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9 Steps to Combat Exhaustion and Overwhelm


The first time I picked up Brendan Burchard’s, “High-Performance Habits,” I couldn’t finish it. I got one chapter in and bailed.

I wanted to be up for the task, but the truth is, at that point, I was exhausted.

A week ago, I’d run out of creative and emotional fuel. I couldn’t think of a darn thing to write about, let alone work on my website or the next email.

Reading has always been my motivational refuel, but I hadn’t read a book in months. My father died 4 months ago, and grief took away my ability to focus.

Having experienced a lot of loss in my life, I learned long ago the world doesn’t wait for you to finish grieving. In fact, grief has no timetable at all, but your business requires your attention, no matter what.

I stared at the stack of books in my bookcase, and High-Performance Habits was at the bottom of the stack. I felt a nudge to pick it up, but avoided it, even going online to Amazon to search for something else. Two-day shipping seemed like an eternity because quite frankly, I felt mentally starved at that very moment.

I thought about a nap, but I knew it would take me even deeper into avoidance because my writing schedule is 4:00 pm–7:00 pm, and it would put me out of the “creative zone.”

I reluctantly picked up the book and began to read about Burchard’s client, Lynn, a successful woman who invited Brendan over to her home to secretly reveal she, too, was exhausted from doing it all. In fact, even though she was successful, she felt like a failure because internally she couldn’t manage the enormity of her life.

Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. I guess I’m not alone! I wanted to cry, but I held it in, just as she held in all those feelings she was dying to let out.

Do you ever feel like that? Exhausted, overwhelmed, and out of juice?
That was certainly me. I’m a successful businesswoman, but I go through periods of feeling like I’m not moving forward and I’m running out of time to achieve all that I hoped to become.

When I’m in this state, the thought of even beginning my next project feels overwhelming, even though it is at the very core of what fuels my ability to be successful in my work.

It’s as though the oxygen is taken away from my creative flow….

And I sigh.

In an article in Psychology Today, it cites that “sighs are associated with a negative mood — a sign of disappointment, defeat, frustration, boredom, and longing.”

You take a deep breath in and look for a spark of enthusiasm or a new idea that can get you out of the funk, but it’s a struggle because you can’t take a breath deep enough to satisfy the yearning.

Overwhelm takes over your entire life and manifests itself in exhaustion.

The symptoms of overwhelm and exhaustion are almost interchangeable. It’s our secret pain because if we let it out, we’ll be thought of as not professional or not competent, relinquishing our “high performance” status. But you know it has stripped you of strength, creativity, and joy.

Feels like failure, doesn’t it?

On the outside, we look like we have it all together. On the inside, we are suffering. By all appearances, we’re high performers. But it doesn’t feel like it, and we know it’s not sustainable. I’d like to shift your thinking for a moment and marvel at your strength. You are where you are because of your ability to perform in a complex world, rolling with the fluctuations in life.

Overwhelm and stress are common feelings among high achievers. You’re not a failure because you feel exhausted or overwhelmed. In fact, it indicates you’re pretty darn amazing at all you’ve achieved so far.

The symptoms of overwhelm

I researched the symptoms of overwhelm (Psychology Today) and they are. things like, low energy, feeling disengaged, losing confidence, treating every problem like a BIG problem. There was no doubt, I was experiencing all of them.

I committed to devising a strategy for alleviating the pressure I was feeling and began taking positive steps for my recovery. Here’s what I discovered…

1. Identify your overwhelm.

It’s sometimes hard to identify the cause, but in truth, the root of it is usually caused by one or two things.

It feels like chaos. Start writing the chaos down. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense on paper. Don’t edit. I call it, “Doing a Rewrite on Your Very Bad Day.” You’ll discover the process to be quite healing and give clarity to your current situation.

Then, identify one or two areas where you feel you are truly exhausted. Is it within your business or personal life, or both? For me, I had one professional issue and one profoundly personal issue.

2. Identify which issues you feel you can resolve with swift and intentional action, beginning tomorrow.

There’s a difference between situational stress and emotional stress.

My real estate profession was overwhelming, but not for the reasons you would think. I had plenty of business, but I needed to get my 4 years required testing done before December 31st of this year. The stress of it was overwhelming.

The swiftest way to solve and complete the task was to book a quick trip to Monterey where a 3-day seminar included the required testing. Lucky me. I grew up in Monterey, so it was like going home. I passed the test and now look forward to renewed enthusiasm for my clients.

The second stress was something I couldn’t remedy, the loss of my father. Grief is a lingering emotion that rears up with lots of sighing, tears, and feelings of despair.

Nothing can reverse the loss. But, I could change how I react.

After weeks of feeling depressed, I began to realize my father was ready to die. He was 91, and he was mentally exhausted. His body was tired, too. He’d say things like, “Sandy, sometimes I think it’s time for me to just throw in the towel.”

I protested, saying. “No Dad, You’ve got lots of life left in you!” But he didn’t. It was torture for him to watch my stepmom slowly deteriorate from Alzheimer’s.

He died gently under anesthesia as surgeons tried to save his weakened heart valve. The last thing I said to him was, “I love you,” and “we’ve got lots planned for next week, Dad!”

It was so “high achiever” of me. Always looking toward the next goal, but in truth, my Dad had enough of life.

I’ve reframed his loss and now think how fortunate he was to have achieved all that he had… a wonderful family man and an Admiral in the Navy for goodness sake!

Dad was ready to relinquish his earthly command, turning the care of his wife over to the professional caregivers.

Admiral Albright now stands by at his new command, waiting to greet her when it’s her time to leave this planet.

Whenever I feel sad, I picture Dad looking at his watch impatiently, waiting for my 96-year-old stepmom to join him. It makes me smile.

