Our lives are a reflection of our choices.
From minor insignificant to major life-altering decisions we are constantly called upon to choose – what to eat, or wear, or whether to relocate, or retire. The simple choices are easy to make, but the important ones can leave us paralyzed in indecision or filled with regret.
Making big decisions feels riskier because they can’t be undone which can significantly ramp up anxiety. If we feel driven to make a perfect decision, we can put so much pressure on ourselves that we end up not deciding, regretting, or obsessing over them. Constantly doubting and reevaluating our choices robs us of peace of mind. Second guessing our choices creates dissatisfaction.
Our personalities influence how satisfied we may be with our decisions. Some people (satisficers) are naturally satisfied with a good enough choice that meets a set standard, whereas others (maximizers) who keep options open and explore all possibilities tend to struggle with their choice. Regret and frustration set in for them because even after making a decision, they continue to explore options through seeking advice and validation, making comparisons, and fantasizing about different outcomes.
Being satisfied with your decision matters because it elevates your mood and leads to greater overall contentment. Therefore when deciding, it is imperative you are clear on the reasons, your feelings, and emotional justifications for a decision. Equally important is realizing that we may not always be 100% satisfied with a decision, but we can learn to feel okay with it. Even if new info surfaces after you’ve made a decision, remind yourself that you made the best decision with the information you had at the time. When we are committed, we are able to justify our decision, feel confident we made the correct choice, and then stop exploring other options.
Try these steps to becoming comfortable with your decisions:
Trust your intuition
After doing homework, making pros and cons lists, and other rational processes, be sure to also connect with your body as part of the decision making process. Depending on the options you are considering, your body will be giving you strong feedback, so pay attention to physical sensations of shallow breath, constricted throat, nervousness, and calm, and safety. Take time to consider these valuable forms on input too. Trust your gut instinct.
Baba Shiv, Stanford professor in neuroscience of decision making, notes that decisions are based on rationality, emotions, gut instinct, seeing yourself living with the decision, and committing to making it succeed.
If you have done the homework, checked in with your body, and emotions about a decision then rest in the knowledge that you’ve empowered yourself to make the best possible decision. The next important thing is learning to trust in that process and the outcome.
Stop looking for alternatives.
The way to commit to your choice is to stop exploring, researching, and soliciting opinions. No matter how much advice or guidance you receive, ultimately the right choice is the one you are motivated to make successful, feels comfortable and is easiest to live with.
To disrupt the habit of revisiting your decisions with regret, keep coming back to the present moment. Form a mantra or affirmation that will anchor you to the now and motivate you to be happy with your choice.
A final thought – the correctness of a choice is determined by what we do in the period after choosing as much as the act of making the choice.
May you find peace in your choices.
How often are you torn between doing what you want to do and doing what you have to do?
Life can feel overwhelming because we are so regularly pulled in many directions at the same time. We lead complicated lives balancing work, family, and the myriad demands of simply being alive – cooking, eating, maintaining our cars and homes, educating ourselves, and so on. Each hour of the day is filled with tasks which can make us feel like a juggler with way too many balls in the air.
The effect of this overload is that we suffer mental, emotional, and physical stress. These manifest as feeling unfulfilled and unhappy, with ailing bodies, and unsettled, distracted minds.
Society encourages us to ceaselessly pursue what’s bigger, better, brighter, and bling-ier. And we personally may be so focused on chasing praises, raises, recognition, and position that we end up living mindlessly. If we aren’t tuned into ourselves and our lives, then we are effectively absent from them, and before we know it, we will be old and ill and waiting out our days.
Everything comes at a price. The things we do, think, own, feel, and say all take up space in our minds, homes, schedules, bank accounts, and relationships – they profoundly affect our lives.
To regain energy, enthusiasm, and peace, we have to work on simplifying life.
Last month’s article was on decluttering your environment which is a very important part of simplifying life. Essentially the less you own the less you have to worry about; there’ll be fewer things to repair, to protect, to maintain, and to fill up your home. For instance, if someone said, “a car on your street was stolen” you won’t be as concerned because you don’t own a car. However, if you did own a car, you’d be worried. We underestimate the effect that possessions have on our mind and emotions. Releasing unnecessary things leads to relief and a feeling of lightness.
Simplifying life has many facets to it. It includes things like fewer possessions, fewer time commitments, meaningful goals, lower debt, heartfelt relationships, and a healthy lifestyle.
