In what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible...
- Stephen Jay Gould
Who doesn’t have too much to do this time of year? Even if you realize, as my friend and colleague Colleen Hughes wrote in her All About Angels blog this week, that all this activity means you have a lot to be joyful about, holiday stress can get to you.
I was having an OMG, how am I going get everything done?! moment myself Monday morning. Good thing just the right article popped up on my iPhone: Jane Brody’s New York Times piece on coping with daily stress. Brody offered a number of practical tips from psychologist Tamar Chansky on how to avoid getting trapped in anxiety and negative thinking.
I know we’re all busy, so I’m sharing just one tip here. It might sound surprising yet it’s surprisingly helpful: Compartmentalize. You’re going to worry anyway, so don’t bother telling yourself stop doing it and then feeling bad when you can’t.
Instead, Dr. Chansky suggests, allow yourself a little time every day just to worry. That’s right, let your anxieties out for five or ten minutes. Then shelve them for the rest of the day while you get things done. It’s not that you don’t get stressed (stress is a part of life) but you don’t get paralyzed by it.
I’ve been practicing my own version of this instinctively for years, and it works. For me simply saying out loud, “Aggggh, I have this, this and this to do... I feel really stressed out right now!” often relieves (or releases) my anxiety enough that I can move on to actually doing this, this and this.
It’s like what I used to do with the third- and fourth-graders I tutored in an afterschool program while I was in college. The other volunteers wondered how I almost always managed to get the kids in my class to finish their homework. My trick? I let them have five minutes at the beginning of each class to run around the classroom and be as loud as they wanted. That way they let out their pent-up energy and could settle down to their homework. It was no stroke of genius. I just remembered what it was like to be eight years old and forced to sit still in class and how great it felt to run around at recess.
Maybe that’s a more fun way to think of compartmentalizing stress and anxiety: recess for adults.
Amy Wong is the executive editor of Guideposts and was a founding editor of Positive Thinking. She lives in New York City with her adopted dog, Winky, a natural-born positive thinker who believes that everyone has a treat for her and every day is the best day of her life. Amy hopes to be that optimistic someday (she’s working on it!).