Stress is a normal part of life. In fact, some stress is actually good for us, experts say. Stress can help motivate you to make changes in your life and achieve goals… but too much of it can make you miserable, or even sick.
While some major stressors, like a layoff or cross-country move, are easy to pinpoint, others may not be so overt. Little stressors add up and can pack a big punch, but being aware of them can help you manage their negative consequences.
7 common stressors to avoid
Here are some common stressors that might be keeping you wired without you even knowing it.
1. Spending too much time staring at a screen
In some ways, your computer devices can be useful tools for keeping you connected to the world, especially amid a pandemic and subsequent social distancing orders.
But your phone, tablet and laptop can also be harbingers of sleep disruption, poor stress regulation and even social media addiction — which, yes, is a real thing. All of which is to say nothing of the constant stream of bad news you’re likely to see when you log in to your favorite digital platform, or even just glance at your smartphone’s home screen.
Feeling like you can’t put your phone down isn’t your fault; as the new documentary The Social Dilemma discusses, mobile technologies and social media apps are specifically designed to keep you continuously tethered to the web. But setting aside a certain number of “screen-free” hours per day can go a long way toward making you feel a little less like a zombie and more engaged with the real world — and you might even get a better night’s sleep in the bargain.
2. Constantly worrying about finances
Okay, this one might not be so hidden; money is top of mind for many of us. In fact, BlackRock’s latest Annual Global Investor Pulse Survey found that Americans identify money as their No. 1 source of stress, with financial concerns ranging from cost of living to health care expenses to rising prices.
Creating and maintaining a budget can go a long way toward making your money feel a little less mystifying. But no matter how watertight your planning is, you may find you need to shift things around to make ends meet — particularly if you’re prioritizing saving for retirement, too. (Which you should be.)
With 53% of student loan borrowers believing they’ll be paying off their debt for the rest of their lives, refinancing student loans can go a long way toward helping you manage your financial stress levels. Refinancing can help you lower your monthly payment, save money on interest, pay your loans off quicker or some combination of all of the above.
Automating as much of your financial life as possible can also help keep it from simmering on the back burner; for example, setting up auto-deposits into your savings or investment accounts can help you grow your nest egg without even thinking about it.
3. Struggling with time management
Whether it’s constantly running five minutes behind or falling into the bad (but oh so tempting) habit of procrastination, poor time management skills can really bite you in the behind stress-wise. It’s no fun to be the last person walking into every meeting — or finding yourself staying up past midnight to finish something you could have been done with a week ago.
Finding and developing better time management skills can take — well, time. But one great place to start is by waking up 30 minutes earlier or shifting some of your morning prep to the night before, such as packing a lunch or laying out your outfit.
If you’re a constant procrastinator, breaking your tasks into smaller, more approachable sub-tasks might be helpful. You might also consider tackling your most foreboding task first thing in the morning, so it’s over and done with, a tactic sometimes known as “eating the frog.”
4. Not getting enough sleep
Most of us know the misery that is getting up and getting to work after a sleepless night — but insomnia can do more than just make you feel blah. Not getting enough sleep has wide-ranging health implications when chronic, from your immune system to your insulin response to your blood pressure.
What’s worse: while insomnia can certainly stress you out, the reverse is true, too. Insomnia can be caused by stress. In short, this is a vicious cycle that’s worth finding your way out of. We suggest checking in with your sleep hygiene and ensuring you keep a regular sleep schedule (yes, even on the weekends!).
5. Living with a negative mindset
Sometimes, our minds can work against us, putting us into a repetitive, stress-inducing rut: ruminating on “what ifs” and constantly fearing worst-case scenarios, bludgeoning ourselves with negative self-talk, and — everyone’s favorite — relieving past mistakes. Talk about the worst reruns ever.
If you can identify these patterns in your own thinking, you have a better shot at quitting them. For example, if you tend to mentally self-flagellate, one good way to think about it is to ask yourself, “Would I speak this way to someone I cared about? A child?”
Of course, one of the best ways to get this part of your mental health aligned is to seek the help of a qualified professional. Although shopping for a therapist can be time- and energy-consuming, mobile platforms — like BetterHelp and TalkSpace, for example — are making it more convenient and affordable to get help.
6. Not maintaining a good work-life balance
Especially now that the pandemic has put so many more of us in the work-from-home scenarios we may have always thought we wanted, it can be difficult to separate work life from home life. (After all, you may be literally living in the space that serves as your office these days.)
Feeling like you’re always on call is a great way to get stressed out quickly. So when you step away from your work for the day, make it a point to actually step away. Don’t give in to the temptation to check your email after hours, and if you can, designate a specific part of your home for work only — and only do work there, rather than on your couch, in bed or… you get the idea.
7. Ignoring your own insecurities
We all have insecurities we’d probably rather not think about. But unfortunately, when we ignore our insecurities, they can sometimes grow even larger.
For instance, if you’re insecure about your body, you might be funneling far too much time into counting almonds or steps on the Stairmaster. If you’re insecure about your career, you might find yourself overcommitting to prove yourself… which can lead to burnout fast.
Identifying your insecurities and contextualizing them can help you start to overcome them. For instance, maybe your body image woes are due in part to an unrealistic cultural beauty standard? (Hint: they definitely are.) Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own needs will help you counteract negativity and be more present in your day-to-day life — and, again, it never hurts to talk to a professional.