Become clear on what matters to you. This will help you prioritize how to efficiently fulfill your obligations and leave time and energy to enjoy the things you want to do. It will also energize you to take advantage of opportunities, to meaningfully connect with people you want to be with, and to spend quality time alone.
Ask yourself what can I remove from my life that is distracting me from focusing on the important things?
As usual, not all these suggestions will be achievable right away. But simply making the effort will give you a boost of confidence and energy. So go at your own pace and motivate yourself by remembering your reason for streamlining your life. Take it a day at a time.
Many of us don’t know how to just be because we are always busy doing. Train yourself not to do and to simply be. This isn’t easy. It is something you will need to practice on a daily basis until it becomes habit. Like you would with any other important appointment, schedule time in your day just to relax in the garden watching the trees sway and the clouds changing shape, look at the birds and insects getting ready for the spring, walk and feel your body in motion (put aside the podcasts and chats), or drink a cup of tea and taste its flavor.
Being gives you the space to stop thinking, pondering, and ruminating and just to observe, feel, hear, smell, taste and, well, simply enjoy.
Prioritize Your Time
Some people thrive on overloaded schedules. When I first came to the US, I met a woman who seemed to be constantly on the run doing a million things. I was impressed with her because she came across as a go getter and a person in high demand. My only experience had been with people who went to work or school, and who always had time to hang out or relax. I had mistakenly believed that being busy and having a full calendar were signs of being popular and successful. With years of experiencing the Bay Area lifestyle and trying to resist its hectic pace, I now know the danger of wasting our precious time on meaningless activities.
Time is valuable. And I don't need to remind you that it’s impossible to regain.
Be aware of the time you are losing when you are mindlessly lost in video games, social media, television, and so on. These activities may feel relaxing, but they are actually draining because they are so addictive and hypnotizing. One interesting theory about excessive television viewing is that while it may relax the body, the constant visuals and sudden noises can cause the brain to go into survival mode. Not a relaxing state.
Therefore only schedule those things that will help you live according to your priorities and values. Also avoid wasting time complaining, wishing, and dreaming things were different, but begin taking manageable steps to make change happen in your life.
Manage your Money
Live within your means. Don’t keep up with the Joneses. Don’t have champagne tastes on a beer budget. These are old and funny but wise sayings.
Debt drags you down and can become a black hole that sucks up your mental and emotional strength. To live a simple life, it is imperative that you manage your financial situation. Decide and commit to controlling your spending. Think over your life and your life choices to figure out what is necessary and what is not. If you are clear on your life goals and your priorities, then you will be able to create a budget and keep to it much more easily. You will also have to be strong in the face of temptation or coercion, so be prepared by having a response or strategy ready to deal with these situations.
When you simplify your life, you create space for the things that matter most. Owning, doing, thinking, and worrying less frees you to spend time on meaningful things.
May you find peace in living a simple life.
If your life feels stuck, unfulfilled, and empty, then your energy may be leaking. Uncluttering your life is an important step to feeling purposeful, motivated, and fulfilled.
The things we own, our home environment, closets, and work spaces are within our control where we can most easily begin the practice of letting go.
To begin anew, move your life in a new direction, or start a new relationship, you have to create the space for it. By releasing the old, you create space for something new to enter. Space can be physical, mental, and emotional.
First, begin by creating space in your own mind. Make a list and then weigh the pros and cons of keeping the clutter vs. getting rid of it. Next make the decision that you are willing to do whatever is necessary to usher in change; this may mean giving up something that takes up space in your life. Emotional space occurs when you begin taking control of your life. Physical space is our living environment. The state of our physical surroundings is a good reflection of our mental and emotional spaces.
When we are surrounded by tons of stuff, our energy stagnates. Clutter blocks light, feels heavy, and stops the flow of energy, which can, over time, become stuck. The effect of closed off, shuttered, dark spaces on our mind and body is to make us feel drained, depressed, indecisive, and directionless. In contrast simply opening a window and letting the breeze blow in and billow the curtains enlivens the environment and its inhabitants. It is invigorating and uplifting.
Other negatives of excessive ownership are that our attachment and possessiveness increase. We know from experience that even if we don’t use some of the things we own, our attachment keeps us holding onto them.
