There’s a lot going on at work and a lot going on at home. There’s also a lot going on with the people I love. I have several close friends dealing with illness, and several others dealing with illness in their immediate families.
Everywhere I go right now it feels like people are just at their limit. When I’m in a super-busy, high-stress period like this one, my instinct is to bear down.
As women, many of us are taught to treat anxiety and stress with more activity. More to-do lists. More showing up for others. More. More. More. The only problem is that it doesn't work. I don’t really get more done and I wind up exhausted.
That “do more” behavior eventually leads to me under my covers with a bag of popcorn and my dogs, shades drawn, chain-watching cooking shows. Which, by the way, is a completely reasonable form of self-care that I wholeheartedly recommend! But it’s at best a temporary solution.
Lately, I’ve been trying something new. I’m calling it “emotional counter-programming.”
When I feel myself itching to add more to my plate, desperate to keep ahead of the deluge,I’m willfully choosing to downshift. Here are three tricks I’ve found that help me do less:
1. Reframe the idea of doing less as a job.
Like many women, I’m very type A and very task oriented.
I want to do things right, I want to do them well, and I want to get an A.
When I think of downshifting as something I’ve been assigned, a task in service of my larger goals, it’s easier to feel good about it.
Give yourself gold stars for doing less!
2. Trigger words and actions.
A word that works for me is “release.”
When I feel that manic urge to start racing around, taking on more stuff and rushing through whatever I’m already doing, I try to catch myself.
Then I stand still, clench my fists as I inhale—like I’m gathering all that pent-up stress—and then, on my exhale, I release my fists while saying the word “release.”
You can do this in the privacy of a bathroom stall, or while stopped in traffic. The important thing is to find a short, reliable way to interrupt the cycle of “more.”
3. Put attention on what has gotten done.
One of the unfortunate consequences of a “do more” philosophy is feeling detached from the daily pleasures of life.
When I “do less,” I feel what I’m doing so much more!
If I’m taking the time to show up for a friend or spending a few hours in the garden or even doing work at my desk, all of those experiences feel newly alive and rich because I’m actually able to focus on them.
To truly absorb the bigness of this life, sometimes you have to make the to-do list really small.
Do you relate to the desire to treat stress by doing more? How do you handle it when there’s a lot on your plate?
Elizabeth is a journalist who has been writing about health, beauty and wellness for over 20 years. She lives in Northern New Mexico with her two dogs and several hundred trees, shrubs, bushes and succulents.
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