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Dealing With Life Stress: Should We Use a Scale or a Broom?

Posted Jun 18 2010 5:17pm

MHH_cartoon-a-thon_2009-2stress

This cartoon illustrates how stressful life can be, even in normal  situations like family life. (By the way, if you enjoy mental health humor, visit (http://blogs.psychcentral.com/humor) for more.) In our anger management programs, we teach specific methods to handle stress as one of our anger control tools, because stress and anger are very much connected and related.

Is stress control about achieving life balance? Perhaps. Maybe not. In the words of our humorist Chato,

“If you’re seeking balance because your life is a mess, then you’re looking at the wrong thing. What you need to be seeking…….is a broom!”

My experience is that sometimes we might need both a scale and a broom. A scale to keep things in balance and proportion and a broom to sweep out all the stuff that is irrelevant to your life goals and dreams and may be bogging you down, like trying to walk through wet cement.

Lets start with the scale:

scale

Many personal development coaches teach clients to make a pie chart like this……………

pie chart

……..and then teach clients to put a label on each piece of the pie representing life areas where time and energy and spent. Typical categories would be work, family, community, religion, leisure, etc. Then, by keeping track of how much time or effort you spend in activities related to each category, you can easily see if your life is out of balance or not.

Take the case of a 43 year old small business owner who worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He slept eight hours a day, leaving only 6 hours  a day for everything else including his marriage, his family, personal time, etc. Soon, he felt overwhelmed and burned-out and then he felt  “used” by almost everyone because his needs outside of work were not even close to being satisfied or fulfilled. Often people like this have a classic “type A” personality and are seen as “driven.” One client we saw had had three heart attacks by age 33 and still was unable to slow down or add balance to his life.

Is happiness higher in people who have a more balanced life? Are these people less stressed? I’m not sure that this has even been directly researched, but it seems intuitively true from observation of happy and relaxed people. Balance comes not only from how you spend your time, but also in terms of  how purposeful or meaningful what you do seems to you. Do what your love and your life will not feel out of balance to you (although others may not see it the same way). Spending much effort doing what you feel you have to do without counter-balancing it with enjoyable or meaningful or rewarding things will lead to much stress and unhappiness. We all have to spend some time on things we don’t like or things we don’t want to do; but happier people balance these things with doing at least one enjoyable or rewarding  thing each day – something they can “look forward to”

Now The Broom…..

broom

Life activities, thoughts, focus on the unimportant or focus on that which cannot be changed can clutter our minds just like stacks of old newspapers can clutter a room in your house. Both types of clutter make it difficult to navigate life because they bog us down, and occupy space that could be much better used. Mind clutter may include things like:

  • Focusing on trivia or the unimportant while missing the bigger, more important issue (for instance, happily straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic, while being oblivious to the fact that the ship is sinking)
  • Devoting significant portions of your life to changing that which cannot be changed instead of focusing on that which can be. This includes people as well as causes or issues.
  • Staying  stuck in a life style or life situation you stopped liking long ago, but yet you stay in it or keep on doing it. Being preoccupied with the negative clogs your mind and your perspective to try new solutions or try new life styles that may be less stressful and bring more happiness. Think: “If I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.”
  • Thinking certain self-talk or holding certain beliefs about yourself or the world which may not be true, yet stop you from pursuing or achieving some life dreams that may still be within you reach.
  • Holding resentments or grievances which poison you inside like a cancer and block your potential for happiness or fulfillment.
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