Stress Relief by Implementing Margins

You can alleviate unnecssary stress and exhaustion in your life as well as increase your energy level by implementing a “margin” into your daily schedule and finances. So, what is a margin? 

Dr. Don Colbert defines a margin as “a buffer between feelings of being overwhelmed and feeling at peace (1).”  According to Dr. Richard Swenson in The Overload Syndrome, “a margin is the difference between vitality and exhaustion (1).”  Either way you define a margin, the definition is something anyone would desire in his or her daily life.

What are the typical scenarios of living life without a buffer? 

Schedule-wise, an example is giving yourself only enough time to get ready to leave the house for an appointment so that any phone calls or other unexpected items which require your attention suddenly put you under the stress of possibly being late.  Or, another schedule example without a margin is only leaving with just enough time to arrive for an appointment providing you have a high percentage of green lights and no traffic jams.  

Financially, many people create continual stress and anxiety by living without margins.  For example, they may not limit the amount of small, unnecessary day-to-day spending and then are either short at the end of the month for bills or are in a panic if there is an unexpected expense such as a new tire. 

Living without a margin will also create difficulties in one’s physical health.  One example would be doing yard work or exercise until you are in extreme pain instead of stopping at a set time before you overdo it.  Another example would be watching TV or surfing the Internet past the time you would need to get to bed to feel fully rested in the morning, resulting in the frustration of sluggish mental processes and poor decision making during work hours the next day.  

Margins won’t magically happen; they are a matter of self-discipline. 

Setting a margin is a matter of setting limits and disciplining yourself to stick to them.  It is a matter of reducing stress by choosing to live life at a little slower pace, like driving in the right lane instead of the left lane, weaving in and out of traffic.  I recently shared with a friend an experience we had when we first moved back South after living in Chicago.  We were so used to living life at such a fast, stressed pace that it took a few months before we realized that we were still rushing around like maniacs even though we were now living back in a slower paced culture.  How did we discover it?  After a few months, I noticed how people stared at us while we were grocery shopping.  No, it wasn’t paranoia on my part; while everyone around us was leisurely strolling through the store, enjoying their shopping experience, we were literally rushing with our cart through the store, weaving around people like a “left lane driver” in traffic.  What an eye opener!  It takes a definite choice to slow down, set margins, and reduce your stress.  Now my spouse shops so leisurely it is almost impossible to get out of the store! 


Build margins into everything you do!

Let’s look at some sample margin complications as well as margin-building tips from Dr. Don Colbert’s book, The Seven Pillars of Health. 

Margin Complications 

1. You are always in a hurry and always tired.

2. People irritate you easily because of your stress.

3. You quickly complain or become critical, increasing your stress.

4. You stress other people by being late and stealing from their margins. 

Margin-Building Tips 

1. Consider whether you are too busy, overcommitted.

2. If so, cut back on commitments, and learn to say, “No.”

3. See if you are adding to your stress by wanting too much, overworking to acquire unnecessary purchases. Realize you are being “owned” by those things.

4. Make a to-do list before you go to bed at night. *Build time margins into your appointments. It is better to arrive at your appointment and “wait without stress than to arrive at the last minute worn out from stress.”

5. Take along something to enjoy after arriving early, such as music or a book.

6. Prioritize your schedule and decide which things can be postponed if necessary.

6. Teach yourself to spend less than you earn.

7. Gradually build up an emergency fund of 4 months pay. (1)

Relief from being stressed may be a matter of by implementing margins that reduce your stress level to a point that you then are capable of effective, daily stress management.  We all can benefit from more margins in our daily lives.

(1) Quotes and paraphrased excerpt are from Day 48, “Margin,” The Seven Pillars of Health, Dr. Don Colbert. For more detailed reading, see his book, ISBN#1-59185-815-1

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