Being blessed with a type A personality, I can attest to spiralling into a state of overwhelm, many times over. My high expectations, pleasing nature, together with the ever increasing work load of a small business owner, lead me to the development of regular states of high cortisol driven overwhelm and anxiety. Tightening of my throat, a fuzzy drunk-like feeling in my head and a nervous tummy would manifest as I scrambled through my multi-tasking to get my daily jobs done. Tick.
Over the years however, I’ve learnt to embrace mindfulness and go with the flow…just a little. I’ll always be an organised planner (I’m a virgo), but I have developed to live simply, be present and follow self care rituals to enable me to say goodbye to these icky overwhelming experiences.
Here I want to share some of the ways you can stay on top of your game, without winding up with frazzled feelings of fight or flight.
Make Your Most Important Decisions Early on In The Day
We actually have a limit to our decision making capabilities before we start to mentally tire and consequently feel overwhelmed when faced with a challenge. (1) Hack your day to boost your brain power by taking on the tasks which require tip-top mental function and decision making, at the start of your day. Preferably straight after fuelling up on your daily MCT oil dose! (You can learn about ways I prime myself nutritionally for the day over here.)
You can also take your brain on a mental holiday by minimising the effort and energy consumed by making smaller, everyday decisions. Reducing the content of your wardrobe helps to prevent daily fashion dilemmas and rotating between favourite seasonal outfits, allow you to savour your precious decision making energy for the more important jobs for the day. Every object in your home takes up space in your brain to remember where it is, so buying less ‘things’ and decluttering your home actually helps with reducing overwhelm. Use this as an opportunity to give to charities and those in need.
Weekly meal prep and exercise plans also take the stress of a decision out of your day. Then all you need to do is show up and have fun 🙂
One Thing At a time
I have to admit, I’ve been very guilty in the past of multi-tasking to attempt to get more done. Having 10 browsers open, texting back a friend, half writing an email, meanwhile trying to prepare a nutritious dinner. As much as this feels like you’re achieving more, you are putting your brain in multi-tasking meltdown and increasing the risk of developing a state of overwhelm.
Here are some tips to help keep you in-the-moment, complete one task at a time, therefore supporting your daily productivity while keeping your cortisol at healthy levels:
- Have one web browser open at a time while working from your computer or laptop
- Close your email inbox when it’s not in use, to avoid distractive pop-up notifications that will entice you to check them straight away- leading you straight back down the multitasking garden path. Finish up what you’re doing before checking into your inbox, or better yet, limit email checking to two regular times per day eg. 10am and 2pm (you can thank Tim Ferris for this one)
- Minimise social media, text and call notifications by switching your phone onto aeroplane mode while you’re doing something significant. This may be a pressing work meeting, a catch up with a loved one, during precious family time, or completing a work project. Be present and you’ll take more away from the experience.
Note: turning your phone onto aeroplane mode at night, helps reduce your exposure to dangerous EMF’s and also prevents any melatonin -disrupting late night scrolling. You can read more sleep tips over here.
Steer Clear Of Stimulants
When you rely on stimulants to power through your day, this act is actually stressing your adrenals to produce more cortisol and therefore increasing your energy levels. If you’re prone to developing overwhelm or anxiety, stimulants such sugar laiden foods, energy drinks, tea and coffee may be the tipping point to feelings of overstimulation and you guessed it, overwhelm.
My personal exception is a quality, mould free coffee, which has the added benefits of blood sugar balancing and energy boosting good fats like MCT oil and grass fed butter/ ghee. If you do better without the caffeine, opt for swiss water de-caf coffee, to avoid nasty chemicals in the usual decaf process. If you’re out and about in Adelaide, the trusty Nutrition Republic cafe offer this de-caf option.
Invest In Indoor Plants
An effective way to improve the air quality in your home and work environment, is to use indoor plants. As shown in the NASA Clean Air Study, indoor plants can reduce pollution from harmful toxins which are likely off-gassing in your home environment. This study showed that plants helped to detoxify from dangerous carcinogenic household toxins- benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.(2)
Plants also play a role in cleansing indoor mould spores, a known driver for multiple health conditions in the body. Plants work to purify the air by increasing the uptake of carbon dioxide (what you breathe out) and improve the vital levels of oxygen in the air, for you to breathe, nourish your cells and support the function of your brain. This will reduce the risk of you developing toxin-driven brain fog and overwhelm symptoms (yes, this is such a thing).
Emotional Stress Release
If you suffer from any kind of stress through your day, it is likely you are preventing a full supply of oxygen to your brain. When you are stuck in ‘ fight or flight’ mode, your body will naturally restrict the supply of oxygen to the area of the brain called the neo-cortex (top, frontal lobe of the brain).
The Neo-Cortex allows you to think rationally. When oxygen is deprived in this area, the Neo-cortex is switched off and you rely on a lower area of the brain, called the limbic system. The limbic system controls your emotions and this state consequently causes you to ‘run on emotions’ in place of thinking rationally.
To help calm your brain, here’s a simple exercise to perform daily as a preventative or treatment for feelings of overwhelm:
- Place your palm over your forehead and take a slow, deep breath in
- Hold your breath for 5-10 seconds and slowly release, out through your nose. For extra benefit, try with your eyes closed (only if it is safe to!)
- Repeat 10 times. This activity activates certain acupressure points on your forehead, which can encourage blood and oxygen flow back up into the brain, particularly the Neo-Cortex.
Tip: Do this on your way to work and lunch break, to help with your mental performance throughout the day. On your way home, this exercise can help you de-stress from your day at work.
Walk To Clear Your Head
Movement can both help to prevent feelings of anxiety, as well as reduce escalated cortisol levels that contribute to a state of flightiness. If you start to feel anxiety creeping up on you, head outside for a walk to pump fresh blood into your brain (enhancing your clarity) and cross your fingers for some Vitamin D rich sunshine while you’re out. On that note, if the sun comes out and I can, I’ll run outside, or wind down the window to soak it up. These bursts of sunshine exposure (especially in the morning) are crucial for regulating your circadian rhythm. Learn more about this over here.
Other ways to reduce any stress that gets the better of you, include:
- Drink calming chamomile, passionflower or lemon balm tea
- Colour in- there’s nothing like an art session to bring you into the present
- Meditate, or just sit and deep breathe- my personal favourite is Transcendental Meditation
- Ground yourself, by walking barefoot on the nearest grass, dirt or sand
- Indulge in an epsom salt foot or full bath – the magnesium will help to relax your muscles
Long term, treating yourself to a regular acupuncture and/or massage therapy can help to prevent stress levels and feelings of overwhelm from taking over.
Support A Clear Mind To Overcome Overwhelm
You can make powerful steps to reduce your feelings of overwhelm by simplifying your life, decluttering your home & work environment, reducing your decision making load, being present and focusing on one task at a time. Movement, nutrition, indoor plants and practising mindfulness also play an important preventative role.
If you’re doing all of these things, there could also be an underlying hormone imbalance contributing to your symptoms. You can learn more in my latest hormone health read, here.
Do you regularly experience feelings of overwhelm or anxiety? Tell me more!
Love, health & happiness,
(1) Kathleen D. Vohs et al., “Running Head:Self Regulation and Choice” (unpublished conference paper, Chicago Booth Marketing Workshop, Chicago, Illinois, 2005)
(2) BC Wolverton, WL Douglas, K Bounds (July 1989). A study of interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement (Report). NASA. NASA-TM-108061