an acronym often used in project management meaning: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound]) to stress about?
Stress over politics or mentally reviewing an uncomfortable social exchange can keep me occupied for hours. I often won’t stop stressing until I have convinced myself that the world is a terrible place or I am not someone worth knowing. Although, this genre of stress can be a habit that is difficult to give up it can be replaced with SMART goals.
For example, taking action by calling an elected representative or getting involved with a future political campaign is a specific way gain control of an abstract stressor. Instead of focusing on past interactions you cannot change, plan to meet up with a friend and remind them that you appreciate them. Friends often show us the compassion it can be difficult to show ourselves. Setting goals and making plans are more worthwhile reasons to stress and you should harness the power of stress to live the best life you can.
Balance is difficult to achieve, but it’s key in maintaining healthy stress levels. Figure out what strategies make your goals feel more manageable. It could be as simple as completing all the small tasks that take less than five minutes before starting a project that you know will take several days. If the project still seems daunting, set a short-term goal that you can achieve in the first half of the day.
When you breakdown stressors into manageable chunks you’re allowing yourself to feel a sense of accomplishment sooner. This allows you to take the time to unwind guilt free. Though we all hate to be told to “relax,” this strategy may be a way for you to actually chill.
Originally published at www.talkspace.com