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How to Manage Stress When You Feel Like You Don’t Have Any Free Time

I want to share that as of this week, my home is officially on the market! It’s been quite a challenge to get everything ready, but I’ve learned so much and I can’t wait to share more about the process. In the meantime, I’d like to offer some ideas on how to manage stress when you feel like you don’t have any free time, a topic super relevant to yours truly.

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We all are busy people juggling work, social, family, home, and financial commitments, but there are times in our life when already full schedules may explode with even more obligations. When I’ve looked for support via the internet or in casual conversation, I’m often met with unhelpful advice about the importance of creating routines. People tout their morning routines, bedtime routines, work out routines, and money management routines as some sort of miracle cure for whatever ails you—but the last thing I want to do when I’m pressed for time is create another routine or try to improve upon one that has already been a struggle to maintain.

During times of stress I advocate for simplifying life as much as possible. Cut back to the bare bones so that you have more time to dedicate toward whatever is in front of you. Maybe you’re transitioning in your career and you’re overwhelmed because you have a lot to learn in a short period of time, or perhaps you’re approaching a significant date (graduation, surgery, wedding, travel, etc.) and it’s keeping you up at night with worry, or there’s a big life change (birth, adoption, moving, etc.) on the horizon causing feelings of anxiety. Consider what you can give up and let go of to give you peace of mind.

Four Things to Do to Manage Stress When You Feel Like You Don’t Have Any Free Time

Let Go of Ideals (At Least for a Little While):

If you have rigid ideas about how you run your household or your life, it might be a good time to evaluate if you can be a bit more flexible, at least while you’re transitioning through a very busy season. For example, I am a big proponent of meal planning on the Paprika app, but I’ve had to really give myself some slack here while we’ve been working on the house. It would be ideal to stick to a meal plan so I don’t waste food, stick to a budget, and eat a healthy and well balanced diet—but sometimes meal plans feel like a trap, just another obligation on my very long to-do list. Now I give myself the option to change my mind when it gets closer to meal time. If I have energy and time, I’ll cook what is on the plan. If I am totally wiped from the day, we’ll cobble together a meal out of leftovers, pull something out of the freezer stock pile, or even get takeout. I won’t be this busy forever, so even if I’m spending a bit more than usual, it’s worth it because I have more time and energy to focus on what really matters in the short term.

paprika-meal-plan-flexible
I feel so much less guilty editing my plan via the Paprika app rather than marking out whole meals and days on paper meal planners.

Maybe you’re the type of person who works out at 5 AM or goes to the gym instead of lunch. Be really honest with yourself during times of stress and ask yourself if these activities recharge you or wear you out further. Only you can decide if you’re burning your candle from both ends. Don’t stick to a habit (even if it’s a healthy one) if it’s not working for you. It’s okay that you’re not exercising five days a week, maybe three days of working out and two days of extra sleep is just what you need to get through a very busy time of your life.

Give yourself the permission you need to let go. You can always return to your ideals and goals when you are ready.

Ask for Help:

The idea of letting go of things that stress us out is a little romantic, because the reality is that there isn’t a whole lot we can usually give up. What we can do is ask for help carrying our load. Reach out to family and friends, call in favors if you must, but chances are you really won’t have to. People seem to be fairly willing to help someone out when they’re in a pinch. Just this week I had a friend who enlisted the help of a relative in picking her kids up one day after school. Instead of complicating her life by canceling her obligation or frantically searching for a replacement to cover for her, she made one call and her cousin gladly stepped up.

Often, the thought of asking for help is a bigger deal in our heads than it actually is for the person we are asking. The opportunity to help a friend is something I always jump at, but I seldom get asked, so it made me a little uncomfortable to ask for help while I was preparing my house. I had to get over it though—I really needed my friend’s keen eye for styling, I really wanted to work with my friend who is a photographer, I wanted my mom and dad to help me tackle an overwhelming list, and I needed my in-laws to help us in the home stretch. Last weekend I even asked my in-laws to do my Costco run for me. Costco is usually at least a two hour long ordeal, and I just didn’t have the time or energy. I sent my mother in-law a screen shot of my shopping list from my Reminders app.

costco-reminders

Each time I asked for help, everyone graciously said yes. If you practice generosity whenever you can, you should never feel guilty about asking for assistance from loved ones.

Take Notes and Make Lists:

Any big project or endeavor can be daunting if you don’t break it down into smaller steps. I made multiple lists for the various projects I had going on in different apps and on paper. I used the Trello app (various platforms) to track all the household projects we needed to do before listing our house. I used the Reminders app when I was out doing errands. I jotted down daily goals in my planner. I used sticky notes when I called service providers for quotes on painting, window washing, and housekeeping. Now is not the time to worry about developing the “right” or “perfect” note taking system, it’s just important that you have a way to track all the things you are doing.

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Trello works for me when I need to organize a really big to-do list into smaller lists.

Take Breaks:

I think it’s important to take breaks even when you’re really busy. On Wednesday before I started my hours of running errands, I stopped and had sushi for lunch with my partner. On my way home from my fruitless running around, I took another break to start writing this post. If you’re barely treading water, you have to find moments to recharge. Sit for thirty minutes and watch your favorite show. Listen to a podcast, do some yoga poses, make yourself a cup of tea, take a walk. Busy seasons of our life can be all-consuming, but in order to come out on the other side you have to have moments of respite. Sneak them in wherever you can. A break doesn’t have to be long to make you feel refreshed enough to tackle the next thing on your list.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you’re in the midst of a stressful period of your life. You’re doing great getting through the day however you manage it.

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