Published: February 21, 2010
Most people feel as if their life is too stressful. And they are right. Stress can rob you of your time, energy, joy and productivity. It can strain relationships, compromise health, and generally make life more difficult and less enjoyable. We all need less stress in our lives. So, what can we do?
One patient came up with an ingenious idea a few years ago that I can endorse with enthusiasm. It is simple, very inexpensive and extremely effective. Interested in her story?
A lady came to see me not long ago. Although I had treated her before, I barely recognized her. The last time I had seen her she had dark circles under her eyes, very little energy and chronic discomfort and fatigue. On this occasion, her eyes were bright and she smiled with obvious enthusiasm. She moved with ease, and appeared to be ten years younger than before.
â€śYou look great,â€ť I said, â€śdo you feel as well as you look?â€ť
â€śI feel great except for this pain in my shoulder from working in the yard,â€ť she replied.
â€śWhat have you been doing differently?â€ť I asked.
She grinned. â€śIâ€™ve got my life back! The last time I saw you I was miserable. I was so stressed over work and family issues that I wasnâ€™t sleeping well. I constantly overate and had no energy. I was a wreck.â€ť
â€śI had gotten to the point that I knew stress was ruining my life. I had to do something, but I couldnâ€™t afford many of the options that other people might try, such as counseling. I had prayed that I would find an answer. Then one day, an idea struck me as a possible solution.
â€śIt seemed like I constantly had thoughts going through my head about things I needed to do and worries about things that might happen.
â€śOne night I took out a sheet of paper and literally wrote down everything that was in my head. Every thought that popped up went onto the paper. I ended up needing more paper. I eventually filled ten sheets.
â€śAfter I finished writing the thoughts down, I wondered what to do with the list. I finally decided to mail it to myself. I put it in an envelope, added a stamp, and put it in the outgoing mail.
â€śI forgot all about the list until it arrived back at my house a few days later. I opened the envelope and read through the list. I realized that most of the things that I had listed as worries simply vanished when I quit thinking about them. I laughed out loud at my foolishness for worrying. I then noticed that many of the items on the to-do list had taken care of themselves. I realized that since the day I had written the list and mailed it, I had been more relaxed and slept more soundly.
â€śI liked the outcome so much I tried it again. I eventually made a stack of SASEâ€™s to make the procedure more convenient.â€ť
â€śWhatâ€™s a SASE?â€ť I asked.
â€śA self-addressed-stamped-envelope, S-A-S-E. I now make a new list and mail it to myself about once a week, or more often if I need to. Writing the items down helps me get them out of my head, and I have a good laugh every time I open the mail and realize that I used to be so stressed about things that either donâ€™t matter or that I canâ€™t control.
â€śI have a new list that I carry with me that has just the items I must do today written on one side, and I write spontaneous thoughts or future tasks on the other side. When I get home, I make a new â€śTodayâ€ť list for tomorrow. I am more relaxed because I only have to think about the things that matter today. â€ť
I tried her system, and you know whatâ€¦ it works! The total cost is limited to a pad of paper, a stack of envelopes and a book of stamps.
Next week: another surprisingly simple solution for a common problem.
Dr. Mark Kestner