- Check email only when you’ve got time to respond or archive.
- Prioritize sleep over other evening activities.
- Thinking that everything in your life has to be picture-perfect will only lead to exhaustion and unnecessary stress.
We all know that life’s big issues — finances, health problems, a lost job — can cause stress. But it’s harder to spot the everyday habits and attitudes that impact our overall stress level. Case in point: “One of the biggest problems I see is people feeling powerless about their stress,” says Kathleen Hall, a stress expert and author of Mindful Living Everyday, “when really you have more control than you think.”
What’s more, if you’re a headache or migraine sufferer, you know that stress can contribute to headaches.
So we talked to two stress experts to uncover the five mistakes you may be making, unintentionally increasing your stress level — and what you can do about it.
Overscheduling. It’s easy to do. “Everyone thinks they have more time than they do,” Hall says. “You end up being late for everything or even having repercussions in your relationships.”
How to control it: Hall suggests spending a few days doing this exercise: Every two to three hours, carefully take note of what you’ve actually been doing (not just what was on your schedule!) You’ll realize, for example, that the quick catch-up phone call with your boss took a full hour, so you were 30 minutes late to your doctor’s appointment. After a while, you’ll learn to schedule the right amount of time for the right task.
Drowning in email. Don’t worry: We’re not going to tell you that you can only spend 20 minutes a day managing your inbox. The thing about email (and social media and other technology, generally) is that everyone is different — one person may feel more Zen if they stay away from devices after 9 p.m., while another may feel more anxious because they’re worried they’re missing out.
How to control it: Alice Boyes, Ph.D., an anxiety expert and blogger for Psychology Today, says the key with email is to check only when you’ve got time to respond or archive. “If you’re checking email when you won’t be able to deal with what’s in the email, you’ll end up with an over-full mind,” she says.
Neglecting sleep. Many of the ways that some people deal with stress — watching TV, drinking alcohol, working late — end up cutting into a good night’s sleep, which creates a vicious cycle: The less sleep you get, the more stressed you feel; the more stressed you feel, the harder it is to sleep well, Hall says. What’s worse: Lack of sleep can be a headache trigger for some.
How to control it: It may be hard, but prioritize sleep over other evening activities. For ideas, check out these five sleep tips that you can try tonight.
Expecting perfection. Social media can leave us with overwhelming images (and expectations) of perfect outfits and perfect toddlers’ birthday parties and perfect four-course home-cooked gourmet meals. But thinking that everything in your life has to be picture-perfect will only lead to exhaustion and unnecessary stress, Hall says. “Perfection doesn’t actually exist, and expecting it will drive you insane,” she says.
How to control it: Try changing how you define “perfection.” Says Hall: “You can still have high standards, but I prefer framing it as ‘unique’ — I want a unique living room, not a perfect one. It’s more satisfying and more attainable.”
Procrastination. This is a classic: You’re worried about your finances, so you may put off opening bills. You can’t attend a friend’s invitation to dinner, so you put off calling her until the last minute. Those are short-term ways to avoid stressors, but they’ll only make stress worse in the long run, says Boyes.
How to control it: “Articulate what the fear is” that’s keeping you from the task, Boyes says, and remind yourself that the outcome will be better if you deal with it now. “You’ll start chipping away at that habit and regaining confidence in your ability to deal with things,” she says.
Stress is one of the leading causes of headaches for many people.