Keeping a finger on your own pulse

September 20, 2020

What’s your biggest ongoing struggle?

Mine is dealing with stress. It’s been that way since about 2015, when I burned out from my corporate job.

Overall, I am an incredibly fortunate person. How many people get to make a living doing something they love, independently, and with the freedom to spend their days as they wish? Not many. But I do struggle with stress.

It’s not as bad these days as it was in 2015, 2016, or 2017. Back then, I could hardly work at all and I was constantly worried about everything. Today, I have a host of skills to manage my stress. I still have to keep an eye on it, though. I have to keep a finger on my stress pulse.

A few days ago, my stress pulse got out of hand. It had been rising steadily for a few weeks and people around me started suggesting that I take a break—a warning sign that I ignored. Then, yesterday, I found myself up at 4 a.m., worrying about business challenges, and unable to fall back asleep. Not good!

(Poor sleep is one symptom I experience when my stress level goes up. Some others include getting clumsier and forgetting more. I’ve come to know “my” stress quite well.)

In a normal year, I’d handle a stress spike by going on a long vacation; at least a month in some tropical place with jungles to hike through and coral reefs to dive in. But as we all know, this is not a normal year, so I had to come up with a different intervention:

I decided to drop all internal deadlines.

Because I am independent entrepreneur, nobody can demand that I finish something by a certain time. I don’t have external deadlines. But I have internal ones and I realized that those internal deadlines—just my own expectations, really—are behind the stress peak I am experiencing.

Earlier this year, when I was creating version 1.0 of Big-Picture Productivity, I committed to having it done by a certain date. That ended up stressing me out quite a bit. Now, I’ve been working to wrap up some backend business projects by the end of Q3—in 10 days—and I felt the same type of stress come up.

Just a few years ago, I would have hardly been aware of any stress peaks. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to intervene effectively. But now I can.

I’ll still be here every Sunday; you shouldn’t notice a difference. Behind the scenes, though, I’ll be lowering my expectations for a while. I’ll be taking my foot off the gas. It’s what I need right now—and I am so grateful that I have the skill to recognize that.

So, your biggest ongoing struggle—can you recognize when it gets worse? Have you developed the skills to intervene? Do you know when you need a break?

I’m making an effort to be nicer to myself. I deserve it. And I hope you are nice to yourself, because you deserve it too.

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