Whether due to feeling refreshed from time off or revving up for resolutions, there's a lot of forward momentum at this time of year. Both personally and professionally, I'm feeling extremely ambitious right now, but I have to take care not to over extend myself. When I don't care properly for myself, I know that the work I am doing isn't my best. I speed around and multitask while not giving the important matters my full attention.
But if I take a few extra minutes here and there to assess how I'm doing and give myself a break, I'm able to spend more time on the task at hand instead of just worrying about my to do list while haphazardly completing unimportant activities to procrastinate.
Here are self care basics that help deal with any fast paced frenzy you might find yourself in. Each of these points take extra time out of what is surely a busy schedule, but they're worth it.
Make a game plan
Regardless of how many tasks are on my mental list, I don't feel at ease until I write everything down and can see my to do list in its entirety.
I try to spend fifteen minutes every Monday morning to map out what I know to expect in the coming week.
To take it a step further, if I feel like I have a lot on my plate, I rearrange the list in order of priority, cross off or move items to future dates that don't need to be completed immediately, and block off time slots for non-negotiable tasks so I can see where I might have extra time.
While I certainly see the the appeal of certain apps and digital planners, I have found that I adhere best to physically written tasks.
Especially this time of year (when I'm not the only person excitedly talking about the merits of planners), I will happily tell anyone how much I rely on and love my bullet journal.
I've been using the bullet journal method since last February and the only shortcoming I've been able to find is that the structure lacks a cohesive method to look forward to future dates. For both work and a more traditional visual layout, I just started using a Passion Planner.
Nothing stresses me out more than feeling like I'm forgetting something important, and between the two systems, I am not only more productive, but also less worried than I would be otherwise.
Let it all out
This goes hand-in-hand with creating a written plan.
Especially if you're not sure where to start and you're feeling worried or anxious, set a timer for five minutes and do a brain dump of everything on your mind. I've found that making a list is like a practice that removes my anxieties from my brain and onto the paper (like the Pensieve in Harry Potter).
Spend the next five minutes rearranging your list.
Are there items that are unnecessary? Cross them off. Are there tasks that can wait? Move those to a new list and consciously decide to put those out of your mind for now (or, even better, schedule them for future dates on your calendar).
Underline the one task you can do today that will have the most impact.
Then go do that one thing.
Nourish your body
While I know many people use this time to jump start fitness and health goals, I suggest eating healthily for a different reason.
Namely, our immune response is greatly compromised by long term stress and food happens to be the best (and cheapest) preventative medicine. I'm completely biased because food always makes its way to the top of my list (no matter what we're talking about). I always find it's best (and lots of fun) to treat yo' self...to health.
Make some quinoa. It really doesn't take that much time or energy. Blend a green smoothie. Eat a spoonful of almond butter (healthy fats!) or munch on an apple. Throw a handful of veggies in the pan with some scrambled eggs. It's totally possible to have fast, healthy meals.
As long as my stress isn't money-centric, I sometimes allow myself to splurge on nice healthy food when I'm stressed.
I'm not against comfort food, but if you know that paying someone else to make you a tasty kale salad will help you feel better, then do it. Get the expensive green juice if you have to.
Just put good things in your body as much as you can, especially while you're feeling overwhelmed.
Supplements can be great as well, but they're still no replacement for whole foods. In a pinch or while traveling, however, they'll do more good than harm if you're not sure you're getting all you need from your regular diet.
Whether for 10 minutes or an hour, move your body. Exercise is so easy to overlook, but it will help you focus.
If you know in advance that a frenzied day is coming, lay out some workout clothes and set a slightly earlier alarm. Even if all you do the next morning is 10 jumping jacks and 10 pushups, you'll be setting your whole day up for success.
If you can spare a bit more time, high intensity interval training is a good quick option to release some endorphins and feel like you've already achieved something. While it's more of time commitment, running is an excellent method to release stress, as is yoga.
Just make sure your workouts don't add to your stress (that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?). Either shorten the duration if need be, or let yourself off the hook for the day if it's adding to your stress.
Even if you don't commit to a workout, it's still important to incorporate some sort of physical activity. If you're already in the midst of an overwhelming day, make time for frequent breaks. Walk to the kitchen. Take a walk around the block. Take a break at lunch and stroll around the neighborhood, go for a quick local hike, or go home to walk your dog.
It doesn't matter how long you're moving so much as whether you are.
While sitting still seems contradictory to the last point, it really isn't.
If you do nothing else on the list, please do this, because it will likely make the most impact.
Sometimes I'm incredibly anxious simply because I won't take the time to collect my thoughts. Writing on paper helps, but so does some time alone.
No matter where you are, it's possible to do this one exercise: focus on your breath. Breathe in deeply through your nose, then slowly breathe out. Do this 3-10 times and just try to tell me you don't feel slightly better. Just a few deliberate breaths can affect your brain chemistry.
There's something of a social stigma around meditating, likely because there's some fear about "doing it correctly." But if you did the breathing in-and-out exercise, you meditated.
Meditation is a process of focusing on the breath and just noticing what comes up. It's not about "trying to get rid of thoughts," more so just recognizing the thoughts without judgment as they pass through and then redirecting your attention back to the breath.
If you can create a regular practice around meditation, even better. Like any practice, you'll become more accustomed to meditation over time.
If you still don't feel like you have the time, then I recommend listening to Yoga Nidra before bed to unwind. Yoga Nidra is meditation while lying down, almost on the verge of sleep with a slight trace of awareness.
Rod Stryker's Relax Into Greatness audio for yoga nidra was my gateway meditation, which I highly recommend. I imagine you can find the CD at your local library and listen to the files on your phone or computer like I do.
I know, it seems silly to take such indulgent time, but it's incredibly important.
Take a few minutes to appreciate your accomplishments.
You're probably feeling so anxious because you're a badass who takes on epic tasks worthy of your care. And you've probably smashed through some crazy goals with that kind of drive to succeed.
Spend just a few minutes to be thankful for all that has brought you to where you are now, both through your own actions and those out of your control. Don't let you take your situation for granted.
Sometimes terrible situations can still open up worthwhile doors of opportunity, so be grateful for those too, if you can.
Most of all, take action
All of this information is so basic, but I'm reiterating it because it's so easy to let slide. I'm certainly not the first person to point out that healthy eating and exercise are great for you.
But I can say from personal experience, as someone who is prone to getting sick and emotional in times of stress, cultivating these habits is not only helpful for getting through overwhelm but in fact essential for avoiding these anxiety pitfalls to begin with.
Remember that your pursuits should bring you an overall sense of vitality and satisfaction.
If you are constantly drained, it might be time to redirect your energies elsewhere.
Even when you're doing what you love, stress is inevitable from time to time. The next time the overwhelm hits, hopefully you'll employ at least one, if not all, of these strategies to help calm yourself.