Feeling Stressed? Try the Rule of 2

Feeling Stressed? Try the Rule of 2

by Amy Neiman, LMSW

I told myself that 2024 would be less stressful. Seriously. I had a conversation with myself while I was walking my dogs. I was going to be more organized. I was going to plan out dinners for the week. I was going to walk these dogs every day – rain or shine. I was going to make sure lunches were packed the night before. I was going to change my car oil on time. I was going to answer all emails in a timely fashion. All these small changes were going to make 2024 productive, with less anxiety and more joy.

Then there was a day of tornadoes followed by five days of friged cold weather with icy conditions and there was no way I was walking the dogs or planning out dinners, lunches and breakfasts for ALL these people in my house. Within days, my 2024 had become just as stressful as the end of 2023. Disaster.

It wasn’t just the weather that derailed my plans. It was my biology. Our bodies simply rebel when we try to change too much at one time. Maybe I would have been able to sustain all those changes for a bit, but eventually, my mind and body would have put on the brakes. Too much! Too quickly!

In fact, this would mean that my body was doing exactly what it was created to do. Change, even if it is good change, creates stress on our brains. Adding too much change at once, well, brains can go into overload and our stress response takes over.

This is why researchers today discuss the Rule of 2. The Rule of 2 is based on the concept that changing just 2 things at a time will allow our brains to adapt to the stress, and thus, we will be more successful. Once we start getting the hang of these 2 new changes, we can add 2 more, but you need to give yourself time. Science suggests that it takes 6-8 weeks to create a new habit. So along with the Rule of 2, you need to add a bit of patience to the mix.

With this knowledge in place, I’ve decided to rethink 2024 and use the Rule of 2. For now, I’m working on walking the dogs each day and answering emails within 48 hours. Given that I’m only in week 2, I’m feeling pretty good about my progress. Of course, these sunny days have helped, and as has my phone by allowing me to set reminders that show up each day. Maybe you can try the Rule of 2 as well.

A very wise woman once told me “Amy, it’s progress, not perfection, that we’re looking for.” I’m a believer. Progress here we come!

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