High Octane Women

How superachievers can avoid burnout

Quick and Easy Stress Busters for 10 of the Most Common Stressors

How to take the stress out of stress reduction.

Dilemma of the 21st century woman ... I know I'm stressed, but I'm so busy that sometimes just thinking about adding stress-relieving activities to my overflowing schedule is stressful.

This is the predicament of so many of today's women, juggling a hundred balls in the air at the same time and hoping that none of them fall to the ground. If this describes you, you're on a dangerous road, one that will almost certainly end in burnout unless you change your path. But how do you pull this off when your life is so busy that you feel you barely have time to catch your breath before you're off handling another to-do on what seems to be an ever-growing to-do list?

According to Harvard Medical School's Healthbeat, the key is "start small and bask in the glow of your successes." The unfortunate truth is that when you have so many stressors in your life, trying to tackle all of them can feel overwhelming and impossible to accomplish. Yet, by starting with one source of stress in your life and focusing on simple, practical solutions for that specific stressor, those feelings can turn to a sense of well-being, knowing that you're learning skills in manageable doses that over time will help you reduce your stress and better manage your life.

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Here are ten of the most common stressors followed by a few quick and easy strategies for coping with them. Healthbeat suggests picking one problem at a time and working toward relief in small steps.

1) If you're frequently late ...

Use simple time management principles that include identifying your priorities and either delegating or removing unimportant or unnecessary tasks. You also can map out your day, task by task, setting aside time for things that often take up a lot of time, but few people think to schedule time for, such as returning phone calls or responding to emails. If no matter how hard you try, you always seem to be late, then you're not giving yourself enough time, so schedule yourself an extra 15 minutes to get to your destination and remove that constantly rushed feeling from your life.

2) If you often feel angry or irritated ...

Reframe the situation. Often, cognitive distortions weigh us down and stress us out unnecessarily. Before you react, ask yourself if you're magnifying a problem, leaping to conclusions, or using emotional reasoning. Take a moment to stop, breathe, reflect, and choose a positive and productive course of action instead of an impulsive, angry one that in the long run will probably add even more stress to your life.

3) If you're unsure of your ability to do something ...

Ask for help. The strongest people ask for help when they need it, so why go it alone? If the problem is work-related, talk to a trusted co-worker, an understanding boss, or a close friend. In some situations, you can call the local library, read books, listen to CDs, or contact an organization that may be able to provide you with the information you need. You can also use these same resources to learn relaxation techniques.

4) If you're overextended ...

Bring in reinforcements. Hire household help. Have a family meeting to consider who can pick up some of the responsibilities that have somehow fallen on your shoulders. Ask your boss to give you some additional support until you get out of the weeds. Shop online to save time. Take a hard look at your activities and decide what is essential and what can take a back seat for now.

5) If you feel like you don't have time for stress relief ...

Use mini-stress relievers, like opening a window and breathing in fresh air, taking a quick walk in the sunshine, or deep breathing at your desk. Find a few minutes each day to slow down and pay attention to one thing that you find relaxing and calming.

6) If you feel tense ...

Try the mini-stress relievers above, or a little exercise to relieve the tension, such as a brisk walk, a quick run, a sprint up and down the stairs, or arm curls while you wait at traffic lights. 

7) If you frequently feel pessimistic ...

Reframe negatives into positives. Remember that the benefits of optimism are a happier life and better healthLaugh as often as possible. Watch or read comedies. Make a list of things you're grateful to have. 

8) If you find yourself frequently feeling upset by conflicts with others ...

Make your needs or distress known directly, avoiding “you always” and “you never.” Good templates to use are: “I feel _____ when you _____” and “I would really appreciate it if you could _____.”  

9) If you feel worn out or burned out ...

Nurture yourself. Recovery from burnout requires more than the mini stress relievers discussed so far. To deal with burnout, you really need to make time in your schedule to relax and find avenues to escape stress as much as possible. You also have to eat healthy, get enough rest, and replenish your mind and body. And if you're not feeling relief after a reasonable period of time, don't hesitate to seek professional help. 

10) If you feel lonely ...

Connect with others as much as possible, even if these are little connections. Begin by having brief conversations with neighbors or with people waiting in line at the store. Talk to colleagues. Volunteer. Join a group. Get together with a friend for coffee, lunch, or dinner. Reconnect with family or friends you may have lost touch with over the years. Take a class that interests you. The world's pleasures as well as burdens are better when they're shared.

Source: Harvard Medical School Healthbeat, "10 Simple Steps to Help De-Stress (April 24th, 2012).

© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

Follow Dr. Bourg Carter on Facebook and Twitter.

Sherrie Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., psychologist and author of "High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout," specializes in the area of women and stress.

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