May 7, 2014

Overcoming Overwhelm—5 Steps to Kick this Tiring Habit For Good. ~ Caroline Southwell

woman sleeping on floor

Today I found myself walking around the city at midday feeling completely exhausted and vulnerable in a crowd of busy lunch goers.

I had just finished crewing at an awesome event where I learned so much from the speakers and promoting company about how to run an exceptional event. I was feeling great then here I was, in the lunchtime rush feeling lost, alone and completely zonked.

I was struggling to make what would normally be easy decisions such as whether to go to the lunch time networking event or visit the store to ask about my phone upgrade. It felt like it was taking all my energy not to burst into tears. I had a classic case of overwhelm.

So I did the wisest thing I could think of..I went home to take a nap.

As I fell into bed I asked myself what had contributed to me reaching this point. What follows is a list that I came up with. It is likely that if you, like me, do one or more of these things then you might feel overwhelmed and exhausted either occasionally, or maybe even more frequently than that.

1) Giving too much to others

In my case, by crewing two events back to back, my energy was split over hundreds of people, as I gave my attention and care to each person I met. It seems I haven’t worked out how to protect my own energy and space in the process, with appropriate boundaries. (How often do we do this in the workplace?)

2) Not always getting enough sleep

Because I had said yes to crew both a night and then an early morning event, I had by design not gotten enough sleep. So often I say yes to things that are exciting without remembering that I’m a human being that also needs rest and recuperation time. (Do you do this during your working week and then think you’ll make it up on the weekend?)

3) Forget to self-nurture

For all the wonderful things my Mum did for me, she, like many Mums I’m sure, didn’t always make time for herself. So with a role model who was trying to be a saint, I now realize that I’ve learned to give and give and give to others, until I collapse in a heap from sheer exhaustion, and only then do I do something for myself. (Was your Mum like this?)

4) No time for playing

As someone who is so in love with the work I do, I can easily get caught up doing work and forget that I too need time to just laugh. I too need time to just hang out with friends. I too need to just chill out and be totally unproductive and just play for the sake of playing.

(How often do you find you are in work-work-work mode and can’t remember the last time you had a real day off or a real holiday?)

5) Not always taking time to express emotions and energy

For me writing is one of my greatest forms of expression, and yet I don’t actually schedule time for it. Instead it seems to take until I have a mini-crisis and I’m full of emotion that needs releasing before my words spill out onto paper, or the screen.

(What’s your release? Do you make time for it, or does it just come out as an explosion?)

After sleeping for hours I awoke feeling like a new woman. I’m not one to sit in ‘problem-land’ for very long so I knew it was time to find some more sustainable solutions.

As is so often the case with some of the biggest problems in life, the solution is to do the opposite of whatever caused the problem in the first place.

So if you’re struggling with Overcoming Overwhelm then might I suggest the following:

1) Give to yourself so your battery is full, so then you can give to others

This might be a massage, or going to hear your favorite band, seeing a new movie that’s out, or going to a cooking class. Choose an activity that you feel will give you energy, something that you love to do, that sounds fun and exciting, or relaxing and rejuvenating. Once you feel full of life again, you’ll have more than enough to give to others.

2) Consider your seven/eight/nine hours of sleep as sacred

Ask yourself when you’re given an opportunity to do something that will eat into your normal (healthy) sleeping hours whether the activity is actually that important to you and your life goals. If it is, great—just plan a nap time in the 24 hours directly afterwards to help make up for the lack of sleep. If it’s not, then ask yourself what you need to do in order to say, “No thank you, my sleep is too important to me to skimp on”.

3) Make self-nurture a habit

Making self-nurturing activities a habit takes practice and reinforcement.

Brainstorm ideas, tell your most supportive friends what you’re up to so they can help to keep you accountable. Put it in your calendar, and stick to it —even when it’s hard, even when you wonder why you’re doing it, and especially when you don’t think you have time.

Every time you do something nurturing and loving for yourself not only will it get easier, you’ll also be role-modelling behavior that will help others around you.

4) Schedule play time

Somewhere along the way as adults we were fooled by society into thinking that play is for children and adults are supposed to just work and do all the serious stuff. And as a member of society, you have a chance now to change that! You too have a small child hanging out inside you waiting and wanting to play so pull out that brainstorming page again (fun to do with friends!) and think about all the ways that you would love to play.

You’ll know great play activities because you’ll feel expansive and light-hearted and full of silly childlike joy at the idea of doing them. The only rule is to have fun in any way you choose that doesn’t hurt yourself or anyone else. Write the list, put it in your calendar and make them happen!

5) Express yourself

Do you love to sing or dance, write or speak? Do you like to take photos of gorgeous locations, or paint or sculpt? Each of us has some way that we like to express what is inside us. Getting that creative energy out into the world not only benefits us by helping us to stay healthy and full of life, it also helps others. With our heart-filled expression of self what we create can inspire.

Now if that sounds a bit “up in the clouds” for you, just know that all you need to do is get what is inside of you out in a way that feels good and doesn’t hurt you or anyone else. The goal—to express yourself. Like self-nurture and playing, make time for it, then stick to it!


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Apprentice Editor: Kimby Maxson / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikimedia

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Caroline Southwell