Tag Archives: anxiety

Super busy? No time to relax? Give yourself the gift of symbolic mindfulness today

Had a busy week? Are you feeling a little overwhelmed with all the things that you need to do before going back to work on Monday? Or even planning to work this week-end to catch up? When you stop and take a deep belly breath, do you feel tension or constriction? Maybe even anxiety, hypervigilance or nervousness?

Slowing down and doing less does not seem a viable option

Most of us find it a really challenge, if not impossible, to deeply enjoy our week-ends after a busy and potentially stressful week at work. Slowing down is something that a lot of women especially are finding not an easy thing to achieve….there is always too much to do, too many expectations and not enough time.

Yet, to be healthy and to be successful at home and at work, we need to allow our body, mind and spirit to rest and replenish.  Instead of doing more, we ideally need to do less. Given the amount of tasks that most women have to on their daily to do list this seems like a joke or an impossible thing to ask.

Meditation is a proven stress reliever, yet not the answer for everyone

Doing  a short 5-10 minute meditation or any kind of physical exercise with deep belly breathing every morning really helps to focus the day, and reenergise our hyperactive minds and emotions. Also meditating in the evenings increases the stress relief.

However, I am finding with a number of my clients, especially when they are not regular meditators, that it takes a long time, time they do not feel they have, to achieve any measure of calmness, relaxation and clarity.

If you fall into this group of people, you might like to give the following approach a go. I found this mindfulness practice works really well whilst it does not require taking blocks of time out of your day. It can also be used as a precursor to easing into a more regular meditation practice.

Using an element theme for the day (or the week-end)

I tend to work with the five elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal) in my Movement and Meditation practice. These elements are around almost anywhere and it is easy and effortless to notice their qualities, their properties and their presence in your life all throughout the day.

Pick an element or a symbol that has qualities that you wish to have more of in yourself and your life. Just by making sure you notice this element all throughout the day when you can, will help to boost the element’s qualities in you.

The power of symbols

Focussing on one element for a day or several days, is a beautiful practice that will help ground and focus your mind, both the conscious and unconscious mind.

Research, and my experience, have shown that the unconscious mind which operates our body, our habits and our emotions, responds better to symbols¹ and simple/short instructions than literal and complex language.

Given that most people who are stressed and overwhelmed, and who find it a challenge to switch off are also often dehydrated, my suggestion is to pick Water as your theme for the day. Water is a wonderful element with many facets and qualities, and we are made up of more than 80% of water ourselves.

Working with the element of WATER 

Water1

1. Take a notepad the evening before and write down the key qualities of your symbol e.g. for water they might be  flow, detox, clarity, stillness and force at the same time, flexibility, life, and a whole host of other qualities I will leave to your own creativity.

2. Read what you have written as soon as you get up in the morning

3. Then throughout the day … starting with your shower, your first cup of tea or even when you look out of the window and see the rain or the snow or dew on surfaces/plants ….notice WATER and its many qualities….

Here are some questions you can quickly run through your mind when you notice WATER

  • drinkingHow does this WATER feel? On your skin, on your tongue when you are drinking it, when you touch it?
  • What is its texture?
  • What does it look like? What is its colour?
  • What does it sound like?
  • What is its taste and smell?
  • Which  qualities  does this WATER have? What do these qualities feel like in you?

No need to put your observations into words, just notice and let that flow through you.

water 24.When you spot WATER in one of  its many forms … rain drops, tap or shower flow, snow or frozen, puddles, beverages, food, moisture in the air, in colours e.g. blue… take at least 3 deep belly breaths notice the qualities of this WATER.

You might want to put a hand on your naval area to feel the breath going into your belly.

5. At the end of the day, notice how you feel, what you have accomplished, and what has changed for you ….

Feel free to comment how this practice has worked for you.

Wishing you a joyful week-end, and relaxed next week!

¹ can be pictures, physical objects, simple words that stand for something, sounds, physical sensations (touch or feelings), tastes or smells

Dealing with Overwhelm

Most women I know have experienced overwhelm at some point in their lives. For some of us it was the never-ending overload of information, an impossible number of tasks being added to our already overflowing to-do lists or those continuous and often conflicting demands for our time by work colleagues, family and friends.

No matter what the causes, the results are the same – that unpleasant stressful feeling of not being able to cope as well as we are used to.

Our brains can only take in limited amounts of information

Overwhelm seems to be an increasingly common phenomenon these days. We simply have too much to do or take in, for the amount of time and energy we have available. George Miller [1] discovered that human beings tend to be able to only hold between 5 and 9 chunks (pieces) of information in their heads at any given time. And for those of you who are interested, that is 126 bits of data. I am sure there are people who have trained themselves to cope with more, however for most of us it is safe to say that there is a limit of how much we can realistically take in at any given time.

