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Are You Living in 30-Second Increments?

Trisha was absolutely thrilled. The ride home in traffic had miraculously taken ten minutes less than usual. Ten minutes was like gold! She could pick up and sort through the mail while she finished listening to her voice mails, pop the wash from this morning into the dryer, load all of the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher, and print up the agenda for tonight’s meeting before she left the house again. It was kind of pathetic, really, that her life had somehow developed into ten-minute increments, but, hey, she was busy and every second counted.

I know women who operate not in ten-minute increments but in thirty-second increments. I remember one who spoke of the stress she was under and how it affected her day. She became irritated and annoyed when her computer was “slow” to boot up at work, when it took thirty seconds to dry her hands with an air dryer in the women’s restroom instead of quickly with a paper towel. She began to resent it when other people took too much time on voice mail or spoke with too many pauses during conversation. Each “waste” of time became more and more grating. Over time, she came to realize she viewed these “barriers” in her day as adversarial. She put pressure on herself to be “productive” literally every second. Anything or anyone that took more time than she deemed acceptable became a cause of stress to her. Because she was already operating under stress, each slowdown made her more and more angry. She resented every second wasted and was frustrated with anyone who got in the way of her tightly scripted schedule.

It is not, of course, possible to be 100 percent productive. In fact, putting yourself under that kind of stress is counterproductive. I asked her why she felt compelled to resent the time it took her to dry her hands in the bathroom, and she said it was because she had “so much to do.” She complained about all the pressure at work and her workload. When I asked her if she really felt her employers begrudged her the time it took to go to the bathroom, she had to reply no.

What it really came down to was not her employer’s expectation but her own. She had a deep need to perform. Her sense of self-worth and value derived more from what she was able to accomplish than who she was as a person. She equated her value with how much she was able to do. She did not want to feel valueless, so she strove to do more and more, until even trips to the bathroom were resented. This is a recipe for soul-sucking stress.

SOURCE: Chapter 5: “What’s Stress Got to Do with It?” in Every Woman’s Guide to Managing Your Anger by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.

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