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How To Cope in a Stressful World that Makes Constant Demands of You 24 Hours A Day
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for

We've understood for a while now that the "9-5 work day" has essentially fallen by the wayside, a casualty of the "globalized, 24-7, dot-com era" in which we currently find ourselves.

Not that long ago, only doctors and members of a few other professions could truly be "on call" 24-7 as one of their job requirements.

But nowadays it seems that nearly all of us can be reached by our bosses, our colleagues, or our clients day or night, (by email, cell phone, fax, pager, Blackberry, text message, instant message, etc.), and not just for emergencies.

There are times when we all need to 'unplug' completely.

Consequently, more and more of us are succumbing to the latest incarnation of good old-fashioned "workaholism"-and all of the life-shortening stress and health problems that come with it.

It May Be Time to "Unplug" For a While

One critical mistake that people make these days is that they do not truly "unplug" themselves from their workaday lives when they go on vacation.

But consider this: You need truly work-free vacations in order to deeply relax and recharge your batteries. These days, even when you go on vacation, you still can be inundated by work-related faxes, e-mail messages, letters, and cell phone calls if you allow yourself to be.

For this reason, I strongly suggest that you consider leaving your cell phone, laptop, and other instant communication devices at home when you take a trip, so that you can genuinely decompress and rejuvenate yourself.

Similarly, even if you are in the middle of a big work project, when it comes time for your well-deserved vacation, try your hardest to leave all of the pertinent files and materials back at the office. This may cause you some mild anxiety at first, but if it is not a matter life or death, and if the deadline doesn't fall on the exact same day that you are due back from your vacation, chances are the project can wait.

Of course, if you are in business for yourself, it can be particularly challenging to take a genuine vacation because there may be no one to cover for you in your absence.
Nonetheless, for the sake of your emotional health, you may want to consider using an answering service, and organizing your calendar in a way that allows for a two or three week "slow-down" to coincide with your vacation.

A Deeper Look at Why Some of Us "Overbook" Our Lives

When it comes to "workaholism" and "overscheduling," it is important to evaluate whether or not you may be using the stressful, overloaded pace of your life to mask pain or deeper issues of some kind.

To that end, ask yourself the following questions… and answer them as honestly as possible.

  1. Do you get nervous if each day isn't totally booked? In other words, does the idea of free time fill you with a sense of dread?

  2. If so, it's important to ask yourself why you dread having time on your hands. Does free time scare you or make you anxious because you don't like to look within for some reason?

  3. If the idea of slowing down long enough to examine your life makes you feel anxious, why do you think this is the case? Perhaps you have difficult or even traumatic memories that you have yet to work through? Or perhaps you are not happy about some decisions you have made in either your professional life or your personal life, and rather than slowing down long enough to think about these decisions, you overload to avoid examining them? Or perhaps something else is causing you to overbook your life?

If you have answered yes to any or all of the above three questions, it is possible that you may be using stress or "schedule overloading" in the same way that a substance abuser uses drugs or alcohol. In other words, you may be using stress and schedule overload to avoid, mask, or temporarily escape from some sort of personal pain, or a difficult (or even traumatic) memory, or certain choices you have made in your life.

But just as using alcohol to escape from one's problems is not the answer, neither is overloading one's schedule; and if you happen to be a "habitual schedule overbooker" it may be time to face your underlying issues head-on, perhaps on your own, or perhaps with the assistance of a professional therapist.

What You Can Do RIGHT NOW to Improve The Quality of Your Life

Fortunately, there are some concrete, practical actions that you can take immediately to begin the process of de-stressing and decompressing from your overbooked life.

Take some time for yourself to relax and decompress.

For instance, there are numerous benefits to starting your day slowly and peacefully, including the following:

  1. 1. You set the tone for the rest of your day. If you start your day off at a frantic, crazed pace, then your heart rate and breathing become more rapid and you tend to feel panicked for a significant period of time after your frantic morning.

    On the other hand, if you start your day off quietly and peacefully, in whatever way you like, (meditating, stretching, doing yoga, listening to soothing music, taking a long, hot shower), then you set a peaceful tone for the rest of your day. That way, if you end up having a challenging day, either at work or at home, you are much better prepared to handle the challenges.

  2. A quiet, peaceful morning is simply better for you physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. If you make the decision to incorporate some quiet time into your morning, your concentration and your ability to focus will both improve significantly. In other words, you will feel better in just about every respect.

  3. Starting the day in a peaceful manner means setting aside a short period of time that is just for you. Between work obligations and family obligations, many people have a tendency to spread themselves very thin, leaving very little time left over for themselves. Therefore, carving out some quiet morning time forces you to give a small but meaningful gift to yourself.

It is well worth it to tell your family that you need some peaceful time and space in the morning to start your day. They may complain a bit in the beginning, but after they see what a positive effect the quiet time is having on your mood, they will probably come to appreciate your quiet time as much as you do, and they may even start emulating you in this area, which would benefit them as well.

Recommended Reading

Stress Keeping You Awake? Stressed Because You Can't Sleep? Try These Six Tips and Six Lifestyle Habits to Get a Great Night's Sleep!

The Top Six Stressor Areas in Life: How to Recognize & Handle the Stress

The One Real Reason You Are Stressed Out, Overweight, Depressed or Angry

About the Author contributing editor Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW, is the author of the e-book, Loving Simply: Eliminating Drama from Your Intimate Relationships, published in 2006 by, and the print book, Welcome to Methadonia: A Social Worker's Candid Account of Life in a Methadone Clinic, published in 2000 by White Hat Communications.

Her articles have appeared in Social Work Today, The New Social Worker, New Living Magazine, and other publications. After earning her MSW from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work in1997, she provided counseling services, first at a methadone clinic, and later at an outpatient mental health treatment facility.

Ms. Baldino has been quoted about managing anger in relationships in Kathy Svitil's 2006 book, Calming The Anger Storm, which is part of the Psychology Today Here To Help series. She has also been quoted in such magazines, newspapers and online publications as For Me Magazine, Conceive Magazine, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Albany Times Union, The Tallahassee Democrat, Bay State Parent Magazine,,,, The Newhouse News Service, and Indianapolis Woman. She lives with her husband and children in Massachusetts.

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