3. Write down a list of things you need to get done in the next week.

From that list, circle the things you know you can handle. Put a star by the things you can delegate to others.

My business life is real estate, but my creative passion is writing. I discovered long ago, setting a scheduled time to write is far better than “waiting for inspiration.” I am more productive because of that time commitment.

Cross the things off your list that just don’t matter. Learn to say “no” when you’re stressed for time and focus. I’ve begun to turn down engagements that don’t interest me, or that cause more stress. It has cleared my calendar and my head.

By identifying only the things you need to do next week, it takes the pressure off of feeling the enormity of the whole picture. This gives high-performance people some peace and some perspective until the overwhelm has passed.

4. Schedule something to look forward to.

Schedule a trip, plan a purchase of something you’ve been wanting, or create an event with family or friends. Consider this a reward to look forward to when achieving your accomplishments.

My husband and I schedule several trips a year. We both have heavy business schedules, and getting away refreshes our marriage and our spirits.

Long ago, my manager told me he is a big believer in rewards. He encouraged me to buy myself something personal after closing every escrow. This last time I treated myself to a Kate Spade bag I’d been eyeing.

5. Ask for help and relinquish the need to control everything.

People love helping people. When we stop that from happening we interrupt the vital reciprocal relationship we have with others. Consider the people in your life who can help you with a particular task and just ask.

When my beautiful 16-year-old son died unexpectedly of meningitis, one of the hardest things I had to do was make a trip to the grocery store. It was often where I’d run into people who heard of my loss. Having to talk about it while grocery shopping was often more than I could bear.

I had friends who offered to grocery shop for me, and some would even come to my house with a prepared meal. It was such a relief.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your friends and your support system. I discovered my friends were a stronger life net than I ever dreamed. Because of it, we formed relationships that go beyond anything you can imagine. We are here on this planet to have shared experiences, the good and the bad. You will help them, and they will help you.

6. Technically speaking…

If you have computer overwhelm, hire someone. Websites and computer help used to be expensive. Not anymore.

I hired a virtual assistant to help with tasks that drive me insane… like contact management programs and Internet promotion. The cost of paying someone is well worth the emotional freedom.

As for household tasks, my time is money. I’d rather do my job and make money to pay someone to clean my house.

7. Organize and schedule client contact and social media.

Schedule your Email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter time… Isn’t that a lot! I question how many platforms are integral to my business.

I often chastise myself for spending too much time on social media and emails. I admit I am addicted to that little “hit” I’m looking for every time I tune in.

It rarely satisfies, but I do it again and again. The interview with author and Ted Talk speaker, Simon Sinek, clearly explains why, when you get a text, it feels good. After viewing this, I had a whole new perspective on my phone addiction. Take 4 minutes to watch the video.

Social media is an integral part of my business structure and connections, so it’s not practical to think I could stop altogether. But, I can limit and schedule it by turning off notifications and setting social media interaction at specific times in my day.

I’ll report back on how it’s working!

8. Schedule time to stop.

As a writer, I tend to keep writing until I’m forced to stop by hunger or sleep. I’ve learned to schedule an end time and to stop mid-sentence (as Ernest Hemingway advised new writers) so I’m ready to pick it up the next day where I left off.

Schedule your lunch hour. When you work from home, you don’t always remember to stop and eat. If you have the opposite problem of perusing the kitchen every 15 minutes, then schedule your break times. ONLY then should you get up from your desk. Sometimes, instead of going to the kitchen, step outside and enjoy the fresh air for 10 minutes.

9. Make time for the repair of our souls.

Repair of our weary spirits involves a trifecta of implementation, addressing the body, mind, and spirit.

Exercise is non-negotiable, and so should mental exercise. Try starting every day with an inspirational book and quiet reflection. Then make room each day for exercise. Your body releases “feel good” chemicals when you exercise.

I discovered this in my own life after my son died. I returned to the gym just a few days later. I hid my tear-swollen eyes with sunglasses and did my workout with a friend. After, I realized I felt SO much better. From that point forward I included exercise as a healing tool for grief and a necessity for living a healthy life.

Arianna Huffington wrote an entire book (Thrive) on the importance of sleep in our personal and professional lives.

At the end of the day, you’ve likely been on information and exhaustion overload, and it’s difficult to shut down.

Research noted in The Scientific American shows that the blue light from computers, iPads, or mobile phones causes sleep interruption if you view the devices just before sleep. They advise turning off all devices, including television, at least an hour before bed.

Create bedtime rituals.

I’ve created a sanctuary in my home out of burnout necessity. It’s my peaceful, happy place. I now give rest to my weary senses by creating bedtime rituals with soft music, a good book, and some lavender oil infused into the air. And for me, 8 hours sleep. Then I know I’m at my personal best.

Remember… the feeling of overwhelm is an indication you need to make some changes.

When you dissect your overwhelm in the steps above, you will realize it stems from one or two areas of your life that bleed into all areas of your life. Your breakthrough will be in recognizing the steps to take from those one or two stressors.

Never was this more apparent than the experience of losing people I loved.

How I wish I could exchange the overwhelm that stole precious moments from my day when my son was alive.

His loss taught me you could not count on another minute, another day, or even next week.

You are here on this planet for one thing… to make an imprint that is all your own, based on expressing love every day through your work, through your play, and most of all through your family and loving relationships.

Don’t let overwhelm steal your purpose.

Let overwhelm inform you of things you need to change. Recognize your strength and fortitude and give yourself the gift of implementing change one day at a time.

I promise you’ll get your joy back.



This post was previously published on www.sandypeckinpah.com and is republished here with permission from the author.

Photo credit: Istockphoto.com



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