‘Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain cool and unruffled under all circumstances. ’ Thomas Jefferson
Genetic predisposition can be a trigger to stress as can a wide variety of stressors in today’s fast-paced and competitive world. Dr Arien van der Merwe shares some stress-management tips from her book Stress Solutions to help you manage your time and prioritise.
There are different kinds of stress, with different symptoms, and, of course, subsequent outcomes – often in the form of disease.
Get organised. Make a list of all you have to do. Then arrange them from most to least important. The rest can wait for another day. Start with number one. It’s amazing how the stress levels drop if you stop thinking about what you have to do and actually get around to doing something! You clear your mind, take control of your time and what you do with it. Starting somewhere prevents the feeling of being overwhelmed by stress.
Eliminate the clutter around you. Tidy up. Piles of unfinished business, empty coffee cups, half-finished mouldy sandwiches and crumpled pieces of paper drain your energy and exhaust your mind.
Don’t waste time waiting for other people. Find ways to put even a few minutes’ waiting time to good use – while on hold on the phone or waiting for a meeting or appointment, make lists, sort mail, go over your schedule or complete small but necessary tasks. At home, sort the laundry or the mail while catching up on the news; talk on the phone while preparing dinner, and so on.
Stock up on greeting cards, gift wrap, cellophane tape, glue, stamps, non-perishable foods, freeze-dried milk and bread, order on-line, via fax or telephone, to prevent unnecessary, time-consuming errands to the shops.
If you’re working to a deadline, unplug the phone, put on your answering machine or put the cell phone on voice mail. Telephone conversations can waste time when you can ill afford it.
Prevent the early morning madness by planning what to wear and putting your clothes out the night before, preparing breakfast and lunch packs in advance, making sure the children’s clothes are mended, sports gear ready and all socks and ties accounted for.
Learn to say NO. You may simply be doing too much, trying to prove yourself or helping and volunteering when you’re already busy. Saying ‘no’ can be very empowering. You, and no one else, allow you to be manipulated by others. Never accept unreasonable demands and claims on your time and abilities. We often do more than is expected because we fear losing our jobs or our esteem in others’ eyes. You will earn more respect by firmly but kindly stating your case. Don’t socialise at work if you have to finish an urgent job.
Establish workplace and personal routines and try to stick to them, but be flexible if the unexpected or unforeseen happens. Otherwise, when unplanned things happen, it’ll cause you just as much stress as trying to work without a routine. Organise your e-mails, read them regularly to prevent un- manageable accumulation, respond, delete, save as necessary. Good work relationships are important, but too much chatting can be a time-waster if you have lots to do. Have a definite rule: if your door is open, it’s fine for others to come in. If you work in a cubicle, stick a ‘busy’ note on your computer screen.
Plan meetings. Make sure they’re really necessary. Have a clearly defined goal, set the duration for the meeting, have a prepared purpose and outcome in mind. Make sure everyone involved knows be- forehand what they have to prepare and have available and that they are expected to contribute to the meeting. Prepare a well thought out agenda. Keep an eye on the watch. An experienced facilitator should keep firm control of proceedings, minds wandering off in various directions, sticking to the agenda and time constraints.
Time management and the way you do your work will prevent much of the stress surrounding unfinished work, working at home or overtime, giving you the freedom to balance your work, family and leisure time. Use technology efficiently, ensure you are fully trained for what you have to do, even if it means doing a course that may curtail your leisure time in the short term. Constantly reflect on what you’re doing, why you’re doing it. Can it be done differently, more effectively, in less time?
Set realistic goals. Don’t push yourself in a misguided attempt to prove your worth to yourself and others. Accept yourself. Know yourself. Approve of yourself. Take time out to stop and congratulate yourself on what you’ve attained and accomplished; you have many strengths, coping skills and the resilience to have come this far. We often choose to focus on the terrible things we’ve experienced in life, on our lacking and imperfect life, completely forgetting that we’ve actually survived to the present moment. Try focusing on your strong points, the ones that help you go on in spite of what happens and what you may experience.