How not to worry about . . . relationships, work, family and money
Experts’ guide to a low-stress life
How not to worry about . . .
DO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Everyday stresses – who takes the rubbish out, who does the school run – can affect couples. These may seem trivial compared with more significant hurdles (moving house, losing a job or the death of a parent), but research shows that how a couple manages these smaller stresses massively affects how they cope with bigger ones. Notice how you are feeling – overburdened? neglected? – and, rather than store these feelings up, talk to your partner about it. If you’re on the receiving end, listen, ask questions, and try to understand the other person’s perspective. Being understood helps the “sufferer” feel less alone, and a couple feel more intimate. Couples I work with as a therapist, even those in long-term relationships, are often surprised at how the other person is feeling.”
SHARE THE LOAD
Remember, major stress can affect both parties: if one person loses a job, for example, the other may feel added pressure or mourn their partner’s loss of status. It can help to think of relationship strains as a “we” problem – “how can we tackle this?” – rather than one individual shouldering the burden alone. Partners sometimes block each other from attempting change, taking the role of “gatekeeper” and believing it’s safer to do things “their way”.
For the tired parent who complains about doing bathtime, what might they miss without that reconnection with the children at the end of the day? Or can the partner who resents doing the weekly shop tolerate groceries they wouldn’t choose? A couple needs to arrive at a “good enough” solution that meets both their needs.
Difficulties often start with a breakdown in communication. Partners in distress stop sharing their thoughts, their minds swamped by hurts and fears that build up in shared lives. Don’t suffer alone: you need to talk. Confronting things can lead to a renewed sense of closeness and a lessening of stress; confrontation doesn’t have to mean raised voices and a loss of control. Do it with a spirit of curiosity – not at 11.30pm after a few glasses of wine, or to “out” who you think has got it wrong – and you’ll discover that your relationship can be a tremendous resource against day-to-day difficulties. – Kate Thompson is a couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist and clinical lecturer at Tavistock Relationships
How not to worry about . . .
DON’T BE A MARTYR
Ask for help. If you’re feeling genuinely overwhelmed, speak to your manager about solutions that might alleviate your stress, whether that means removing a project from your workload or getting more support from your colleagues.
Take a long hard look at your to-do list – is there anything you can do to make it more manageable? Be ruthless in figuring out what you can delay, delegate, or skip altogether.
BREAK IT UP
An eight-hour (or longer) working day without any proper breaks is a recipe for disaster. Aim for shorter periods of focused activity interspersed with regular breaks – and never skip lunch, away from your desk.
TALK IT OUT
Find a friend or colleague you trust to talk through your problems. A fresh perspective might help.
SAY ‘NO’ MORE OFTEN
Stretching yourself too thin in a bid to accommodate every request is a surefire way to escalate your stress levels. Don’t let your inner people-pleaser trick you into overcommitting to work at the expense of your own sense of calm.
ESTABLISH EMAIL BOUNDARIES
The expectation that we respond to work emails even when we’re not technically “on the clock” is a blight of modern working culture. Try to pull back, gradually – start by not checking your emails at all on Saturdays and work your way up, until you’re rarely checking your emails outside of work hours.
EVALUATE YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Maybe it’s them, not you. Some workplaces are just toxic environments, and instead of tying yourself in knots trying to make things work, sometimes it’s best to just . . . bow out. It might be time to start looking for a job elsewhere.
Don’t forget to reward yourself for a job well done. Whether it’s a long bath, a slap-up meal or a spot of retail therapy, never underestimate the power of some straight-up indulgence to boost your spirits and rejuvenate the soul. – Otegha Uwagba is the author of Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women published by HarperCollins.
How not to worry about . . .
Family stress often follows change, which falls roughly into two types: the normal life cycles we all face – a new job, a baby, a house move, the death of an elderly parent, a child starting school – and unexpected change, such as a job loss, illness, or diagnosis of a mental health condition. For the former, it helps to create rituals around these life-cycle stages, to make the transition easier and acknowledge the change (depending on your cultural or religious background, you may have these already, such as bar and batmitzvahs). These could include a graduation dinner, a housewarming party or retirement party. Unexpected changes are harder to navigate because the family hasn’t evolved a way of coping with them. In these cases, it may help to talk to someone – a family friend, a community elder, or a professional.
PRIORITISE FAMILY TIME
Set aside time together as a family. Any shared activity is good: board games; eating together at least three times a week, without screens at the table; watching a film; even car journeys, if you have one. I often suggest parents spend one-on-one time with different children too, to create opportunities for conversations about their school lives and friendships.
REALISE YOU’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER
In family therapy, there is usually one person whom everyone is most concerned about at any one time, but it’s important not to blame an individual for a family breakdown. Try to separate the person from the problem: for example, a family may feel they have a “naughty child”, so create a name or character for the “naughtiness” – Horrid Henry, say – and keep a record of every time your child let’s him get the better of them. This can also help the family realise that the symptom may be present in every family member. Focusing on one “problem” person in the family can also obscure another problem – for example, parents may discover they have issues in their own relationship.
AVOID THE BLAME GAME
It’s helpful to distinguish between blame and responsibility: everyone in a family has to take responsibility for behaviour that is problematic, and help to do things different in the future. – Dr Reenee Singh is chief executive of the Association of Family Therapy in England.
How not to worry about . . .
LIVE IN THE NOW
Try not to get too hung up on what may or may not happen to your finances over the long term, such as how you’re ever going to pay off your student debt, or whether you will ever get on the housing ladder. Similarly, don’t dwell on financial mistakes you may have made in the past and that you probably now can’t do anything about. They can seem mammoth and insurmountable. The fact is, focusing on what you’re spending right now is the best way to protect your financial future.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF
Carry out an audit of your income, expenditure and debts. Look at what you spend on the essentials and the basics, such as your mortgage or energy bills. You may well be able to cut your costs by switching to another provider (many services now offer to do this automatically for you).
Facing up to the reality of your finances, and exercising some control over them will boost your confidence. Happily, there are a string of smartphone apps that can do some of the legwork for you – and the new breed of digital current accounts such as Monzo and Loot are all simple to use and typically let you set daily/weekly/monthly budgets, analyse your spending and create savings goals.
FACE THE FACTS AND FIGURES
Don’t ignore letters, calls and emails. This will just make things worse, so take a deep breath and sort through that pile of letters that you’ve been trying to pretend don’t exist. If you are sweating over a money problem, talking to family members or friends might produce useful advice or a solution.
There are many sources of free impartial advice. Several organisations can put you in touch with a debt counsellor who can help you come up with a repayment strategy. – Rupert Jones is the Guardian’s money writer