How to deal with Overwhelm - Part 2
I've made time; now what?
In "part 1" of this article series, we focused on shifting our perspective to put ourselves first by reorganising our priorities. As a result of this article, I had people reach out asking about what they should focus on to have the most impact on their well-being.
In this article, we'll focus on the key areas that impact our well-being most so we can show up as the best versions of ourselves.
We all know that sleep is good for us, but it's usually the first thing we sacrifice when feeling overwhelmed. We'll pick up our laptops after dinner, work a little extra or get up earlier to "get ahead of the day".
Limiting our sleep can have a massive impact on our health and performance. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records no longer allows record-setting attempts for sleep deprivation as it damages mental health. They will recognise the record if you skydive from space, drop at 844 mph, and break the sound barrier, but you cannot deprive yourself of sleep as it's deemed too dangerous.
Sleep hygiene is a massive topic, but the main takeaway is to aim for a minimum of 7 hours, with 8 hours being the goal.
Stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol have a negative impact on sleep. Some people may have a few glasses of wine because it helps them fall asleep, but it will impact the quality of their deep sleep.
With better sleep, you will feel more energised, have better physical and mental recovery, and improved memory and cognitive performance.
Some of my clients don't have a problem getting to sleep, but they wake up at night. This usually involves a hyperactive mind or anxiety about all their responsibilities. The following article will discuss our inner critics and how they sabotage us.
When feeling drained and rushed, we usually reach for convenient meals or sugary snacks. Infact, when we're exhausted, our body triggers a hormone known as the 'hunger hormone'. That's why they say never to do a food shop when you're tired or hungry, as it will drastically impact the contents of your shopping basket.
Our blood sugar level changes when we eat the sugary snacks we crave when feeling tired. We may feel energised for a while, but we'll then experience feelings of fatigue, and this can impact our sleep patterns later in the day.
A diet that promotes health, makes us feel good and positively impacts sleep will be varied and rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and some dairy.
At an elementary level, get familiar with the concept of food labels:
If it's green in all areas, it's a good choice. If it's amber, it's ok in moderation. Use it sparingly if it's red, as it's not great for you.
I don't believe well-being is all about green tea and lettuce leaves. We've got to live our lives and not be too prescriptive about our food. My mantra is to try to eat well during the week and avoid alcohol. This allows me to fuel myself well for the day, crush my workouts and get good rest and recovery. I'll then happily eat pizza and drink beer if I want to on the weekend. It's about finding your balance.
One final tip for food is don't eat just before bed as it will affect your sleep. At the most basic level, if your body is working to digest food, it cannot get to the restful state it needs for recovery.
Exercise is fundamental to our well-being and should be a building block to our self-care routine. We all know the health benefits of exercise, so I won't labour the point. However, getting our body moving has several other benefits we don't always consider.
For me, exercise serves me in many ways. It's time devoted purely to me and feels like a release or, sometimes, when things feel overwhelming, an escape. It's a way to let off steam and transition to a better state of mind. Endorphins are released when we exercise, which makes us feel good.
Exercise can also be a reflective space. Whether hiking, running or in the gym, I either lose myself in music, a podcast, or an audiobook or become aware of my thoughts. Most of my insights come during or after exercise when I'm clear-headed.
When overwhelmed, we have a cluttered mind and too many things to do. We feel like we're not making progress. Although it feels counterintuitive, forcing yourself to make time for exercise will benefit you. It will feel like you've made progress in an area of your life, it will be a stress buster, and you will be clearer-headed to look at your challenges with a new pair of eyes.
When people hear "exercise", they usually think of running or going to the gym. Maybe a better term would be "movement". I recommend my clients simply move more. Whether it be tracking their steps and increasing them every week, having a 20-minute walk in their lunch break or training for a Himalayan expedition (yes, one of my clients is doing this 💪🏼), put aside the time and consistently make progress.
