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How To Slow Down When You Feel Overwhelmed

Try these three quick easy steps to get yourself from overwhelm to calm.

The world is a big, crazy, overscheduled, fast-paced, exhausting place to exist right now. And frankly, I don’t see that changing. In fact, I see things only getting bigger, crazier, more over scheduled, faster-paced and utterly exhausting.

We have to slow down. We need to slow down. We want to slow down. We dream about slowing down.

But yet we feel guilty when we take time for ourselves. When we finally have a few minutes for a quiet moment on the couch we feel as if we really should be doing ‘something’. A few extra minutes of sleep on a weekend or a nap in the afternoon leads to us to dubbing ourselves as lazy.

Feeling overwhelmed is no joke. We’ve all been there. We will all be there again. In fact, most of you are probably there right now!

Being I am writing this post in mid-December, the feelings of overwhelm are even more heightened as we prepare for holidays, end of year business deadlines, new year goals, and probably some ‘much needed rest and relaxation time’.

Kinda feels like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? R&R time at the end of the year??

I recently watched a great TEDx talk titled The unforeseen consequences of a fast paced world by Kathryn Bouskill. In this talk, Kathryn asks, “Are we the masters of speed, or is speed mastering us?”

I thought it was a brilliant question because her sentiment defines how I feel much of the time – like my schedule/to dos/calendar/life have lives of their own, and I’m simply along for the ride.

So let’s start figuring out how you can slow down even just a little bit and remind your life who exactly IS in charge.

STOP

That’s right. Stop. Halt. Veg Out. Lay like broccoli (movie reference! Name that movie in the comments for extra credit).

We give our kids a Time Out.
We tell our dogs to Take a Break.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself the same things!

Stopping what we are doing, even for a minute (60 seconds), gives us room to regroup.
Just stepping back and not typing on your keyboard for a minute allows your mind to reset.
Taking a moment to remove yourself from an overwhelming situation allows your body to calm down.

Putting everything down for even just one minute of time sends a signal to your physical and mental selves that you are resetting your focus, relaxing your tight muscles, and regrouping on your situation.

Have you ever been driving your car and been so lost in thought – your to do list, what someone said to you in a meeting, that email that you haven’t returned, what you are going to do with the kids this weekend – that all of a sudden you see a red light up ahead and you slam on the breaks to make sure you don’t run it?

The process of putting on the car break and stopping for that red light brings you back to where you are. What you are doing. Stops the chatter in your head. Maybe even refocuses your attention to the awesome song that is on the radio and reminds you that you have always wanted to sing this song during a karaoke session.

And then you smile. At that thought of singing your favorite song in front of others. Because you’ll be awesome. And that music scout in the audience will come up afterward and ask why you haven’t recorded yet. Then they will sign you and you’ll go on tour with your favorite band.

See how that red light made you stop and refocus?

Just pause and bring yourself back to the present. Back to positive. Back to control. Back to sanity.

Can it be that easy you ask?

Yes. Try it right now. Stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and stop everything you are doing for 5 seconds. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

You did it. You stopped. You have proven to yourself that you CAN DO THIS. Don’t get yourself all wired up over the idea that you have to stop for an hour. Or a day. Or every day for a specific time.

There is no process, procedure, goal, major research, preparation or podcast you have to do before you simply just stop. You don’t schedule this in your calendar. You don’t get up early to make this happen.

There is no gear you need to buy. No one you need to explain yourself too. No cost involved.

You. Just. Stop.

When things feel like they are getting the best of you. When things are stressing you out. When you feel like you aren’t moving fast enough – or moving too fast.

Simply take a moment, let yourself just sit there, close your eyes (as long as you aren’t driving or walking across the street) and stop.

Count to 10. Stare at a tree. Cuddle your pet. Water your plant. Drink a glass of water. Go outside for a few moments. Enjoy your break.

BREATHE

Habit stack alert!!  Remind yourself quickly what habit stacking means

We get overwhelmed because we have too much to do. And, while we multitask our work/personal lives every day, we rarely look for opportunities to do multiple well-being habits at the same time.

I think we believe that taking time out for our well-being has to be hard in order for us to be successful. 

We identified the first step of slowing down is to just STOP. Now, I’d like you to add another quick action to your stop time.

I want you to take a few deep breaths. Just that. Stop and breathe.

Breathing is the anchor to your boat named overwhelm.

Like stopping, this is not some action that needs preplanning. In fact, we breathe all the time. You are doing it right now. Look at that!

Breathing does not require research. Breathing does not require goal setting. Breathing does not require a plan of action.

Breathing simply requires that you stop for a moment, take a big inhale from your abdomen, move that breath through your body, then exhale all that air out.

Yes, sure, you can do elaborate breathing exercises that will only help develop your ability to stop, reset, become more calm, create more clarity, save you from an embarrassing situation.

But the breathing I’m talking about is simply taking a few deep breaths during your stop time.

