Experiencing internal stress can feel like you’re caught in a python’s grip. Every time you take a breath you feel the squeeze tightening around you. But what causes that internal stress? And more importantly, how can we get rid of it?
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We’ve all got some junk – it just seems to be a fact of life and the sheer volume can be overwhelming. You can look around the homes of your family and friends and see that most of us have more possessions than we need or can realistically use. And even though downsizing, minimalism, Konmari principles, and Swedish Death Cleaning are all big topics these days, those ideas only apply to the physical stuff you own.
But there’s also the junk that you don’t see that is overwhelming in a different way.
This is the junk that lives in your mind occupying space, mental energy, and draining your physical, mental, and emotional reserves, and causing you great internal stress. Getting rid of this kind of the mental junk gives you energy, clarity, and makes you happier.
So how do we go about clearing the mental junk to reduce our internal stress?
I find that a 3-step approach works best to help me eliminate my internal stress and mental junk. I’d encourage you to Write It, Whittle It, and then Whip It.
Step 1: Write It – Many of us are trying to store too much in our memories. We tell ourselves, “I’ll remember that. I don’t need to write it down.”
We’re using precious brain space trying to remember when hubby goes to the doctor next, when is our next hair appointment, and when is that special event we’re supposed to attend. We’re also the ones frequently tasked with remembering where the income tax documents are kept, where are the all the home appliance warranties, and what is stored in the boxes in the garage. Women seem to be the keepers of all things secretarial, and the details of modern life are never-ending. And then we’re surprised when something falls through the cracks and we forget about it…and then are stressed about it.
Seriously? Why on earth do we DO that to ourselves?
Okay, I get it. It’s a sign that things are going well in the brain department when the memory is working well. And no one wants to even think about the possibility that their memory might could use a little help.
But even if your memory is the best…why add a list of things to remember to your memory when there are alternatives? This simply creates internal stress that you don’t need. There are a variety of apps if you like digital (personally, I use the app from cozi.com), and good old paper and pencil works great – and doesn’t require using any battery life. So why not just go old school and get those things OUT of your brain and written down somewhere? It’ll reduce the trivial mental junk you have to sort through to get to the really important things your brain was meant for.
But here’s the key to implementing this step: You must develop a system – and use it consistently. You cannot simply write things down on sticky notes or little pieces of paper and expect to be able to retrieve them efficiently.
Fortunately, you don’t have to.
Developing a system to reduce internal stress
Here’s what you need to implement your own “Don’t Rely On Your Memory” system.
- A good To Do list – Keep your master list of everything you need to do here. Write down the big and small things that need to get done. Be sure to list major projects in addition to smaller tasks. You might consider grouping them together by category or by date they need to be finished. By the way, unless you use a digital system, just accept that this won’t always be a beautiful document. It’ll have checks, scratches, and notes as you mark things off and make changes. Just look at these marks as signs that you’re making progress.
- A good yearly/monthly calendar program – This is where you record those doctor appointments, hair appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, weddings, graduations, and any other events that will take place in the future. There’s no need to hold on to those little cards the doctor’s office gives you – you’ll likely lose them anyway. Write the pertinent information down on the calendar as soon as you get home and toss the card. Be sure to record the time, who the appointment is with, phone number, and any special information related to the appointment.
- A daily planner sheet – this is where you time block the activities and appointments you need to do on a certain day. It’s also a great place to keep your chore list, your water intake, your dinner menu, etc. I’m a big proponent of life planners and I’ve got several daily planner sheets available to email subscribers in the resource library.
- An inventory system – You don’t want to forget where you stored the Christmas items or birthday gifts you bought ahead of time. You’ll also want to be able to retrieve items you have stored in other places like the garage, attic, or basement. If you will keep a master list and number your containers, you can record where the container is stored and what is stored in it. This makes it easy to find what you need without having to open lots of boxes and go hunting. My inventory sheet is a spreadsheet that’s saved on my computer.
- An easy to use filing system – It’s easy for items to get put in file folders and then be lost forever. You need to set up broad categories for you files (i.e. – finances, home, medical, etc) and then make individual files within each category more specific. For example, under “Medical” you’d have a file for each family member. Or under the “Home” category, you’d have a file for warranty information, home improvements, repairmen, etc. It is also helpful to color code files if that will make it easier for you to identify what you’re looking for. At my house anything financial is kept in a green folder, medical information and forms are stored in blue folders, and home records are kept in yellow folders. Use whatever color system makes sense to you.
Reduce internal stress by focusing on the joyful things
Step 2. Whittle It – Often times we just have too much stuff going on in our brains! We’re experiencing internal stress and overwhelm which makes us tired, lethargic, and can lead to depression. Anything we can do to cut down the mental stress is a good thing.
While step one will help with some of the mental overload, there is always a certain amount of internal stress and worry that we’ll experience. The trick, then, becomes in managing that stress in positive ways that are healthy for us.
One thing that can help us deal with internal stress is to get intentional about focusing on the good things in our lives and creating joy into our lives. The fact is that life is just too short to sit around waiting for joy to just happen. There aren’t enough of the big moments in life so it’s up to us to celebrate the small moments and create our own joy.
We can also reduce our internal stress by purposely taking time to recharge and relax. In a culture that prizes busyness, we need to realize that there are no trophies handed out to those who had the longest list of things to do or obligations to meet.
The only trophy we get for all that busyness is exhaustion, internal stress, and overwhelm!
Our negative beliefs cause internal stress
Step 3. Whip It – The attitudinal junk may be the most difficult to deal with and clear out. After all, most of us have a lot of mental baggage that we’ve carried with us for a long time. Messages we received as children have a way of permeating our self-concept, coloring our opinions about ourselves and our beliefs about or abilities and value, until we no longer even question their origin or validity.
Some of the mental junk you’ve accumulated is no longer relevant to your life…and it needs to go. You’ve most likely incorporated attitudes, opinions, beliefs about self, biases, etc. that not only no longer serve you, but that may be harmful to yourself or others.
How many of us grew up hearing things like, “Girls shouldn’t be too loud or call attention to themselves.” Or “you’re too bossy.” Even well-meaning adults have likely said things to us that caused us to hide our true selves for fear that we weren’t likable enough.
And then, of course, there are the mean things people have said to us that leave an indelible mark on our souls.
There’s probably not a person alive who doesn’t hold some negative belief about themselves or who doesn’t engage in some kind of self-defeating behavior. And whether the messages were based on family expectations, cultural or societal norms, or someone’s particular bias or prejudice, these end up becoming lies we tell ourselves often enough that they become our truth.
But here’s the thing…hearing something – from ourselves or from someone else – doesn’t make it true.
Every now and then it’s good to critically examine any attitude or belief that you’ve held for a long time to determine whether that message builds you up or tears you down.
Eliminating that internal stress is the best gift you can give yourself
It just might be time to get rid of the mental junk that’s been holding you back and causing you internal stress. It’s not something that happens overnight, and it’s definitely not something someone else can do for you, but it’s ultimately the best kind of junk to get rid of.
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