Clutter doesn’t just have to be visible. For some of us, our exterior home or office may be free of junk, but our closets and drawers may be stuffed to the gills. Part of decluttering is also clearing out closets, cupboards, drawers, and trunks as energy can also stagnate in them. Psychologically the toll can be the same.
The benefits of living in a free space are:
Before tackling the clearing out process, inspire yourself. Read books and testimonials or watch shows about the transformative power of this kind of purging. If you are going to do a serious clean out in one day, have a supportive friend present or someone who will help you to remain firm and focused, and to follow through on meeting your goal. Try not to get distracted by doing something else like reading every playbill, menu, or travel brochure you’ve kept. Keep this time focused on just clearing and uncluttering.
Another strategy is to do it in smaller chunks. Each day or week go through a room and sort through and discard all old and “I might need this” items such as utensils, books, clothes, tax records, and things that are broken, damaged, and no longer functional. Or you could on a daily basis, put one item into a discard or donate bin.
To help you release and let go of things, remind or ask yourself:
Then, without too much delay, get the stuff to your local donation site, and dump the junk, so that you aren’t tempted to put it back into your home or office.
Remember: If you have the disposition to be a pack rat, it will be easy to begin collecting again. With the ease of online shopping, almost constant store sales and promotions, neighborhood thrift stores, and garage sales you’ll have to be extra mindful and careful not to buy unnecessary stuff and undo all your hard work.
May you create a new life filled with promise and purpose by creating the space for it.
“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than hanging on.”
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go.” Hermann Hesse
Following up on last month’s article on the importance of letting go to live fully, this month’s article will share techniques on beginning to free yourself.
Letting go can happen in many forms; it can be releasing the past or a loss, giving up unhelpful habits, learning to be flexible, letting go of control, shedding unnecessary burdens, and releasing expectations and toxic relationships. It can also take the form of giving up on unrealistic or unrealizable dreams and fantasies.
I’m sure the things that stifle and hold you back are flooding your mind as you read these words, so you can add to the list.
Condensed, it amounts to this: there are many things and ways that we hobble ourselves on our life’s journey. Wishing things were different by reliving and obsessing about the past will keep us trapped in unhappiness, pain, rage, fear, resentment, jealousy, worry, and so on.
Consider the following suggestions to begin setting yourself free from the prison of your beliefs, expectations, and demands.
Acknowledge & Accept
Acknowledging and accepting the obstacle/s in our path is the journey to growth, health, happiness, and wellbeing. Make time to learn about yourself and the ways you might be creating or contributing to your own pain. Usually our own self-limiting beliefs keep us trapped in the past. But we have the choice to create our own reality and experience. Empower yourself by getting to know the triggers that make you angry, fearful, ashamed, worried, clingy, or whatever other emotion keeps you locked in an obsessive spiral.
Then choose one of these triggers to work with; each day set an intention to notice when the attendant emotion arises and trace it back to the trigger. Notice the connection between the cause (trigger) and effect
(emotion/thoughts/feelings), and then consciously shift your thinking and focus to something more beneficial. Or better still, try to notice the trigger as soon as it arises, and disrupt the process, so the emotion doesn’t arise at all.
A powerful way to subvert your habit of ruminating or replaying old recordings about the past or dreams that didn’t manifest is to clearly recall a few well-thought out disadvantages of remaining stuck in the past.
Impermanence & Change
Make concerted effort to spend time looking at things in your world. The goal is to notice how everything is constantly changing, moving, shifting, and flowing -- from the leaves swirling in the wind to black coffee turning creamy golden. Even things that appear static and permanent are actually undergoing microscopic, quantum level changes each moment. Look at your own face in the mirror and notice the tiny new wrinkles and grey hairs. See change happening before your eyes.
In a world of constant flux and movement, rigidly holding onto things is not only unrealistic, but also unhealthy. Life offers no guarantees. Expectations trap us in fear and hope. To counter these emotional responses we need to train ourselves to think rationally and to act appropriately, so we can move on when we need. For something new to enter our lives, we need to make space for it. Moving on from the past doesn’t mean forgetting it; it means not nostalgically or resentfully clinging to it. Space opens up the potential for anything and everything to manifest.
Here again make a list of all the reasons it is unhelpful to keep wishing for the “good old past” to return, the long lost estranged friend or loved one to be in your life again, or unachievable future life expectations to appear. Challenge this thinking with realistic, optimistic, and achievable alternatives by focusing on the advantages of making small doable changes that will move your life in a positive direction.
