Wouldn’t a life free of stress be lovely?
I’ve noticed lately that stress has been sabotaging me. The pressure gets turned up in one area of my life and I’m not able to keep up with my goals in another area. All in all, my sense of well-being has been a mess!
If I was being generous, I could call this shift in priorities “maintaining balance.” I pull the focus off of one priority to place it on another. But, when working on a long-term, personal goal, this balancing act can really feel like a setback. It also can lead to an actual setback, if your responses to stress involve engaging in comfort behaviors that are counter-productive to your goals.
Responses to stress are often ingrained. It is easier to do the familiar when coping with stress, over a new action step that might help cope with stress and keep you on track with your goal. For example, you may be working toward a goal of eliminating debt. After a particularly challenging day at work, you feel tired and don’t complete your planned action step of grocery shopping to save money. You order a pizza, and spend $20 that you could have put toward your savings goal. You did not consider the option of addressing your stress and then following through with your planned action step. This one action momentarily takes you off course from goal achievement.
A simple action – ordering a pizza – in itself may not sabotage your eventual goal attainment. If your stress is more persistent, like the chronic pressure you feel in the two weeks building up to a big deadline, days of comfort behaviors can really stifle momentum you’ve built toward your goal. I recently experienced just that when I started blowing off the gym in favor of putting in couch time during a particularly stressful project at work.
If I were a bit better at following my own advice, I could have handled this situation in a way that may actually have maintained a balance. Reactions to stress are often automatic and occur with little awareness or consideration of consequences to these reactions. This can be a very difficult time to challenge yourself, and extra effort may be the last thing you have the energy to extend. So why not help yourself out by planning for stress? In my example, I knew weeks ahead of time about my project deadline, and I knew that I would be feeling pressured as the deadline approached. Had I taken a moment a month ago to put together a stress survival plan, I may not have been sabotaged. Planned stress relief activities could include walking over lunch, making and freezing healthy meals earlier in the month, committing to a yoga class or reducing caffeine.
I encourage you to take a moment to identify three or four activities that you can do to take care of yourself when you are stressed. Print that list and post it. A visual reminder of these activities will make them more accessible when you are stressed and your mind steers you toward ingrained, automatic coping strategies.
Also, we are more susceptible to stress when we are tired, hungry or lonely. Take a look at your overall lifestyle. Are your choices causing you to be more susceptible to stress? Cutting back on sleep, skipping meals or isolating from others are all factors that can lead to increased irritability. They are also indicators that we may have lost that sense of balance. A lifestyle that emphasizes self-care can make it possible to manage stress – without sabotaging your goals.
What activities make your list? Consider sharing them below.
Kate N, MS, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor, then became a Performance Specialist in 2012. Kate has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology. Kate is devoted to helping individuals determine how to make lasting changes. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked in the social work field as a case manager for Child Protective Services. Kate enjoys baking, yoga and escaping into the woods of Northern Wisconsin.