Overcoming Overwhelm in a Fast-Paced World

We are all guilty of going too fast, doing too much, and burning the candle at both ends.  In a culture that sells workout tanks that say “everyday I’m hustlin’” and “don’t quit” it’s easy to get sucked into the idea of going non-stop, and often you take pride in always “doing, “ as if it somehow proves your worth and success.  We fall into a trap of thinking we’re not effective at our jobs if we’re not working constantly, replying to a seemingly important email at 2 in the morning or working late into the night and missing dinner with your family.

While work ethic and determination are certainly great attributes of any person,  there also comes a point where constantly going burns you out, as many of us have probably experienced. It also can send a message to your employees ,and everyone who looks up to you for that matter, that it’s never good to chill out—which just adds to their stress levels and can burn them out too, creating a vicious cycle of unhappiness and fatigue.

According to Nisha Jackson, Ph.D. and author of “Brilliant Burnout, “There are several serious physical consequences of unattended, ill-managed stress- Adrenal hypofunction, neurotransmitter imbalances, and hormone dysregulation are all consequences of unchecked stress. Each one of these dysfunctions leads to a list of unwanted symptoms such as depression, anxiety, memory loss, insomnia, headaches, tachycardia (racing heart), food cravings, hypoglycemia, allergies, hypersensitivities, an inability to manage stress emotionally, excessive storage of fat, type 2 diabetes, and even addictions.”

Overcoming Overwhelm

So what can we do to avoid this? Sometimes, completely slowing down is unrealistic- we can’t choose to slow down when our newborn is waking up 5 times a night, or when we have a major project deadline that requires us to put in extra hours. However,  you can become aware of the physical, mental and emotional symptoms that can trigger an imminent crash, and incorporate some of these things into your daily life to avoid it: 

  • Gentle exercise. Try walking, yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, or light strength training. Any activity that incorporates an easy connection to the mind and body works wonders for when you’re in overwhelm mode. Even if you only have 20 minutes to do this, DO IT. You’ll notice a difference.
  • Practice Breathing into your Center. In order to override the fight or flight response that we can often go into when we’re stressed, activate the parasympathetic nervous system by breathing into your center, or the Dontien as it’s called in Chinese Medicine.  You can practice this technique in this weeks podcast, “Breathing into Your Center.” 

“We use the analogy of a tree to explore the idea that, like the tree in a storm, the top of the tree moves and blows everywhere, but as we move down the tree to the base, the tree is stable. Like the tree, we can stabilize and balance ourselves by moving our attention and coordinating the breath to our center, where we are stable, and away from the heart or head level where the storm feels out of control.”

-Rick Breden, CEO
  • Reframing. Replace negative sayings such as “I am so stressed!” with thoughts like “This is not an emergency; I’ve got this!”
  • Nutrition.  Everyone probably knows they should eat better, and there are far too many reasons why we don’t eat better to get into. Our nutrition usually deteriorates as we get stressed, which is the time we need good nutrients the most. According to the APA, “Almost a third of adults say they skipped a meal because of stress in the past month and two-fifths reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress.” According to the Human Performance Institute , you should never go more than four hours without eating something. If you do, much needed energy is lost. Making a conscious effort to eat a nutrient-rich diet during your busiest times will give you the momentum you need and help you avoid burnout.
  • Sleep. Though the importance of getting enough sleep has probably been drilled into you since you were young, it’s amazing how many people don’t prioritize sleep.  According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, many people reported that their stress increases when the length and quality of their sleep decreases. When they do not get enough sleep, 21 percent of adults report feeling more stressed. Adults with higher reported stress levels (eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale) fare even worse — 45 percent feel even more stressed if they do not get enough sleep.On average, adults with lower reported stress levels report sleeping more hours a night than do adults with higher reported stress levels.

The Benefits of Slowing Down

 By learning to recognize your own triggers of burnout and deliberately choosing to incorporate these things into your daily life, you will reap many benefits.  An article in Harvard Business Review titled You Can Be a Great Leader and Also Have a Life shows that several high-powered executives have made conscious decisions to slow down, work more flexibly and spend more time with family,  and have experienced positive changes in their happiness and wellbeing because of it.  You don’t have to be Elon Musk, Tesla and Space X CEO,  who rarely sleeps or sees his family and had a famous meltdown because of it. Instead, be like Oprah, who is arguably one of the most influential (and probably busiest people) in the world who still finds time to pause every day. By making this decision for yourself, you’ll experience: 

  • Increased Focus
  • Better Relationships & Connections with People
  • Better Health
  • Ability to see the Big Picture 
  • Gratitude 
  • And most obviously, less stress. 

Who doesn’t want all of these things?  

Embrace the Journey 

As Nisha Jackson states, “Balance is not the final goal; it is an ongoing process. Balance is not about being calm, chilled-out, and Zen-like, but rather practicing daily principles so that you are constantly aware of ‘where you are’ and how you feel about what is happening on any given day or week, allowing you to adjust as needed.”

At the end of the day, life will always be busy: The demands of the modern world are becoming more intense as technology continues to evolve and we are becoming accustomed to a more and more fast paced lifestyle.  However, by becoming aware of your own workaholic tendencies and incorporating small practices that slow you down and bring you back to your center, you can learn how to deal with “overwhelm”mode in a healthy way, and will maybe even find that you can accomplish more in the process. 

And, as always, remember our essential attitudes along the way: Gentleness, patience and a sense of humor. 

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