Beat overwhelm and burnout with this self-care guide for the new normal
(This post has been edited in response to the Corona crisis)
Are you finding life and work stressful right now? You’re not alone! Dealing with financial worries whilst your business is on hold is not easy. Neither is the constant need to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. All this, and having to maintain our distance, increases our risk of experiencing isolation, overwhelm and burnout.
In normal circumstances taking on too much is often what leads to a high workload and life getting too complicated. A client once told me that her first business had failed because of that. Her overwhelm had made her feel so stressed and powerless that she lost her physical, mental and emotional energy to fight for her business.
Whatever the cause of your overwhelm, it’s important to understand the signs.
How to recognise overwhelm and burnout
- Maybe you’re feeling anxious and tense and are losing your cool a lot more than usual
- Or your quality of sleep has been poor for a while and you always feel tired and lack energy
- Perhaps you rush mealtimes and survive on junk food and caffeine. Or you drink more alcohol than normal
- You may not have time for friends and feel distracted with your family
- You have lost motivation and wonder if you should just give up your business now
- You lose interest in the activities you used to enjoy most (maybe you can’t do them because of lockdown?)
- You have frequent thoughts like ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘this is all too much’
When we experience overwhelm, it can be hard to see what’s important, and we may even lose touch with who we are.
Many women try to deal with overwhelm alone. What if it’s all just mind over matter anyway?!
Your experience is different to anyone else’s
Women tend to juggle lots of different commitments. You’re not just a business owner, you’re an admin person, a sales, marketing, finance and project manager. You may also be a partner, mum, grandma, daughter or carer for a family member. You may be vulnerable and struggle to organise your shopping. And what if you’re home schooling children too?
You probably have a lot on your plate – no wonder you feel overwhelmed!
Saying that, what you take on willingly and what you’re forced to deal with are two different things.
Keeping busy is good (or is it?)
It seems that a lot of people (not just women) keep themselves deliberately busy. But the kind of busy-ness where you put pressure on yourself to drown out the stress and the worries can backfire.
Living a life of striving makes it hard to jump off the treadmill. If that’s you, have a think how (deep down) you might benefit from always keeping busy. For example, are you pushing yourself because you have high expectations? Or does it make you feel empowered because you worry about feeling undervalued or unappreciated?
How well you cope – especially with things completely outside your control – will depend on how resilient you are.
Some people are better at withstanding pressure than others and may still feel in control even in challenging situations. We all seem to have a different resilience threshold – not unlike our different threshold for feeling pain!
In other words, what overwhelms me may leave you cool, and vice versa.
How to build resilience
One of the best ways to stop feeling overwhelmed is to have good self-care strategies in place. They can protect you from pressure and help you to get a different perspective too.
When I feel overwhelmed, I either find solace in writing, potter in my garden, go for a walk or practice Tai Chi. They all calm me down and help me think more clearly. And when I feel particularly overwhelmed, I hug my big old apple tree in the garden! (Ok, the latter may be a bit quirky. But it can help me feel more grounded.)
There are many other self-care techniques and you may recognise some of your own in this list:
- Mental strategies e.g. meditation, mindfulness, gratitude practice, NLP, positive thinking or even humour
- Physical approaches including exercise, gardening, nutrition, massage, acupuncture or reflexology
- Eastern physical and mental approaches, e.g. Tai Chi, Qigong and Yoga
- Creative activities, e.g. painting, writing or journaling
- Practical strategies including goal setting, prioritising or other time management techniques. Also good/confident communication
- Spiritual practices like prayer, Reiki and other forms of energy healing
- Social activities, eg talking to family, friends and colleagues
One or two of these will fit into more than one category, and there may well be more.
Some are easy to use and won’t cost anything. Others can take a little time to learn, e.g. Meditation or Tai Chi.
Business owners often rely on practical strategies like the ones I mention above. (Also read this to improve your planning and communication to help with stress)
But in the current situation you may want to have a mix of different strategies.
