Coping with overload

Feeling overwhelmed

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

We’ve all felt those undeniable feelings: total and utter exhaustion, apathy, emotional shutdown and numbness; no energy, combined with mental and physical meltdown. It ain’t pretty and it sure as hell ain’t fun. Take a sledgehammer to your brain – and then some. Plus the awful dawning realisation that doing it all is, quite frankly, impossible. At which point those gnawing feelings of guilt, futility and uselessness kick in. We attack ourselves for not being able to achieve what we’d set out to do. What a beautiful vicious circle! What total lack of vision and self-care.

Today, these feelings aren’t just the preserve of overworked executives, working mums and over achievers, increasingly children are actually complaining of being overwhelmed, of having too much to do! How sad is that? In our manic world of human doings, we are running ourselves and our offspring ragged.

Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, believes that enrolling children in too many activities outside of school can actually lead to children becoming clinically depressed. “Parents feel remiss that they’re not being good parents if their kids aren’t in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive.”

Good stress
Some stress is actually beneficial – the flight or flight mechanism actually helps us in certain situations. An increased heart rate and a system flooded with adrenalin certainly helps us to get that project in on time, or avoid hitting the car that’s pulled out in front of us. Or escape a horde of wild elephants. But to be in permanent state of red alert stretches our minds and bodies to breaking point, and is fundamentally damaging to our psyche. Such activity impairs our immune system and prematurely ages us. Nice.

Constant activity
Some of us are juggling jobs, children, husbands/wives, relatives, childcare, friends and running a home. That takes a hell of a lot of energy, not to mention organisation. Many women, especially, never find the time to re-connect with themselves and their energy source. We are often running on empty. Something has to give. We’ve long since realised that the Superwoman myth is just that. And a hollow one to boot! Many people like to fill their free time with constant activity, or simply can’t say no to others’ demands. All habitual ways of avoiding being fully present with oneself.  At huge cost.

Ways to offload and reconnect
Sit down. Shut the door. Take the phone off the hook and take time to consider which areas of your life are out of balance. Be very honest. Then simply take the necessary steps to restore equilibrium.

1. Ask for help. Too many of us believe we have to do it alone. Or we’ll get the job done faster and more efficiently if we do it all ourselves. Drop the desire to control and trust others to help. It works. Delegate – at work and at home. Asking someone for help provides them with an opportunity to give. You are acknowledging them – soul to soul.

2. Reduce caffeine intake. And avoid self-medication to help you relax. A walk in the local park, or a day at the seaside will be far more restorative on your nervous system than several beers, a spliff or some nicotine. Resist the urge for a quick fix. Like sugar, it’s a temporary jolt and you’ll feel like crap afterwards.

3. Do nothing! When was the last time you just sat down and did nothing? Thought nothing? Try it today. Sit in a café for 5 minutes, grab a coffee and watch the world go by. Preferably in silence and alone. The point is to recharge not expend your energy. Or if you have a garden, sit outside and just look at the plants, the clouds. Simply. Do. Nothing.

4. Slow down. Find ways to relax in a healthy way. Do some deep breathing. For overstretched parents: research says that what children need most are relationships, not activities,” says Rosenfeld. “Focus on building meaningful relationships with your children, not becoming their chauffeur.”

5. Talk to someone. Sharing our anxieties with supportive and loving friends and partners makes dealing with the issues so much easier and less overwhelming. Share the load!

6. Take regular exercise. Release some feel-good endorphins via any form of exercise that you enjoy. Give your heart and your lungs a good workout. Swimming is great as it calms the nervous system.

7. Prioritise your tasks. As the saying goes, How do you eat an elephant? One foot at a time. Don’t waste time sharpening your pencil when you have a huge pile of tax returns to fill in. And stop all the procrastination As Brian Tracy so aptly suggests in his great book, Eat That Frog. Every morning consider the tasks overloading you (frogs). Then simply eat the fattest and ugliest frog first. Which task, when completed will give you the most impact?

Good luck!