I’m about to suggest something that might seem a little counterintuitive … but it’s actually great advice (I’m not taking credit for it).
There are times in life when we feel very stressed – whether it’s everyday stress due to hectic schedules, or because of job changes, life changes, or even changes in our health.
Stress can make us feel overwhelmed and out of control, and it can even feed on itself, making it worse.
Ready for the advice?
One of the best things you can do when you’re stressed is to set a goal.
OK, so you might be wondering why it’s a good idea to add another thing to your to-do list when you’re already feeling stressed. Legit question.
Having a goal actually narrows down your focus, and helps give you a sense of purpose. Both of those factors can actually cut back on your stress.
I’m giving credit for this nugget to Dr. Ann Webster, a health psychologist who was quoted in the Harvard Health letter: “When people set goals for themselves, they have a positive sense of commitment, feel they’re in control, and are optimistic.”
A goal gives us something to look forward to.
One of the things I like about having specific goals is that they help block out distractions.
For instance, if I’m working toward four strength workouts a week this month, that means I’ve got to put them in my calendar. And that might mean I let go of a commitment that isn’t so important to my goal.
Dr. Webster thinks it’s a good idea to have goals for your health, career, relationships, creativity, and even for recreation/fun.
That’s a lot of goals to work toward at the same time, so you might want to mix and match to suit your time and interests. I’m a fan of having just 1-2 large goals at the same time. Too much, and it can feel stressful trying to keep up with all of your goals while juggling other responsibilities.
That being said, if you’re in the middle of a busy season at work, it might not be the best time to decide to go full steam ahead into an audacious goal, like training for a marathon. But it might be the perfect time to lay a stronger cardio fitness base so that when your schedule DOES ease up, you are ready to tackle the training.
Having that strong sense of purpose will pull you through your stressful time and make it seem a lot less daunting.
Here’s another example…
Let’s say you have a goal of preparing your meals ahead of time this month. You do this because you want to eat healthier, lose a little weight, and save a little money. (Haphazard meal planning is strongly correlated with higher levels of body fat.)
When you focus on getting the meal planning done, you’ll be amazed at how much space this frees up in your life.
You’ll save time, eliminate the daily ‘what’s for dinner?’ question, and also spend a LOT less time and money at the grocery store. It’s amazing how much mental space you can clear when your meals are already prepared.
If you’re going through an extra tough time right now, consider setting a really exciting goal… because it can be incredibly energizing and help you take your focus off some of the other things going on.
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How do you keep yourself focused when you’re stressed? Let us know in the comments below.