Why ‘less is always more’
The first time I suffered overwhelm and burnout was during the Dot.com/ Stock Market Crash in 2000. I found it hard to keep my business afloat because what happened was completly outside my control. My corporate customers would mess me around before cancelling their contracts one by one. I didn’t know whether I was coming or going most of the time. But I got through it and by the time the recession of 2008 started, I felt confident knowing I could get through this too.
Little did I know that when the pandemic started it would be much more challenging than anything any of us have experienced before.
These 3 key lessons may help you too:
- You can’t plan for unexpected events as life has a habit of getting in the way. But good coping strategies do give you a bit of a buffer. It is vital that you make time for self-care all the time and even more so as you start to feel overwhelmed.
- You can’t do everything on your own. I couldn’t have managed the most stressful times during the Dot.com crash or the recession myself. It was when I started to talk to mentors as well as outsource tasks that were draining my energy.
- You want to simplify your life and slow down
In my case, lesson 3 is the one that has had by far the biggest impact on my own life. It made me move my business online six years ago and is helping me cope now.
To help you simplify, try to think like famous investor and philantropist Warren Buffet who believes in ‘saying no to almost everything’.
Thinking ‘less is more’ will help you to take a gentler, more mindful and slower approach to your life and work.
Ok, ok. I can hear you object with a thousand reasons why it wouldn’t be possible right now.
Perhaps you’re a single parent, have a chronic illness, no help or a contingency plan for your business? Whatever the reason, you may feel the need to keep the show on the road!
How to simplify and avoid overwhelm
You definitely don’t need another time management course or a better way to manage your ever growing to-do list!
There are always things or people in our life that can make it unnecessarily complex. Like those habits or activities that waste too much of your valuable time.
What can you say NO to?
- Allowing constant interruptions (e.g email, calls and phone notifications)?
- Getting sucked in too often by news reports and social media, especially Facebook?
- Spending too much time learning things an expert could do more quickly?
- Procrastinating, avoiding or forgetting important tasks (e.g. staying in touch with existing customers)
- Feeling confused and thinking that everything is a priority?
- Taking a scattergun approach to your marketing?
- Over-committing to projects and people?
- Surrounding yourself with the wrong people? People who either make you feel stressed or take advantage of your goodwill? Overly demanding customers can fall into this category too!
If you’re not sure what to let go of, a good question to ask yourself is “What is the best use of my time right now?” or “What is the consequence of not doing this (task) right now”?
Getting rid of bad habits, the wrong business activities or even the wrong clients can be immensely freeing and empowering!
Simplifying is not only a great way to prioritise. It’s a powerful way to manage overwhelm and avoid burnout in business.
To help you do all that, what you really need now is a ‘What not-to-do list’!
You could add things like ‘not check email every 5 minutes’ or ‘not get distracted by the notifications on my phone’ or ‘not make a promise to client X that I can’t keep’ or ‘not work with client Y who doesn’t value my time’.
Dealing with habits or time wasting activities you’ve identified as not helpful will strengthen your boundaries. You get more focused, the pressure may well ease and you sleep better.
Simplifying gives you more clarity and slows you down almost as a matter of course. You walk more slowly, eat more slowly, breathe more slowly – great ways to stop overwhelm and prevent burnout!
- You can prevent and beat overwhelm – it all starts with being aware of the signs
- Accept what you can’t change and get help – try not to do everything on your own
- Stop striving too hard and putting too much pressure on yourself
- Practise self-care (and have a mix of activties) to help you build resilience
- Simplify your life – put wasteful activities, inefficient practices and time spent with stressful people on your not-to-do list. Remember, ‘less is always more’
So, how to make a start?
Just imagine for now, what 10 minutes spent on yourself could achieve. Then just do it. Whether it’s breathing exercises, writing in a journal or even doing nothing. If anything, it would be proof that you’re starting to treat yourself with love, kindness and compassion.