Remember that horrible day when you forced yourself out of bed? Waking up with no energy or enthusiasm, you crawled back under the covers and forgot about life for a while. All you could think of was the never-ending to-do list and responsibilities that would confront you as soon as you got up.
You did get out of bed, of course. You felt compelled to because you are a responsible adult who is depended upon and has many important things to do. A sense of duty – if not unbridled enthusiasm – got you going. Maybe you even felt guilty feeling this way (I shouldn’t feel tired; I should feel grateful and happy).
Maybe there have been several days like this for you. Maybe all you can think about is getting out from under your to-do list and reducing the stress in your life.
Uh Oh, Trouble
I think many of us have a sneaking suspicion that we’re losing our footing on the mountain top of Life is Good. We teeter on the edge of a precipice called I’m Slowly Losing My Mind. We peer down into a terrifying abyss known as I’m Stressed Out and Unhappy, and Can’t Possibly Live Like This for Another 30 Years.
In today’s frantic world, more and more of us feel things are threatening to get out of hand. By “things”, I mean our mental, physical, and emotional health. We’re running ourselves ragged, and while we might seem like confident and purposeful members of society, we are secretly overwhelmed, feeling lost and maybe just a teensy bit resentful. We desperately want to learn how to reduce stress and feel more fulfilled.
When Being Good is the Enemy of the. . .Good
I get it. After all, we are good people, and as such our values demand that we work hard each day. Being stressed out seems a necessary part of the bargain. We take care of our friends and family and volunteer in our community, church, and schools. We slap on a game face at work and take on that extra responsibility even if we’re already at capacity. This, you tell yourself, is what responsible and productive members of society do – right?
The idea of reducing stress by balancing productivity with rest – in other words, self-care – has gotten a lot of press lately. But it’s hard to put ourselves first when society guilts us into saying “yes” when we really should say “no”. Because our culture praises and rewards productive people, we feel compelled to meet a crazy standard of busyness. We accept feeling overwhelmed by a powerful sense of guilt (who am I to change things, anyway) and inevitability (I probably couldn’t change it even if I wanted to). Multi-tasking is not just an accepted way of life, it is an expected way of life. It’s very hard to reduce stress by saying “no” if doing so makes you feel like a selfish schmuck who isn’t holding up your end of this we’re-all-busy-so-suck-it-up societal bargain.
This unhealthy dynamic encourages us to move faster and be busier. It also discourages us from setting boundaries and living with intention. If you truly wish to live a life that is sustainable and authentic to who you really are you will have to change your life. Even in the face of a strong cultural countercurrent. We must find ways to reduce stress, identify our priorities in life and learn to say no to things that don’t align with those priorities.
It’s very hard to say “no” if doing so makes you feel like a selfish schmuck who isn’t holding up your end of this we’re-all-busy-so-suck-it-up societal bargain.
Three Keys to Happiness
For more than 20 years I have struggled with this problem. In the process, I learned that I was less stressed and happier when I:
- Learned how to stop people pleasing;
- Identified my priorities in life and started living with intention; and
- began to practice the art of happiness by cultivating joy in my daily life.
If I do these things on a regular basis, I have more patience to better serve those I care about. I am also a more willing and creative problem solver, and am better able to deal with things that don’t go as planned (you know, like life).
If we wish to live truly productive and generous lives that are sustainable and authentic to who we really are, we are going to have to live differently, even in the face of a strong cultural countercurrent.
To reduce stress and improve the quality of your life, set aside time to become better acquainted with your own needs. Then, make it a point to address these needs by engaging in self-care activities. This, in turn, will help you give to others in a more sustainable and meaningful way.