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3 Steps to Reducing Stress Caused by Unnecessary Obligations

reducestress.jpgIf you feel pulled in too many directions, it’s time to prioritize.

If you are in crisis, the quickest way to approach balance is to reduce unnecessary obligations, so that is where we will start.

An unnecessary obligation is a stressor you neither want nor need. If you neither want nor need it, why not eliminate or replace it?

Step 1: Identify Unnecessary Obligations

I have found it helpful to give priority to moral obligations and positive growth. So the quickest way to figure out what stresses I can eliminate is to figure out which ones are neither of the above. Here are 3 characteristics of positive growth stress:

  • Positive growth stress is the result of growth/change in an area where you want or need it.
  • Positive growth requires a light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Positive growth means you must be able to reach the light without permanently damaging yourself or others.

Think about the major sources of stress in your life. Ask yourself whether each of these meets the three criteria of positive growth or is a moral obligation. The grid below may be helpful — You can print this grid or make your own.


(List your source of stress in this column.)

Is the source of stress causing you to grow or change in a desirable way?

(yes or no)

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

(yes or no)

Can you reach the light without causing permanent damage to yourself or others?

(yes or no)

Moral Obligation? (yes or no)


Step 2: Identify Remediation Options

Take any stressor that did not pass all three positive growth tests and is not a moral obligation (and therefore can potentially be eliminated or replaced) and insert it into the grid below. The remediation-option columns provide space to record straightforward options, such as outright elimination of the stressor, and more involved ones, such as an alternative job, budgeting of monthly bills, or counseling for troubled relationships.


(List your source of stress in this column.)








If you are lucky, one or more of these unwanted hassles can be stopped. When I was younger, I found myself hanging around with a group of people from work. They were nice people, but truth be told, I only went because I had been invited and felt obligated. We sat around my co-worker’s apartment, about ten of us, eating hamburgers, watching baseball and talking shop. I like sports as much as the next guy, but when I’m watching a game, I prefer to concentrate on it, which generally works best in my own home.

Despite my friends’ good intentions, these weekly visits became a time consuming source of stress. One day, I stopped going. Problem solved. No one’s feelings were hurt, and I managed to reclaim my evenings.

Step 3: Develop a Plan

Some obligations refuse to go quietly and require a plan. One technique for planning involves visualizing the end-state and working backwards. Many years ago, I was very unhappy with my career as a radio disc jockey (which pre-dated my talk-show host experience) and wanted to do something more cerebral. So I visualized the end-state, an image of me working in software development. I realized I would need a college degree, which required money, which could come from loans, grants, or scholarships, and just like that, I had developed a plan to replace my radio job with something more in line with my salary expectations and analytical abilities:


Remediation Option1

Plan to Implement Remediation Option1

Non-analytical, low paying radio career Replace radio job with higher paying, more analytical career in software development

  1. Choose degree program
  2. Research loans and scholarships.
  3. Choose School/Solicit Funding
  4. Complete coursework
  5. Obtain degree
  6. Apply-for/obtain entry level software development position

You too can visualize an end-state and work backwards to create a plan. Find a sheet of paper and a quiet place and try it. In this way, even your most stubborn obligations can be replaced or repositioned, and tomorrow can be better than today.

You are Reading an Article Series — Rescue Your Life From Stress!

  1. Series Intro: Rescue Your Life From Stress!
  2. Debilitating Stress, a Warning You are Out of Balance
  3. The Key to Building a Strong Personal Foundation
  4. Control Your Spending
  5. The #1 Mistake Consumers Make with Credit Cards
  6. 3 Steps to Reducing Stress Caused by Unnecessary Obligations

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