Multi-tasking does not work

Another interesting fact is that research has shown that multi-tasking does not work [2]. We can, in fact, only productively focus on one thing at a time. Switching between different tasks is not only not productive, it also makes us feel stressed in the long run.

Why do I mention these two pieces of research? The reason is that a lot of women who experience overwhelm do the exact opposite of what these pieces of research suggest: they try to do even more in a shorter timeframe or at the same time, hoping in vain to be able to push through the overwhelm. Unfortunately those strategies don’t work, they just make an already bad situation worse and can lead to stress induced illnesses.

Overwhelm busting strategies that work!

There are a number of simple and powerful strategies that can help you effectively beat that vicious cycle of overwhelm.  At first these strategies, might seem counter intuitive and overly simple, however I invite you to give them a go as I know they work.

1.       Take a big step back

Figuratively speaking. And some of my clients took that literally, either went into another room, for a walk or just stepped back from their desk and had great results.

The key is to look at your situation from a neutral observer’s point of view, as if you are watching yourself on TV. What can help is if you think of yourself in the third person, asking yourself:

What is going on for {your name} right now? MAKE A LIST of all the things that going on, initially NOT judging if they are urgent, necessary or unimportant.

Once you have your list, and there is nothing else to add, start categorising on a new piece of paper. Divide the page into three columns, giving them the following headings

  • Urgent and important
  • Not urgent and important
  • Not urgent and unimportant

Be ruthless with your list. You may have to go through it a few times until you have a manageable number of items in the urgent/important category. That is the category to focus on as a priority.

2.       Offload what you can

As a next step, look at your categories and find groups of tasks that you can offload.

You might say, well, there is no one I can delegate to. Really? Have you challenged all that is on your plate, everything? Go through every point on your list and challenge yourself to find someone who could do this for you. Granted, you might not necessarily be able to delegate at work, however you might be able to delegate at home or the other way around.

Offloading goes further. Challenge yourself to find other ways to getting the results you need from the tasks on your list. I am always in awe, how creative women can be when they really put their mind to finding ways to permanently reducing their overwhelm.

Let me give you some examples from my clients, which might help you come up with your own strategies:

  • Check out Virtual Assistants – one of my clients hired one to categorise her e-mails for her, make appointments and deal with the easy yet time-consuming enquiries she received, freeing up a huge amount of her time and inbox
  • Another client discovered Recycling to avoid reinventing the wheel.  When she needed to write a document, she would first do an electronic search and ask colleagues for examples (the process taking 10 minutes in total) before starting to write. This approach reduced her writing time in half (and more importantly took most of the stress out of writing).

3.       Divide and conquer

Pick what you feel is the most important thing on your list, and set yourself a time in which you deal with just that one thing. Everything else is safely on your list, so you will not forget about it. Focus on that one thing for the allocated time. So called ‘time boxing’, setting a clear time frame, works well to focus the mind.

Let me give you an example how this could work: A lot of us are drowning in an overload of e-mails, some of which are important and some are not, and they tend to pile up. Set yourself, let’s say 30 minutes to deal with e-mails marked urgent and just do 30 minutes to work through as many as you can. Then look at your list again and pick the next urgent/important task, maybe writing a report, and set yourself  e.g. 1 hour to write the first chapter. And so on. Remember to take breaks in between.

Focussing on one thing at a time, helps to de-stress the brain, whilst time boxing the task, focusses our brain even more. You will be amazed how quickly you are getting things done.

Prevention is better than cure

Of course, we all know preventing a situation like overwhelm is a lot better than waiting for it to happen. Here are a couple of things you might like to consider putting place to prevent overwhelm from occurring or to deal with it faster should it catch you unawares:

  • Be clear on ‘what is important to you’  – take some time, and discover your priority list of ‘what is important to you’, or – in other words – values. When we are not aware of our values, we can find it difficult to make a meaningful decisions on what to prioritise.
  • Prime your team – identify who has your back when you need to off load activities or you need a helping hand. Team is not limited to direct reports, it could comprise family members, friends, colleagues, bosses, health or fitness professionals, coaches and many more. Make sure you know who could help with what, when the need arises, and be prepared to do the same for them.

The above are a small selection of overwhelm busting strategies, including engaging a coach or mentor to help you through a time of overwhelm.

I would love to hear from you what strategies have been and are successful for you.

                                          

[1] Wikipedia – The magical number 7

[2] Cognitive Science – Multitasking