This is the 3rd in a 5-part series on getting all that shitty chaos out of your life. You can start at the beginning.
In this post, we’re getting super real on what it means to have a mental environment that supports your life + passion pursuits.
If your headspace ain’t working at its best, you won’t be working at your best either.
Your Mental Space
What goes on in your head goes with you everywhere. Unlike your house or your workspace, you can’t leave the room when your head’s a mess. If you’re mind is chaotic, then you are chaotic.
In my experience, there are dozens of causes for mental chaos, but just 2 that lay claim to most of it:
And yes, these two factors can feed off one another and lead to one another. BUT, they are different things and need to be addressed separately.
Anxiety can be caused by a medical condition or by environmental factors. Left untreated, anxiety caused by environmental factors can lead to medical conditions. I am not a doctor and I cannot give you medical advice. If you have medical anxiety, please speak to your doctor and come up with a plan to tackle your anxiety. Some of the tips I have can help folks with generalized anxiety disorder, but you still need a medical professional’s opinion.
So if you’re feeling anxious because of stress at work, with money, with family or friends, with current events, or the like, you can use controlled breathing to help tone it down.
You take a slow, deep breath all the way into your belly, hold it for 5 seconds, and then slowly exhale over 5 seconds. Repeat it 4 times and you’ll have successfully calmed your nervous system down.
What does that mean? That your heart rate has slowed, that your digestion has normalized, that you’ll stop releasing extra cortisol.
Overwhelm comes because our heads have too many things to process at one time and it doesn’t know what to do with them.
Which are the most important? Which can wait? Which are extras that aren’t important at all? Your brain has no idea, so you get that immensely uncomfortable, defeated feeling of:
“Fuck, I am so overwhelmed right now.”
It’s like your brain is in a little hamster wheel, running as fast as it can, but getting absolutely nowhere. How do you jump out of the wheel without catching your foot in the gap?
And then what happens when you start feeling that overwhelm? Probably one of two things:
- You freak out and try to get EVERYTHING that’s overwhelming you done so you won’t have 36 things hanging over your head, or…
- You decide that you’re so overwhelmed you can’t do ANYTHING so you cancel all your weekend goal-plans and start watching The West Wing from the beginning on Netflix.
(I did just start watching The West Wing and I love it and how did I go so long without having it in my life?)
Overwhelm is insidious and vaguely neutral-evil like that.
It’s also self-defeating and self-replicating, like a nasty virus.
And it’s also something you can change by focusing on the cause instead of the symptoms.
Those feelings of “Oh god, so busy” or “Help me, what do I do first?” are the symptoms of overwhelm, but something caused them. Instead of playing Dr. Western Med and just Rx-ing yourself some Xanax, you need to play Dr. Holistic and find the real cause.
What does Dr. Holistic think could be causing your overwhelm? Only you can know for sure, but the following list has a bunch of common causes:
- One “busy” day at work raising your adrenaline levels and making you associate work with “busy”
- Missing a deadline, through no fault of your own
- Missing a deadline because you screwed around
- Hearing others say they are busy and then internalizing that
- Being late for work, an appointment, or a meeting
- Failing to prepare for something and feeling caught on the wrong foot for the rest of the week
- Setting unSMART goals and holding yourself to the impossible standards that result from those
- Not being realistic about what it would take to complete a project
- Trying to sound important by saying you’re busy, and then getting annoyed when your brain believes you
- Low self-esteem and/or confidence
- Sometimes we really are busy—but not recognizing when that period is over, and letting the overwhelmed feeling continue
- I love this post from Jess Creatives: Why You Should Stop Doing #AllOfTheThings
- WhyWeSuffer had a really great + scientific explanation of overwhelm if you’d like to dig a little deeper: The Origins of Feeling Overwhelmed
Alchemists, how have you been keeping your mental space in good order? Do you have any tips or tricks to share with other readers?