Tag Archives: stress

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Enough is enough: Seven steps to get you out of overwhelm

Last year sucked. You felt like you were running on a treadmill you could never get off: Kids to get to school; work with its endless demands; food to prepare, washing to do, collapse into bed exhausted; wake up and repeat. You’ve lost yourself in there somewhere.

But, hey, it’s a new year and tomorrow is a new day. It’s time to make a change and no one is going to do it for you. Taking responsibility for your own wellbeing is scary – but in the end it’s the path to freedom. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Here’s how:

  1. Set time aside to take stock. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. You’re overloaded. You don’t have time to stop and think about things. Well it’s time to stop using that as an excuse for not looking after yourself. There is always going to be more to do in life than you can fit in. But you’ve only got one life, so spend it on the things that matter to you. Believe me, once you step away you’ll wonder why you thought all those things were so important anyway. Set aside some time and go somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, or talk to a trusted friend or coach. Ask yourself the hard questions: What is not working in my life right now? In my heart of hearts, what do I really want to do about it? You may not like the answers you come up with, but stick with it – maybe that’s just fear talking.
  2. Look at the big picture. If something is feeling off in your life it’s important to take a step back and look at your life as a whole. Sometimes discontent in one area of your life can show up as problems in another area. Work through the Circle of Life exercise, which can be downloaded from my website here. Is your life in balance? What area is the source of dissatisfaction? What could you do to improve your levels of satisfaction in that area of your life?
  3. What is your why? Not everyone is driven by a particular passion, but if you lack a sense of purpose in life it can feel as if you are just treading water. Take a look back over your life – things that you’ve loved doing and things that you’ve hated. Can you see any pattern? Is there a particular type of activity that you are drawn to? Does this coincide with how you earn your living? If it doesn’t, are there ways you can bring that passion into your work and increase your job satisfaction? Even having a clearer understanding of what drives you can help reduce overwhelm by helping you focus your efforts on things that matter to you.
  4. Check in with your values. What values are fundamental to you? Maybe you value health and wellbeing, balance, or spirituality. Or maybe you need to have ambition, success, or recognition in your life to feel satisfied. If you’re not sure how to identify your values get in touch with me and we can work through it together. Are your values being met by your work or lifestyle? Are there any values that are in conflict? Maybe this is causing stress in your life. Understanding the values that are important to you helps you choose work and a lifestyle that meets your needs. When values are in conflict we may experience a deep sense of discomfort that makes life seem like hard work. Just understanding where that discomfort comes from can make a big difference to your sense of satisfaction in life.
  5. How healthy are your boundaries? If you are constantly pulled around by other people’s demands and you struggle to get your own work done because of it, you may need to look at your boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries and learning how to say no is really important in this day and age where demands are constant and information floods our senses. It can be challenging to assert your own needs in a way that doesn’t come across as aggressive, but it can be done. Think about any relationship where things don’t feel quite right: are you able to balance your own needs with those of the other person? Could you be clearer in asserting your boundaries so interactions don’t leave you feeling drained? Setting boundaries around things like use of social media or TV watching can also help reduce overwhelm. Ask yourself how much of that activity is as actually beneficial to you, and how much is draining. Then find ways to stick to the limits you set yourself.
  6. Get out of the busy trap. Your mind is running so fast that even when you don’t have much on you can’t relax. That’s the busy buzz of a constant adrenaline high. If you don’t give your body and mind time and space to relax and repair you’re on the fast track to burn out. The first few times you stop ‘doing’ and just ‘be’ you’re likely to find it really uncomfortable. That’s OK. Relaxing takes practice if you’re out of the habit. Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to do something that helps you wind down. A gentle walk in nature. A hot bath. Or listen to a meditation. There are lots of ways to learn simple mindfulness techniques that will train your brain to focus and relax more easily. You’ll find some of my favourites here on my website.
  7. Make a plan. Now you can see what the problem is, and you’ve got a better idea of which areas of your life need some renovating, so take some time to make a plan. Create a vision for where you want to get to. Plan out the steps you need to take to get you closer to that ideal. Pick a short term goal that is achievable and break it down into action points. How do you keep yourself working towards what you really want in life? Keep your vision current and visible. Celebrate the successes as you make progress. Notice what pushes you off track and deal with it, but don’t punish yourself. It’s OK to adjust goals and plans as you go, and nothing has to be perfect. Consistent, imperfect action will get you there more quickly than procrastinating until you feel fully prepared.

