You’re not alone. Most of the women I know and coach are engaged in a juggling act trying to balance work, family and personal needs leaving them frazzled. They complain they are working longer hours, have more demands and are pressured to live perfect lives — one part Martha Stewart, two parts Sheryl Sandburg, with the parenting acumen of Clair Huxtable housed in Giselle’s body.
Feeling overwhelmed and unfocused isn’t just a mommy problem. It’s a human problem. Pressure to work more and live up to insane, unrealistic ideals spun by the media (to get us to buy more stuff) drives us crazy. Constant complaining about how busy we are fuels the frenzy.
How do you stop the insanity and trade overwhelm for balance and focus?
There’s an art to remaining balanced and focused. It starts with opting out of the busyness trap. If you don’t like frenzy the first step is to become aware of the beliefs, thoughts and habits you have that fuel it. Do you load up your to-do-list to conform to a societal belief that being busy makes you worthy? Are you a people pleaser who can’t say, no? Are you uncomfortable with having periods of free time? If you answered yes and want to reduce overwhelm question your beliefs.
Take an inventory
When, where and with whom are you at your best and worst? What activities energize you? What drains you, generates overwhelm and wastes your time? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you find new ways to use your strengths so you stay focused and productive? Are there people in your life who are good at what you’re not who can help you?
Analyze where the time goes
You can decide to some extent how you to spend your precious minutes. Look at your balance of work, play, love and health. What’s missing? Are you spending enough time with friends and family? Is there enough fun and love in your life? How’s your self-care? Write down exactly how you spend your time and then analyze it. This type of assessment is essential if you want your life to flow with grace, beauty and ease.
Pay attention to your feelings
Each of us comes with a built in GPS device called our emotions. Paying attention to them will guide you to a more pleasurable, less frenzied life. The moment you realize you are feeling off, overwhelmed, unbalanced, stressed, angry or frustrated pause, refocus. Engage in an activity that gets you back in balance. This type of energy management will lead you in a positive direction and provide you with the sustained energy you need to move forward without overwhelm.
Release stressful thoughts
Let go of what is stressing you out and triggering overwhelm. It’s not people, places and things that generate stress. It’s our stressful thoughts about situations that trigger overwhelm, worry and anxiety.
Reshape your brain
There’s also a science to staying balanced and focused. Our brains have an incredible feature called neuroplasticity, which means you can mold your mind. No matter how old you are or how difficult and stressful life feels, your brain can learn new tricks that increase peace and calm and enable you to work more joyfully and efficiently. Just like a river finds a new way to flow, neural pathways in your brain can cut new channels and rivets that feed wellbeing.
How do you cut these new grooves? By replacing thoughts, beliefs and habits that don’t serve you with thoughts, beliefs and habits that do. It takes time, focus and self-compassion, essentially learning to treat yourself like a good friend with kindness rather than criticism.
You can optimize your brain. Just like your body needs a balance of macronutrients (i.e. carbs, protein and fats) and macronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to function properly, your brain needs a variety of activities to optimize brain matter.
According to David Rock and Daniel Siegel, creators of The Healthy Mind Platter you need 7 different brain “nutrients” or activities each day to optimize your brain health. These brain nutrients are: sleep time, physical time, focus time, time-in, downtime, playtime and connecting time. (As a nutritionist, I’d like to add food time because your brain runs on glucose and needs healthy meals and snacks instead of calorie deprivation and dieting to run optimally.)
As Rock and Siegel explain:
Since the mind is both embodied and embedded in our connections with others and our environment—both natural and cultural—these seven essential times help strengthen our internal and relational connections. And since the brain is continually changing in response to how we focus attention, we can use our awareness in ways that involve the body and our connections to create a healthy mind across the lifespan!
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed and frenzied. You have a choice. You can design your day, your life and how you experience each moment.
Be mindful and use your awareness. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused slow down, get back in balance and focus on what matters. Do more and more of what makes you feel good and less of what creates stress and overwhelm. Determine which of the brain nutrients you are missing and feed your mind and let whatever you do today be enough.