So far, we've been focusing on using small steps and independent techniques to help deal with the stress which piles up in our lives. We know about using the STOP method to interrupt difficult thoughts, or to get our attention where we need it instead of where it's trying to go. We know about taking down notes in our stress log so that we can see where problems are building up. We know about scheduling our events around consistent times and not letting our schedules get derailed. Each of these techniques is a good and proper one for dealing with stress.
However, there is another technique that takes advantage of all the things we've talked about and makes them even more effective. This technique is called "system building."
What is It?
System building is a method of taking all of your different techniques and applying them in an organized way, so that instead of reacting to stress as it comes up, you can head it off beforehand and minimize its presence in your life at all.
Why Do I Need It?
Studies show that humans are best suited for routines. Yes, we all crave a little change and excitement, but the best way to live day in and day out is in a stable yet adaptable routine. A routine is in fact a kind of system, built from our habits and usual practices to deal with the things that come up.
Where stress comes in is when our system fails a little. We try to graft something right on top of our existing routine and system, instead of bringing it inside where it's part of things. We think about it as an outside imposition, rather then a necessary part of our routine, and thus we struggle against it and find ourselves stressing out.
How Do I Do It?
This is the beautiful part. If you've been following the program so far, you're already doing it. It's the step-by-step process of integrating the things we've already learned about, as mentioned above.
Step 1 - Go Through the Log
Now that you've had time to let your stress log develop, sit down and look through it. More than likely, you're noticing a handful of patterns that keep popping up. Whatever form it takes, this is the sort of stress that comes up again and again, and isn't likely to just stop if it's ignored.
Without recriminations, take a separate piece of paper and notice all the events that come up more than once or twice. List all the inconveniences that keep popping up to hinder your stress-reduction efforts, along with a note of how often you have to deal with them.
Step 2 - Write Down Your Routine
Set aside the list of repeat stresses for a moment. Starting with the bare minimum events, list out your routine for the day. Start with when you get up, including important steps like meals, work, travel time and the like. List approximately how long each takes, and what times you usually engage in these activities.
Step 3 - Assign Times
Now that you have these two frameworks written out, it's time to combine the two.
Remember that having specific times to do things is the strongest way to build a routine. Equally, trying to squeeze in events that are stressful without making them part of a scheduled timeframe is a way to amplify stress. Therefore, take advantage of scheduling to help reduce the impact of stressful events.
For example, some of us might be going to school to get that all-important degree. However, real life often gets in the way and few of us have the luxury of going to school full time without other matters to deal with. Thus, schoolwork gets shoved around until the last minute, and then we're panicking and it's stressing us out more than it needs to.
Instead, find a time between work and school, and schedule it as an inviolate time to sit down and tackle at least one part of your homework. Set an alert on your computer or cell phone if the reminder will help, and sit down to do the work. Make sure it's the same time every day to emphasize that part of your routine.
Then, after only three weeks of this, it is likely that you will have internalized the event. It will no longer be "oh, nuts, I forgot homework..." Instead, it will feel like a part of your life, something that belongs to you and is firmly under your control.
Step 4 - Delegate!
As much as the world wants us to believe that we can all be supermen and do everything we put our minds to, we cannot. We're human beings with limits, needs, and distinct abilities -- and that is OK. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging our limits.
Maybe the house is just too messy to tackle on our own. Between work, school, the family and trying to exercise more often, we just don't have the energy to get to it, but we don't want it to get worse, either. Hire someone. Offer a friend a meal and 25 bucks to help you tear through the garage, or hire a short-term housecleaner while you get your schedule in order.
Whatever way you do it, asking for help is not a weakness, it's a tool in your kit of ways to reduce stress. Once you know what you can handle, don't feel bad about delegating the rest to others.