Getting out of overwhelm is not easy, especially if your stress levels are affecting your health. I know: I’ve been there. It’s a downward spiral. To make the change you need to seek support. Once you open up about your struggles you’ll find many of your friends and colleagues have been there too, and many have suffered serious physical or mental health issues as a result.

Don’t let that be you.

I’d love to know if you found this article helpful, if you have a question, or need a hand. Contact me on lisa@lifelab.co.nz, +64 21 1851248, or check out my website www.lifelab.co.nz. If you’re ready for some coaching, get in touch to book in for a free, no obligation assessment.

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Feel the fear and do it anyway

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and it’s many variations and subtleties. As someone affected by excess anxiety, I’m trying to learn more about what fear means to me, what it feels like, and what it does to my body. I’ve discovered that the key to overcoming fear is to understand it, recognize it as it comes along, and accept it without fighting it. Ride the wave of fear rather than be dragged under, then dissipate the energy of fear so the tension is not stored in your body. That all sounds lovely, but what does this really mean?

How do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

Firstly, lets look at what fear actually is. From an evolutionary perspective its a vital emotion that developed to save our life when confronted by prehistoric dangers. Our senses pick up the danger, our brain interprets this based on our prior knowledge and kicks the fear response into action. This results in a burst of energy, heightened awareness, increased blood-flow to our muscles and reduced blood-flow to non-essential functions such as digestion. This process stimulates parts of our body needed for immediate action, and downgrades parts that are not needed. Great for immediate responses to physical danger, but not so useful in today’s high-pressure world filled with psychological stressors. Repeatedly entering this state of fear, without sufficient recovery time, can lead to chronic stress, digestive problems, food intolerances, adrenal fatigue and emotional burnout.

That’s what happened to me two years ago.

At the time I didn’t understand what was happening, hadn’t heard of adrenal fatigue, and struggled to find support to get me through. As I did more research and observed and experimented myself (my business isn’t called LifeLab for nothing!), the picture became clearer. I’ve since found many others who support my own observations of what works to avoid or manage the effects of chronic fear. I have links to some of these on my Resources page and in my blogs.

What have I discovered? First notice and understand the fear, then practice choosing a different way of being in response to the feeling of fear. Open up to it and let it wash through without responding to it. Accept the presence of fear without judgement. This practice retrains your neural pathways ( ie changes your brain www.nicabm.com) to change the habitual response to fear. Then it gets easier and easier to feel the fear and do it anyway. As I learn to understand and identify the sensation of fear in my mind and my body I get better at understanding cause and effect. I can then adjust my self-management to deal with it appropriately day-by-day, minimizing the long-term effects.

What doesn’t work is to clamp down on fear. or tell yourself off for being afraid, as our culture tends to encourage us to do. This stops the physiological response from dissipating and the tension gets stored in your body. It can also undermine your self confidence, increasing the fear of taking on new challenges and perpetuating the cycle.

I recently came across an interview on SoundsTrue.com with Dr Friedeman Schaub, who beautifully explained the ins and outs of what it means to deal with fear and anxiety, and offers some solutions. What he said resonated with my own observations: you’ve got keep digging until you understand whats at the root of your fear, then make peace with that. If you want to know more, check out his website, The Fear and Anxiety Solution. (Please note, that I am not endorsing his products or services, nor am I benefiting in any way from including this link, but I do agree with his approach).

Why should we all get better at understanding the role fear plays in our lives? Cutting back on the toll chronic stress is taking on our most efficient and productive workers is a biggie. Once I started owing up to my own struggles I realised that these issues were affecting many people around me to a greater or lesser degree.

What are we doing to ourselves, our families and our colleagues by struggling through?

