The last couple of weeks have been pretty stressful. The saga began when I felt warm air blowing out of our central air vents one evening–never a good sign. Especially not when the forecast is predicting daytime highs over 100 degrees. The next day, an inspection of our aging HVAC system revealed my worst fear: it was shot.
So, we absorbed that large and unexpected expense. We reveled in our newly cool house for a couple of days. And then, as he prepared for work one morning, Mike discovered that we had no hot running water.
Long story short, we’ve had to replace two major appliances in the last two weeks. On the one hand, these are definitely first world problems. (We reminded ourselves, during the two days we had no hot water, that more people live this way–heating water as necessary–than the way we live most of the time.) But on the other hand, when your regular life implodes a little bit . . . well, it’s stressful.
The only way I know how to cope with stress is to get active. This typically takes the form of planning ahead–knowing I’m prepared gives me great peace of mind. I’m less likely to stress out about things going awry if I feel like I’ve planned for whatever situations I can imagine.
But it’s not always possible to plan ahead. That’s why being stress-free also means taking charge in the moment–doing what needs to be done right now, rather waiting until you’re in a crisis.
Here are just a few of the strategies I use to head off stress.
On a daily basis:
Put everything in its place. I rarely lose my keys because I know where to look for them. Same goes for my phone, shoes, the kitchen scissors, etc. Taking an extra few seconds to put things where they’re supposed to be (before you get distracted by something else and forget to do that) averts a lot of stress in the moments when you need whatever you’re looking for.
Prepare for the following day. This can take many different forms: packing tomorrow’s lunch, making sure you have clean clothes, getting the coffeemaker ready to go. I always pack my work bag and set it beside the door so I won’t forget to grab it on my way out–and so I know everything I need is in one place.
Get up when the alarm goes off. Those extra few minutes of sleep are delicious, but rushing around in a frenzy after you’ve overslept is not. It makes the simplest things more stressful than they need to be. Thankfully, this kind of stress is easy to avoid–even if, like me, you’re a person who hates to get out of bed. (I hate being stressed out even more.)
Eat. When you’re in a rush or just steadily busy throughout the day, it’s easy to skip breakfast or lunch. But failing to eat is one of the best ways to stress yourself out. I try to have packs of nuts, granola bars, or something equally portable on hand for those days when I forget to pack a lunch or can’t find the time to sit down and eat between classes and meetings.
Make lists. If you’re taking the August List Challenge, then you already know I’m a big fan of lists. I keep a running list of things that have to get done today and things that need to get done this week. Crossing off items gives me a sense of accomplishment that goes a long way toward balancing out whatever stress I’m feeling.
As a general rule:
Make duplicates. Extra house keys and car keys are a huge sanity-saver. Keep the extras in places you can access easily when you need them–in a pocket of your purse, a desk drawer at work, or with a neighbor. Extra copies of important documents, stored in various locations, will also give you peace of mind. It’s unlikely they’ll all get lost or destroyed.
Keep up with preventative maintenance. This applies to houses, cars, and bodies. Putting off these tasks because you don’t have time to deal with them virtually guarantees that you’ll be dealing with them at the worst possible time. Very possibly, you’ll be dealing with a more serious (and more stressful) situation that could have been avoided.
Don’t ignore warnings. If your printer is telling you it’s low on ink, buy a cartridge. You don’t have to install it until your printer actually runs out of ink–but when that happens, you’ll be prepared. If we’d acknowledged the warning signs of our hot water heater’s demise, we could have avoided the blown circuit breaker that cost us a visit from the electrician in addition to our new water heater.
Don’t wait. If you can do it now, do it–even if it doesn’t strictly need to be done until tomorrow. You may end up running out of time tomorrow. Then you’ll be running behind schedule. (That’s a huge source of stress for me.) If the gas tank is two-thirds full, fill it up. If you have two rolls of toilet paper left, buy more. Fit the task into your day as soon as you notice it needs to be done.
If it’s broke, fix it. Rather than dealing with the constant aggravation of a windshield wiper that doesn’t clear the windshield, replace it. If your glasses keep sliding down your nose, get them adjusted. Many small annoyances add up to a big source of stress. If you’ve ever had one of those moments when you’re convinced the entire world is falling apart, you know what I’m talking about.
With the fall semester getting underway in a couple weeks, I’m already trying to figure out what I can deal with before my calendar fills up. The more I can get done now, the less I’ll have to think about later.