Change one word and dramatically decrease your stress

Reduce your stressAre you feeling overwhelmed? I had a stressful week last week, and so today I want to share a trick that I use to decrease my stress.

Sometimes I think we could have designed modern society better. We always have too many things we should be doing and not enough time to do them.

With stress and long to do lists comes guilt. I’m not a doctor, but I’m guessing it’s not healthy. It’s certainly not cheering.

The most effective way I’ve found to get less stressed is to complete the things on my to do list. Yea, like that’s going to happen.

But nearly as effective is changing how I think about the situation.

I’ll show you what I mean. I tend to think things like this: “I should finish this project for work. I should clean the kitchen. I should put more effort into cooking and eat takeaways less often. I should go for a run.” Of course, I’m not doing any of these things, and in addition I’m feeling terrible about not doing them.

Read those statements. Do you feel the guilt?

Now try changing “should” to “could”.

“I could finish this project for work, but I choose to edit my book instead. I could clean the kitchen, but I choose to leave the dishes on the bench. I could cook more often, but I choose not to. I could go for a run, but I choose to play Skyrim instead.”

Is it just me, or is there so much less guilt now?

Every time I change a “should” into a “could” in my own mind, it feels like taking off an iron collar. Just that one word change makes such a difference.

The word “should” implies obligation. If I don’t do this I’m a bad person who deserves to have her toes gnawed on by rats.

But “could”? That’s just a fact. I could take out the rubbish. I could donate all my money to charity and go and live in a cave in the mountains. (Actually, that might be cool, though I suspect the wifi isn’t very good.)

The downside of changing “shoulds” to “coulds”? Chances are I won’t go for a run today (or go and live in a cave on a mountain). But I wasn’t going to go for a run anyway, and at least now I’m being honest with myself.

I’m not advocating never doing responsible things, I’m just saying decide which you’re going to do right now and let the rest go. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel so much better for it.

Do you have any tricks that help you deal with stress? Share them in the comments. If you’ve tried my trick, did it work for you?

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Pier at sunset

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

6 thoughts on “Change one word and dramatically decrease your stress”

  1. Seeing that you’d wandered past my blog, I thought I’d peek at yours. I like yours better. It’s cleaner, the posts are fun, and I like the layout. Nicely done. I struggle to find time to update my website weekly, but I suspect you’ll do a super job of keeping on track. You have the name of a highly-efficient person.

    (Yes, such things matter. If your name was B.S. Slaxalot, I’d have no faith in your ability to finish anything.)

    I also enjoyed having the opportunity to be your “special friend” and receive your emails, but then I realized, regrettably, I’m not all that special. I’ll have to wait until you have a sign-up list for “unwanted acquaintance” or “annoying other writer” before I put my name down.

    The “should/could” post is fun, too, and so true. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Hi Anne!

      It’s lovely to have you stop by. Would you like some tea and scones?

      I confess, I put a lot of thought into the layout of my blog, but then I couldn’t find any themes that did what I wanted and ended up going with the default WordPress theme. I’m glad you like it. I adore the cherries in your banner. I’d steal them, but I wouldn’t want to upset an annoying other writer. 🙂

      I made a commitment to myself to update twice a week except in extreme circumstances, like being under siege from mad hedgehogs. So far I’ve managed, which isn’t saying much, given how long I’ve been at it. I see your blog has been alive and kicking for years. Super impressive!

      Here’s to putting our craziness online!

      B.S. Slaxalot

  2. I’m late to reading this post, but I’ve head my head in my WIP this week. As a result I’ve neglected everything in my “should” list, meaning that the house is a mess, there’s no food in the fridge and I’m putting on weight because I haven’t cooked healthy or exercised. Thank you for this very fitting blog post! Replacing the “should” with “could” works wonders to reduce my guilt! 😉 I “could” do laundry, but I could also lie on the couch and give my MS another round of edits.

    I also combat guilt by giving my fun activities different labels. Napping = plotting. Playing a computer game = thematically relevant research for a book. Actually the fun of being a writer is that you can name almost anything research. Binge-watching Game of Thrones? Research.

    I’m sorry to hear that you had a stressful week the other week. I hope things are less hectic now. 🙂

    1. Ooh, that research one is great! Why are you lying in the sun, listening to the birds and doing nothing at all? It’s *research*, I tell you! You’re just watching TV again. I’m studying the dialogue in The West Wing. (It’s excellent, btw.)

      Yep, I’m definitely going to use this one.

      I hope your WIP is coming along well. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for our writing. 🙂 My life it as little calmer now. At, least I think I’m done travelling until next week.

  3. Solid post! I really like the logic behind “should” to “could.” Obviously, if you’re a generally unmotivated person, it can be dangerous, but if you’re not, this seems a great way to remove the guilt from your life. I will try it going forward.

    I appreciate the uniqueness of your blog. Seems every writer (myself included) is blogging on writing advice. Yours is refreshing and different. And, props on the blog title and lead in. I hadn’t stopped by to read this post, but it hooked me as I was scrolling through. Well done!

    1. Hi Alex, it’s great to have you stop by. 🙂

      You’re quite right, if your problem is that you never do anything then you probably need all the “shoulds” your evil little brain can conjure. But if you’re a member of the do-everything-and-it’s-still-not-enough guilt brigade… Let me know how it works for you.

      Thanks! I made the deliberate decision to (mostly) not blog writing advice because there are so many wonderful, knowledgeable people doing it already (you included, of course). I’m still not quite sure where this blog is going long term, but one post at a time. 🙂

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