I was working on my stressor list this morning when I got sidetracked by wondering if I had ever blogged about said list. I was shocked to find that I hadn’t!
This list is the single most important tool I have for ridding my life of stress. I like my life — which is something I never would have dreamed I would say four years ago when I was still working at what had turned out to be the worst job of my life. My life is calm and quiet and (almost) stress free and pretty darn simple. I am happy much more often than I am unhappy. I owe most of that to this list.
STEP ONE: LIST
It goes like this: you sit down and write a list of everything that stresses you out. The big stuff that keeps you up at night (I hate my job!), the little things that make you cringe (Do I really have to keep that hideous vase aunt Mabel gave me?), and the vaporous, ubiquitous ones that you carry on yourself like cold sweat (These pimples make me so embarrassed!).
When I first drew up my list it was 2011. I had finally quit the job that was (perhaps literally) killing me (and seemed intent on killing my marriage, as well) but now I was working not one, but two part-time jobs that seemed like good ideas at the time but had both turned sour. Despite several months home alone I had barely put a dent in the horrific state of the house. I had two cars in the driveway, one of which I would never have the time or money to fix up and another which was on its last legs. I had just turned 30 but I had the same acne I had graduated high school with. I had finally managed to quit smoking, but I hadn’t shed a pound since I was preparing for our wedding in 2007, and I was still, according to the chart on my doctor’s wall, obese.
It was pretty anticlimactic to (finally) quit the world’s worst job, thinking all my troubles would be over, and discover that underneath my white-hot hatred for my bullying ex-employer was a whole heap of extraneous crap, which continued to steam and bubble and stink up my life.
STEP TWO: PLAN
Now write down options for dealing with each item, realistic or not. You could quit that job tomorrow. You could look for another one in your spare time. You could take a class to get a degree to get a better job. You could ask for a raise. You could transfer to another branch.
Some options are more do-able than others, some will have better results (but may be harder to accomplish), some will be cheap, some will be expensive. Research your options — Google your questions, talk to other people, read books — and decide on a course of action. Will you dip into savings to fund some classes at the local community college to get a certificate in wedding planning? Will you do it on the side until you are established or will you give your two weeks notice as soon as you have your certificate?
STEP THREE: BE PATIENT
This system works, but nothing gets fixed overnight. Check in with your list every time you’ve made some progress, no matter how small, and make a note of it.
Here’s an excerpt from my list:
PROBLEM: I feel guilty about the stuff I still have at Mom & Dad’s. They are not a storage facility and I am a grown-ass woman with my own damn house.
POSSIBLE RESOLUTION: As our place starts to clear out from the selling and donating, go get one item or box at a time and do the same thing with it. Either incorporate it, sell it, or donate it. Update (06/05/12): I’ve started picking the stuff up. I’ve carted off one Karl load and will take more over the course of the summer. Update October 2012: One load left in my old room and then I can start on the shop. Update August 2014: Everything is out of the shop, still one load left in my old closet.
The progress has been incremental, and not just because this item is a low priority. (It’s not that it’s not important to me — it wouldn’t be on the list if it weren’t important — but it is less important than, say, putting a roof on the house.) These things just take time. But every time I fill up the back of the station wagon and free up 96 cubic feet of space in my parent’s home I feel very good about myself. (As an added bonus I’ve also found some stuff I thought I’d never see again, like my real silk robe and the first book I wrote in the first grade. Also, I’ve found some stuff I can sell on eBay, like my My Little Ponies. But most of it has gone to the thrift store to make other people happy.)
Something else I do, or rather don’t do, is delete. Once I have completed a list point I use strikethrough formatting to indicate that it is complete and make a bold note about how I rid myself of this stressor. For instance:
PROBLEM: Acne.. I have been using 2.5% Benzoyl peroxide for months now and I am, for all practical purposes, acne free!
POSSIBLE RESOLUTION(S): This one I think I might be able to control. I just have to be diligent, follow the good advice of the “Breaking out” book and Acne.org, and wait patiently for the treatments to take affect. Then I need to continue to be diligent to prevent further outbreaks
When you review your list you will (hopefully) see all these crossed out items and think, “I can do this! Look at all the crap I’ve already shoveled off my plate!”
This system is dirt simple and just takes up a few sheets of paper or a single small word processor file. But I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a million times more effective than my old problem solving strategy of lying on the living room floor and moaning. (Kidding. Sort of.) And by just making the list you feel empowered.