Want to manage your stress? Here’s how to do it the simple way

My pantry used to be a sight for sore eyes. It was over-crowded and disorganized, and every time I used to open it, I would inadvertently tense up. I always had to spend more time than was reasonable moving around items so that I could find what I wanted, while also hoping that a wayward can of soup wouldn’t fall on me. (This wasn’t paranoia – it had actually happened before). 

Finally, I got inspired by a YouTube video by a professional organizer with an impossibly pristine house, and decided to undertake the process of getting that pantry under control. It actually took me less time than I expected – only a few hours – but the results were better than I had anticipated.  

My newly organized pantry not only made finding things a breeze, it also took away those few moments of tension that I experienced every time that I opened it. As a result, it chipped away at my overall stress level just a little. 

When people reflect on the events that cause them the most stress, often major life events come to mind. This is largely influenced by the classic work of Holmes and Raye (1967) who developed a measure called the Social Readjustment Rating Scale. This scale indicated that events like the death of a spouse, divorce, marriage, being fired, and other similar experiences had a negative impact onan individual’s health and stress level. 

However, although those sorts life events are indeed stressful, the reality is that they occur infrequently. Therefore, the day-to-day stress you experience is alsoinfluenced by the little annoyances you deal with all the time. Those sorts of irritations are what psychologists call “daily hassles” and they include things like losing your house keys, a slowly leaking tire that you constantly have to refill, traffic jams, and my former pantry. And, although any one of these hassles probably isn’t enough to make you stressed, they can have a cumulative effect, combining to have a negative impact on your overall quality of life.  

Managing Stress by Managing Daily Hassles 

Often, when people resolve to manage their stress, they focus on making big changes – things like getting 8 hours of sleep, becoming regulars at a yoga class, and maybe even switching jobs. While these are all worthy changes to make, for some, they can seem almost too daunting to start, because of the degree of effort and consistency involved in maintaining those behaviors.  

Based on what we know about daily hassles, however, if you were to address the little annoyances in your life bit by bit, across time, you could be rewarded with decreased stress. 

Want to get started at dealing with the irritations in your life? Read on, for some ideas about how to get started – at work, and at home! 

At Work: 

To deal with some common daily hassles in the workplace, here are some mini-projects you might want to tackle: 

  • Your to-do list: Keep a centralized task list (you might want to use an app for this), and make sure to enter items on it immediately. That will save you the hassle of trying to remember not to forget to keep track of what you have to do! 
  • Your workspace: Organize your workspace. Keep clutter to a minimum, and at the end of each workday, make sure you have put everything back in its place. Decorate your space with items that give you a bit of a boost and make you smile (those are called daily uplifts). 
  • Folders: Whether you keep paper folders or maintain all of your files electronically, make sure they are organized, with everything filed away in a manner that will allow you to find them with ease when needed. 
  • Emails: Keep up with your emails, and file, flag, or delete them once you have read them. This will reduce the odds that they’ll pile up on you, andallow you to have the important ones at your fingertips when you need to refer to them. 
  • Commute: If your commute is a stressful part of your day, try to find ways to make it more manageable. Listen to music, audiobooks,  or podcasts during your drive, or consider public transportation or carpooling to share the load. (Here are some additional tips to reduce the stress of your commute). 

At Home: 

  • Reduce clutter: Bit by bit, work your way through your home with the aim of getting more organized. Whether it’s a shelf or a drawer a day, tackle it in reasonable chunks. Throw away, donate, recycle, or sell items that you no longer need. Across time, you’ll feel the relief of having a neater space. 
  • Fix broken items: Do you have a finicky doorknob that you always have to fiddle with to open? A slow draining sink? A drawer that always sticks? You can reduce your daily hassles by ensuring that your home is in good working order. 
  • Clean out your car: Whether you choose to do it yourself or get it professionally detailed, a clean car can become a peaceful haven as you go from place to place. And, every day when you get out of your car, make sure to take your trash out with you. 
  • Get help with housework: If cleaning your home has become a hassle that causes you tension, you could choose to hire someone to clean it periodically. If that’s not in your budget, make sure that everyone in yourhome is doing their part – including kids – by creating a chore list and assigning tasks to each person. 
  • Schedule social time: If you tend to feel guilty because you’re not seeing family or friends enough, then be proactive about setting aside time to connect. Not only will that help to quell those uncomfortable feelings, research suggests that maintaining close relationships is linked to greater life satisfaction. 

While these suggestions certainly aren’t exhaustive, they will provide a good jumping off point.  And, if this seems a bit overwhelming, take a deep breath. Then, generate a list of your hassles, and pick one with which to start.  After that, figure out the next two things, and so on. By breaking your projects down and getting them done gradually over time, you’ll see the difference it makes in your quality of life! 

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