We continue to hear daily about the harmful effects of stress. Most of us deal with more than we want—some have gotten dangerously used to the level of stress that’s become their norm.
Stress occurs because of pressure. Our tendency is to blame others or circumstances for that pressure. And that may certainly be the case. But—and this may not be immediately comforting—so much of what stresses us out is often within our control and could have been avoided.
That’s actually good news. It should give you hope instead of feeling doomed to be a victim of others’ agendas or circumstances.
Think about the things that stressed you out today or recently. Perhaps the gift you went to buy was out of stock. Maybe you were cussing traffic because you were cutting it close for an appointment. You spent the afternoon rushing from one meeting to another, and even had to cancel one at the last minute. You’re making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for supper for the second time this week because you haven’t been able to get to the grocery store.
I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing my own common stress points and of those closest to me. If I can alleviate the unnecessary stress points from my life and of those I care about, I want to know how.
The following are what I consider the three most common causes of unnecessary stress in our lives. You’ll probably recognize them. My observations are offered without judgment, guilt, blame, or shame. So bear with me.
3 Common Causes Of Avoidable Stress
- Overcommitment. This is a big one for those who care about other people. We like to help, to serve. And that’s admirable—but it can bite you if you don’t keep it in check. We do so often at our own expense. Our good intentions can quickly overfill our calendar. We soon find we’ve sacrificed basic necessities and priorities of our own and family because we said “yes” too quickly, too many times to other opportunities or requests.
There can be many reasons why we overcommit and I’m not going to psychoanalyze here. But the first step is to realize that we’re doing it, then evaluate how our saying “yes” will affect other commitments.
Underestimating. We tend to think optimistically when planning time for a task or project. We may overestimate our ability and consequently underestimate how much time we need. If we stack appointments and other commitments back to back with no margin in between, a task that goes longer than expected sets off a chain reaction.
Not planning for unexpecteds. Since unexpecteds are just that, how do you plan for them? You can’t specifically. Yet you know there’s a good chance something will go wrong if it can. And even more so if you’re rushed and stressed already! Until we are omniscient—which will be a while—we know we’re going to have things sideswipe our best-laid plans. So allow room for them.
The Cure: Build In More Margin
So, what can we do to avoid these common pitfalls? Build in more margin.
Again, think about those most recent stressful situations. Chances are, many, if not all, fall under one of the categories above.
The simple solution is thinking ahead and building in more margin. Before saying “yes,” think realistically how that may impact other commitments. And if you tell yourself you can do it all, have you really estimated the time involved? Have you allowed time for unexpecteds?
Most of us don’t get warm fuzzies by taking a few moments each day, each week, to plan ahead. But for those who do, they enjoy the benefit of less-stress as a result of avoiding unnecessary stressors.
Allow 10 minutes extra in travel time for any appointment. Schedule meetings at least 20-30 minutes apart. If the birthday party is Saturday, shop for the gift a week before, not Saturday morning.
When you find a new stress point, ask if it was due to your overcommitment, underestimating, and/or an unexpected. Then determine what you could have done to avoid that and what you will do when facing a similar situation.
The examples are endless but the solution is relatively simple: do yourself a favor and build in more margin. Stop being a victim of what you really do have a choice over.
Question: What change have you made recently to address one of these three common stressors? Share your answer in the comments below.