Another huge benefit for me has been learning to be true to who I am, and loving that person enough to share her with the world. I’ve found living more authentically to be hugely satisfying. In finding ways to be more authentic I’ve discovered a new career in coaching, work that fits my interests and skills and which encourages me to keep finding ways to stay true to who I am. By owning up to and dealing with my underlying fears I’ve re-designed my life and found balance and joy. Are you ready to face up to your own fears and come and join me?

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Be the observer

Coaching can be a profound experience for many people, as they are given the tools and support to really look themselves in the eye, own up to their strengths and weaknesses and make changes in their life from the inside out. How else can you overcome challenges and really fulfill your own potential?

Just think what you could achieve in life if your self-imposed limits didn’t hold you back from even trying?

I believe we all have the strength inside to achieve this kind of change, but so often we take on board the criticisms and judgements that make us feel we can’t, that we’re not good enough, that we lack some necessary quality. The key to letting go of our limits is to understand that we can separate ourselves from our behaviour and emotions, step back for a bigger view, and choose to do things differently. It’s not easy. It takes courage. But it is possible, and coaching can help.

By becoming the observer of our own behaviour it’s easier to be compassionate with ourselves when we say something stupid, or make a mistake. Mentally step back, notice what just happened, congratulate yourself for being brave enough to get out there and fail, forgive the failure, and try again. Or throw your hands in the air and shout ‘How Fascinating!’, like Ben Zander in my favourite book, The Art of Possibility (Rozamund and Benjamin Zander, Penguin Books, 2000).

Compassion and forgiveness undermine the self-judgement that keeps us small. They give us the courage to own up to our normal, human failings, and see ourselves as worthy and able. Self-judgement is a poisonous contributor to worry and anxiety. Along with rumination (the habit of over-analysing past events and future scenarios), self-judgement turns pressure into stress. Pressure is not the cause of stress, but the way we respond to pressure in our minds triggers emotions and physiological responses that are the symptoms of stress. How do we stop feeling stressed? We change the way we respond to pressure. How? By not getting caught up in rumination, and by practicing self-compassion.

If you’re anything like I used to be, you’ll be thinking: ‘Yeah, right. My mind has a life of its own. It just chatters away and there’s nothing I can do about it, especially when I’m under so much pressure.’

I get it. Luckily there is a massive historical body of knowledge and an increasingly popular modern movement teaching us how to change these mental habits, manage stress and improve how our mind works. It’s called mindfulness, and it can be approached from the lessons of ancient spiritual traditions (such as Buddhism, where the concepts originated over 2000 years ago), or from a secular and scientific perspective with tools such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the findings of neurobiology. There are even apps to help get you there, such as Headspace.

If you find it tough to get your head around this, how about an analogy:

Your mind is a computer, evolved to run programs that maximise your chance of survival and reproduction. Your nervous system and hormonal systems are extensions of this computer that translate stimulus into action in your body.

To be honest, your operating system is a bit out of date – it was designed before the invention of agriculture. Some of the programs you’re running are not necessarily state-of-the-art either. There’s this one triggered by fear called Fight-or-Flight, which worked really well when you had to run away from sabre-toothed tigers, but is not so great when fear comes from ‘constructive’ criticism, imminent deadlines, or too many emails.

To patch up this error, your highly adaptable mind uses its most powerful program, Critical Analysis, to talk yourself down from the fear response (‘what did I do wrong?’, I shouldn’t respond like that’, ‘it’s not worth getting stressed about it’, and so on). This Self-Talk subroutine can easily get stuck in a loop called Rumination (apologies to any computer programmers out there for abusing the terminology – it’s ok, it’s just an analogy!).

Our minds also have this special feature called Virtual Reality, which is pretty awesome when properly managed. But, as we use Critical Analysis and Rumination on an event, we imagine it happening in full-on technicolour Virtual Reality. Our bodies respond as if it were happening now, triggering the fear response. Staying in this fear zone causes chronic stress, and can lead to burnout.

Mindfulness is an update to the Critical Analysis program that breaks this cycle. Hey, if Google has already upgraded, then it must work, right!

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