How to Manage Your Stress Better in 2021

Joscelyn Kate

Stress is a natural part of life, it helps us grow.

When I was younger, in my early 20’s, I worked at a car dealership and smoked a lot of cigarettes (a deeply regrettable decision). During the winter months, or if it rained, I‘d stand out at the sticker bay, right inside the garage, to stay warm and dry.

The tech who did stickers was pushing eighty. He was tall, thin, genuinely friendly, and had a long, scraggly, white beard. He always wore a bandana tied tight over his long hair and navy blue Dickeys with a white t-shirt, which reminded me of my grandfather.

While I sucked back as many cigarettes as I could in my fifteen-minute breaks, I’d tell him all about my office dramas and he would offer only the kind of advice you could get from years of age and experience.

The best thing he ever said to me — which I remind myself of almost daily — is to use stressors and discomfort as a reason to grow. He encouraged me to use my dislike for my boss and my coworkers, and my job, as a catalyst to create a better situation.

So that’s exactly what I do.

Stress isn’t all bad, it helps us recognize when something needs to change. But some stress is entirely unnecessary and bogs down our life in an unproductive and sometimes detrimental way.

We often harbor much more stress than we need. While a small amount of stress helps you evaluate a situation, too much stress can have a significant, negative impact on your overall health.

So, in 2020, without intention, I let go of a lot of stressful things. As I reflect back on my year, I see a lot of intentional choices that led to reduced stress and increased happiness as a byproduct. Most of those choices were made out of desperation or necessity — like not returning to work because frankly, daycare for two wasn’t in the budget.

At any rate, the decisions were made and the stress is gone. Here’s what you can do to kick stress in 2020:

Let Go of Schedules

I have kids. When you have kids, people tell you that you need schedules. You have to get your kid to sleep at a certain time, eat at a certain time, play at a certain time, and so on.

The thing about kids is, they’re not robots. And they’re all different. Most of the time schedules will be a struggle, so let it go. If your kid isn’t ready to eat dinner at 6 pm, don’t force it. Get over it. If they want a snack at 8 pm, go ahead and give it. If this leads to a drink, and a haircut, and a piece of tape, so be it.

Just go with it.

Some people are gasping at this sentiment, but I can attest — this has made my life much less stressful. I just go with the flow.

If you don’t have kids, that’s ok. You can also let go of your schedule. Don’t mentally penalize yourself for not eating dinner until 9 pm. It’s ok to eat at 9 pm. Or if you’re ready for lunch at 10:30 am, that’s ok too. Don’t question yourself, just go with it.

Reflect on Your Actual Beliefs and Dust Off the Shelves

Ask yourself, is this your actual belief or is this something that has been instilled in you since childhood?

We develop most of the lens we see the world through in our childhood. This is when our perspective of the world, of money, of other people, is shaped.

It’s hard to separate what we’ve come to experience and observe ourselves from what we’ve been shown and led to believe.

Ask yourself, is this your actual belief?

We place a lot of pressure on ourselves to meet certain expectations, and I urge you to reflect. Are these your own expectations? Do you know where they stem from? Do you know why you hold them?

Letting go of beliefs that no longer served me was like releasing a handful of balloons pulling toward the sky. I was sad to see them go, I kind of chased them for a bit, but then they were too far gone, I let myself move on.

Pull everything off the shelves, examine, evaluate. If there’s a place for a certain belief or goal in your life, keep it. If there isn’t, let it go.

Quit Your Job

Maybe you’re not in a position to, I understand that. Or maybe you’re simply someone who doesn’t want to and that’s ok. Some people like being employed.

I don’t. And I know there is a fair amount of people out there who also don’t like being employed and would much prefer to be self-employed.

It seems daunting. For more than three years I dreamt of working from home, writing daily, making my own schedule, not putting my kids in daycare for ten hours per day.

It was my number one goal to quit my job and never look back. I pined over it for so long it almost started to become an unattainable fantasy that I continued to build on, and make bigger, and harder to reach.

So in May of this year, I was on maternity leave with my second daughter. I was supposed to return to work in eight weeks. I had six weeks of paid leave and two weeks of vacation so I could afford exactly eight weeks to bond with my newborn.

When my youngest was two weeks old, I started pitching writing clients. I had billed $1,000 before the month ended. I decided to talk to my husband about freelancing full time and keeping the kids home. I was half-joking, but he was dead-serious when he said, “Go for it.” I remember feeling giddy… I paused. Was he serious? Was I serious?

Yup and yup.

*Best* decision I ever made. I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to be doing exactly what I wanted.

It’s as amazing as you think it’ll be. It’s not nearly as difficult.

I make more money than I did, I have lots more freedom, and I’m happy. I get to sleep in. No alarm clock, no commute. If I don’t like how someone treats me, they don’t get to work with me anymore. It’s the best.

So if you’re considering quitting your job and you have some idea to become self-employed — do it. Please do it. It’s easier than you think and it’s incredible.

Embrace First, Change Second

Something I constantly struggle with is my weight. I always want to look different, no matter what I do look like. It’s always fluctuated and the reason is that I’ve never embraced it.

This year I saw a quote that made me realize how badly I think of myself. I am so critical and rarely encouraging. If I was my own friend, I’d consider myself toxic.

And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?

I asked myself, what if I embraced my body as-is? What if? Would the world end? Would I spontaneously combust?

Turns out, no.

I stopped stressing about my weight, the cookies I eat after dinner, and my pant size and I honestly sleep better. I’ve given myself permission to stop thinking about my treadmill and it feels better than reprimanding myself for not making time to work out as I’m stirring to sleep.

Get to Know Yourself

It’s not a common practice to get to know yourself, I think we all believe we already know ourselves well.

The thing is, we don’t. And not knowing ourselves well enough is oftentimes the reason we struggle to make good long-term decisions.

For example, I always said I wanted to become a lawyer since I was probably ten years old. I was about five classes away from a bachelor's degree when I realized, I couldn’t live the life of a lawyer.

Lawyers go to school for a long time, I’m not that committed to institutionalized schooling and I don’t excel in that setting.

Lawyers work long hours, outside of the home. Sometimes sixty-eighty hours a week. I barely want to work twenty…

I was chasing a dream that was completely incompatible with my ideal life.

Lawyers are committed to their career for a reason and many of them sought it out for reasons other than money — that was mine.

When I sat down and asked myself, what do I like doing, what makes me happy, what would I stop doing forever if I had a choice(the answer: waking up to an alarm clock)? I realized I was chasing a dream that was completely incompatible with my ideal life.

If I had taken some time to get to know myself, like really know myself, what I like, what I don’t, and what makes me actually access that full potential I’m always told I possess, I wouldn’t have spent so much time and money on a career path that wasn’t going to be fulfilling.

Once I allowed myself to admit what I actually wanted — freedom of time and money — finding a career that fits in was a piece of cake.

Happy 2021

I love new years. I love Monday’s. I love the first day of the month. It’s a fresh start, a blank slate. A new chance to design and build.

I plan to go into this year with a list of goals, intentions, but also with some flexibility and open-mindedness.

Throughout 2020, I got to know myself better but we’ve only been in a relationship for less than a year, there’s so much more to discover. I’m open to it.

I hope you are too.

Happy, happy 2021 to you.

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Lover of lattes, champagne, avocados, sleep, and my perfect family. The epitome of a liberal millennial snowflake.

Boston, MA

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