Tag Archives: stress

Knowing the Signs

A big part of the way we care for ourselves is to simply pay attention. One of the consequences of the frenzied pace that many of us run at is that we do a lot of things, but we don’t necessarily do those things in ways that allow us to be fully present.  Think about your typical day- how much of it is on autopilot? Probably a significant amount. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might mean that we are less able to recognize when something is “off” with us. As a general practice, its important to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Doing this allows us to have awareness of how we are doing, and if we need to make some changes in order to be well. Maybe you find yourself “going through the motions” from time to time. If so, keep reading!

Take the time to do a full inventory. For some folks, the easiest place to start is the body. Take a moment and mentally scan your body from head to toe: does anything hurt, feel tight, tingly, or out of line? Have you recently been having an increase in headaches, stomach pains, digestive issues, or trouble sleeping? I often tell my clients that our bodies have a way of telling on us. While cognitively we might be able to push through, our bodies often reveal the stress we are carrying around and not managing. Why is this the case? It’s physiology. Our bodies respond to physical, interpersonal, and emotional stress by secreting a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is GREAT for managing physical stressors: it temporarily grants us keener vision, greater strength, speed to run, and the ability to ignore typical human needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep. That’s why we see stories of parents lifting wrecked cars to save their children, and people not realizing they’ve been burned as they run from a burning building after saving someone. However, most of our stressors are not physical in nature. And the same chemical that helps us to respond most efficiently to physical threats poses great dangers to our internal organs and bodily processes when exposure is prolonged. As a consequence, our bodies simply “tell on us” when we are under a lot of stress.  So, don’t ignore physical symptoms– they might be a sign it’s time to make a change!

Mentally, have you been feeling lost, unorganized, or distracted? Do you have difficulty making decisions or keeping up with basic tasks? Do you find it takes you longer to complete things or that you are generally unproductive? Emotionally, have you had a short fuse lately? Do you feel sad, frustrated, or overwhelmed? Have you been worrying a lot, or feel like your thoughts are racing so fast it’s hard for you to keep up with them? Any one of these experiences could clue you in that something is off. When we are overwhelmed, we are less able to manage our emotions and there is less stability in our thought lives. Trying to juggle too many responsibilities at one time often leaves us unable to do anything well; you know the saying: “Jack of all trades, ace of none”.

Spiritually, people might feel unfocused and disconnected. There is a sense of dryness or a lack of excitement or energy. You might feel hopeless or helpless, wondering how to move forward. You might be feeling that God has forgotten about you or lack a sense of direction.

I have a simple message for you: don’t ignore the signs! When you start to feel off kilter, it is not simply a time to press through. Keep going, but you may need to do so with caution. A while ago, I provided some steps on how to manage crisis situations in the Stop, Drop, and Roll post. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, check there first! If you don’t feel your situation is as dire, or if you’ve already read the post mentioned above, here are some suggestions.

First; prioritize and refocus your activities. This could be a process you complete with daily tasks, or with longer term goals in your life. Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a simple system for making efficient decisions in wartime. He looked at tasks in terms of two intersecting dimensions: Importance and Urgency. Categorizing tasks in this way helps you to figure out how to make decisions between competing responsibilities and demands.

– task that are both important and urgent should go to the top of your list. You need to deal with these right away!

– tasks that are important but not urgent can become long term goals. You might be able to break these into some smaller tasks that can be more easily managed.

– tasks that are urgent, but not important require you to make a critical decision about whether this task is something that you need to complete at all. Is it your job to do? Will not doing it result in a crisis? Can the deadline pass, with the task left undone, without anything terrible happening?

– tasks that are neither urgent nor important……need I say more? Let it GO!

Second, develop a plan of action. Break large goals into smaller goals with clear deadlines. Ask for help if you need to. Do an inventory of the resources you need to be successful.

Third, pick one or two self-care practices to engage in. They can be simple: taking a walk every couple of hours, connecting with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, spending some time reading a book or doing an activity you love, etc. Often, self-care is the first thing to go when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But it’s important to keep these practices going! If you don’t engage in self-care, eventually you will run out of steam and you won’t be able to get anything done. It’s important to take care of you.

Hopefully, this helps as all to pay attention to ourselves and take good care of US. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

 

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An Educated “Yes”

Lots of us in the world have a problem with the word “yes.” We say it too much! Most of us like being helpful, but sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where we have offered more than we are reasonably able to give. Often, it comes from a good, but sometimes dysfunctional place. First, I want to explore some of the reasons we might have a “yes” problem, and then I’ll offer some simple strategies for pulling back.

Many of us say yes because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no. Maybe we would disappoint the person who asked, or they would be mad at us, or worse, they would end the relationship. Whether we are talking about friends, romantic relationships, family relationships, or even work colleagues, a lot of us have a hard time tolerating when people are unahppy with us. So, we try to avoid those moments where we might upset the people we care about. The desire to avoid rejection is a powerful motivator!

We also get “rewards” for saying yes. People pat us on the back and say we did a good job. They use nice words to describe us such as “dependable, hard worker” They might even tell us how much they appreciate all we do. The tricky part, however, is that people are creatures of habit. So the more you say yes, the more prone you are to say yes before thinking, and the more people assume that you will say yes. If this pattern continues, a dynamic can develop where they are always asking and you are always saying yes. When a relationship is one-sided, or you say yes in times when it costs you more than you are really willing to give, it becomes a problem.  When saying yes causes you to over-extend yourself or deny your own needs, it is probably coming from an unhealthy place. Over time, you might start to focus less on your own needs to begin with, and develop a self-sacrificing or “savior” complex in your relationships. You have the right to protect your time, your space, and your spirit. In healthy relationships, you don’t have to let those things go completely.