Stay Positive & Mindful
Become mindful so you recognize the habit of repeating stuck behaviors. And without delay apply an antidote to counteract them. Over time, repeating this process of noticing what’s happening and immediately derailing it by switching to a planned healthy alternative will become a new healthy habit. We create a hopeful future by being mindful in the present moment.
Remind yourself that you’ve come through countless experiences in the course of your life. Despite the challenges and difficulties, you’ve learned new skills, developed new coping mechanisms, discovered new aspects of your being, and forged personal and professional relationships. So you do know how to let go and move on. When you and your life feel stuck and unsatisfying, try to remember all that you’ve done, accomplished, and overcome at all the stages of your life. Let these thoughts boost your confidence and try to stay positive.
The most effective way to challenge negative thinking is with positive thinking. So I hope you get cracking on your list of the disadvantages of being stuck in the past and the advantages of moving on, and start practicing these steps.
May you free yourself from your past.
"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.”
As human beings we tend to cling to the things we believe are necessary for our happiness, are important and meaningful, or that define us.
For most people, our identity or sense of who we are is intimately connected to our relationships, careers, status, and affluence. The belief that something is essential to our being and to who we are is a powerful driver in our lives to continue a course, even when we may be unhappy or ill.
Subtle things like memories can also bind us because they take us out of the present and keep us trapped in the past. We hang on to past unhappy times which bog us down in anger, yearning, resentment, guilt, fear and so on. Some people can’t imagine who they may be without their past pain, and therefore they cling to it. It’s important to recognize that our experiences or the past aren’t who we are. They are a part of us and our life path or history, but they aren’t the whole of who we are.
On the other hand, holding onto positive, fond memories is understandable, but they too can become a burden if we don’t know how to skillfully deal with them. In other words, if past happy memories force us to constantly try to recreate that past at the expense of enjoying or by overlooking our present good, then that fond memory quickly becomes a burden.
Many situations can spur us to let go or make necessary and overdue change in our life. When our unhappiness and dissatisfaction, grief and loss, failing relationships, rigid thinking, stuck or repressed emotions, toxic habits, stressful jobs, and avoidant behaviors like binge television viewing or video gaming, or overeating become problematic, they may motivate us to change our life course.
However, the thought of stepping out into the unknown and out of our comfort zone (toxic though it may be) can be scary. Imagining our lives free from them can make us feel uncertain about ourselves and our future. Consequently we may simply choose the easy route by trying to hold onto both the good and bad things, or we could pretend not to be suffering by deluding and distracting ourselves.
Wisdom and self-compassion advise the opposite.
They urge us to go in the direction of our suffering, and to be mindfully present as we sit and examine it and our lives. We have to clearly see the things that arrest our development, and poison our emotions and thoughts such as toxic relationships, or stressful, unfulfilling jobs, and then we have to find a way out.
The only way to the other side is to go right through the heart of our difficulties and shackles. We need courage to identify, get to know, and break the ropes that bind us. Deep looking at our emotional, mental, spiritual, physical needs, and our pain and limitations develops understanding of where we are and how far we’ve come; it also helps us understand pain. Understanding grows empathy, and awakens compassion in us when we witness another being’s anguish.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh taught that if you look deeply into the nature of the things that bind you, you will gain insight that will free you.
Letting go is rebirth. It is an opportunity for joy and happiness. Make time to take stock of the things you’ve not attended to, the unresolved issues that keep surfacing, and the recurring recriminations in your mind about past mistakes or experiences, and then resolve to start anew.
After the initial fear of letting go, you will experience a joy that comes from freedom, courage, determination, a positive mindset, and compassion for yourself and the people in your life.
In next month’s article, we’ll discuss techniques on how to let go and release unbeneficial habits and the past.
May you shake off your shackles and become free.
Last month’s article discussed techniques on accepting oneself. For those who might be struggling with the concept of self-acceptance, let’s go back one step and first get to know who we are.
This might sound strange. Most of us think we know ourselves, but actually our self-knowledge is mostly superficial. We know our appearance, profession, gender, favorite foods, pastimes, and activities. But we may struggle with recognizing connected patterns of behavior and emotions, or with remaining present with our feelings and thoughts during stressful times. We may regularly repress, avoid, ignore feelings and emotions, or we may not know what we are feeling or thinking or our motivation/intention at any given time. In other words, we are mostly absent from ourselves.
