Everyone has it, and everyone has suffered from bad stress.
Good stress, called eustress, helps you and me meet deadlines, make dinners, and take care of the day-to-day tasks of daily functioning. But bad stress hitches up our shoulders and torpedoes our mental health.
Indeed, bad stress is terrible for people with bipolar disorder, frequently triggering depression, according to a 2002 review by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.
So how do you eliminate bad stress in your life to better manage your mental health?
Here’s how I do it.
You do not have to do every task yourself.
Being responsible for everything at work or at home is the fastest way to break a person with stress, especially someone who is predisposed to mental illness.
My answer to feeling responsible for everything is to delegate, delegate, delegate.
Talk to your higher-ups at work to see if you can get some help with major projects. Not everything can be delegated, obviously, but you can ask your co-workers to help you brainstorm solutions to problems or even possibly take on some tasks they would be able to do better than you when you’re overburdened.
According to an article on Indeed.com, asking for help at work involves considering whom to ask, thinking about your timing, and creating a list of potential solutions you’ve already tried.
With these steps, you can potentially lessen your workload.
Similarly, asking for help at home from your spouse, children, or roommates takes a similar approach.
Sometimes, especially parents, we’re reluctant to teach other people–including our children–to do chores because it’s easier to do the chore ourselves. But this is a trap that quickly leads to burnout.
You might find this parenting article by WebMD describing how to teach a rebellious teen how to clean helpful. Even if you’re not dealing with teenagers, but roommates or small children, the tips are sound.
Here are some of them:
- Clean up your act first to be a good example.
- Don’t micromanage.
- Keep your cool.
- Be absolutely clear about your expectations.
- Have sensible consequences.
While dealing with adults who are reluctant to do chores, you don’t want to treat them like children. But the same principles apply; being consistent and clear about your expectations and coming to an agreement about consequences is key.
Good luck delegating!
2. Focus on Survival Tasks
When you lack spoons, a representation of energy and mental ability to tackle tasks in the moment, easy things to lack when you’re stressed and distressed, focus on survival tasks.
What I mean by survival tasks are those that contribute to the day-to-day functioning of daily life, as well as a bit of self-care.
“Feed the five-year-old” is a survival task. So is “clean the litterbox.” So is “work enough to keep my job.”
Some people, including myself, believe that showering is a survival task. I certainly believe that some sort of daily self-care is crucial, even if it’s just brushing your teeth.
(If you’re stuck on what self-care to do, click here for a fun, interactive, choose-your-own-adventure self-care quest.)
Until you’re in a position to delegate, pare that to-do list down to the very basics. Once you have conquered that depressive episode or lessened your burden by delegating, you’ll be free to pursue that creative hobby or clean out that storage unit.
3. Forgive Yourself for What You Don’t Get Done
There was a point in my life where I was struck down by postpartum depression.
Too busy sobbing my brains out and taking care of my tiny, helpless infant–and having never been taught how–I had no energy or ability to clean.
My little family–my baby, my husband, and me–lived in squalor. Dirty diapers littered the living room floor, moldy dishes flooded the sink, and the bathrooms were filthy.
Trying to establish himself in his new, stressful job, my husband worked 12-hour days and sometimes slept at the office, so he, too, was too exhausted to help.
We were miserable.
Two years later, my psychiatrist encouraged me to wean my son so I could take lithium. Once I was properly medicated, the clouds opened up, and I was able to start picking up the shattered pieces of my life.
Eleven years after I was prescribed lithium–and after finding a medication cocktail that worked to fully lift my depression and stabilize my manic/mixed episodes–I am stable and happy.
My advice to forgive yourself for what you don’t get done is hypocritical because I still struggle with doing so.
I still haven’t forgiven myself for the time when my brain was sick and I simply could not clean. I still hold myself accountable for that time.
But when I look at my bright, healthy, compassionate preteen son, I recognize that I did do something right in that time: I kept my child alive, and I took care of myself as best I could, which allowed him to thrive.
I have value beyond a clean house, and so do you. You can forgive yourself for the tasks you don’t get done, just like I know I can forgive myself for my inability to clean over the years.
It’s time to move on from past mistakes. If you’re holding past tasks over your head, forgive yourself.
You’ve earned it.
You can reduce stress in your life.
By delegating, focusing on survival tasks, and forgiving yourself for what you haven’t gotten done, you can reduce the burden in your life to better manage your mental health.
I wish you well in your journey.