1. People Who Say Yes When They Mean No
You have friends, maybe even colleagues, who say yes to your requests (a movie, a project, a walk) and then, as often as not, show up late or cancel at the last minute. These same people can be fun and even reliable sometimes. What’s up? Your stress level! “Research shows that ambiguous relationships— where you can’t predict whether an encounter will be positive or negative from one day to the next—can take a greater toll on you than a relationship with someone you consciously dislike,” says Elizabeth Scott, stress management guide for About.com.
Stress Buster: Next time you ask one of these people to do something, offer a choice, adding that “no” is an option. The key is not to make someone feel defensive but to be clear about what you’re not willing to accept. For example, if arriving at the movies late makes you crazy, say so. Then decide on a time that works without rushing.
2. Rude Encounters of the Sales Kind
You go to the store to buy a pair of shoes and the salesperson barely acknowledges you; she even ignores your request to put the receipt in the bag. Argh! “We tend to take such encounters as a personal attack,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “This sends us into fight-or-slight mode—we either want to be rude right back, or we walk away feeling bad about ourselves.”
Stress Buster: Be kind but assertive. Ask the salesperson if you have done something to upset her. Chances are she’ll apologize for her behavior and/or explain what’s upsetting her, like being treated rudely by the customer before you.
3. Does Anyone Else See the Mess?
“Research on men’s brains shows that they take in fewer sensory details than women and don’t see or feel mess in the same way we do,” says Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health in Waltham, Massachusetts. “And kids generally don’t care, so your desire for order is simply not a high priority for others.” You’re left in a double bind—clean it yourself or live in chaos.
Stress Buster: Don’t let others off the hook. Hold a family meeting and express your concerns. Then set a timer each day for 5 or 10 minutes and declare it “pickup time.” Everyone is in charge of picking up his or her stuff in public areas. If you’ve got younger kids, make cleanup fun by finishing with a treat like watching a movie together.
4. If You Need Help, Please Press 1!
Automated customer assistance… just thinking about it is enough to raise your blood pressure. You probably don’t deal with it every day, but even periodic bad experiences with touch-tone or voice-activated customer service centers can result in long-lasting frustration. “These systems were designed to save companies money,” says Walt Tetschner, Get2Human.com consumer advocate, “but they often take too long to get to a person, are illogically designed and end up losing customers who get angry and impatient.”
Stress Buster: Go to Get2Human.com, see if the company you need to call is listed, and find out how to reach a person quickly. For other companies, call the main number, then press 0 (zero) after the voice starts. You may have to press it several times, says Tetschner. If that doesn’t work, try 0#, 0*, #0 or *0. Also try voice activation: Say agent or human.
5. Can I Get a Little Quiet?
No wonder we can’t destress—it’s just about impossible to find quiet time alone. “Everyone needs some time without noise and demands, to recharge her batteries,” says Meghan McDonough, author of the upcoming book A Minute for Me. “Wherever your attention is focused is where your energy will flow. A little solitude can redirect it back to you.”
Stress Buster: Step in the shower. You don’t need huge blocks of quiet time to clear your mind. Not only is running water a great noise muffler, but the sound and feel of water is therapeutic. This can be the perfect alone time, as long as you don’t ruminate on the day’s activities or let family members interrupt you.
6. My Husband Drives Me Crazy!
They say opposites attract, and it’s true that many of us look for someone who has qualities we lack. However, the key to a successful relationship is not having the same personality traits, but having similar attitudes about major issues. “After a few years, we tend to look past our commonalities and focus on personality issues, which become one of the most common areas of marital stress,” says Dr. Lombardo. “What once attracted you (his generosity, his sense of humor) is now a major irritant.”
Stress Buster: Is the trait that bugs you just your own issue, or does it violate a value you hold dear? If it’s your own sore point, try to look at it more kindly. He’s entitled to his personality quirks just as you are. Allow him to be who he is—maybe even help him channel his energy. If he tells jokes endlessly, suggest he try out at a local comedy club.
7. Packing in Too Many To-Dos
Even if you don’t mind all the activity you do each day, and you have the energy for it, the real question is: Are your days so packed that one small hiccup throws you into a tizzy, both physically and emotionally? Everyone needs breathing space so that small things don’t feel like major disasters. Start your day rushing and you trigger the stress response, which can stay with you all day.
Stress Buster: Think categories. Are there certain types of activity that you can cut out altogether or reduce significantly: your volunteer work, your two book clubs, the kids’ extracurriculars? Fewer activities mean more downtime. You can also factor some of that time into your errands, so even if you run into traffic, you won’t be late for the dentist.
8. Who’s That Frump In the Mirror?
“Do you look in the mirror and see hair pulled back out of convenience, little or no makeup, clothing that’s functional but not flattering?” asks Scott. Meanwhile, your kids have the latest clothes, and you run yourself ragged to get home and make dinner so your husband can go to the gym after work. “The mirror is a subtle reminder that, while you take care of everyone else, you aren’t taking care of yourself,” she says.
There’s also a strong correlation between how you present yourself to the world and how the world reacts to you. When you project a positive aura, people respond positively. It’s hard to feel bad when you’re getting good feedback.
Stress Buster: Invest in a good haircut, adopt a 5-minute makeup routine and buy some fun jewelry. Even if you just do a quick swipe of powder, blush, mascara and lipstick, you’ll feel better. A funky necklace or new pair of earrings can quickly lift a blah outfit.
9. Is Anyone Listening?
Your kids can talk about every detail of MTV but don’t recall you telling them to come home right after school. Your hubby goes to the store for milk and comes back with juice instead. You think, I’ve been talking to a wall! “Not feeling connected to your loved ones is a major source of stress,” says Scott, “but we’ve accepted lives that preclude the art of talking and listening to each other and mastered instead the art of tuning out.”
Stress Buster: If you need your hubby or kids to listen to you about something really important, say, “I’m going to talk for three minutes and I need your attention.” Keep your word; the message should be short, simple and direct. Likewise, tell them you’ll give them your full attention when they ask for it.
10. Eating Too Few Calories
You want to lose weight, so you cut back on calories, even skipping a meal or two. Naturally, your body goes into craving mode and you find yourself irritable, headachy and tired. You can either stay irritable, or eat and then blast yourself for breaking your diet.
Stress Buster: Forget counting calories; instead, focus on making healthy food choices. “If your diet is rich in fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains, you won’t have to watch what you eat,” says Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat for Health. “Because these foods are high in water content and fiber, you’ll feel full and be less inclined to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. And in turn, this will reduce the stress connected with weight gain and self-blame.”