It’s there, hiding in the shadows.
Following you, getting closer and closer…
You might not notice it, but it’s creeping up on you.
You’re starting to feel tense, scattered, and you don’t know why. Just that something’s not quite right.
Your stress keeps building, the world seems like it’s spiraling out of control, and then it leaps at you from the darkness…
Ok, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic for something that’s causing you stress.
Stress isn’t some monster lurking in the shadows, but sometimes what’s causing it can be hidden.
Hidden sources of stress are often in plain sight. It starts out innocently enough, but soon enough it’s stressing you out in the background and you don’t even realize it.
Your Stress Stalker
Have you heard of the boiling frog experiment?
It was a supposed experiment where if you put a frog into boiling water it would jump out right away. But if you heated the water up gradually the frog wouldn’t notice and it would die.
That’s a pretty cruel experiment, but it’s also not true. The frogs do jump out when the water gets too hot.
This experiment applies well to us – even the jumping out part.
A hidden source of stress can start out as something that’s not stressful at all. But then it builds… and builds… and we might not be aware of it until we’re so frayed by it we finally take full notice of it and say, “ENOUGH!”
The past couple of weeks I’ve felt pretty scattered. I haven’t had much motivation or drive, and have had a hard time keeping track of what I had to do.
Then last Tuesday, I noticed the state my desk was in.
I wish I had taken a picture of it. It was gross and covered in piles of papers, receipts, books, unopened mail, a few mugs and cups, a water bottle, 3 hats, and it was dusty and dirty.
When I looked at the state it had gotten into, I was shocked. I’m not a super-organized person and can have a little mess here and there, but my desk looked like piles of trash had been dumped out onto it.
It was the worst it’s ever been.
What effect do you think that clutter was having on me?
What’s Sneaking Up On You?
The mess on my desk didn’t happen all at once. If it had, I would’ve noticed it immediately and taken care of it.
Instead it started out with just a small note, then another, a receipt from my pocket… and then it kept piling up.
It’s not the worst desk I’ve seen, but it was bad. (The worst I’ve seen belonged to the warehouse manager I worked under while I was in college – it was like a paper supply company threw up over his desk with decade old piles of invoices and order lists stacked as high as his head)
You might not have a desk, and if you do it might be spotless.
But is there somewhere else in your life where something stressful you haven’t noticed is building up? (or something you’ve been ignoring.)
It could be a person in your life who’s taking up too much of your time. Sure, maybe at first you were happy to help them out, but then they kept taking… and taking… and taking… until they’re completely sucking your energy. It could be a friend, a coworker, or even a client.
Maybe it’s something you haven’t check up on for a while, like taking your car in for an oil-change or going in to the dentist for a check up.
And there could even be something you need to say to someone close to you that you’re not. The things that go unsaid in a relationship can destroy it – it’s like too much pressure being pushed through the pipes.
Eventually something blows.
Jump Out of the Water Before it Boils
We can have a little too much tolerance sometimes. Just like the frogs we usually won’t boil to death, but we can stay in the hot water much longer than we mean to.
The only way to deal with your stress stalker is to confront it (although if it’s a literal stalker, call the police instead!).
After all, the only way to clear out clutter is to start cleaning whether it’s literal clutter or a cluttered relationship or work situation.
Don’t wait until you reach the boiling point – that’s when things are at their worst. They don’t have to get that far for us to turn the situation around.
It was tough to start tackling the clutter on my desk – there was so much! Where to start? – but I had to start somewhere.
I’ve heard two different thoughts on this.
- We can tackle the “big” things first and then the small stuff is easier.
- Or we can tackle all of the small things and build up momentum to help us with the bigger things.
I think each one has it’s place depending on the situation, and this was definitely the second one.
I started off by hunting for the stuff I could throw out or recycle. With that out of the way, I went after the unopened mail. Then organized my books, and soon enough I had a clear, clean desk.
When it was done, I felt I could breathe again at my desk. I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until after it was done.
You can clear out your clutter, too. Decide what needs to be cleaned out, and decide where to start.