Ever wonder how stress became such a persistent problem in our society? Stress isn’t a new thing, but it has reached epidemic proportions leaving some to question if it can be managed. There are a few factors that have played a role in making stress such a focal point of modern life. The good news is that these are all things you can control and by doing so, you can dramatically reduce your stress level.
24/7 News. I’m going to date myself here but there was a time where you had to wait until certain times to get your news, such as when the newspaper was delivered or when the morning or evening news aired on television. Now, we consume news constantly while notifications hit our inboxes, televisions run nonstop stories in a continuous loop, and friends and family share news stories on social media. And this is not good news. Oh no. Good news doesn’t grab our attention, and news outlets are all competing for our attention. So we are bombarded with negativity, violence, catastrophes, and predictions of doom and gloom. The speculative commentary that now accompanies news reporting sets off the threat radar in our brains driving nationwide fear and anxiety. As humans, we do this with our own anxious internal narratives, so the last thing we need is to have someone else spinning this negativity for us and broadcasting it across various forms of media.
But there is a simple solution: turn it off. Turn off those notifications from news outlets. Mute or stop following those friends who are constantly filling up your social feeds with unhelpful news stories. And turn off the television. Schedule time each day to check the news (avoid checking news before bed as this could impair your ability to sleep) and set a time limit for news consumption. Identify a few news outlets you can trust to provide reasonable coverage, avoiding those that routinely sensationalize news stories. You’re aiming for a balance of limiting your exposure to news while still staying in touch with what’s going on in the world. In other words, drink from a cup instead of a firehose.
Busy Fever. It seems like every time I ask someone how they are doing, the response is no longer good or fine, it’s busy. Being busy is the new national pastime, and the busier the better. Apparently, it’s also a good idea to talk about how busy you are to be sure others are aware. Worse yet, being busy has become the excuse of our era. If we let something fall through the cracks at work, it’s because we are too busy. If we are late for a meeting, it’s because we are too busy. It has become such a fashionable and thus acceptable excuse, that even people who aren’t busy use busyness as an excuse. Whether we are busy or not, it seems we all have busy fever, and grumble about being so busy in our collective narratives. This perpetual state of being busy – real or imagined – has got us really stressed out because it is impossible to be productive or prioritize meaningful activities in this state.
So what’s the cure for busy fever? Like many other things, the first step is to admit you have a problem. Are you enamored with being busy? Are you too caught up in the expectations of others? Perhaps you unwittingly joined an organization or other group of people that is infested with busy fever. Whatever the source of the problem, identify it and then solve for it. And yes, this may mean finding a new job at a company with a healthier culture, or embracing your true identity as someone who enjoys a more relaxed way of being. Once you realize that busy fever isn’t for you, the solutions appear and changes come naturally. Another trick that is surprisingly effective is to simply stop using the word busy. Try it! You’ll realize how often you’re saying the word busy (which is revealing) and chip away your attachment to busy fever in the process.
Multitasking. How many more studies do we need to prove to ourselves that multitasking is ineffective? We know it doesn’t work. We know it makes us feel overwhelmed. We know we make mistakes and waste time when we multitask. But we still do it. My guess is that we simply need to learn to single task but it’s difficult to learn something new and form a new habit when you’re overwhelmed. So we default to what we know – multitasking. How do we fix this? Practice single tasking to develop single tasking as a new habit. Single task during short and simple activities like brushing your teeth, washing a dish, or opening your mail. Just pick something that you do every day, and for the next week force yourself to single task when you do it. Quitting an ingrained habit like multitasking when everyone around you is also doing it, is like trying to quit smoking when everyone around you is lighting up. While going cold turkey will work for some determined people, a gradual change may be an easier approach that allows for small victories until larger scale change is achieved. Once you’ve got the hang of single tasking, start applying it to situations where your multitasking habit is more firmly entrenched. As you begin to reap the benefits of single tasking – improved focus, productivity, creativity – single tasking simply becomes a no-brainer.
Stress management often involves breaking unhealthy habits and forming new habits, as described above. Over-consuming news, busy fever and multitasking are society-wide habits that we have all been exposed to, but this doesn’t mean we have to participate! I hope these suggestions are helpful and lead you to greater inner peace.
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