Coping with the lightning-fast pace of modern society, the steady stream of bad news in the media, constant to-do lists that are never done, and the encroachment of technology which keeps us plugged-in every moment of every day inevitably comes up on a daily basis in my work.
Recently, I shared a story with my colleagues about being so busy that, at times, I feel as if I am barely surviving my own life. Looming work deadlines, volunteer commitments, travel, ferrying my daughter to extracurricular activities, keeping on top of schoolwork, planning family meals, household duties, caring for aging parents…Whew! I am exhausted just writing that list, but do you notice anything missing?
Yes, that’s right, time to focus on my own well-being is NOT on that list. In order to shift my focus to include self-care, I’ve found it helpful to break down some of the major contributing factors to feeling overwhelmed.
First, it is important to identify patterns of behaviour that indicate that self-care efforts are not currently adequate:
- Difficulty getting to sleep or interrupted sleep. This may be accompanied by racing thoughts, or a state of anxiety due to excessive worry or concern.
- Eating on the go and less regard for the nutritional value of the food that is being put into your body. For example, a diet consisting of a lot of sugar, caffeine, carbohydrates, and processed foods.
- Less time for fun, social events, or a lack of energy to participate in previously enjoyed hobbies or activities. This could also include spending more time in isolation.
- Increased irritability or lack of patience, especially with family or in traffic!
- A feeling of exhaustion or noticing what has gone awry once you slow down. For example, pain or illness setting in during a break or holiday.
What has contributed to this state of feeling overwhelmed? In my case, I have found evidence to support the influence of these three main areas:
This includes being plugged-in all the time and expected to respond to requests immediately. Whether these expectations are in your personal or professional life, they can be a burden. Exposure to the 24-hour news cycle and all the chaos that currently exists in the world can also be a stressor.
2) FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)
Our need for belonging is very strong, and you may find yourself doing things that you would rather not do simply because it seems that everyone else is doing them. Of course, technology can be related to this factor. Our online personas make it look like everyone is out having a good time!
3) FODO (Fear of Disappointing Others)
Of all the factors, this one may have the most resonance. Often, it is people-pleasing that gets us in the most trouble. Our inability to say “no” leads us to override our own needs on a regular basis.
Here are the antidotes to these three stressors:
It is as if we’ve all entered into a collective agreement to be available 24/7, but if you have ever tried to disconnect from technology for an extended period of time you know how challenging it can be. If you keep a record of how much you use your smartphone, tablet, and/or laptop, it may surprise you to discover how much you are actually plugged-in. It’s important to schedule regular breaks from technology, both during the day and during the week. If possible, extend the amount of time you are able to stay off technology.
B) Enjoy the Present
The fear of missing out on experiences causes our worst fears to come true when we are never actually present to what is actually happening. It seems counterintuitive, but when we are always anticipating the next big thing, we miss out on what is happening right now. Our sense of joy and wonder can increase when we are able to be present and fully experience the events that we are a part of.
C) Focus on Real, Reciprocal Relationships
Sometimes it seems easier to say “yes” instead of “no”, or to simply go along with the crowd. One of the biggest challenges when practicing self-care is to put our investment in relationships that truly give back. Too often, we participate in relationships more from a sense of duty. Sometimes this happens in our professional lives as well. Healthy discernment to determine what we need to do versus what we believe we should do is very important.
D) Laugh. Seriously.
A lack of joy and laughter is actually something not to be taken lightly (See what I did there?). If you have reached a place where you no longer enjoy virtually anything and you haven’t heard your own laughter for longer than you can remember, it’s time to engage in some serious self-care. Otherwise, burnout is just around the next corner.
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