5 Mistakes We Make When We're Stressed

Let's play a game: It's Monday morning, your inbox has hundreds of unread emails, you're in a fight with a loved one and you just spilled coffee on your new shirt. What do you do?
  • A) Scream at the top of your lungs
  • B) Go on an emotional rant throughout the office
  • C) Just quit and give up for the day

A better answer? D) None of the above.

It's safe to say we're a little less than logical when we're stressed -- and that puts us at risk to make some mistakes. The next time you find your worries spiking, pay attention to these five behaviors (and try some of the alternatives below instead).

Venting to the person next to you.

It may seem helpful to let it out -- and for the most part it can be cathartic -- but beware of perpetuating the problem. Studies show that stress is a contagious emotion, and soon your stress has become someone else's, too. A vicious anxiety cycle isn't good for anyone. Instead, try hanging out with your best friend while doing a few activities you enjoy. One 2011 study showed that quality time with your BFF can help ease your worries.

Making rash decisions.

Ever heard the phrase "don't go to bed when you're angry?" Well, here's another one to file in your rulebook: Don't make a big decision when you're stressed. Researchers from Harvard monitored a group of students and found that students who reported high levels of stress were worse at making good long-term choices because their minds were preoccupied. In other words, that important decision about a job or that choice to make a down payment on a house should probably wait until you're a little more relaxed.

Procrastinating your responsibilities.

We've all been there. We get overwhelmed and decide the best way to deal with our to-do list is to just ignore it (bonus points if you've used the "I work better under deadlines" excuse). That procrastination habit we create when we're stressed may feel good at the time -- but it's certainly not helping later on. As psychologist Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., explains in a Psychology Today blog, pushing off important tasks reinforces the idea that we need that stress in our lives in order to function:

Now people seem to have become dependent on stress to get motivated, to get started, to keep going, to get things done, to feel challenged, to feel excited, to feel busy, to feel important, to find meaning, to feel validated by being in constant over demand. In all cases of adult lifestyle stress that I have seen, procrastination is the essential support.

Instead of putting off something entirely, try breaking up your tasks into pieces. Research suggests we work best in 90-minute intervals. Dedicate yourself to your work during those intervals -- then give yourself a rest by taking a look at those puppy videos.

Ruminating over every detail.

It can feel natural to dwell on every single hiccup when something goes wrong, but that incessant overthinking could be harming our health. According to a 2013 study published in the journal PLOS ONE, those who ruminate over negative thoughts and emotions are more at risk for depression and anxiety. The study also suggests that our psychological response to the negative occurrence seems to have more of an impact than the actual event itself. If you find yourself obsessing over every detail, try a few mindfulness meditation exercises to get you back to the present moment. Let those thoughts float away.

Neglecting sleep.

Stress can wreak havoc on your sleep routine, and the worst thing you can do is to just give into the stress. Binge-watching a TV show until the wee hours may seem like the only way to get your mind off of things, but research shows your glowing screen could be messing with your sleep even more. If you're stressed and struggling to snooze, try smelling some lavender or even a warm bath. Sweet dreams.

This GPS Guide is part of a series of posts designed to bring you back to balance when you're feeling off course.

GPS Guides are our way of showing you what has relieved others' stress in the hopes that you will be able to identify solutions that work for you. We all have de-stressing "secret weapons" that we pull out in times of tension or anxiety, whether they be photos that relax us or make us smile, songs that bring us back to our heart, quotes or poems that create a feeling of harmony or meditative exercises that help us find a sense of silence and calm. We encourage you to visit our other GPS Guides here, and share with us your own personal tips for finding peace, balance and tranquility.

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