I was going to illustrate this post with a photo of a bottle of wine and a family-sized bar of chocolate, but … well, I’m guessing that’s probably not the kind of advice you came here for is it, so caffeine will have to do. For now.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t know about you, but hardly ANY of the advice I read on managing stress turns out to be useful to me. In fact, almost every time I see an article on this topic, I’ll click the link, feeling simultaneously hopeful that I’m about to finally find out how to dial down my stress level, but also pretty much resigned to the fact that I’m about to be told to:
01. Take a hot bath
02. Go for a long walk
Now, this is all well and good, obviously, and I’m guessing the advice must work for SOME people, or it wouldn’t be repeated so damn often, would it? My problem, however, is that when I’m super-stressed, it’s normally because I have too much on my plate, and I’m feeling totally overwhelmed with it all. I don’t have TIME to have an indulgent bubble bath, or head out on a long walk, and I know that if I even tried to do either of those things, I’d just end up fretting about all of the things I SHOULD be doing instead… which just leaves me feeling even MORE stressed. (See also: YOGA. God, I hate yoga.)
Oh, and I forgot one:
3. Read a book.
Because when that deadline’s looming, you totally have time to sit down and get lost in a book, don’t you? And your clients will definitely understand that their important project didn’t get delivered on time, because you just had to finish that chapter, won’t they?
In other words: if I had time to read a book, have an indulgent bubble bath or go for a long walk… I probably wouldn’t be stressed in the first place, would I? Thanks, Internet!
Lately, I’ve been really, really busy: so much so that I feel like I’ve barely left my desk since the start of the year, really. Now, being busy is a good thing when you’re self-employed, obviously, and I’d much rather have too much work than too little, don’t get me wrong. Over the last few weeks, however, I’ve frequently had to cancel plans at the last minute in order to spend even MORE time at my desk (Which has left me feeling horribly guilty about the people I’m not seeing enough of, but I just haven’t had a choice), and have literally been dreaming about the work I feel I SHOULD be doing, even when I’m asleep. (You know when you’ve been playing too much Tetris, say, and when you go to bed, you still feel like you’re moving those blocks around, and trying to slot them into place? It’s a bit like that, only every thought that goes through my head, I feel like I have to come up with 300 words on it, and then find a great image to illustrate it with…)
When I don’t have time to see my friends, I obviously don’t have time to lie around in a hot bath, either, so what’s a girl to do when she’s stressed out of her mind, and no amount of scented candles will help? Er, I dunno, really. What do YOU do in that situation? No, really, I’m asking? What’s that? I’m supposed to be the one giving out the advice here? Er… *looks around shiftily*… OK, here’s what I do when I’m super-stressed, but short on time…
Clean the house.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: if I don’t have time for a bath, I don’t have time to clean my house either, do I? Ha! Hoist by my own petard!
While I see where you’re coming from there, though, I’m sticking to my guns here (well, my mop, really…), because baths and books are optional: clean houses are not, for me. If my house is messy, I’ll be stressed even if I DON’T have anything else to worry about, so at the first sign of a looming deadline, I will get out the bleach and the rubber gloves, and only once the house is clean and sparkling will I be able to sit down and get on with whatever it is I have to do. (I know I repeat this aaall the time, to the point that it’s basically my answer to everything, really, but… it’s basically my answer to everything, really.)
Make a list.
Once the house is clean, my next step is to make a list of everything I have to do, and when I have to do it. Even if the deadlines and details are burned into my brain by that point (And they usually are: it’s just occurred to me that I rarely ever look back at those lists, other than to check off each item when I’ve completed it), the process of actually writing it all down somehow soothes my brain, and tricks me into thinking I have everything under control, even when I blatantly have not. And, of course, checking off each completed item makes me feel like a responsible adult, which is a refreshing change for me, so there’s that, too.
Make a plan.
I’ve never really been a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants,” kind of girl. Well, I mean, I AM… when I’m on holiday, say. In my free time, I like nothing more than having absolutely no obligations, and being able to do things on a whim, but the rest of the time, I need to have a plan: as in, I need to know EXACTLY when things are happening, what I’m expected to do, and that there will be no last-minute changes to any of this. I do NOT do well with last-minute changes: mostly because, once I’ve made my plan, any change to that plan will throw the entire thing into disarray, and possibly cause the world to tip off its axis, too. This is why I’ve made every single member of my family promise that they will never, under any circumstances, throw me a surprise party, or even just pop round unexpectedly. Do you WANT to make the world tip off its axis? DO you?
OK, so I’ve actually made that sound quite stressful, which wasn’t the intention, obviously. All I mean is that, if I know I’m going to be really busy for a couple of weeks, I’ll make sure I know about any upcoming events or other plans that I’ll need to schedule my time around. Unfortunately, I’d have to admit that, yeah, any last-minute changes to that will make my stress levels sky-rocket, but it’s still better than having NO plan at all… which doesn’t really bear thinking about, does it?
Tell people about it.
By this, I don’t mean you should have yourself a good ol’ whine fest while your long-suffering friends and family sit around, gamely trying to look sympathetic (I mean, I do, but… don’t be like me, kids, seriously.): I just mean being honest and saying, “Look, guys, I probably won’t be around much for the next couple of weeks: don’t take it personally.” That way, people won’t be constantly asking you to do things, so you won’t feel guilty for constantly refusing or cancelling, and you can get on with whatever it is you have to do instead.
Or multi-task, if that’s what works better for you. So, find you’re preferred way of working, and stick to it, is what I’m saying. In my case, multi-tasking stresses me out like nothing else: I’m absolutely useless at trying to juggle more than one thing at a time, and will end up huddled in a pool on the floor, rocking back and forth and muttering to myself about how unfair life is if I have to try to juggle any more than that. So, NOT A JUGGLER, in other words.
Single-tasking, on the other hand, is WAY more my speed. This, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the expression, is exactly what it sounds like: you work on a single task until it’s done, then move onto the next, and so on. Like I said, this technique won’t work for everyone, but it’s just easier for me to focus on one thing at a time, and then be able to strike it off my ‘To Do’ list, than to split my attention between several things at once, and have them all still hanging over me. But, you know, you do you.
Ask for help.
Finally, I know this should be obvious, but I’m terrible at asking for help: I just try to muddle along, doing everything by myself, when the reality is that there are plenty of people who I know are more than willing to lend a hand. I’ll work on this one…
And that’s how I (try to) deal with stress, when I don’t actually have time to deal with stress.