Not sure if you say yes too much? Ask yourself some questions:

Are there times when you want to say no, but anxiety and fear cause you to go back on that first hunch?

Are you concerned that if you stop meeting a person’s requests, they will reject you or spend less time with you?

Do you have relationships where people feel comfortable asking your for things, but when you ask for something people often say no?

Would you describe yourself as a “caretaker” who prides themselves on making the lives of others easier?

Do you put your own concerns or desires on the back burner to make sure you can follow through with requests made of you by others?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider working to make an “educated yes” rather than an “automatic yes.” Notice, that I’m not suggesting that you say “no”. There are times when that might be the best choice, but this isn’t just about saying no, because there are times when a “yes” is just right. However, this is about making active decisions rather than doing things out of habit. I am encouraging you to think carefully about when, how, and to whom you say yes. When someone makes a request of you, there are some things to consider:

  • do I want to do this/am I willing to do this?
  • how much time or energy will this cost me?
  • am I willing to expend the time and energy it will take?
  • can I do it in a time frame the works for me and the requestor?

If your answers to these questions lead you to “no,” Don’t be afraid to say it! It might feel weird. That’s OK. The requestor might be unhappy. That’s ok too! Just because someone is unhappy with a choice that you’ve made, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice! And if you have made a choice that is supportive of your own sanity, you will thank yourself later. If no feels like a little to much, try a delay tactic: “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” This gives you time to really think about your answer before jumping in.

Hopefully, this helps you to give an educated yes, rather than one motivated by fear or habit. Healthy relationships allow people to set their own boundares without worry about the consequences.  Next time someone makes a request of you, think before you answer!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

One Step at A Time

Recently I was meeting with mentor of mine, and I was telling her about the mayhem that has been the last few months of my life. As we talked, she shared that her strategy for managing when she feels overwhelmed is this: “One Step at a Time.” It doesn’t really seem like a ground breaking revelation, and I’m sure I’ve heard the phrase before. But for some reason, at that time, it really resonated with me. Think about all the times you are simultaneously trying to manage many things all at once. How often are you successful at managing all those things the way you want to? I’ll answer for myself: very infrequently.

So, I had been thinking about this simple suggestion: One Step at a Time… and then, I heard a podcast, that solidified the concept for me.  The episode is title “Deep Work” and a researcher/computer scientist named Cal Newport explores the detriments of multitasking and the benefits of engaging in “Deep Work” where we focus our attention completely on one thing. Check it out here: Deep Work.

Anyway, so the combination of these two ideas really got me thinking about how we can work smarter, not harder, when it comes to managing the daily tasks of our lives. What if, instead of tackling everything all the time, we tackle one thing for a period of time, do well, and then move onto the next thing? When I think about the times I have felt most stressed and overwhelmed, they typically revolve around me having “too many things to do” and not enough time to do them in. Typically, to get myself out of that place, I have to make some radical decisions about priorities, even if that decision is only temporary. We can find ourselves in this situation for a number of different reasons. Sometimes, we have a YES problem:

“Can you help with this event?”   Yes.

“Can you run this errand for me?”  Yes.

“Can you sacrifice your own happiness to make my life easier?” Yes.

Don’t get me wrong; sometimes,  it’s great to say yes. Many of us want to be helpful and we all like to feel like we are giving something to others in our community. However, when we say yes without thinking, we can end up in situations that leave us taking on more than we can reasonably handle. So, before you say yes, ask yourself: “Given all my responsibilities right now, can I commit to this the way I would like to?” If the answer is no, govern yourself accordingly. A bigger issue (for another post coming soon!) is the internal explanations we give for saying yes all the time, often because we are afraid of what would happen if we said no.

Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed because we don’t manage our time well.  How often do you sit down and plan out your day before you start it? How often do you find yourself flipping through social media and before you know it, an hour has gone by? How often do you give yourself an estimate of how long a task will take before you start it? If these questions have you stumped, do a little experiment. Write down your schedule for the WHOLE WEEK- all 7 days.  What do you notice you’re spending your time on? Are you ok with your answer?

Other times, we are overwhelmed because emotionally, spiritually, or mentally, we are just not equipped to manage all the tasks in front of us. Here’s where the “One Step At a Time” piece comes in. It’s ok to prioritize. Don’t try to take on the world if you don’t have to. Write a list of all the things on your plate right now, and categorize each of them in two ways: important/not important and urgent/not urgent. This system will help your prioritize. Once the tasks are categorized, you can prioritize them in this order:

  1. Important AND Urgent
  2. Urgent and Not Important – Do you need to do this at all?
  3. Important and Not Urgent
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important- Do you need to do this a all?

So, when you settle down to tackle the first thing that is both urgent and important, mentally commit yourself to that thing. If it’s a project at work (and it’s feasible for you), take a break from checking email, looking at your phone, or chatting with coworkers for a set period of time.  If it’s a life project, (weight loss, managing your finances, etc), tackle that thing, and get to a benchmark point before you take on anthing else. In other words, it may not the best idea to start your plans to lose 50 pounds, raise your credit score 200 points, and double your devotional time ALL at once. Focused attention helps us to commit more fully, be more successful, and feel happier overall. When we try to do too much at one time, it’s easy to feel swept away by the winds of life, holding onto anything you can. This isn’t sustainable for a fulfilling life in the long term. Try deep work to build some deep roots!

So, let’s start simple.  What is the most important goal you have for yourself right now? Think about the things you are doing to currently work on it– are they working? Consider a shift in strategy- focus your attention and energy on this goal, and give yourseelf a specific target to reach. Think about ways you can commit yourself more fully to this goal. When you’ve reached that target, you can move on to the next thing!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!