How do you know when you're overloaded and how can you get yourself back into balance?

24 August, 2009

I work with a lot of people one to one, as you know. I have been working with a lot of clients recently for help with worry, anxiety, stress, disrupted sleep, burning out and a general not coping with the demands of the very busy life they have created for themselves. This causes a bit of a problem, as I am sure you can imagine.

Here's the bottom line: in this modern, western way of life, which we have chosen to live for the time being, there is more "input" going into our system than ever before in history; we have more methods of communication and more media choices than ever before and this "input" is continuously going into our heads, either consciously (of which we are aware) or unconsciously (of which we are not aware). We usually live and work with other people, and because of the lifestyle we have committed to, we have at least 1 million things to "get done" at any given moment. In short, there's a bloody hell of a lot for our brains to process, do you agree? And not only that, but we expect our system to just deal with it; and we get very cross with ourselves for getting overwhelmed and "not coping well enough". So much pressure and expectation - jeeez!

I have a plan to do a mountain run in March next year. I have climbed Mt Fuji in Japan, which was hard and rewarding, and I have done lots of flat runs. I have never run up a mountain before. I want to do it, just for fun. I have had the experience recently of training with some close friends of mine; one is a police officer now, and was in the army for a number of years. He has taken it upon himself to be our taskmaster. It is hard going. One thing he does do though, is he often says "stop for a moment and take a breather....". I got to thinking about that, "take a breather" and I started to wonder how often to do we give ourselves permission to "take a breather" in our day to day living? Something which, given the amount of input and the amount of pressure to "get things done" seems like a very useful thing to be able to do. If I don't take a breather at the top of a hill, before I attempt to run up the next one, I am not going to make it (or I might make it and make myself sick at the same time, which is a pretty horrible experience). Isn't it the same in our lives, then? If we don't take a breather, we aren't going to get up that next hill very successfully. I am not talking about letting ourselves off the hook - I am talking about the successful management of life. A life where we achieve our goals AND enjoy ourselves at the same time. Doesn't that sound desirable and awesome? Yes! And, it is possible too.

Think of your brain and your body like a food processor for moment (not literally, metaphorically!). When you are stressed (and we will talk about how you know when you are later on) it is a little bit like you have added ingredient after ingredient into the food processor, and you just keep adding, one on top of the other, and you expect it to be able to cope with all these extra ingredients. You haven't read the instruction manual properly; which does tell you how much you are allowed to put in. Keep adding and adding, and what happens? The thing will buckle, or the lid flies off and the food gets splattered all over the place. And then you take it back to the shop and want a refund - "it doesn't work, it didn't do what I asked it to do..." you say. If you read the instruction manual and you knew before you started adding the ingredients how much you were allowed to put in at any one time, the food processor would have done its job, you'd have something lovely to eat, and the shop assistant wouldn't have to deal with you complaining and would have a lovely day selling people other electrical goods with a smile on their face.

The problem with this metaphor is that you don't get an instruction book for your brain and your body, do you? No one has ever told you how much to put in, and when to stop adding stuff. Instead, conversely, you live in a society that is continuously recommending that you ADD MORE STUFF because it will make you happy. The solution? You have to develop your own instruction manual - and that's where I can help you. We don't get given one, so we have to learn it along the way, through trail and error. Once you have designed your very own instruction manual - the great news is that it WILL WORK for you, because you designed it and it's yours, for life! You can finally have a great relationship with your food processor so that it serves you fully and consistently provides you with yummy stuff that you can enjoy, for the rest of your life. So, let's get started now, shall we?

How do you know when you are overloaded/overwhelmed?

These are different words for the same experience - stress!

Get to know your early triggers, people! If you can start noticing the signs that your system is overloaded in the EARLY stages, then you can catch it and turn it around for yourself in no time at all. The first most important thing is awareness here, and more astute awareness will come with time and practice. So, start to pay attention to what your system is telling you, and make your own list of your "early signs". Some very typical signs that you have reached your limit, are stressed, and are about to go into overload/overwhelm are:

1) Racing / flitting thoughts - can't focus on any one thing

2) Difficulty falling asleep - thoughts going round and round

3) Waking up in the middle of the night (usually around 4am) with a busy mind

4) Heart rate increased - and may stay increased for long periods of time

5) Chest pains

6) Shallow, erratic breathing

7) Feeling like bursting / crying / screaming in desperation (this is usually a very clear sign....)

8) Feeling in a hasty / rushed state, again usually with increased heart rate

9) Not being able to sit still - always needing to be "doing" something

10) Tired and exhausted at the end of the day - feeling like you could sleep for a week

Some of these may seem pretty obvious, and you would also be amazed at how many people are great at just ignoring these signs, and just carrying on "inputting" and hoping for the best, just like the food processor. The desire to keep "doing" and "achieving" takes over and continues to take priority - even though several of these signs / triggers are there. Bottom line: this is not sustainable. Remember the food processor - the thing will buckle, of the lid will fly off and food will splatter everywhere. It's a very simple, cause and effect kind of thing, really, not rocket science.

