Stress, it's nobody's friend
Simply put, I love to craft. The problem is that over the past year I have been studying on and off for the CPA exam and I have not made the time for crafting.
Recently I've noticed that I have had a building level of stress and my forehead muscles just wouldn't relax. So I made a decision to take a night off studying, catch up on some Grey's Anatomy, and pig out on some chocolate (I seriously love dark chocolate). While I was sitting there completely engrossed in my show I found that with each commercial break I was staring down my craft box that resides beside the couch.
Finally, I caved. I went into my craft room, pulled out two skeins of yarn, and grabbed knitting needles from my craft box by the couch. I have a friend who is having a baby in February so I thought, I'll make her a quick baby blanket. After a few hours I had a super warm little blanket completed. Finishing that small project made me so happy. I didn't realize exactly how much I was missing crafting until that very moment. I decided that I needed to set my goal of actually finishing the Christmas presents I had started earlier and the year not just because Christmas is quickly approaching, but because I need the mental break. Each week I am going to make sure to designate at least one evening for completing these gifts. This will not only allow me to get them finished before Christmas rolls around, but gives me the added benefit of de-stressing! Woohoo!
Finishing that project and finishing my Grey's Anatomy binge session, I found that for the first time in months, my forehead was not bunched with stress. I had finally fallen back into my Zen zone.
It always amazes me how easily stress can pile on without any obvious signs, like being anxious or dreading an upcoming event. Maybe I was having obvious signs. If I really stop and think back over the past few months, then it is clear that my body was telling me to slow down and de-stress. I was having trouble sleeping, I felt sick to my stomach most days, I had no energy, I just wanted to sleep, and I was bit cranky. Honestly I thought I might be pregnant, but once I ruled that out, I realized that I was actually just stressed out. It was easy to pinpoint what was stressing me out since there was a lot going on at work, but pinpointing the problem can be the most difficult step in resolving stress because there are times when we have too many points of stress to narrow down the problem. Other times we just aren’t willing to admit that we are stressed. It is in these moments that we desperately need to address the stress.
When you notice that something just isn’t feeling right is the exact moment we need to take a small step back and try to look at our lives from a non-biased perspective. I find that writing out a list or sitting down and typing up a list helps me tremendously. I start by looking at work and asking myself the question, “what do I have on my plate?”. Once I have my list created I then ask, “what are my timelines for completing these tasks?”. This can be a little difficult especially with long term projects that may not have a specific due date, but I try to set a personal due date to try and put things into perspective. When my timeline is complete I can see where the overlaps are that may be causing some additional pressure. Then I ask myself, “what are the obstacles/open items standing in the way of completing these tasks and how can I work around them?”. This is the step that can get lengthy and cause a little stress as these lists can get rather long very quickly. Despite that, I find that the list helps because it will give me action items that I can cross off when they are complete and there are times when I can cross off multiple items at once.
After finishing this process for work, I will then follow those same questions with my personal life and then for any other commitments I have (this could be for a volunteer situation, it could be for a professional organization, or it could be for your kid’s activities). I think it is this step, looking at my personal life, that can be a struggle as this is the most important part of my life and I wouldn’t want to think that could be causing me stress. The reality is that this can be the area of the most stress because it is what I value the most and I don’t want to let my family and friends down.
Back to the process though, completing these lists is the most difficult part of the process because you have to really think about what has been weighing on your conscious and sub-conscious mind in every aspect of your life. When you have a list you can begin to come up with a plan or schedule for how you will fit it all into your days and still make some you time. Oh did I mention, that you will need to make a list of what you enjoy doing when you have absolutely nothing else that needs accomplished?
So how do you bring it all together? You can start by using a blank piece of paper or use excel and lay out a day with 24 slots of time, each representing a one-hour block. When do you wake up to start getting ready for work? Mark that time and count back 8.5 – 9 hours and block that time off for sleep. I’ve heard from many people that they “only need 4 – 5 hours of sleep”, but the thing is we all need sleep and we ideally need between 7 – 9 hours for the average adult. When we don’t get enough sleep a lot of nasty things can happen, like loss in cognitive functioning, changes to the metabolic system, and the most fun….weight gain (ugh!). Schedule your time for sleep because it will carry you through your day. With everything we are going to talk about next think about how long it will take you and then add an additional 15 minutes to each item. This extra time will help in case there is an unexpected delay or it can work in your favor and give you a few minutes to read a book, play a quick game on your phone, watch some squirrels playing in a park, etc.
Do you like to work-out or do you want to get a little exercise into your day? Try and see if you can adjust your sleep timeslot to an earlier wake-up time to get in a half hour work-out or just to go on a walk and start your day off with having a brisk walk. How long does it take you to get ready and then commute to work? Add that to your schedule next. Now the fun part of the day, actually working, go ahead and block off that time commitment and we will get back to that later. Go ahead and block-off your commute home, time for making dinner, and any personal activities you do each evening. I hope that now looking at your day like this you can see some time that is still open, if not, then hopefully you can begin to adjust things on your schedule so you are doing the things you want to make the time for and not just the things you feel obligated to attend. In those free time slots pencil in you time. This time will be spend doing an activity that makes you happy, such as playing video games, watching an episode of your favorite show, reading a book, making a craft, woodworking, etc.
I mentioned we would come back to looking at your work timeslot, so here it is….consider your schedule for a typical day. Are you consistently booked from the time you get to work until the time you leave? If so, then look at the tasks your completely and see if you’re able to delegate some of the less important items down to help someone else grow their skills. Try and free up about 15 – 30 minutes a day so you can plan out what you accomplished/didn’t accomplish that day, what needs completed tomorrow, and what needs completed by next week. This will allow you to find where you can fit these tasks into your schedule so you’re not trying to do this planning during your free time at home.
I’m a big advocate that we all need to disconnect from work and keep our work lives and our personnel lives separate because they are both important and deserve our full attention. However, not everyone thinks this way and some people prefer there to be a blending of both worlds. That’s okay too, it is all about finding what you want and what is important to you. So try and take the time to lay out what’s on your mind and find the source of your stress by answering the questions I listed above. If you can do that in addition to the planning steps, then great, but just know finding the source of your stress doesn’t do you much good if you’re not ready to make a plan to manage or eliminate that stress.
I hope the rest of your Sunday is wonderful and you can start your week off on a happy foot.