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(MCT)—Do you find yourself in a constant tug-of-war over stressful issues related to time, people, and work?

On top of these difficulties, you may have childcare issues, problems with an aging parent, or an unhappy spouse. This ever-present stress can zap your energy and cause a lot of personal unhappiness.

To reduce some of these pressures and regain balance, each of us should define limits in our lives. Healthy restrictions on what we actually give or do will help us ensure a respectful relationship with ourselves.

When we can feel okay about ourselves, we can manage everything else with more ease.

In directing your own actions, try these tips to begin setting limits that begin with you:

—Simplify something major. For example, if you’re trying to find a job, make it a rule to work on this for just 4 hours each day. This focus will likely turn up a job quicker than worrying over it 8 hours a day.

—Rest your brain often. Even if you’re an attorney working on a major case you’ll argue in court tomorrow, stop every 40 minutes or so for a “brain break.” Thinking non-stop will make it difficult to come up with productive ideas.

—Go to bed early a couple of nights each week. Give this time to yourself as a gift. Cut the lights out at 9 p.m. and relax, even if you don’t fall asleep right away.

A woman we’ll call Kate decided to take back a few hours of her time each week. She says her tight schedule left her no time to meet a friend for dinner or go to a movie.

Kate decided to limit her time on the phone talking casually with friends and checking emails. She also gave a few extra chores to her kids, including taking care of the family pets.

“I trimmed back on everything I could,” says Kate. “I told my long-winded friends that I had only a few minutes to talk. And, I stuck to it. “

If you never get breathing room in your days, you won’t find open time slots to visit the gym, go to a movie, or relax face-to-face with friends.

“I started making a game out of taking back my time,” says a college instructor named Allison. “Twice a week, I bring home something from the deli for dinner. Cooking seven days a week is exhausting.”

Allison forces herself to sit down and do nothing a couple of nights each week as well. She declares, “If I don’t give myself time to read or stare at the sky, nobody else is going to give it to me!”

Figuring out limits to impose on yourself is tricky. A guilt message may play in your head. For example, your thinking might go something like this: “If cut my conversation short with a needy friend, she might abandon me altogether.”

By setting limits, however, you can figure out how to spend a whole evening with your friend twice a month. Or, with some newfound time, you can invite family members to your house who’ve been absorbing your phone time.

By saving your personal energy and refusing to waste it, you’ll build up time and energy in your emotional bank account. Then, you can dip into your emotional energy and use it more wisely.

Through taking charge of your habits, the quality of your daily life and related activities will rise. By monitoring your own ability to set limits with yourself, you’ll be able to restore more balance to your life.

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, “Burnout to Balance: EMS Stress.” Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.

©2012 Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen
Distributed by MCT Information Services