Stress Management: Part 1 of 5, Beyond the To Do List
Self-Care. It’s all the rage these days. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be helping us to decrease our stress levels. As a stress management coach, I attribute this to two factors: the way companies have been marketing “self-care products” and the way the checklist habit has permeated our lives.
The first issue, as many other people have been bringing up is the over-capitalization of the self-care practice. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to spending money on one’s self, but as the old adage goes, money doesn't buy happiness. What we are typically being sold, at a time when we are feeling more vulnerable than usual, is an image meant to improve someone else’s bottom line and not necessarily our own mental health. And while goods and services can be useful in your self care practice, the truth is that effective self care is personal and cannot be mass produced.
Second, is the checklist mentality that often comes with self-care. In both coaching and personal conversations, I frequently hear “I’m doing everything I should in order to feel better. I go for walks, I meditate, I take breaks…etc”. And while I also use checklists to stay organized in general, I do not believe that they are an effective approach for stress management since it does not usually help someone to get at the root cause of the stress. While I cannot stop companies for exploiting the idea of self-care for their marketing purposes, I do hope to reframe the checklist mentality.
In working with hundreds of clients on stress management and self care, I have begun to notice a pattern of successful strategies. These strategies allow a person to understand the cause of the stress in addition to gaining access to the resources needed to meet the challenge of the stress.
While the most effective stress management strategies are personalized, I have noticed that they often fall into four categories: rest, play, movement, and joy. These categories can encompass major parts of our lives, but they may just be the beginning of possible stress management solutions. I start here because I believe these are some of the most essential and accessible elements of stress management. They are essential because they can lead to a greater understanding of what specifically is causing the stress, and accessible because, with perhaps a little restructuring, these solutions can fit into most of our lives. In fact, elements might already be there and it is more a matter of strengthening them.
I would like to note that I do not have unambiguous definitions or distinctions for these categories. This is because everyone experiences things differently and I do not wish to hinder your process or creativity with arbitrary boxes. There is also a lot more that I want to cover with each topic and I will frequently be revisiting each in the future. I have chosen to start with these categories and focus on a corresponding element for each in order to cover both the how and why of effective self care/stress management.
In the next four posts I will dive deeper into each self-care category to explain how certain practices can support your stress management and inspire you to build your own personalized practices that will resonate deeply and effectively.