In this week’s Mindful Moment, I encourage you to focus mentally on what you want…
Are you being asked to do too much?
Do you find yourself being pulled in multiple directions, putting out one fire after another at home and work? Do you feel caught up in the rat race? Does this feeling leave you overwhelmed, exhausted, and depleted, with no energy left for anything else? It is like you are a zombie in the walking dead going through the motions of day-to-day life with no zest or fulfillment.
The Harris Poll conducted an annual American stress level survey in March 2022. It concluded that 87% of American adults feel emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant stream of crises without a break over the last two years (American Psychological Association, 2022)
A similar report from Indeed found that employee burnout is rising: 52% of all workers feel burned out. Millennials and Gen Z report 59% and 58%, respectively. (Kelly, 2021) I have mentored corporate executives and leaders for over fifteen years. The continued barrage of emotional, mental, and physical challenges that the global pandemic brought to an already existing society struggling with balance and sanity was catastrophic.
High-stress levels were no stranger to Dave, an extraordinarily successful COO of a mid-size cybersecurity company. When I started working with Dave, he shared that he “thrived in high pressure situations, but the crushing pressures have become very acute” (his words). The stress induced by a sense of being overwhelmed created agitation and aggravation continually.
Dave was constantly angry, disappointed, and frustrated at someone or something. He struggled to fall asleep, using alcohol or cannabis to turn “the machine off” (his brain). Then Dave also struggled to stay asleep, which led to a lack of focus and concentration at work. When he was home, he felt guilty for not working, and when Dave was at work, he felt like he needed to get home. Everyone and everything required a piece of Dave.
Many business professionals feel just like Dave these days. A recent Boston University School of Public Health study states that one in every three adults experiences some form of anxiety. (McKoy, 2021)
Since the pandemic, I have seen a rise in successful professionals sharing that they are experiencing more anxious and worrisome thoughts. These thoughts consume more bandwidth and make it difficult to be productive at work and balance all the hats people must wear, personally and professionally. This leads to feeling overwhelmed and the perception of “not enough time in the day” feeling.
This was how Mia, a Senior Vice President of a talent acquisition company, felt when I met her in 2021. She felt like there was never enough time in the day to do all she needed to accomplish. Her days were not her own. Such a mindset made her feel exhausted, mentally and emotionally drained, and not have enough energy for the things she loved. Can you relate to Dave or Mia?
Here are five tools that are simple and easy to help reduce stress levels that lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed:
LIVE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
This moment lays the foundation for all other emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. By cultivating a practice of living in the here and now, you can better recognize when you are getting stressed and take action to reduce your stress.
One of my favorite exercises to become mindful of the present moment is the 54321 exercise. This technique has become widely used because it helps build focus and awareness. (Norman, 2017)
You begin by quietly telling yourself five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
This exercise helps you focus on precisely what is happening in the present and keeps your mind engaged and paying attention to what you are currently experiencing. According to neuroscientists, we spend 50% of our waking hours mind wandering. Recognize that this is how you are innately wired, so be patient and gentle with yourself. Being aware that your mind has wandered is a moment of being mindful and considered a small victory in releasing feelings of overwhelming.
Like anything that is practiced, you get better at it!
Observing through your senses is a great way to fully immerse yourself in the present moment. This tool is the foundation on which all the other tools are built.
The following tool to assist in reducing the stress of feeling overwhelmed is one of the most popular.
When we think of being overwhelmed, we allow ourselves to be consumed by past, present, and future events.
We are trying not to repeat something in the past, heading off the possible future catastrophe and moving at the speed of light in the present to get to the next task and the next task.
TAKE A MOMENT TO STOP
When such a feeling is eating up your bandwidth, I encourage clients to take a moment to STOP (Goldstein, 2013). This acronym is a quick check-in.
You are just taking a moment to be with what is occurring. You’re not trying to analyze or fix anything.
