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We all have those words that make us cringe. For some, it is words such as moist or pulp. For me, that word is stress. Hearing the word stress gives me the major ick factor. The World Health Organization defines stress as any change causing physical, emotional or psychological strain.
Think about every time you use the word or the phrase “I am so stressed out.” Do you feel it pulling you down as if you’ve added another 400-pound brick into your invisible backpack? I know I do. I also know that, as humans, we don’t need to add more weight to our backpacks. We all are carrying around so much other weight. We need to start unpacking and lightening our loads.
A simple Google search can recommend thousands of ways to reduce stress. I prefer to think of these as the easy, feel-good fixes: get active, connect with nature, get more sleep, etc. Have you ever done a deep dive to think about what is causing the feeling of stress in the first place? What if we attack our stressors head-on and get rid of them?
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think about it for the longest time and went to Google for advice. Get more sleep. Check. I’m all for going to bed at 7 pm! While it did feel good to get a ton of sleep, that feeling of heaviness never really went away. It was still there the following day, weighing me down more than ever. The feel-good fixes allowed me to avoid the issues at hand, and it was stripping me of the things I love.
My breaking point finally came when I had some frequent work travel. My imaginary backpack was so heavy, it created major knots in my shoulders, and I could barely move my upper body. To find the fix, I sought out my chiropractor. On one particular visit, he worked to break up those knots in my shoulders before my adjustment.
That’s when it happened. He broke one open and with it came tears streaming down my face. They weren’t only tears of physical pain; they were the tears of the stress and emotion I had been carrying around letting lose.
After assuring my doctor I was fine (another one of those ick phrases), I knew I had to do something. I didn’t know what that something was yet; those Google fixes weren’t helping and I needed relief. After my appointment, I decided to do a little retail therapy and headed to Target. I walked around the entire store and didn’t pick up one single thing.
What was happening? I thought. There’s no way I can walk through this store without finding anything. In my last-ditched effort to find something, I made my way to the pen section. At least writing with a new pen would spark some joy. That’s when I found my savior — a spiral-bound notebook. She was beautiful.
Organizing and Prioritizing Tasks
Upon returning home, I took the notebook out of the bag and set it on my desk next to my laptop. I opened it to the first page and thought about what I would do with it. Perhaps I could start a journal, a list of goals, maybe a grocery list. Instead, at the top, I wrote “TO DO,” followed by a vertical line running the length of the page and then “DATE.”
I sat there for an hour, writing down everything I needed to do. First was the mental list I kept track of, then I moved to my email inbox to write down the action items from all the emails I had flagged but ignored. I kept writing.
Once my list was complete, I looked at it. Sh*t, I thought; I have so much work needing to get done and another trip coming up next week. How on earth will I get this all accomplished and make my deadlines? Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, I decided I was done working for the day; after all, Google told me to connect with nature when stressed. I went outside to play fetch with my dog and to walk around the yard.
That following Monday, work felt different. It was as if my mind went to autopilot, and I was checking tasks off my to-do list like I was checking off the grocery list. That’s when I had my epiphany — the feeling of disorganization was a major contributor to my stress. Something so simple as a to-do list was removing the weight from my backpack.
Another great tip I learned while listening to my favorite podcast, “The Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast,” is to break to-do lists into three categories: To do, To Create and To Decide. I have found this helps to prioritize each task.
It’s OK to Ask for Help
Creating my to-do list also reinforced that I have too much on my plate — the second major contributor to my stress. I didn’t realize it was an issue until I sat down and began to pay attention to everything being asked of me. This next part I am going to say with love: It is OK to ask for help!
A conversation I find myself having with many individuals on my team is that there is no shame in asking for help. The conversation generally starts with me asking, “What do you think of me when I ask you for help on something?” The answer most often is, “I know you have a lot on your plate, and I am happy to help out.”
Exactly! We all have so much on our plates. No one will think less of you for acknowledging you need help; if they do, they aren’t worth your energy.
If you need more encouragement on asking for help, revisit my February article, “Let Their Light Shine” (http://bit.ly/3ImuPKn).
The last stressor I identified came about with all the work travel I had been doing. Around my house, I am the keeper of the family calendar and in charge of all the kid’s activities. It was hard to stay on top of activities at home while sitting in a hotel room thousands of miles away. I was not doing a great job communicating what needed to happen and who had to be where. A shared Google calendar had worked for my husband and me, but we have a whole village helping to raise our kids.
I finally got the idea to buy a large calendar to hang on the wall for all to see. While it does take discipline to sit down and update it each month, I can tell you that taking 30 minutes to write things down has removed at least another 1,000 pounds of bricks from the backpack.
I will be the first to admit I am still a work in progress when it comes to managing my stress. Some stressors in my life are not in my control but, day by day, I am learning to take control of things that I do have a say in. In removing the weight from my shoulders, being organized in small ways and being transparent, I have noticed a huge shift in my mental and physical health. Now I can take the walks Google suggests because I want to, not because I’m trying to mask something else.
Be real with yourself and start to tackle your stressors and remove them. It takes work and vulnerability, but I promise it will be worth it.
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