Self-awareness or knowing oneself is understanding how our feelings and thoughts affect our behavior and relationships with ourselves and others in the world. The heart of wisdom is clearly grasping that your internal world (feelings, emotions, thoughts) and external world (family, work, social relationships) influence each other. This is also called emotional intelligence.
Living with self-awareness (i.e. being yourself or being authentic) is the key to being happy, energetic, passionate, successful, and fulfilled.
Knowing ourselves empowers us to:
The researched benefits of self-awareness are improved relationships, better mood and emotion management, improved self-esteem, success, and productivity, and a greater understanding of your needs and wants and your ability to attain them.
We can cultivate a practice of deepening our self-knowledge through exploring new interests and activities or discovering our deepest feelings. Below are more ideas to get you started.
Self-discovery can bring up painful feelings and memories, so be compassionate with yourself, and go slowly if you need. Try to be with the process without judgment and with detached observation as much as possible. This is where curiosity comes in very handy. The effort self-knowledge requires is big, but it is a very good investment because knowing ourselves will help us move through life with greater ease.
May truly knowing yourself bring you peace and happiness.
The drive to improve ourselves is the human condition. From birth we have been judged, rated, and compared to others in school, social, professional, and familial relationships, so it is no wonder that we walk around feeling like impostors.
And if, as young children, we didn’t feel encouraged, accepted, and loved by our caregivers, we can grow up feeling unsure about ourselves, our place in the world, and especially uncertain about who we are separate from our families. These feelings can be exacerbated if, in our lives, we’ve also experienced neglect, abuse, marginalization, alienation, inequality, and other forms of prejudice and bias.
Disempowering and traumatic experiences shatter our self-esteem making us feel unlovable and unworthy, which makes it very difficult to accept ourselves.
So what is acceptance? Acceptance is recognizing our human limitations and failings. Acceptance isn’t condoning or excusing your wrongs and flaws, nor anyone else’s faults either.
Self-acceptance is about unconditionally welcoming and even loving ALL parts of ourselves. In fact, peace, success, and happiness arise from our ability to balance and support different aspects of our being because the focus shifts from judging and rating to allowing and embracing.
But this can be challenging, so we have to actually practice self-acceptance. It needs to become a habit that is consciously cultivated and developed over time with effort and determination.
Below are some practical steps on how to begin validating who we are – flaws and all.
Self-Compassion & Self-Forgiveness
When we struggle with self-acceptance, we are quick to compare ourselves to others, and may even apply value judgments like, "I’m terrible", or "I’m bad and useless" when we make mistakes. Insulting ourselves is unkind and an unnecessary waste of energy. A better use of energy would be to gently notice your reactions to the self-recriminations, and especially the feelings the recriminations awaken in you. Then with kindness and compassion, remind yourself that you are doing your best. A really helpful skill to develop is to learn to laugh at yourself and not take yourself so seriously. Also practice not being so sensitive, and quick to take offense or feel judged.
Self-acceptance is hard especially when we aren’t able to forgive ourselves or others. The best way to release the past if you’ve harmed someone, or behaved in an unethical or immoral way, is then to acknowledge it, take responsibility, regret it, make amends, and then very importantly, make a commitment not to repeat it. These powerfully cleansing steps will not only give you peace of mind, but also free you to start again.
To forgive someone who has harmed you doesn’t mean you are sanctioning their behavior, rather it is about releasing the past and what’s uncontrollable, and regaining control of your life and mind. Grow the understanding through reflection on your life experiences that uncontrollable situations in our lives arise from many contributing factors, which can cause us and others to act out habitual tendencies; this is an important contemplation. Doing this will help us be kinder towards ourselves and others. Recognize too that we have the choice not to repeat the things that are within our control.
Be Mindful of Negative Self-Talk
Many of life’s occurrences are beyond our control, which can be anxiety producing. The best way to keep anxiety at bay is to remain present and mindfully connected to your senses. For instance, notice the color of the wall, shape of a chair, texture of a vase, listen to the clock, a bee buzzing, or feel your scarf on your neck. This technique of separating from emotions will prevent you from identifying with unhelpful feelings and mindlessly acting and thinking in reactive ways, and it will also clear your mind.
