When we get busy and time seems like a precious commodity, it’s so easy for our minds to move to a place of stress and overwhelm rather than a place of gratitude. Below I share five easy ways to reduce stress during busy times – I use all of these techniques when I feel overwhelmed, and I hope they can help you, too!
I’m currently in one of those crazy seasons of life where I’m experiencing major shifts in many different aspects of my life, I’m trying to do a ton of things at once, and things keep getting added to my plate at what feels like a pace greater than I can handle. Can anyone relate?! (Ha). It doesn’t help that it’s currently the holiday season – not just because the holidays are generally busy for everyone (what with all the travel, family events and traditions, gift buying, etc.) – but because I love the holidays.
Why is this a problem, you ask? Well, because I love to go all out for the holidays – making homemade gifts for people, writing long cards to everyone I love, attending and hosting holiday events, partaking in tons of holiday traditions, etc. But with everything else going on this month in my personal life, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I just can’t celebrate the way I want to this year.
That feels really sad to me for some reason. Getting in the spirit for the holidays and bringing other people with me into the holiday madness brings me SO much joy every year. I’ve been super festive since I was a kid, and the holidays feel really special to me. So the fact that life is getting in the way is…well, sad. But when I find myself feeling down and wishing I didn’t have so much going on this year, I remind myself that this is just one year – it isn’t forever. You bet I’ll be back on the holiday spirit train (dare I say the Polar Express? I crack myself up) next year. But this year I have to let go of my expectations and find joy in the traditions I am able to participate in this year – it just may not be all of them.
And because so much is going on in my personal life (all of it good, I always remind myself – things could be stressful for way worse reasons) I’m finding myself getting overwhelmed and paralyzed with anxiety more often than normal. I know the signs well – difficulty slowing my mind down, getting irritable over small things more easily, needing to control my environment around me, getting stuck in the future and spiraling about everything that could go wrong….hello anxiety, my old friend.
When this type of stress strikes, I have a few tried and true tricks to help acknowledge it and then get moving with my life again. Because who needs stress when you have so many other things you’d rather be doing, amirite?!
Don’t fight the feeling
My first tip for reducing stress and anxiety when life gets overwhelming is to not fight the feelings you’re experiencing, especially if you’re labeling them as “bad” or “negative.” This one is tough and something I especially need to remind myself of, which is why I’m putting it first. When I notice myself getting overwhelmed, I tend to make things worse by frantically trying to figure out how to make myself not feel stressed in that moment or how to prevent the anxiety from getting worse. And guess what? By fighting the feelings, they only amplify.
So, when you notice yourself getting overwhelmed or feeling anxious because you feel like you have too many things to do and no idea how they’ll get done, try just pausing and noticing. Don’t put a judgment on the feeling (ie “good” or “bad”), and don’t try to run away or smush it down. Take a few deep breaths and just notice. Remind yourself that anxiety and stress isn’t necessarily “bad” – it’s here to help you and it’s probably done a great job helping you in the past. But if you don’t need it right now, just tell it “Thank you, stress. I see you and acknowledge you. Thank you for all you’ve done in the past but I’m safe right now. There’s nothing harming me in this current moment.”
Once you befriend stress rather than fight it, it tends to calm down. It will still be there to protect you, but it won’t be able to completely hijack you. I tried accepting and acknowledging my stress in a recent meditation rather than just trying to avoid the stress, and I felt a distinct shift almost immediately. My anxiety liked being thanked and acknowledged, and I felt my whole body almost instantly relax.
This is a huge one. Whenever I start feeling like my life is hard, I know I’m in for some SERIOUS perspective-shifting. I have so many blessings in my life – I sometimes feel guilty that I ever get stressed or complain at all. You may feel the same. Try as much as you can to not feel guilty for feeling stressed – it’s a natural emotion that all humans feel. But it is very helpful to reframe, shift your perspective, and remind yourself of ALL the amazing things that are going right in your life, small or large.
This can really help bring you from a space of scarcity (ie things are never good enough or I don’t have enough time) to a place of fullness and abundance. Try as much as you can to put a different spin on whatever is bothering you or whatever is overwhelming you, and find something about it to be grateful for – it may just be that it’s making you stronger as a person. Or it may just be that you’re here, breathing, on this earth, right now. Nothing is too small to be grateful for.
Meditation + mindfulness
During busy times, I make sure I take time each day (or at least as often as I can) to meditate. I try to practice mindfulness throughout the day as much as I can, too – especially if I’m noticing that I’m getting stressed in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to just dip out for 10 minutes and get my zen on. In that case, I’ll just take a few deep breaths and try to notice my thoughts without judgment. But meditation is so important during busy times, and it can often be the first thing to go when you feel short on time during the day. BUT just 5-10 minutes a day make SUCH a difference for me that I make meditation a priority.
Meditation is where I tend to get to my calmest state that I can then carry with me into the day or night. It’s also where I tend to do my best perspective-shifting and where I do my gratitude practices. I think a combination of both meditation and mindfulness is important during busy times, because each serves a slightly different purpose. But either will help immensely if you’re feeling stressed.
Don’t let self-care go out the window
This is also a tough one. When it seems like your list of Urgent Tasks That Must Get Done is never-ending, it’s easy to just cancel on that dinner with your friend or not work out that week. And this will vary greatly depending on what fills you up and brings you to the present moment the most, but whatever those few things are…try your absolute best not to let them ALL go.
I understand cutting corners on some of these – I know during a really busy time that I won’t be able to go to every single event with friends that I’d like, but I still choose a few that I make sure I attend, because I know once I go I’ll feel so much better. Working out is another one of those self-care activities that I know will hurt my mental health if I completely stop doing for a few weeks or months. I may not be able to work out as often as I’d like, but I still make as much time for it as I can. So, if you’re really busy, think of 1-2 self-care activities that make you feel like the best version of yourself, and commit to making sure you do those at least once a week. I promise, you’ll be able to tackle that task list so much more easily if you do.
Be patient with yourself + adjust expectations
I leave you with this last tip – when life gets in the way, remember to be patient with yourself. It’s okay if you get upset. It’s okay if you aren’t able to do something you wanted to do. Don’t waste time feeling guilty on top of feeling stressed and trying to do all the things you need to do. Remember that this too shall pass and you’re likely putting expectations on yourself that you don’t need to. Let go of the idea that things have to look a certain way (especially around the holidays) or be a certain way, and watch how much better and lighter you’ll feel.
And remember – YOU are the only one who can make your life enjoyable or not. I heard that quote recently and it really stuck with me. When times are busy, we can stew in our misery or we can find joy and gratitude wherever we can. We’ll still have the exact same amount of things to do, but if we focus on gratitude and joy we will have so much more fun doing them. We have the power to enjoy our lives in any moment, which is truly the greatest blessing of all.