Dealing with Stress When You’re Busy

Reduce Stress by going for a walkI’ve been busy lately. It’s been a stressful week of trying to get too much done with too few hours. I was so busy that I only now got around to an email that has been in my inbox for the past week. Does that ever happen to you?

This email was from Leo Babauta at zenhabits.com. Leo always has such practical tips for living life with a little more presence and a little less stress. I’ll get into what Leo had to say about how to deal with stress when you’re busy, but first let’s explore why this is so important.

Stress is rampant. We see the effects of stress in the health problems that it causes all around us. The list of health concerns that are linked to stress include depression, heart disease, anxiety attacks, insomnia, weight problems, auto-immune disease, and so much more. The list of health concerns due to stress goes on and on.

And that doesn’t even begin to discuss the effects that stress has on our relationships. How do we treat those we love and those we interact with when we are overly stressed? It’s hard to show up with compassion when we feel like the margin for error is so thin.

But the truth is we are busy. We are busy trying to provide for our families, trying to achieve our goals, and trying to make something of this life. Not all of us can go away for a meditation retreat or take time off to decompress.

Leo gave a list of five little things that you can do to drop the levels of stress you have in your life. This are simple things that will only take a couple of minutes and a shift in your mindset.

Here’s Leo’s list:

1. Be completely in one task. Instead of being in the stressful task-switching mode, take your next task, let everything else go, and just be in the moment with this one task. Let yourself be immersed in this one task, letting go of the feeling that you need to quickly rush through it, that you need to get on to the next task. There will always be a next task — the nature of task lists is that they’re neverending. So let those other tasks come later. Just be in this one task, like it’s your entire universe.

2. See your ideals, & let go of control. Fear is causing you to be stressed, not external factors like your job or family problems. Those external things are just a part of life, but they become stressful when you fear failure, fear people won’t like you, fear you’re not good enough, fear abandonment, and so on. This fear is based on some ideal (and you fear not getting that ideal): you have an image that you’re going to succeed, be perfect, have people like you, be comfortable all the time. These ideals are a way to be in control of the world that you don’t actually control, but they’re hurting you by causing fear and stress. Instead, let go of control. Be OK with chaos and uncertainty, and trust that things will work out. You’ll fear less and be less stressed.

3. Accept people & smile. We get upset at other people because they don’t meet our ideals of how they should act. Instead, try accepting them for who they are, and recognizing that, like you, they’re imperfect and seeking happiness and struggling with finding happiness. They’re doing their best. Accept them, smile, and enjoy your time with this person.

4. Take a brief walk. When things are getting stressful, take 2-3 minutes to take a walk and clear your mind. A short walk does wonders.

5. Do short mindfulness practices. You don’t have to meditate for 30 minutes to get the benefits of mindfulness. You can do a quick body scan (see how your body is feeling right now) in 10 seconds. You can pay attention to your breath for 30 seconds. You can watch your thoughts, fears, ideals for a minute. You can walk mindfully, paying attention to your body, your feet, your breath, your surroundings, as you walk. You can do each of these kinds of mindfulness practices in little bits throughout your day.

And beyond: If you have extra time after doing those things, I have a few other recommendations that will help. Eliminate unnecessary tasks on your todo list, reduce your commitments by saying no to people, start a regular 5-minute meditation practice, eat healthier, exercise regularly, spend some quality time with loved ones, get more sleep, drink tea.

I should note that many people cope with stress in unhealthy ways — alcohol, smoking, drugs, unhealthy eating, lashing out at people, watching TV, procrastinating. Ironically these cause more stress. Instead, learn to cope without these crutches.

Are these things that you and I can put to practice in our daily lives? I think they are. I really resonate with what Leo says about fear: the fear of failure, the fear that people won’t like you, and the fear that it won’t all work out the way you’ve planned.

I’m working today on noticing my stress and recognizing what the fear is that is attached to it. The more I peel back the layers of fear, the more I realize that the fear is that people won’t love me. My hunch is that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

It’s interesting that in my case a fear of being unloved, leads to busy-ness and stress, which puts a strain on the relationships that matter most to me.

I’m grateful for Leo’s reminders. These simple techniques for reducing stress are things that all of us can do. Ok, that’s enough for now. I’m going for a walk.