Be on the alert for your inner critic’s negative remarks and thoughts. To challenge this negative voice, make a list of small or large things you do well. Keep this at hand to read aloud when you are feeling down about yourself. Low self-worth can cause us to overlook the things that come easily or are second nature. So keep an eye out for the skills you are dismissing, for e.g. notice the many requests for your cooking or baking, your gardening tips, the compliments on your keen eye for color and design, and so on. These gifts make us who we are.
Learn from Everything
Our tendency is to only accept ourselves when we are performing well or succeeding. Wisdom however, is training to learn from all our life experiences because they all have something to teach. Courageously think about the times you didn’t do as well, and reflect on how those experiences may have changed you for the better. Recognize how your abilities, resilience, and coping skills have been affected by them, and be grateful for the learning opportunity.
The ability to see or think of situations from many viewpoints is extremely empowering for accepting all parts of ourselves. Give yourself a few minutes to replay a situation you are fretting over. The point is to rerun the incident but from different perspectives. Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and also find ways to think differently about your own growth areas. Rather than focusing on how you may have a bad habit like watching television, you can think of it as knowing how to relax, or talking a lot can be viewed as being friendly and sociable.
The simplest way to grow self-acceptance is to spend time in the company of people who are comfortable with themselves. Observe and emulate their way of being, speaking, and thinking especially about themselves, others, and their life circumstances.
Another method is to surround yourself with people who uplift, celebrate, and allow you to be yourself. Spending time with people in whose company you can comfortably share your feelings, worries, and greatest joys is a warm and enjoyable way to learn self-acceptance.
All practices require daily concerted effort. You will successfully attain self-acceptance if you chip away at it every day.
May you succeed in accepting and celebrating your diverse self.
One simple practice can change our lives and our brains.
Gratitude, appreciation, thankfulness, acknowledgement, recognition, or gratefulness is basic to our nature as socially evolved beings who survived and developed by helping and being helped.
Even though, over the last two years of living with the pandemic, suffering the loss of loved ones, livelihoods, and former freedoms, our recognition of the things that truly matter has increased, it may be inspiring to learn about this practice’s amazing effects on our brain and life.
Here’s why gratitude matters:
Gratitude is effective in helping us recognize the good things, and also acknowledging how others help create goodness in our lives. Skillful gratitude practitioners are even able to be appreciative of challenges and difficulties for the inherent lessons they contain.
Thankfulness can be an emotion (feeling of joy), and a personality trait (an inclination to be grateful). It is a spontaneous feeling, but is becoming evident from research that it has tremendous value if it is consciously practiced. Studies reveal that feelings of gratitude originate in specific brain parts, and that regular practice rewires the brain to handle circumstances with compassion and calm.
The benefits are:
Being mindfully attentive of your surroundings, encounters, and interactions predisposes you to become grateful, because you are present to notice little acts of kindness: a warm hug, a sympathetic ear, the friendly welcome, the food you are eating, and even an umbrella in the rain.
To begin a daily gratitude practice,
Regular gratitude practice will help you feel more physically and mentally relaxed. Also when you are grateful it reminds you of our connection to others and it relieves stress, which leads to greater wellbeing and improved health over time. Gratitude can also be intrinsically rewarding.
May your gratitude flourish.
The increasing pace of our work and home lives is making the constant drive to meet tighter deadlines and deliverables all the more difficult to cope with. Even usually high achievers can be stricken with feeling overloaded and not being able to produce or function.
Overwhelm can swamp us when we have a major event to plan, a huge project, a long to-do list, an unexpected life change, a stressful relationship, etc. The looming demands are mixed up with the worry that we’ll lose our jobs, disappoint others, be a failure, and just not be good enough. In this state, we may feel completely incapable of doing any of the work and things we normally are able to do. We can feel like we are being swallowed up or trapped in a tight space.
Feeling overburdened can manifest as strong emotion, worry, helplessness, irritability, crying, lashing out, and panic attacks. Its physical sensations resemble anxiety symptoms like sweating, tingling, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
The first step to overcoming overwhelm is to acknowledge your feelings and then, out of self-compassion, give yourself a few hours, or if possible a day or two to rest and regroup before jumping in.
Try out these steps to ease your burden:
Focus on Now
Feeling overwhelmed is tied to anxiety, worry, and increased stress. Anxiety focuses the mind into the future by worrying about what may or may not happen in the next hour or months from now. By doing that we neglect the present moment. Grounding your mind in the present blocks runaway future-oriented thoughts.