Nature...sounds a bit flower power, doesn't it? For me, nature is about being in a greenspace such as a park or, even better, woods. We tend to live in concrete jungles and sit and stare at boxes all day. Unsurprisingly, there's something calming about stepping away from it all.
Being in nature is a game-changer for those feeling overwhelmed and can help with depression. Jason Fox, or "Foxy" as he's known on "SAS Who Dares Wins", talks in his book "Battle Scars" about how being in nature whilst being coached significantly impacted him when he was at his lowest point.
Sometimes, I'll have a reminder in my diary about walking in the woods just behind our house for 20 minutes. I'm usually spinning lots of plates, and my inner critic tells me, "I'm too busy" or "what's the point" but I do it anyway.
The first few minutes of my walk, my pace is rapid, and I'm trying to get through it quickly so I can tick it off the list and get back to work. Once I'm in the woods, everything slows down, and I force myself to stop, look around and get present.
My route is a 20-minute loop, so I set myself a challenge. The first half of the walk is about being present as possible, ignoring the inner voices and being grateful for being outside. Although challenging, a mindset shift always happens in the first 10 minutes. I then use the rest of the walk to reflect on my priorities from a new perspective.
So, dust off your walking shoes and go and hug a tree!
It's not fun being overwhelmed, and the thought of making time for fun is the last thing on our list... it's probably not even on the list. Our inner critics will sabotage our thinking and tell us, "we have too much to do" or "once you get through the list, then you can have fun". I don't know about you, but my list keeps growing!
In the previous article, we discussed the importance of putting yourself first so that you could show up as the best version of yourself and have the most impact on others. Having fun and playing is a big part of this, and spending time doing the things that light you up will have a significant effect. For some of my clients, these activities range from golf, knitting, having a meal with friends, attending a comedy show or learning an instrument.
For me, play is surfing, playing in a band, connecting with friends over a beer and getting lost in whatever role-play or crazy game my two kids come up with.
The more play we bring to our lives, the more comfortable we feel in our own skin and the more of US we bring to every occasion. So many leaders I talk to put on a lot of armour before heading to work, and they feel like there's a work and non-work version of themselves. We can't necessarily be at work as we are in the pub with our friends, but we need to find a way to bring as much of ourselves to work as possible rather than worrying about being judged.
So there you have it. I focus on these five fundamental self-care building blocks when people are looking for an impact on their well-being and dealing with overwhelm. Of course, there are other things I advocate and do myself, such as cold therapy, breathwork and coaching, but these top 5 will give you the most bang for your buck.
I'm very aware that your inner critics are still probably stealing the show and saying, "you don't have time", to fit this all in. Next week, we will address these inner critics in Part 3 of this series.
For now, pick one thing and try it. Maybe you always feel tired, and you want to commit to going to bed an hour earlier for three days this week. You may be curious about what it would be like to walk during your lunch break. Maybe that guitar in your cupboard is dying to be played again. Let's not worry about consistency or the overall bigger picture. For now, let's experiment and see how we feel.
Some outstanding books about forming new habits, like "Atomic Habits" by James Clear or how to deal with procrastination in "Eat That Frog" by Brian Tracy, can help.
One tip that always works for me is diary reminders on my phone. Let's say I'm going for a walk. I'll box the time off in my diary so clients can't book over it. I'll set 2 reminders, one 30 minutes before and one 10 minutes before. These reminders hold me accountable and help me transition from whatever I'm doing. It stops me from rushing from one task to the next and reminds me of my commitment to myself.
Please remember, I'm not saying do all these things and your overwhelm will be gone. This article addressed the basics of helping you survive when you're overwhelmed. The rest of the series is going to look at how we THRIVE!
Please keep the comments coming; this article responded to a common question, and I want to support you wherever possible.
If you want to know more about me, my coaching process and actually experience being coached by me, I offer a free 1-hour coaching session to those curious about leading a better life. Please click this link to book the free session, or click here to learn more about me.
Here's to your journey.