This is the time of year to visit our stress levels. With the Thanksgiving holiday just finished and the Christmas holiday looming just over the horizon, it may be time to assess the stress in our lives.
A Montana State University Extension Service publication about holiday stress suggests a strategy by Steve Duncan, an Extension family and human development specialist there. “The best stress management technique of all is just to take delight in what you enjoy and appreciate the simpler things in life. Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax.”
Many of us like to multitask, thinking we are accomplishing a lot. We get caught up in being busy — sometimes too busy to even think clearly. This is one of the ways we build stress. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to assess what is really important and focus on fewer things. It feels really good to accomplish a task, but taking one at a time is no crime. Often you can accomplish more by doing less at a time. What I have found is that when I get too scattered, I get way less efficient. I end up having to backtrack to redo things or take more time to take care of important details I may have forgotten in the rush to get something done while I’m doing something else.
Sometimes we tie up our “busyness” with our self-esteem. We may take on more and more to increase our worth, so to speak. This is another way to create stress, especially when commitments overlap and you have to choose between them. It is almost culturally wrong to “take a break,” but it is so important to your health and well-being.
Mini breaks work wonders. Stopping everything for a short period of time to let the dust settle can lower stress to manageable levels. Doing something completely different for a time and having singular focus on whatever that is can also lower stress levels. Sitting for a few moments with a pet in your lap or letting yourself daydream for a few minutes about absolutely nothing can help you be more efficient or more productive in the long run. Thomas Edison used to take naps to recharge his creative juices. I’ve found that yoga, tai chi, qigong, staring out the window at the trees or just silly dancing with my grandkids can make me feel like a new person, ready to face the next challenge.
It might be time to take a look at your self-created list of “have-to-dos” and see what you really want to do. Are you filling everyone else’s expectations (or your perception of everyone’s expectations) or are you doing what you really want or need to do for your own happiness? Enjoying what you do and taking delight in what you enjoy equals less stress. You’ll feel better looking at what you can do rather than thinking about what you can’t.
Actually a certain amount of stress is good for you. Call it stimulation or challenge if you will. It can produce exhilaration, mental clarity and motivation, helps you focus and can create calmness under pressure. Too little stress can create boredom, lack of initiative, apathy and negativity. Then too much can take you into insomnia, irritability, withdrawal, indecisiveness, poor judgment, diminished memory and loss of perspective. So how much is just right? Only you can answer that question. Everyone has different thresholds and abilities to cope with stress. If your stress helps you get things done efficiently, maybe what you are doing is just right for you. If you feel overwhelmed, time to take a look at what you can do differently.
Holidays seem to be a big mirror, showing our strengths and weaknesses. I hope this season you will find your middle ground and enjoy and delight in the simple things. Breathe in and breathe out. Find some time to relax, just enough to feel vital and energized so you can enjoy doing the things you love.
Marsha Munsell is a health, home and family development program assistant for the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contact her at 907-474-5414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.