What can you do about it?

The question here, is now that you have applied your astute awareness of what is going on in your own system, and what it means, you are now in a fantastic position to start adjusting it, so that you can get yourself back into a healthy balanced state. Now, just to reiterate to all you perfectionists and high achievers out there - this does NOT mean you are letting yourself off the hook and being lazy. It really does NOT mean that. It means being able to balance yourself so that you CAN ACHIEVE IN AN ENJOYABLE AND SUSTAINABLE WAY. If you are feeling ANY of the above - you are not in a good state, and you are not enjoying your life. So, I know you want to achieve and get stuff done, and I support that, fully and completely. You need to do it in a way that is sustainable, and if you are hitting any of the above the fact of the day is that you are OUT OF BALANCE and you need to get back in balance - straight away. Remember, sometimes to get up the second hill, you need to "stop and take a breather..".

Make a list of all of your "dealbreakers": this means, all the things that you NEED in your life, to keep you in a healthy balanced state, among your busy-ness. This, to me, is kind of like building the foundations of a sustainable life. For the food processor to process the ingredients, it needs stuff: it needs a blade, a spinny thing, a bowl etc. This is kind of what you are doing here, as well as creating your own instruction manual. Make a list, write them down in a notebook, and have them there for a reference. So, next time you hit any of the above warning signs again, you can look at your list and ask yourself "right, what is it that I NEED right now?" and hey-presto! You have a pre-prepared list of all the options of things that can bring you back into balance again, how handy is that going to be?

Look back over at a time in your life when you were happy and balanced. Or, if you don't have one, look at someone else who is happy and balanced and ask them how they do it. There are certain things you may NEED in your life as the foundations to remain balanced among your busy-ness and you need to take into account the different kind of needs that you have, and cover the different areas of your life. Some examples of some dealbreakers in one's life could be:


    Strenuous exercise - 3-4 times a week - know the exercise that works for YOUGentle exercise (i.e. walking) - once a dayTime in hot water (spas, baths) - 3 times a weekPassive time- time to just "be" (i.e. watching crap TV, reading a magazine) - once a dayA hobby - something that takes you out of your head - 1-2 times a weekSex - or some positive expression of your own sexual energy - 3-4 times a weekSocial time with friends (dinner, movies, drinking, discussing)- 2-3 times a weekLaughter - every single day of your lifeTime ALONE with no demands - 2 evenings a week at leastTime with animals - every dayTime outdoors - 4 times a weekNutrition / diet - protein & fruit and vegetables - every daySupplements - vitamin C in winter, omega 3 - every dayMeditation - time to quiet the mind - 8 times a week at least

Get used to making decisions that honour your balance

It's pretty simple. Your brain, your body (your system) needs certain things in place to be able to function optimally and sustainably. If it doesn't have them, part of the system will crash, and you will get sick - either mentally or physically. It is a very simple equation - give & take, cause & effect, A+B = C kind of equation. The more energy you can preserve in cunning ways, the more energy you will have available to put into your projects and your relationships. It's as simple as that. The bottom line: KNOW THE REAL CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR DECISIONS AND YOUR ACTIONS AND START MAKING BETTER DECISIONS.

So, get used to making decisions about what you do, when you do it, and how much you take on in your world based on your own well-being and your own balance. This is NOT selfish, it is wise. You will be a much better friend / parent / lover if you look after yourself and have lots of energy available to play with at your leisure, don't you agree? Have a real, proper think about the following:

    How good are you at saying "no" to people? Why is this? Are you afraid of letting them down? What would happen if you talked to them on the phone tomorrow and not tonight?Do you really need to see that friend for coffee again today, when you have seen them 3 times already this week?Do you really need to have your cell phone attached to your hand or your ear for 16 hours a day? What would happen if you turned it off for an hour a day?Would the world end if you didn't get xyz done TODAY?What is most important right now? What do I need RIGHT NOW?How will I feel tomorrow if I skip my yoga class tonight?How will I feel tomorrow if I go to my yoga class tonight?

You get the idea, right?

If you were riding a bike, you achieve balance (so long as you have taken off your stabilisers). You wouldn't think "hey - I am balanced now, I think I will stop peddling!" would you? No. Because you know that to keep a bicycle balanced, you will need to keep peddling. You will never achieve a perfect balance, simply because life ain't perfect, so you'd better get used to it. As soon as you think everything is perfect, something will come along and challenge you, and tip the balance back the other way again. SO - it will be a continuous job of balancING, and with a bit of practice and patience and awareness, you WILL get better at it. And before you know it, you will be achieving more and it will all feel like you are taking it in your stride and even ENJOYING yourself a long the way - which will be awesome for you.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

With love and positive thoughts, Charlotte for coaching and training services in Wellington, NZ.

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