One of the groups of humans I coach are lawyers and once a month I host a call for them that includes various stress-management techniques and a guided meditation. I usually base the topic of the month on what challenges and stressors for clients show up as a theme; this month overwhelm won out. Admittedly, I was also experiencing some of my own, which I wrote about in last week’s blog, and was probably exacerbated and triggered by the news cycle, which I honestly don’t want to give more attention to.
We humans have a tendency to feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be accomplished on a daily basis and sometimes can get to the point where we become paralyzed and unable to take action. I personally wasn’t at that point last week, but there have been times when I have been, most notably when I was getting divorced and had to go to court, when I got laid off, when I was a victim of fraud or the last time I moved. That paralysis comes from the rise in cortisol creating a sort of tunnel vision inhibiting us from seeing all the solutions that we have at our disposal.
In the classic Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, researchers examined medical records to determine the relationship between life events and the likelihood of getting sick. They ranked the 43 most stressful life events, assigning points to each based on the potential negative impact on health. Some of these include divorce (#2), death of a close family member (#5), business readjustment (#15), change in financial state (#16) and even positive things we dream of, such as outstanding personal achievement (#25). You can follow the link to the scale and add up your points if you want to justify the feelings of overwhelm, however I wouldn’t recommend it as it might just add more overwhelm!
When we experience a significant amount of change that include many competing demands we can begin to enter this state of overwhelm. Unless we identify this early on, sometimes the human mind and body will cave in under all the pressure leading to burnout and other issues. So what can you do to mitigate and manage this overwhelm? Here are some basic steps you can take to help minimize it.
Time Block your calendar
If something is important enough to put on a ‘to do’ list, you need to ensure that you have the time to complete it. Make it an appointment in your calendar to do the work required. Schedule and block time to create a plan for every day.
Outsource or Delegate Tasks
Outsourcing some of the smaller tasks that aren’t worth the time you put into them even though they are tasks that need to be done. Hiring/outsourcing to someone to free up more of your time and maximize your productivity will be a huge relief once you finally commit. Perhaps it’s a cleaning person to come in every other week, maybe you need someone to help you declutter a space, or maybe you need someone to do some filing or administrative work for you. An easy way to gauge your sense of relief is to imagine certain tasks being completed by another party, you arrive home or to work knowing it’s done.
Get the best sleep you can
I’m sure I mention sleep in every other blog, and it bears repeating because of how vital it is. If you’re stressed out, getting enough sleep should be your number one priority. Give yourself time to wind down before going to bed, and create the quietest, darkest sleeping space possible (you can use blackout curtains, ear plugs, and white noise from the bathroom fan to block out street sounds). The more stressed you are, the earlier you should try to get to bed. I also use a sleep spray that contains melatonin, valerian, chamomile and a few other natural ingredients; this supports me in getting a deep and restful sleep because I’m kind of no fun if I don’t get enough sleep.
Meditate or pray in the morning
I spend quiet time in meditation every morning and this is a non-negotiable for me. If the thought of adding something else to your morning only adds more overwhelm, simply start with 5 minutes. I guarantee you can find 5 minutes at the beginning of your day. Forcing yourself to find a few quiet minutes every morning will help you centre yourself before you start your day. Sitting for just five minutes, breathing deeply in and out, has been shown to create a sense of calm (and even lower blood pressure!) that lasts throughout the day. If you need help with this, I can help you.
Make yourself eat, no matter how crazy things are
The more stressed you are, people have a tendency to try to do more before breakfast (and breakfast often ends up eaten at lunchtime). Skipping meals and snacks leads to low blood sugar, fatigue and brain fog, making you feel unable to cope. Discipline yourself to get some real food into your mouth as soon as you get up, something rich in nutrition and protein dense – you’ll feel much calmer, clearer and more focused. Make sure you eat throughout the day and don’t let yourself ever get too hungry. Don’t ignore your body’s cues for needing food and water, no matter how busy you are.
Load up on greens the easy way
You get a physical and psychological boost from superfoods. Our bodies appreciate them when stressed. You can make a simple green smoothie in your blender, it takes less than five minutes to make and less than a minute to drink. Bonus points if you add a clean protein powder or nutrient dense meal replacement into the mix.
Yep, those again. I will never not talk about these herbs because of how much of an impact they’ve made on me and countless others I know. Adaptogens are a group of herbs that work specifically with the adrenal pathway, helping to bring hormones into balance, and some can be really useful in healing from burnout. I use these two products daily and I will fight you if you try to take them away from me. I’d honestly rather not fight you though, and just help you get your own :)
Get through one day at a time
When life is particularly stressful, it really helps to just focus on getting through each day. Use your morning quiet time to get centred and ready to face the day, and that day alone. Life can feel so much easier when you face it one day at a time.
Make no your default answer
Our fundamental problem isn’t our inability to balance it all, it’s overcommitment. When you say yes to something new, you say no to something else. There isn’t an infinite amount of time available to you. When you say that yes it will mean something really important will be squeezed out: that time alone you desperately need, or that extra hour of sleep that would make all the difference, or the precious time with your spouse or kids that you all long for.
Take sanity breaks
Lose the go-go-go mentality, it will kill you. Life is more than a checklist to get through. Take breaks whenever your body or mind start to feel tired. Have a snack. Get up and do some stretches. Rest your brain. Take your lunch outside and sit by a fountain with the sun on your face. You need breaks, don’t tell yourself that you’re better off just plowing through. You can also check out the 60/10/60/30 Ninja Productivity tool that Raj Sundra, Founder and CEO of Transformance Business Consulting wrote about.
Give yourself a day off every week
We are constantly connected; people can reach us ALL. THE. TIME. It’s easy to treat every day as another opportunity to tick off to-do list items. What full day can you take off? Whenever you’re tempted to work because you feel panicked about some upcoming deadline, remind yourself that in the past you’ve somehow always gotten done what needed to be done, even if you’ve taken a day off. One day a week, try to avoid doing anything that feels like work. Turn off your phone. Don’t go online. Take a nap. Read a good book. Spend some time with your family and friends. Go for a walk together. This day of rest and rejuvenation will refresh you and give you the energy you need to face the trenches yet again for another week. And you will still somehow get everything done.
I hope that this has been helpful. I’d love to help you with tools to minimize any overwhelm that you may be experiencing in your own life; perhaps you need help learning to meditate, managing your time or logging off of the online world. I am more than happy to help. Simply reach out and books some time with me and we can get started.