Like anything in life, there can be too much or too little of it. Too much exercise can lead to injury. Too much rest leads to the detriments of being sedentary. Too much of a prescription drug can lead to an overdose. Not enough of the prescription drug and the benefits are less effective. Stress is no exception to this rule. Too much stress can lead to mental/emotional breakdowns and not enough stress can lead to boredom and decreased self-worth. One of the best ways of finding your middle-ground with stress management is with the SMART approach.
Not to be confused with complicated, specific simply means to provide direction. For instance, instead of approaching stress management with the general intention like “I'll schedule more me time,” approach it with a more specific intention. A specific intention could be as simple as “I will start my day with 15 minutes of meditation.” The general intention of "having more me time” does not provide specific instructions that you can truly strive for. On the other hand, a specific intention provides very clear instructions. At first, keep your intentions simple, yet specific.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. There are limitless ways of measuring for stress management. Ranging from measuring how many days/week all the way to measuring how you feel in this moment. When it comes to stress management, one of my favorite ways to measure is through a Likert scale for feelings in this moment. For example, on a scale of 1 – 5 (5 being the most relaxed), how relaxed do you feel in this moment? Do this before and after the 15-minute meditation to see how effective this was for you.
The easiest way to ensure that your approach is actionable is to test yourself with this question, “what can I do right now in this moment?” If your approach doesn’t satisfy the answer to this question, then it is not actionable. It is likely you are dwelling on an outcome instead. This is not a SMART approach. Focusing only on an outcome can contribute towards more stress, and in some instances, paralyze you from taking any action at all. For instance, instead of focusing on what it would be like to have no more stress in life, focus on one thing you can do right now to move in that direction. For some people that might be meditating. For others, that might be donating unnecessary belongings to Goodwill.
Can you do this? Will you do this? Why aren’t you doing this yet? What gets in your way of doing this? On a scale of 1 – 5 ( 5 being the most confident), how confident are you that you can and will do this. If you are at a confidence of 4 or 5, this is likely a good actionable goal for you to take on.
For how long will you try this for? In the example given earlier, the intention was to meditate for 15 minutes. To take this one step further, it could be the intention to try this in the mornings for 15 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for 2 weeks. Each time tracking how you feel before and after the meditation. After those two weeks of experimentation, an opportunity arises to either continue with this intention or begin with a new one. The importance of making your stress management approach “time bound” is that it removes the feeling of forever from the equation. Reduce your stress by ensuring that this is not a forever change, however, a temporary one.