Sometimes our lives get so piled up that we feel like we might explode. When this happens, it is crucial to take pause and really think about what is most important at the present moment. We often need to temporarily reprioritize our lives in order to preserve our sanity while getting everything done. Once the storm blows over, we can go back to our normal state with more knowledge and emotional stamina to take on the next surge (because there’s always going to be a next surge).
Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.
– Marcus Buckingham
The past couple months, I have felt extremely overwhelmed with work, relationships, and personal goals. Things have finally calmed down, so I can look back at the experience objectively and reflect on how I handled myself during that time.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t all that pretty…
There were moments when I was cranky and snapped at my husband for no good reason. There were days that I drank more beer than water and put nothing but deep-fat-fried bar food in my body. I definitely didn’t run or practice yoga much. I felt happy when I was around people; but I noticed a general sense of gloom-and-doom in my brain otherwise. I don’t think I gave off too many positive vibes during that time.
The major thing I noticed is that the stress seemed to compound, and I often lost my ability to control my thoughts. That’s a huge no-no in my book. When we surrender to stress and allow our thoughts to run rampant, the battle to get back to neutral is so much harder.
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. – William James
My sweet mother listened to me gripe a few times, and she gave me some advice. She told me that I should take a break from The Be Well Place for a bit until I get my ducks in a row. This was very difficult advice to take.
This website is like therapy for me. It is also a creative outlet and my small way of providing positivity to the world. Working on this site makes me feel excited, happy, and that I am contributing something useful for society.
When my mother suggested that I should pause for a bit, my immediate response was very stubborn. I did not want to give up something I loved to do just because there were other things that needed to be done first.
Moms are always right, though.
I ended up taking her advice and stopped writing for over a month. What I found was that my world didn’t come crashing down because I stopped writing. My world actually felt a bit lighter. I had more time to take care of more pressing tasks and stressed a little less. I was more efficient with my work and slept better at night. I even ate more vegetables and eased up on the beer.
Though things were looking up, there was still something lingering in my mind that I just couldn’t shake. There was a thought that held me back from the complete focus I needed to plow through the surge.
That thought was, What will people think?
I became irrationally concerned about what The Be Well Place readers would think and what I would say when my friends and family asked how the site was going. Ultimately, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t handle the pressure and juggle all my responsibilities successfully. I was afraid to admit that I failed.
Isn’t that the silliest thing? Looking back, it doesn’t make any sense to feel that way. I wasn’t giving up The Be Well Place FOR-EV-ER (like Squints said in The Sandlot); I was simply going to take a break from writing for a couple weeks until my workload normalized. However, at the time there was a very real feeling of failure that continued to compound my stress and chisel away at my pride.
Fear makes us feel our humanity. – Benjamin Disraeli
As you can see, I am back to writing and sharing my life lessons with the world. I know I haven’t seen the end of that overwhelming stress, but through taking pause, reprioritizing, letting go of what people think, and letting go of irrational fear, I was able to salvage my sanity and health and come out better equipped.
Thus, after much reflection, I am able to present to you a strategy to manage the surges of stress so that you can maintain your sanity and dignity, both now and in the long-run.
Try this strategy whenever you are feeling overwhelmed:
Stop what you are doing and take a deep breath.
Maybe a second deep breath.
Better make that three…
Just sit for a moment and clear your head. Practice a mini-meditation to get the ramblings out of your mind so that you can focus for the next few minutes.
2. Temporarily Reprioritize
Now that you’ve pumped the brakes, what the heck are you doing? Are you doing things that are immediately important? Or are you busying yourself with minor tasks to avoid confrontation with stuff you’d rather not deal with right now?
Evaluate what you are doing. Be honest with yourself and evaluate whether what you are doing is actually important at the moment. It is very likely that you will have to temporarily rearrange your priorities based on what is immediately important.
I cannot stress the word “temporarily” enough. During high-stress times, we tend to irrationally think that the world will come crashing down if we change anything. However, that is exactly what we need to do in order to plow through the storm.
First, do not give in to the notion that you are changing everything about your life as you know it. You can return to your normal state as soon as the surge subsides.
Second, prioritize only that which needs to be done immediately and put the rest on hold.
Third, let go of any guilty feelings you might have for placing some of your responsibilities on hold. You will return to them soon.
3. Let Go Of Irrational Fear
Do not be swayed by what other people say. We all experience life differently, so worrying about what people think about you and your choices is waste of precious time. If anything, experiences like this help you clearly see who has your back and who doesn’t. It makes prioritizing people a lot easier.
Also, do not give in to the silly little voice inside your head telling you that you are a failure. You are so not a failure. Let go of the fear of not being perfect. Allow yourself some wiggle room to mess up (and then grab a mental mop and clean up the mess).
4. Get Some Rest
Working through the night sounds tempting, but you won’t be doing your body and mind any favors. Make sure you get a good seven to eight hours of rest each night.
I recommend putting down the iPhone or tablet about 20 minutes before lights-out, so that you give your brain a chance to wind down. Listen to some soothing music, take a warm shower, or do some light stretching. If you feel like your thoughts are racing and you’re all revved-up, grab a notebook and jot down your thoughts. Make a list of things you need to do the next day, and get all that clutter out of your head.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, don’t do anything that will activate your adrenaline. Instead, go back to that soothing music or jot down whatever thought you can’t seem to shake.
5. Take Care Of Your Body
I know you don’t have time to work out or make a lot of healthy meals; but do yourself a favor for now and in the long-run and make semi-wise choices when it comes to eating and physical activity.
Choose to each veggies, whole grains, and grilled or baked lean meats instead of deep-fat-fried food. (Yeah, I need to take my own advice.) Get some fruit in that belly, perhaps by making a smoothie for breakfast or lunch each day. The fine consistency of a smoothie will help with digestion and nutrient absorption, since the gastrointestinal tract tends to act irregularly during high-stress.
Drink lots of water, and lay off the caffeine. Although caffeine can help you focus, too much can send your mind and heart rate racing. Caffeine can also make you very irritable, which you certainly don’t need right now.
Be sure to stretch and go for a walk, if possible. Make sure you move your muscles and bones so that you don’t stiffen. A loose body will sleep more comfortably than a stiff one.
Watch a ridiculous youTube video. Call or text a friend that always has something funny to say. Go to someecards.com and send someone a hilarious e-note. Watch your cat chase after a laser pointer light for a few minutes. Think about a funny memory from high school.
Laughter is so good for you, especially right now. Not only can laughter help cheer you up and lighten the mood, it can also help improve your disposition, reorient your thoughts, and tackle your challenges with a calm focus.
Changing our mindset is difficult, and changing our mindset during high-stress seems impossible. However, managing stress effectively is not impossible – it just takes practice. Unfortunately, the only way to practice managing high-stress is through experiencing high-stress. Hopefully, the list above provides a useful strategy that you can use and adapt to your high-stress situation. Feel free to share your tips and other strategies in the comment box below. Okay, go!
(photo credit: Amy McTigue via photopin cc)
Thank you so much for this. I am currently struggling with overwhelming stress and pressure as I am facing something big in my life. It really hampers me from doing work. And whenever I want to take a break to deal with my anxiety, I will always feel guilty of putting my responsibilities on hold. These tips help!