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Hunched shoulders, tense muscles, headaches–stressful situations and their physical side effects may be unavoidable on some occasions, but how can you make sure that stress remains the exception and doesn’t become your “new normal”? Here are some thoughts on the available choices for keeping stress at bay:
Choice of information volume
Given the flood of data coming from a wide range of channels, it is helpful to define the information volume you can reasonably deal with. It may be tempting to start the day with a review of morning news on your phone, but available information and the associated commentary can make it impossible to focus on your own thoughts and wellbeing first. In 2013, Rogers, Puryear and Root used the term “infobesity” to describe the effect of information overload on our ability to think:
“Like conventional obesity, infobesity has many sources. The never-ending stream of emails and voicemails. The PowerPoint presentations that dominate so many meetings. The endless reports from finance, marketing, cross-functional teams and external researchers. Useful information creates opportunity and makes for better decisions. But the torrent that flows through most organizations today acts like so much bad cholesterol, clogging their arteries and slowing their reactions.” (“Infobesity: The enemy of good decisions”)
If you’re a news junkie like me, you know how hard it can be to switch off the never-ending updates on developments, but reading a few news posts a day instead of an ongoing feed does wonders for concentration and productivity. I encourage you to develop your own tricks and workarounds (for example, Timewellspent.io suggests moving all news icons to a second or third screen on your smart devices so they are not immediately visible).
Choice of choices
What would you like to have for breakfast? Diet cereal? Skim milk? Or how about a bagel with double bacon, eggs and cheese? Would you like to wear boots, sneakers, heels, or slippers today? Which device will you pick up first, your phone or your tablet, or will you work with your computer? The sheer amount of daily choices surrounding products, styles, and information makes it difficult to move out of the gate. By 9 am, our brain has already had to make an exhausting amount of choices, leading to what psychologists call “decision fatigue.” Our brain is only capable of making a finite number of decisions in a given day and cannot distinguish between relevant and irrelevant decisions, in essence assigning the same significance to the choice of breakfast cereal and the decision to buy a car.
Reasonable steps to limit our choices are therefore an essential step to focus on big-ticket items.
Steps you can take to reign in unnecessary choices include setting up a predictable morning routine or decluttering your closet. Simplifying and streamlining choices results in greater control.
Choice of mindset
A third aspect of choice, in addition to information volume and choice itself, has to do with our own mindset. Based on our own daily outlook, we can choose to “get through the day” or to make the most of it. “Busyness” has become a status symbol, but comes at an exceptionally high price. “[…]we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing,” noted Bellezza, Paharia and Keinan in a recent article on the topic.
Movements such as work-life balance or mindfulness at work are based on a desire to regain control over our schedule and time.
If your work and time off seem dominated by stress and endless chores, it may be helpful to ask yourself some questions about your goals and intentions, so you can adjust your choices accordingly. Here is to you!