When you take this moment to STOP, you assist yourself in letting go of the entanglement or attachment. When you take that mindful pause, you can better prioritize what needs your attention. You release the solid inner critical voice of what should be done, and you can focus on what needs to get done.
You are training your mind all the time. Why not teach it to be aware and tune in to the thoughts it creates, the emotions you feel, and the bodily sensations both illicit?
Research has repeatedly shown that you can build new circuitry and neural pathways to support healthier choices to respond to life experiences instead of reacting.
BE AWARE OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
Be especially aware of those habitual thoughts that sabotage and anchor in the feeling of overwhelm. We are wired to be negative. Negative thoughts lodge immediately into long-term memory, whereas a positive one must be held in our awareness for 12 to 20 seconds to create a long-term memory. (Salgado, 2016)
Our emotions create thoughts that create perceptions. Perceptions are, most of the time, not factual. Recognize those negative tape loops played over and over in your mind.
They are not facts. They are perceptions that continue to search for supportive data in your life experience. That is the age-old proverb do you see a glass half full or half empty?
To mindfully process deep emotions that anchor in negative thoughts, there are six steps you can practice to assist in dealing with difficult emotions. To be brief, you want to first turn toward the emotions and allow them to be present, then with a feeling of acceptance, and as best you can, identify the emotion and where you feel it in the body. For instance, mindfully saying to yourself, “This is overwhelming.” You may find that several emotions bubble up. Don’t deny whatever you experience. Allow it to be felt, acknowledge, accept, and realize that all feelings are impermanent. Emotions arise, stay for a bit and subside.
Even if the emotion feels overwhelming, remember it will pass. Then, with compassion and kindness, ask yourself questions like: “What triggered me?” “What is causing me to feel this way?” “What is the worse thing I am believing?” “Is this true?” Is this a pattern that keeps arising?” Lastly, let go of the need to control your emotions. Be open to the outcome and what unfolds as you step outside yourself.
SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
A great deal of wisdom comes from exploring your emotions and their correlation to your thoughts and physicality. You can begin setting healthy boundaries as you gain clarity on what is causing you to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. It’s a beautiful attribute to be of service. But there is a distinction between giving yourself and giving to be felt, acknowledge, accept, and realize that all feelings are impermanent. Emotions arise, stay for a bit and subside. Even if the emotion feels overwhelming, remember it will pass. Then, with compassion and kindness, ask yourself questions like: “What triggered me?” “What is causing me to feel this way?” “What is the worse thing I am believing?” “Is this true?” Is this a pattern that keeps arising?” Lastly, let go of the need to control your emotions. Be open to the outcome and what unfolds as you step outside yourself. up yourself. It is okay to say no. As you develop an understanding of self, you can recognize if this is occurring and causing the feeling of guilt or obligation. If you are doing tasks for all the wrong reasons, are you of service?
When you practice healthy boundaries, you encourage others to do the same.
RELAX AND RESET
Taking a “mindful pause” throughout your day can be twice as productive and gain clarity. For instance, something as simple as taking a break to sip a cup of tea or coffee or regulating the cortisol and serotonin levels in the brain.
We have all had those “aha” moments when we take our minds off our daily tasks, and suddenly the solution pops to mind. When we give our bodies a moment to relax, we change our nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight), which invokes stress, to parasympathetic, which gives way to the relaxation response.
In close, hopefully, now equipped with these five tools, you can better regulate your stress levels and avoid the triggers that produce a feeling of being overwhelmed. We often cannot control our outer world experiences but can control how we respond to them!
American Psychological Association. (2022). Stress In America. Washington DC:
American Psychological Association.
Goldstein, E. (2013, May 29). Mindful. Stressing Out? S.T.O.P.
Kelly, J. (2021, April 5). Forbes. Indeed Studies Shows That Worker Burnout Is At
Frighteningly High Levels: Here Is What You Need To Do Now.
Norman, R. (2017). Mindfulness for Beginners. Middletown DE.
Salgado, B. (2016). Real World Mindfulness. New York: Fall River Press.