The past couple weeks have been nuts. I work from home; I’m the mom to three girls and the days leading up to school were like none other. Even with the first day of school behind us, I still feel like I’m running a long sprint. My daughters are 14, 12 and 6 so I’m familiar with this “back to school” time – the 4-5 weeks surrounding that first day of school.
In my house, it began when the end of Summer was in sight. Each of my girls started getting nervous and made comments about dreading the new year. Their corresponding moods and needs flipped into another dimension. To each her own version, but my two older girls binged Netflix, crammed their last-minute summer reading, played way too many videogames and slept ridiculously late. My youngest was extra clingy and demanded constant attention. All three increasingly tattled on each other and talked back to me.
Then of course, there was the eye-rolling and yelling. But that was mostly me. I usually take their shenanigans in stride and have compassion for what they’re going through. But when a lot is happening and there’s no familiar routine, and stress levels are high, it’s practically impossible to roll with things like I normally do.
All of this reminded me of my many years of working in a company and the intensity of the year-end press. It felt like a long sprint – like multiple 800’s back to back. There was a lot more happening, much faster than normal, bigger numbers to hit and an all-around pressure to deliver.
I don’t mean to poo-poo times when the heat is on. I actually love so much about it. It can be thrilling – there’s a mission to win and it’s Game On. Everyone steps up and pulls together and sh*t gets done. Issues and problems get resolved quickly. And all that usual petty crap? There’s simply no time for it. So while it’s a totally intense time, it can also be a breath of fresh air and a great mood-lifter when winning is in sight.
Times like these can be exciting, and stressful. We can be on our A-Game in one moment and lose our cool the next.
The best strategy to consistently bring our A-Game is to care for our own energy levels. High-intensity times, even when they feel more exciting than stressful, can zap our energy. We need to refuel. I used to think I’d recover in a big way after it was over. Some people are great at that. It never really worked for me. I’ve found that refueling amidst the intensity is the way to feel great and be our best.
Here’s what helps to feel great and be our best in times of high stress:
1. Know your indicators of when the intensity is too much for you. For example, let’s say you’re normally pretty chill but then suddenly impatient and snippy with people, or maybe you’re reliably punctual but find yourself running late or missing meetings, or maybe you typically have a positive outlook but it seems like the world is imploding. Knowing your personal indicators for when the intensity is too much is key because, well, knowing is half the battle (thanks, GI Joe).
2. Give yourself some grace for being human, and account for your mistakes. Say “I’m sorry” when you need to and forgive yourself when you mess up. No one escapes these high-intensity times without a few scrapes of humanity. Hiding from your mistakes and hoping no one notices will only diminish your confidence and hinder your ability to be awesome.
3. Know what restores you. Be honest with yourself about this. Different things will restore us at different times of life. Sometimes it’s lying on the couch and binging your favorite show. Sometimes it’s getting sleep. Sometimes it’s catching a concert and dancing your butt off, or going to a game and cheering on your team. Sometimes it’s a vacation – or a weekend getaway – or a hike – or playing ultimate frisbee – or going for a drive and turning up the music – or just turning off the phone. Learn what restores your mind, body and soul, and do that.
4. Plan for what you need to engage with your full energy. When you see one of these high-intensity long-sprints coming your way, plan to refuel along the way.
– Be realistic. Until recently, I’d push myself 100% day in and day out, eventually running on fumes and fantasize about lots of sleep and spa treatments when it was over. That’s a lovely thought but it’s completely unrealistic. More importantly, it prevented me from doing little things along the way to restore my energy. Little breaks to refuel can be easy and require hardly any time at all, like these: go to bed a little earlier one night, ditch the family cooking and order prepared foods (or if you love cooking, do it up big time), take a bubble bath, put your feet up, go on a longer run, leave the office on time, have a slow cup of coffee.
– Be deliberate. Block time in your calendar and treat it like you would a meeting with your biggest client. Don’t mess with it.
When you’re near the finish line and you know things will soon return to a more normal pace, start thinking about what’s next. I’m not just talking about what’s already in your calendar or what people tell you is coming. The end of this kind of intensity is the perfect time to pause and think about your future… immediate or long-term. Ask yourself: “what would be fun and exciting?” and as you start imagining that, know that creating your future is yet another way to gain energy.