We’ve already explored in this space the effect of stress on conflict. In short, when we’re experiencing too much stress, we become irritable and this readily provokes conflict. A big factor in experiencing high stress levels is expecting ourselves and others to get too much done. We run constantly, crashing into bed (too late) at night, and dreaming of a more relaxed time – like summer.

Summer is supposed to be a relatively relaxed time for many of us, with longer days, good weather, and school being out. So why doesn’t summer feel as relaxing as we’d hoped? There’s a curious pattern when things let up a bit: we either attempt to do everything on our list that we didn’t get to during the busy times, or we just crash and do nothing, yet all too often feel guilty about it.

Rather than either of those options, during slack times we can allow ourselves to relax and take stock, re-evaluating what we expect ourselves and others to do.

What is on your list? It’s helpful to actually make the list. Include everything that’s floating around in your mind, big items and small, work and play. Now it’s time for a reality check. Test the reasonableness of your expectations by mapping out the hours in each day and filling in the blocks. Start with sleep – most sources recommend seven or eight hours of sleep a night for adults to stay healthy and to function well, so fill-in those hours first. Now block out the times for getting ready for the day and mealtimes, including meal prep and clean-up. Add working time, including getting to and from work. And don’t forget family time, too. What’s left is the time for getting to all those things on your list.

How’s that look? Daunting?

Most of us have too much on our lists to ever accomplish in the available time, so we have to choose which to do. When life is crazy, our default method of choosing is often doing what seems most pressing. We don’t think about taking the time to decide if the urgent task is really the most important thing for us to be doing.

It’s particularly helpful during down times to focus on tasks that are important, but not urgent. What items, if done, will help things go more smoothly during busier times? In looking at the list, maybe it makes sense to spend an hour clearing the cluttered desk and let the overflowing closet wait until a rainy day in November. And it’s August – it’s okay to let go of sending the holidays cards that didn’t go out last winter!

Be choosy about which things you commit to doing for the rest of the summer. When we focus on doing the things that are most important to us, whether attending the kids’ games, finishing a project at work, or tending the roses, we experience less guilt when we take the time to just relax.

To increase the realism of our expectations of those close to us, we can do the same process for their days, but remember that we don’t get to fill all of their open time!

With a realistic set of expectations about how much we and others can accomplish, we can relax more fully, knowing we don’t need to run full-tilt all day, every day. We can take time to play and recharge. Being relaxed lowers stress and lower stress helps us be less reactive to each other. And that can take us a long way toward getting along better.