Stress is an inevitable part of life and while it seems to be a constant presence, there are seasons where stressors seem so high. Summer for the most part seems to be a time where stress fades away. School is not in session so students and parents alike may be enjoying less traffic filled roads and commotion at least mentally. This is a time where vacations are planned as we all enjoy the warmer weather.
This summer, particularly in 2021, it feels different than others mostly because we are slowly adapting to re-emerging into interacting with others outside of home. You see, 2020 was filled with COVID 19 worries. And while the worries of the pandemic are not over, stressors are changing and increasing as things begin to pick up particularly in the Fall.
Summertime is a good opportunity to do what I call a stress audit. Now, this can be done in any season. I chose the summertime because it is usually a time where things are a bit slower even if you are traveling. And so, it can be easier to evaluate your life stressors when you are not being impacted with them each day.
So, what is a stress audit? It is exactly as it sounds. We often talk about managing stress when we are experiencing it. We talk about deep breathing exercises to relieve stress or making time for exercise so we can lessen our stress. However, while those techniques are helpful, taking the time to evaluate why the stress is happening and what we can do to eliminate the stress all together is not at the front of our priority list. We are just trying to survive. And honestly, I get it. We have limited time and mental capacity to even be thinking about what we can do to keep the stress from happening. We just put our heads down and keep moving, one foot at a time. And that’s why I encourage you to take a time where stress is less or even a slower pace to evaluate your whole situation and see what can be done.
Let’s get into it.
- Write all the stressors down. Now, I am old school and like to see it in front of me so using a white board or Post It to write it all down is my cup of tea. If you are tech savvy and want to use an Excel spreadsheet, go for it. The point of this is to get it all out of your head and write it down. Truly sit and think of all the areas of your life especially in the last 6 months where stress has been high. This can be the coordinating of schedules for your family or financial stress towards the end of the semester. It can be feeling overwhelmed by everything due at the end of the semester or projects at work stacking up. It can be addressing the increased social invitations or feeling overwhelmed with how to best manage your health. Nothing is off the table. Write it all out. And once you have all out there, take a moment.
- Reflect. Wow, look at all those stressors in front of you. I think often we are riding the wave of stress and may not even take the time to consider all that we are juggling and trying to get done. It’s a lot and somehow you are riding that wave and getting the things done. They may not be in the way you’d like, or you notice that you’ve been riding the stress wave with so many feelings that it feels overwhelming, but you are riding it. Take the time to reflect and acknowledge all that you are doing.
- Organize all the stressors. I want you to look at the stressors in front of you and put them into categories. Now, the categories are things that make sense to you and can be as detailed as you need them to be. Some examples of categories can be health, family, relationship, extended family, school, kids, etc. Or they can be even more detailed Drop Off/Pickup of kids, Work Commute, Diet Concerns, Work Project Anxiety, etc. The reason for the categories is that it is going to help you understand what areas of your life need support to lessen the stressors.
- Research. Now this can be as time consuming as you’d like it to be, but I want you to look at those categories and research ways to lessen the stressors. Let’s say my biggest stressor is drop off/pick up for my kids. Well, maybe I want to start out by asking my kid’s friend’s parents what they are doing or reach out to a Facebook group or read up on different parenting blogs for ideas. Whatever works for you, and I want you to list out possible ideas that you may implement to address that stressor. Again, sometimes when we are experiencing stress, we don’t have time to even question whether what we are doing is the most effective way to do it. We just do it. So, this is an opportunity (especially since stress is low) to be open to implementing new ideas. I want you to do this with all the categories that you have listed.
- Develop a plan for implementation. Now that you’ve gone through all your stressors and have listed possible ideas, I want you to truly reflect on which ideas you can implement. Now, this doesn’t mean implementing them at the same time. Honestly, you probably will get overwhelmed if you try to implement all of them at once so just pick a couple. Pick a couple of stressors that you want to tackle first and maybe try and implement one of the ideas for alleviating it and see how it goes.
- Review. Lastly, after implementation, I want you to review your progress. Ask yourself, was that strategy effective in lessening the stressor? What do I need to tweak? Should I try out one of the other strategies? The reason that I had you research, and list out possible strategies is because sometimes the first thing we try out won’t work and that’s okay. You’ve done your research and now you can refer to that list as you are navigating through all this.
This may take a few times of going through #5 and #6 before you’ve found a plan that works for you. And sometimes, it may mean even going back to #4 when you’ve exhausted all that you’ve researched. It can take some time and honestly, that’s okay. This stress audit can be done as many times as you’d like and find it helpful. Setting the intention of doing consistent stress audits can alleviate feeling overwhelmed by stress on a consistent basis. Stress is an inevitable part of life but how we cope is in our control. Try it out, one step at a time. You may be surprised with the results.
More about Dr. Veronica. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that specializes in working with mothers, new and seasoned, navigating the challenges of parenthood. She lives in California with her three children and husband. When she’s not empowering mothers through her work she is happily chasing after her littles. Learn more about Veronica and her work at her website drveronicalcsw.com or follow along with her on Instagram @drveronicaeyo