Starting to become aware of the things that cause you stress is the first step to releasing it. But once you’ve identified the behaviors that stress you out, how do you disconnect from them?
If it were as simple as just “stopping” the habits, you wouldn’t need to read this article. The truth is, behavior change can be tricky. When you’ve spent years, sometimes decades, practicing a certain behavior, it’s difficult to wake up one day and decide not to do it. When you replace the behavior with something else — something more productive — the process becomes much easier.
Here are six common habits that you’re probably doing that are causing you stress. When you notice you’re doing them, pause, and replace the behavior with a new one, recommended here.
When You Notice: You Are Multitasking
Do you find yourself often trying to have a conversation while responding to an email? Checking your text messages while creating a PowerPoint presentation? This type of task juggling will make you less productive.
The brain just isn’t designed to focus on more than one thing at a time — unless you’re part of the 2 percent of the population that are good at multi-tasking. For the other 98 percent of us, when you are interrupted while in the flow — or self-interrupt — it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to return to the task once distracted, according to a study led by Gloria Mark at the University of CA, Irvine. That’s because you’ll end up turning your attention to 2.26 other tasks before coming back to your original focus. What’s more, is that the study found multitasking and interruptions caused significant increases in stress. Some studies say multitasking can result in a 40 percent reduction in productivity, too.
Try This, Instead: When you need to focus on one task, put on some headphones to signal to coworkers that you cannot be interrupted, turn off your phone and notifications, set a timer for 30 minutes, and complete one task. Rinse. Repeat.
When You Notice: You Are Rushing
If you find yourself regularly rushing from meeting A to meeting B, surpassing the speed limit by 20 m.p.h., or generally feeling like you’re running behind, take heed. When you’re constantly in a hurry, it creates a stress response in the brain that signals to your whole body that you’re in trouble, and your entire physiology and mood is affected.
Try This, Instead: If you are truly going to be late to an appointment, meeting, or important event that you shouldn’t be late to, send a courteous message that you’ll be a few minutes late. Then slow down. It’s likely that you won’t change your arrival time whether you’re hurrying or not. What will change is the fact that you are now arriving in a state of hurry and stress. When the state of “hurry” is the norm, your normal mood becomes one of stress, and we can all agree there is nothing healthy about feeling stressed. So slow down.
When You Notice: You Are Shallow Breathing
The fight-or-flight response can trigger shallow breathing, so when you find yourself sipping in short, small breaths, it can be a sign of anxiety and stress. Not only is it a sign of stress, but the shallow breathing perpetuates the feelings of stress, making it worse. It’s a vicious cycle.
When fight-or-flight is activated, your heartbeat and breathing speeds up so you can get more oxygen (to help you fight or flee!) The problem is, the body’s reaction to fight or flight is an overreaction, and you don’t actually need to fight, flee, or get more oxygen when you are stressed. You need the exact opposite.
Try This, Instead: When you notice you are taking in short, small breaths, interrupt that cycle by slowing down the breath. Inhale for a count of 5, hold at the top for 2, and release on a slow count of 8. Repeat this at least three times to find a more balanced, healthy rhythm for your breath.
When You Notice: You Are Procrastinating
Do you catch yourself commonly throwing together presentations, assignments, and tasks last-minute? If so, you’ve probably realized how stressful that can be. There are dozens of reasons why you may be procrastinating. Some of them may be valid, and others may be excuses. Whatever the reason, it’s causing you unnecessary stress.
Try This, Instead: As soon as you get a new project, get out a blank piece of paper. At the bottom, write down the end goal and at the top, write down where you are now — at the beginning. In between, draw 8 to 10 bullets. Beside each of the bullets, write down smaller steps or tasks you’ll have to accomplish along the way. Once the tasks are outlined, get out your calendar and schedule the smaller tasks based on when the final project must be completed. It’s much easier to motivate to complete a one-hour task than it is to begin a 20-hour project.
When You Notice: You’re Moving on Autopilot
When you run through the motions on auto-drive, it is pretty much the opposite of being mindful. You cannot observe, notice, and engage with yourself and others when you’re in auto-pilot. Whether driving, grocery shopping, or eating breakfast, when you notice that you’re not being present, it’s likely to cause you stress.
Try This, Instead: Next time you notice your mind has wandered from the activity you’re engaged in, move through a simple process of tuning into each of your senses, one at a time. Follow the steps in this post about informal mindfulness to scan each of your senses — sight, sound, smell, feel, taste — one at a time to bring yourself back to the present moment.
When You Notice: You’re in a Heated Conversation
For those of you with a short temper, this exercise will change your life. The goal is to start to bring awareness to the moment right before you lose your cool. It may feel like heat rising to your face, a pit in your stomach, your heartbeat speeding up — the signs are different for everyone. Start to pay attention to what happens to you when you’re in a conversation that’s getting heated. Typically if the conversation continues, voices will rise, feelings will get hurt, and nothing productive will come of it.
Try This, Instead: Take a time-out. As soon as you notice your particular indicator that the conversation is getting heated, tell the person you are with that you’re noticing the stress level is high and you think the conversation will be more productive if you give yourself some time to calm down first. As politely as you can, excuse yourself. Then go take a walk or a few deep breaths to detach from the situation before diving back in. You may need 10 minutes or you may need two days. You can gauge when you feel the charge drop and continue the conversation in a calmer tone.
Catching yourself in the moment before an unhealthy behavior takes over is the best way to avoid these kinds of self-induced stresses in your life. With these tips, you can help manage your involvement in behaviors that stress you out and find a healthier balance.
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As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.