A Tick-List Guide to Stress 

It’s been a while since I’ve written. That’s a reflection, mostly, around how busy my life has been.  A pretty familiar story I would suggest for many of us.  Kids, partner, work, mess, backyard, bins…life… the usual suspects. As I approach having some time off for the school holidays I find myself in a kind of mania.  It’s like I need to have everything ‘ticked off’ to feel like “now I can relax”.  Of course, the list seems endless and my usual modus operandi is to override my bodies signals to ‘rest up’.  You can imagine this usually never ends well in terms of stress management.  

The other day, I was bemused to read that most of us have around 150 uncompleted tasks running at any one time.  Mine, I realised, are all well organised into various topics and lists in my computer and shared instantaneously across devices so I can add, delete and generally remain in a constant state of well organised chaos.  Interestingly, how we relate to our lists, reflect our brain wiring for worry.  A negative bias hard circuited, in order to make predictions and assumptions, that will allow us to minimise the perceived threat.  In other words, it’s all about our survival mechanisms.  As a result, we end up spending on average about 1.5 hrs a day worrying about 90% of things that won’t ever happen anyway.  Gotta love our brains right!  

The Pie of Life

Bottom line really is the importance of prioritising self-care amongst all my checks and balances.  The wise part of me knows this, and the research backs it up.  Fact is, if I wanna manage my lists and lower my stress, it’s essential.  Self-care, though, can be an enigma for many of us.  It can be elusive and hard to grasp.  One frame I like for considering self-care is thinking of it as pieces of a pie.  This practice is known as Life Domains and is good way of helping me think through areas of life as individual chunks that I can organise and prioritise, rather than feel overwhelmed by.  There’s can be slice’s for any aspect of my life.  Some essential ones I rely on include:

  • Physical Wellness including exercising and eating well
  • Mind Care could include reading or listening to amazing speakers
  • Emotional health through mindfulness and therapy
  • Spiritual Growth through meditation and nature 
  • Relationships Connection spending time within the care and love of others

Perhaps you can think of something else important just for you?  

Within my food rich metaphor, each piece deserves some time to reflect on with some attention and consideration.  Which pieces, for instance, are rich and baked fresh? And which have gone flat and tasteless?  Taking some time to dissect the recipe and get the ingredients right it important for our wellness and health, and frankly, for those around us who may be suffering vicariously through our lack of self-attention.  A starting place includes doing a simple audit and seeing what pieces of our pie need some positive actions. This could include becoming more aware of specific changes you may need to make to in different domains that feel depleted, for example adding more exercise or learning to meditate.  Similarly, identifying priorities and resources that you may have, or need, meeting your life circumstances is critical.  It’s important to set realistic, affordable and effective actions within your life domains.  Recently, feeling the effects of a lack of surfing, I made the decision to get some simple and cheap equipment so I could extend some exercise options at home.  A skipping rope, second-hand rowing machine, and some old free weights have value-added to my stationary bike and punching bag. I can now walk out my bedroom door and do some great circuits, while I’m at home for the kids if they need me.

Essential Ingredient of Relationships

Although many aspects of self-care we may do independently of others, It’s also clear that how we do our significant life relationship is an essential self-care ingredient.  Functional, healthy social connections and relationships are better than any anti-aging cream or mental health plan.  I know that I feel these benefits through being more positive, confident and having more vitality and general health when my ‘relationship pie’ is well nurtured.  There’s good evidence to support this and proven links include lower rates of anxiety and depression, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and stronger immunity.  

Finding the time to put pen to paper –  or in this case finger to keyboard – has been like hitting the refresh button for me around self-care.  And in many ways, this piece wrote itself.  I spent the day jumping from one task to the next and still somehow felt like I ended up back at the start.  Slowing down and connecting with my experience;  pausing, breathing, reflecting, and breathing again has given me a sweeter taste in what I’ve achieved during the day.  That’s been a relief and a reminder of the importance of defining and actioning self-care in my life and relationship.  Of course, it seems obvious that as a self-declared  ‘list ticker’ the very next thing I will do when I finish this sentence is.. tick this particular task as done!  Just 149 to go…


Sean Tonnet is a Relationship Therapist working in Mullumbimby, Northen NSW.  Check out more of his work at www.seantonnet.com.au/media or contact him directly at connect@seantonnet.com.au