We all know how to deal with stress, right? Get rid of what's stressing you. And if we can't get rid of it, at least reduce the number or severity of the assorted stressors in our lives. But how do we do that?

That's where we get stuck. Sure, we all would like to be less stressed, but where do we start? How do we reduce the number of stressors in our lives? After all, it usually feels like everything on our plate is non-negotiable.

But that's the thing: we cannot do everything. Never have. Never will. It's not possible.

So here are four ways to reduce the number -- and size -- of the items on your plate:

1) Ask yourself: What would happen if you were gone?

I mean it. Start right there. We don't like to think about it, but it's a terrific exercise to ask that question, especially you're trying to cope with too much stress. Reduce and eliminate are the magic words. What would happen if life had to go on without you. It would, wouldn't it? Whether it's your family or your boss, they'd find a way to cope -- or let things go undone. And the world wouldn't end.

Sure, they will miss you. So tell them you need help. Carve out a compromise. Find out which of the things on your plate you can let go of. Which ones wouldn't make a difference to anyone? Drop them. You may be surprised to find that some of the things you've been stressing about don't really matter so much to others.

And what about the rest? What can you delegate? What can you do less of? Your plate should get less crowded in a hurry. And your stress levels should go down.

2) Drop the perfectionism

Perfectionism is the enemy of sanity and a surefire way to generate endless amounts of stress. Sure, a lot of us take great pride in doing everything perfectly, but is it really necessary? Think of the 80/20 rule and do the 20% that matter most really well. The rest? Oh well... Drop it if you can, and if you can't, aim for "good enough" rather than "perfectly."

3) What's really important to you?

Spend a week noting everything you do and either each night or at the end of the week sit down and figure out which of these things meet at least one of the following two conditions: a) You enjoy them, or b) they are really necessary for your well-being or for the well-being of those you care about. If they don't score very high on either of those counts, you know what to do.

4) Use the magic phrase

Many of us find it difficult to say "no." Yet we cannot possibly do everything we're asked to do. Here's the magic phrase that will get you out of a lot of things without being nearly as difficult to say as "no." It's also easier on the one who's asking: Just say, "Not now." That's it!

You may not be able (or even want) to completely eliminate stress, but reduce it by half and you'll feel a whole lot better.

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