Try it now. Sit up straight (but relaxed). You will close your eyes in a moment, but read your directions first. I want you to put your hands on your abdomen. This is where you will start your inhale. You will then inhale through your nose to the count of 4. Then, when that breath is up in your brain, let it sit there for a moment, then exhale loudly through your mouth. Or quietly. It doesn’t matter. Just use that breath to clean yourself out.

OK – close your eyes and take a deep breath. When done, open them.

You did it!! You stopped. You breathed.

How do you feel? A bit more relaxed? Calmer? Clearer? A bit lightheaded? Reset? Like you want to do that again?

Do it again!! Fun, right?!

When you feel overwhelmed, when things are moving too fast, when you start to feel yourself spiral out of control Stop. Breathe.

If you are at all interested in trying some other breathing exercises that move you even further into that calm space where you reconnect to your anchor, take a look here

SLEEP

Sleep is a bit more complex a topic than stopping and breathing. Because telling you right now to go to bed, or go to bed earlier, or get 7-9 hours of sleep every night (if you don’t already) is much harder than telling you to stop quickly and take a deep breath.

But sleep is the single best thing you can do for your physical and mental health.

Let me list a few benefits/areas of enhancement you’ll see from getting a good night sleep:
– More productive in the morning
– Memory
– Learning
– Muscle and brain repair
– Boosts creativity
– Resilience
– Emotional Health
– Decreased stress

Just to name a few. But honestly, who wouldn’t want a little bit more of even just a few things on that list?

Plus, for the record, sleeping is awesome. You are comfy. You are relaxed. You are off your computer. You forget about your worries. Who doesn’t like sleep?

Getting a good night sleep is the antidote to chronic overwhelm.

And here we are again – getting overwhelmed and anxious about getting a good night sleep.

OK, listen up. Here is a tried and true list of items that will help you get a better night sleep. I promise that at least one of these things WILL help you. You just have to DO at least one of these things.

  • Bedtime Routine. You have them for your kids – in fact you probably had one when you were a kid. So why don’t you have one of your own as an adult? Bedtime routines, when kept consistent, teach your brain/body that it’s time to relax. It’s time to shut down. They help prepare you for the ultimate reset. Here’s an example: Shut your technology down an hour before you are heading to bed. Get a cup of herbal tea (chamomile, peppermint, lavendar). Drink said tea while winding down with your loved ones (partner, dog, cat, hopefully kids are in bed already). Then an hour later, head to bed. Once in bed, get all comfy. I like to use this nighttime cream (mix of lavender and melatonin and I am an affiliate because I love this stuff so much!) to help me relax (rub on bottom of feet for best effect). But you do you. Grab a good book. Read a chapter. Then settle down. Take 5 deep breaths. Routines create habits. Habits create change.
  • Stop Working! Seriously, stop working right up to the moment you fall into bed. And, for that matter, stop working when you get in bed and want to read just one more email before you go to sleep. People! The world will live without you for 7 hours. I promise. People do it all the time. I do it and yet here I am – still writing this blog for you. Amazing, right? I get it – global organizations, responsibilities, urgencies, yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, that stuff is real.  But here’s a fact: People, work, life – will go on without you while you get a good rest, and then will be happy they did because you will be so much better/happier/creative/strategic/less stressed when you respond to them after a good night sleep. But how do you stop working?? A few great ideas here.
  • Room Setup. Make your bedroom your sanctuary. Someplace you can hardly wait to enter. Make your bed as comfortable as possible with a good mattress, warm bedding and an awesome pillow. Make things dark. Make things cool. Maybe need some white noise? Or a beautiful lava lamp? Make the idea of snuggling down in this heaven the only thing you can hardly wait to do every night. No joke – the most expensive piece of furniture Rj and I have in our home is our mattress. We love our mattress. We never want to leave our mattress. And because responsibility seems to enter our bedroom in the morning, we get up, but when it comes time to get back into bed? We run! We get excited! We can’t wait! Make your bedroom a place where you feel safe, supported, comfy and relaxed – because when you are safe, supported, comfy and relaxed, you will get a good night sleep.

If you have followed me for a while, I’m sure that this list looks familiar. Because the fact of the matter is that taking a moment to rest, deep breathing and getting a restful night sleep are the cornerstones to just about every change you want to make in your life. Better health? Better productivity at work? Better relationships?

Stop. Breathe. Rest. Then move forward.

In addition to the list above, I’d like to add a few other ideas for you to reinforce calmness when overwhelmed:
– Take time out for a hobby. Nothing like beating up some clay to help you relax!
– Manicure/Pedicure/Facial/Massage – yes. please.
– Light a candle in your workspace – maybe a relaxing scent
– Go for a quick walk outside 
– Meet a friend/partner for lunch
– Turn your music up and lose yourself in your favorite song for a few moments

We all have the ability to control our minds, our bodies and our lives. When things start feeling out of control, stop and breathe. Show that overwhelm who’s boss. Then get a good night sleep so this feeling of control extends to a new day.

Do you have something you do to help you slow down when you feel overwhelmed? I’d love to hear what that is, as would my other readers, so please feel free to share in the comments below.

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