Keep the mind anchored in the now by using the breath as an object of focus, or choose a physical or sensory sensation as your focus. Bring all your attention and actively notice the sights in your room, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, and even taste for e.g. your coffee. Or you can keep the mind focused on just thinking about your next small step, for instance read and focus on this report now. It is also important to do only one task at a time; this focuses the mind on the present. Conversely multitasking is actually ineffective and inefficient, as it lacks focus and drains your energy.
Easy Does It
With a large project or huge task looming over you, it is easy to feel daunted. Begin by taking a few calming deep breaths, and start to figure out how to best apportion out the deadlines and deliverables. Set up daily, weekly, or even monthly due dates; designate tasks if you are able to, and then draw up daily task lists to help you meet those deadlines. Keep these to do lists to a manageable size. Carefully prioritize only what needs doing.
Break up tasks into like activities for greater efficiency: group phone calls into one set, writing activities into another group, shopping trips in another, and so on. Doing this helps the brain function more efficiently because it is not having to switch often between different types of tasks. You will feel less tired too.
The clearest indicator of escalating stress is your breath. Stress causes us to breathe shallowly, which means we aren’t taking deep long breaths into our belly, but are mostly breathing into the chest. Get into the habit of noticing how you are breathing throughout the day.
A very good routine to start your day is to sit at your desk, and while your computer is booting up, to close your eyes, and bring your awareness to your belly (below the navel). Single pointedly focus your attention on the breath rising and falling at this part of your body. When thoughts pop in, notice them, and go back to the breath. Do this for 5 minutes before, during, and after work. It will do wonders for calming your nervous system, and clearing your mind to help you be efficient and effective throughout the day.
Change Your Thinking
Believing that you won’t be able to cope or manage stressful situations can trigger feelings of overwhelm. These are so powerful that they can completely overpower our mind and emotions. And if we have unrealistic thoughts or feel powerless or hopeless, then our stress skyrockets and our ability to act or figure out solutions is impacted.
Therefore it is very important to become familiar with your thoughts. What kind of thoughts regularly run through your head? Is your mind full of complicated and unrealistic ones? Are your thoughts positive and affirming? Negative and demoralizing?
Before you can formulate positive thoughts to counter the unhelpful ones, you must question the validity of the original thought (your usual ruminations). Follow that up with a question like, does this idea/belief benefit me? Depending on your answers, you can then create realistic thoughts that will boost your emotions. For example, if you fear you won’t succeed, that can be changed to “I’ll do my best”, or “I’ll learn and study what it takes to succeed”, or “I’ll tackle this in stages so I can eventually succeed”.
Remember there will always be demands, so be mindful of your own needs and health and try to strike some balance.
May your mind be free and spacious.
We live in a world of diverse people with varying abilities and personalities and in constantly evolving circumstances. This makes having expectations with a one size fit all approach very tricky.
What are expectations? Expectations are future oriented; that is they are beliefs we have about something that is most likely to occur. As you can see, they take our awareness out of the present moment which challenges our ability to respond in the now.
Many people believe that having high standards will motivate and inspire them to reach some goal, keep them from being lazy and idle, and prevent them from being exploited or taken advantage of. The disadvantage of too high standards is that they don’t motivate us, but instead make us risk avoidant because we fear failing so we don’t even try.
Unrealistic expectations are unhealthy. Our emotions, self-worth, and self-esteem are intimately connected to the beliefs and ideas we have about our bodies, ourselves, our roles, and our lives. When we fall short of meeting an unachievable idea, we can end up feeling inadequate and worthless.
And when these expectations are extended into our relationships they invariably lead to resentment and discord. We can end up jumping to conclusions that limit you and others with the word “you always forget…” or “I always mess up…” Over time these idealistic beliefs can ruin our relationships with ourselves and others because they cause us to feel and act in negative ways.
Some examples of unrealistic expectations are believing good relationships are always smooth sailing, needing to always be perfect and positive in all situations, being liked and praised by everyone, needing things to be fair, being in control of situations beyond our control, expecting to be able to do everything, and not making mistakes. Too high expectations set us up for disappointment, self-loathing, and resentment.
A peaceful mind is borne from having realistic, and accurate expectations of ourselves, others and situations. Relaxing our high standards helps manage anticipation and expectation, which play a vital role in healthy living.
May you be expectation free for a happier, healthier life.