For me, this week has been a succession of those days. You know the ones:
Grey, rainy, hectic. More jobs to do than hours in the day. A long list of Christmas related tasks which seem to have already nudged their way into the top spots on my to do list.
We all get to that point of overwhelm at this time of year. On the outside we might look fine. We mention (often) that we’re “busy” when people ask how we are. We compare notes on just how much there is to do and console ourselves with the thought that there’s no other way to do it anyway. Somehow the joy part seems to pass us by as we focus on getting it all done.
So here’s 3 hacks to create some calm in the chaos:
1. TAKE A BREATH
When we get overwhelmed, our nervous system clicks over into fight, flight or freeze mode. For some of us that’s an almost constant state.
That means our body gets flooded with stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) that are designed to get our pulse racing and prepare us for action. The trouble is, it also switches off our ability to access that higher thinking part of our brain. Instead we find ourselves in react mode. A headless chicken running around and feeling like we’re not getting s**t done!
HOW YOU KNOW:
If you realise you’re not being productive and things are feeling harder than they need to be, chances are your grown up brain isn’t in the driving seat! So if that simple decision feels really hard or a task that normally feels effortless seems overwhelming, then it’s time to take action.
Take a slow breath in through the mouth and feel the belly rise. Let the air release with a slow breath out through the mouth and feel the belly fall. Repeat 5 times if you can. By breathing more deeply, you send your nervous system a signal that calls off the troops. (Mouth breathing is the quickest way to maximise oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output which switches your body out of fight or flight). The body stops reacting as if there’s danger and you can think more freely and respond more clearly.
2. TAKE A SHOWER AND REALLY BE THERE
When we are in that racing mode, trying to do many things all at once, in reality we become less present in our life. Whatever ‘thing’ we’re actually doing, our mind is elsewhere. In fact, according to some studies, nearly 50% of the time (and probably more than that at this time of year), we’re not thinking about what we’re doing. We get fooled into thinking that this makes us more productive but in reality it’s impossible to truly do more than one thing at a time. So trying to simultaneously cook dinner, order a gift from amazon, reply to an email and check your social media whilst getting the kitchen organised and responding to your partner or kids just isn’t going to work.
HOW YOU KNOW:
Believe it or not, we can train our brain to stay more focused on one thing. Of course we first have to acknowledge that trying to do it all at once isn’t working. Deep down we all know that really. It becomes a symptom of the stress we’re under - the more there is to do, the more we try to do it all simultaneously; which leads to us getting less done and feeling more stressed. So try and notice when you are trying to juggle more than one thing. Not trying to change it straight away but just notice.
A great place to start practicing is in the shower. When you have your shower, are you really there? Jon Kabat Zinn (arguably the founder of much of the mindfulness movement that is now prevalent in the Western world) has this advice:
"The next time you're in the shower, check and see if you're in the shower. Because you may be in the shower. Or you may have your whole Monday morning 9 o'clockmeeting in the shower with you, but you're not actually there under the water, feeling the water on your skin," he says. "You're off in the future. Or off in the past."
Instead, try and focus on the feel of the water on your skin. The temperature of it as it cascades. Notice the details of the experience. Be curious. And when you notice yourself get distracted, just bring your attention back to the sensations you’re experiencing right in that moment. It’s that noticing that makes all the difference.
In fact, even the simple question of “am I really here in this shower?” Can be enough to remind you to stay with it.
3. TAKE 5
When we get to overwhelm, we believe that there isn’t time to take a break. We tell ourselves that we have WAY too much to do to and we have to maximise every moment. We speed up and for a while it feels like it works. In reality though, we are likely to make poorer decisions and get less done.
HOW YOU KNOW:
Your fuse gets shorter. Small things, like a delay or setback, feel much bigger. In short, the cracks start to show. You can end up feeling like you're on edge and close to snapping almost all of the time. You may also find yourself doing more and more of the mindless things that distract you - perhaps social media scrolling, reading the online news, grazing on chocolate, drinking a touch more wine than normal. These are all signs that you need to take care of you.
A 5 minute meditation can be like stepping into a refreshing cool shower. Initially it’s a shock to the system but afterwards it feels great. When your mind is especially busy, don’t be surprised to find your meditation feels that way too. But that’s ok. It doesn’t matter if your meditation feels calm and clear or busy and hectic…it’s still training your mind to pay attention and switching off that default mode of busy busy.
If you’ve been to an Intro workshop with me you’ll be familiar with the 5 minute practice below. It's a super effective way to have that pause. As one reviewer put it:
"Short and effective! I was on the go and only had a few minutes to meditate. This 'slowed my roll' in a good way!😃 I don't have that anxious "gotta go" feeling. 😍”
Click here to get the link to play this 5 minute meditation in the Insight Timer app (you’ll need to download the app first). With nearly 10,000 listens at the time of writing this, people report that it's a great way to start their day or have that space when they need it. Give it a try…I’d love to hear how it goes!
Most of all, try to step back once in a while and enjoy the whole ride. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind and get dropped out the other side of Christmas without ever really feeling like you had a chance to enjoy it.
Go on, give yourself permission to take a moment for you….
HAPPY CHRISTMAS! 🎅🎄