February 27, 2019

After adopting Diddy’s tried-and-true method for determining which projects and requests to say “no” to, I’ve been on the lookout for other life hacks to help reduce my stress intake.

So when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, better known on social media as AOC, shared the questions she asks herself whenever she gets stressed, I was all ears.

No matter your politics, we can all agree it’s stressful AF to be alive right now, let alone serving in Congress. In a recent Instagram story, the first-term New York representative disclosed her strategy for navigating stress with these three questions:

●︎ What is this really about?

●︎ Is this truly important in the larger scheme of things?

●︎ Do I have the power to change this, will doing more make it worse, or do I just need to ride it out?

I mean, talk about pure Insta-gold. To see if this tactic holds weight IRL, I put AOC’s methods to the test last week when I was drowning in both work and side-hustle emails.

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What is this really about?

As someone who feels an inordinate sense of pride in maintaining inbox zero, I was feeling a certain type of way about my emails piling up after a midweek sick day due to a stomach bug. To get to the origin of my stress, I had to ask myself: What is this really about?

Ever the people-pleaser, I was afraid that people would be upset and dislike me because of my longer-than-normal response time.

In terms of my personal inbox, which I use for my blog, freelance writing, and coaching business, I was worried that a) I wouldn’t be seen as professional and b) that my editors or people seeking collaborations would move on to someone else.

I’m not proud to admit it, but I still definitely suffer from scarcity mindset at times. I sometimes feel like I can’t afford any missteps for fear of being caught slipping. So I suppose my answer to the first question really boils down to being disliked.

When we interrogate the origin of our stress, it forces us take a step back and think critically before reacting. When you do this, you may be surprised to find that what you’re freaking out about is related to another unrelated incident altogether or a deep-rooted fear that’s heightened due to your current stressor. Questioning your stress also helps you take back control over the situation rather than letting it control you.

When we interrogate the origin of our stress, it forces us take a step back and think critically before reacting.
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Is this truly important in the larger scheme of things?

Short answer? No. I’m not a doctor. If I don’t answer my email within 24 hours, nobody’s going to die. Come to think of it, doctors have more important things to do than answer emails anyway. But I digress…

If anyone needed to get ahold of me immediately, they would have called. And while not being able to get to my emails right away certainly caused me a great deal of anxiety, I knew it was not important in the larger scheme of things: my health, my happiness, my career, etc.

More often that not, the everyday scenarios that stress us out are not a matter of life or death. Perspective is everything.

More often than not, the everyday scenarios that stress us out are not a matter of life or death. Perspective is everything.
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Clinical psychology professor Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., put it this way: “We are often hijacked by our overreaction in the present moment. And then we forget about it the next day,” he wrote. “ … If you see your intense feelings disappear with time, then give it time. Be patient. This, too, will pass.”

Do I have the power to change this, will doing more make it worse, or do I just need to ride it out?

Yes, there are certainly steps I could take to better manage my inbox.

I could start by unsubscribing from emails I no longer want to receive (I know I’m not the only one who signs up for mailing lists to get promo codes/freebies).

And, during weeks when I know I’m falling behind my typical response time, I can set an out-of-office reply to let people know they should anticipate a delay. It’s all about managing expectations. I won’t be stressed out thinking everyone hates me if I’ve already communicated I’m not readily available.

But before I could do all that, I just had to ride it out, especially when I took a sick day and emails continued to pile up. Again, it wasn't a life-or-death situation, and now I know what I can do better to reduce my inbox anxiety next time around.

You have more control over your reaction to stress than you think. The important thing is to not to let it get the best of you.
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You have more control over your reaction to stress than you think. The important thing is to not to let it get the best of you. And when you feel yourself getting defeated, just think: What would AOC do?


Read next: 5 Things To Do When You Feel Like Life is Getting Out of Control

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