I asked a question in my "Wellbeing Warriors" group last week - what stresses you out, day to day, most regularly? And a whole flood of responses on common stress triggers ensued:
"I think I've got time for this one little job and then, suddenly, I'm running late!"
"Other people driving badly and slowing me down."
"The-get-to-school routine. Three children, endless kit bags and lunch boxes, etc. All going well then realise we've forgotten something or one of them tantrums (won't do up a seatbelt usually), and then we're late."
"Waiting for people who run late. Drives me mad."
"Where do I start. A too-full email inbox. Never fitting exercise in on top of everything else. Feeling like I have never had enough sleep."
"Running late for anything stresses me out big-time. Rushing around all evening doing dishes, folding washing, general tidying, reading bedtime stories etc etc, then finally collapsing on the couch for a little bit of me time and realising I only have half an hour before I should be in bed to get a decent amount of sleep."
"Getting the kids to school/activities/ appointments on time."
"Trying to get through workload and seeing more emails appearing with more to do. Sometimes they all seem like a priority. That and then working late, don't exercise."
"People being late for meetings and being unprepared!"
Scores of responses just like this to the most common stress triggers, many of which probably sound spookily familiar in your household or workplace too.
There is a theme that connects all these stress triggers. Time. Or more specifically the constant wrestle with time. Doing this on a daily basis is exceptionally stress-inducing, the stress response created by "I'm late ... AGAIN!" usually lasting in our bodies far longer than the 5 or 10 minutes of lateness that has actually occurred.
Three things to know about constantly wrestling time:
1 Time-wrestling is inherently stressful and a bad strategy for the long term.
Feeling stressed on a daily basis is an almost compulsory outcome if our grip on time is so tight. There are so many moving parts and variables that we cannot control, that things going off-track is pretty much inevitable.
2 Personal responsibility is key.
Take personal responsibility for what you can. If you notice that time-wrestling is a really common stress trigger for you, then do what you can about it. If that's getting up 15 minutes earlier so it's not such a rush in the morning, that's something you do have control over. If it's setting a clear meeting agenda in advance, you can do that too.
You can also say no to people who continually disrespect your time. We have more choice around time stress than we think - so have a look and take personal responsibility where you can.
3 Shift your perspective around time-induced stress.
One of the things that was remarkable as we worked through the Wellness Warriors module on managing stress in a whole new way was the observation, once we had it down in black and white, that the most common daily stress triggers (note: I'm not talking about the big stress trigger stuff here like the faithless husband, or a videogame addicted teenager, or the fact you need a new roof) were all about 5, 10 or 15 minutes tops. Not hours and hours of being late and being directly catastrophe-ensuing. No one was missing open heart surgery here.
It was much more 5 minutes late for pick up, 10 minutes late in starting the meeting, 15 minutes extra wait at the dentist, that sort of stuff. And that is very powerful to know. Because, think about what the actual medium or long-term impact of these 5, 10, 15 minute stress triggers are. What's the impact a year from now? A month from now? Even a week from now. Tomorrow even? Pretty much nil every time.
Being five minutes late or someone else being five minutes late - the impact is so small. Yes I agree it's lovely and ideal when everything is on time, it's definitely preferable. But if it's not then getting really wound up and triggering the stress response in our body for the next few hours when the actual impact is pretty much zero is undeniably counterproductive.