We all know that too much stress can damage our physical and mental health and have a negative impact on our relationships.
When we’re chronically stressed we lack clarity, focus, energy, and motivation. We feel lousy, can’t think well, over-react, and make poor decisions.
Many of us have tried different strategies for managing stress: breathing and relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation, yoga and other forms of mind-body exercise, self-care, work and life balance, time in nature, and the list goes on and on.
The problem with this approach though is that it doesn’t address the root of the problem.
These strategies help us manage stress better, but they don’t reduce it, and in some cases they even add to it. (Just picture a workaholic trying to fit an exercise routine into a day already packed to the brim with other stuff).
It’s not enough to learn how to manage stress. We need to learn how to stop adding stress to our lives, in the first place!
Because continuous, unrelenting, self-inflicted everyday stressors may cause more harm in the long term than even major, difficult, unavoidable life changes.
I know, some of our stress is unavoidable, some even beneficial, but a lot of it is really unnecessary, harmful, and yes, self-inflicted.
Just because everybody around us is suffering from the same problem, it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem – or that we’re not really doing it to ourselves, or that we have no choice.
So instead of giving up, or expecting too much from a stress management plan, why not start simplifying your life?
Here are some areas you may want to consider to start simplifying your life:
With all the recent and continuous advances, are you using communication technology to make your life better – or is it using you?
Many people today are suffering from ‘information overload’ and ‘over-connectedness’.
So rethink the way you use your communication devices:
- Limit the amount of time you use or expose yourself to them
- Develop some clear boundaries for your use and exposure (for instance, times or places you don’t want to be interrupted, or people and situations you don’t want to be accessible to)
- Consider which devices or platforms you could stop using altogether
Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?
Owning a lot of stuff requires not only money but also a lot of time and energy: looking for it, acquiring it, caring for it, learning how to use it, insuring it, and even, eventually, getting rid of it!
We buy stuff, or allow it into our lives, because we believe it’ll make us happy and successful. But the good feelings don’t last, because real happiness and success have nothing to do with what we own, but with who we are.
So next time you’re about to buy something, or allow something into your home or office, no matter how big or small, think twice:
“Do I really need (more of) this? Is this useful, or especially meaningful?”
If the answer is no, don’t buy it, and don’t make room for it.
Do you feel you don’t have time to do all the things in your schedule?
You rush from one place to the next, arrive late, leave early, miss a few things at the last minute, always trying to catch up, but when you look at your diary, it remains full!
Maybe there’s a better way.
What about being more realistic about how many jobs, projects, committees, sports, meetings, courses, groups, hobbies – or activities of any kind – you can really commit to at any one time?
A lot of people equate being busy with being successful, and ‘doing’ nothing, even if only occasionally, with being lazy or being a loser.
However, being able to do nothing at times and just focus on being present is a valuable skill.
And doing too much is not a virtue, it’s actually a problem – it’s called overcommitting. It makes you less productive, less present, less healthy, and ultimately, less dependable.
So before you start looking for the next thing to get involved in, or accept the next work or personal invitation to anything, carefully consider the value it would add to your life.
If it’s worth proceeding, ask yourself what you’d be willing to drop to make room for it. If there’s nothing you can drop, well, then there’s no room for it.
Intimate and social relationships are great, and as a central source of emotional support for most people, can be an antidote to the stressors of life.
Research has shown that adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers.
Having said that, relationships can also be extremely stressful. Actually, ‘bad’ relationships are often the worst stressors in people’s lives!
Then there’s the issue of too many mediocre relationships or ‘friendships’ taking a lot of our time and energy. They often add stress to our lives – without adding any value.
So think carefully about all your relationships – intimate, friends, family and work.
Do you have to be in a romantic or sexual relationship to be happy? How many friends do you really have? How many clients or fans do you need to feel successful?
These are especially important questions if you’re the kind of person who likes to have a very busy social or work life.
It’s important to nurture the relationships that support you, add value to your life, or that are important to you for other reasons.
But in order to do that, you must consciously decide which people you’ll invite into your life – or allow to enter, or stay.
And consciously decide how much time you’re willing to invest into each relationship you choose to keep or pursue.
Maybe the challenge for you is to go for quality, rather than quantity.
You may enjoy an occasional solitude or quietness, or just have more time and space for other important things.
It reduces stress too!
Keeping Things Simple Can Significantly Reduce Stress
These are some of my thoughts about stress and how simplifying our lives can significantly reduce it.
Think of ‘simplicity’ as a value seed that you can cultivate in all areas of your life.
Like anything that’s cultivated, you’ll need to give it attention and time for it to grow.
Take one step at a time, and each small change will lead to the next.
Did you find this post useful?
Are you too allowing stressors into your life without intending, or noticing it?
Can you see the negative impact it’s having on your relationships?
What areas of your life could you start simplifying? Where would like to start?
If you’d like to share your reactions to this post, feel free to get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.