Do you ever feel overwhelmed at work or at home?

Before you answer that, know that you’re living and breathing (or perhaps hyperventilating) through one of the most overwhelming eras of our time. The relentless urgency and endless distractions of our personal and professional lives may be the defining tenets of 21st century life.

But more than defining us, these never-ending and overwhelming distractions have made Americans one of the most stressed out populations on the globe, Gallup’s 2019 Global Emotions report shows. Out of 143 nations and over 150,000 respondents, Americans rank seventh in the high-level stress, anger and worry they feel daily. About 55% reported experiencing stress “a lot of the day,” compared to 35% of individuals globally.

Worst of all, this is chronic stress—namely, the kind that makes it hard to sleep, fight off illness, alters moods and affects personal relationships.  Chronic stress is a national epidemic for all genders and ages, but especially millennials, according to research by Everyday Health.  No wonder this cohort has been christened The Burnout Generation by BuzzFeedNews and seeks psychotherapy more often than any other generation, Psychology Today reports.

And no wonder almost all of us feel stressed out, anxious and overwhelmed.

We exist in an always-on culture that promotes and even celebrates permanent busyness. Workers at every level are affected by burnout, breakdown, fatigue, disengagement and a lack of emotional connection.  Distraction is a major obstacle—workers are being interrupted by all types of tools, ironically designed to make them better at their jobs.

Our family lives and relationships are also suffering from the ethos of constantly working ourselves into the ground. These misguided beliefs and real stresses have made true leisure time feel like a thing of the past.

So what’s the solution? Does the ideal “good life” that blends ease and happiness with productivity and success still exist? And if so, how do we find it? Can we find it on our smartphones with the help of an app? Or reconfigure the universe to add 10 more hours to our day? Or simply work harder?  Or, should we quit our jobs altogether?

Here’s the reality of the situation:  No, we can’t find the “good life” in an app or work wonders with the hours in a day. Many of us don’t have the wherewithal to work harder. And very few of us have the luxury to quit working.

Maybe the solution is to simply work and live smarter, or in a different manner.

THE SCIENCE OF RENEWAL

Overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed means taking the time to stop. This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed at how few of us are able to implement this effectively in our lives. Yet all it takes is a surprising new kind of mindset that changes the rhythm of how you work and live.

When you “time shift” between rest and activity, and between expending your energy and recovering it, you break the pattern of feeling overwhelmed and take back the energy you need to do what’s important to you and your success.

Studies show that rest, renewal and recovery are essential ingredients to your success in every part of your life.  A groundbreaking essay on this truth by acclaimed science writer Ferris Jabr, explains:

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”

While findings show that being overwhelmed can physically shrink the thinking brain, resting and renewal expands it.  “The frontal lobe brain networks — responsible for reasoning, planning, decision-making and judgment—work for you in creative ways when the brain is quiet, not while you are effortfully trying to find a solution to a problem. Moments of insight increase as the brain unwinds,” psychologist Sandra Bond Chapman writes in Psychology Today.

Why? Because when the activity of your brain settles down and becomes less active—the complex brain literally expands, and you begin to connect random ideas and transform them into new thoughts, viewpoints, insights and solutions. This is why learning to meditate, practicing yoga or simply slowing down and pausing for periods of time, increases your ability to think, remember and make decisions more clearly.

Giving your brain a break makes room for new creations. Giving yourself a break resets your rhythm. It helps you recover. And this makes you feel better.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR RENEWAL

If recovery, rest and allowing ourselves to be unplugged is so incredibly good for us, why don’t we do it more often?

I would argue that it’s because we haven’t disciplined ourselves enough—or perhaps, learned how to discipline ourselves away from the compulsion to keep on going. We need to build in the time for It’s what stops us. Paradoxically, the act of stopping teaches us that rest and renewal is necessary to getting anything of value done.

Steve Jobs once said something so wise about this topic. In the midst of a live event, when a heckler in the audience asked him about why a particular Apple project was killed, he said: “Focusing is about saying no.”

Training yourself to stop and rest—saying no to busyness—gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself. Stopping may be your meditation for the day. This is how it works.

5 STEPS TO RENEWAL

  1. Notice your busyness and say “no.”  When you’re in the middle of something, this takes real discipline. Trust me.
  2. Notice your distraction and fatigue and stop before it gets to the point of being overwhelming.  Be disciplined.
  3. Create “intentional” periods of uninterrupted time for work.
  4. Block “planned’ grace periods for breaks and renewal into your daily schedule.
  5. Understand time for renewal is just as important as time for work and stick to it.

You need to also say “yes” to other things: organizing your schedule to be at your child’s baseball practice, simply sitting in the sun absorbing Vitamin D in silence (with your phone on silent).

Rather than working even harder, start to shift how you work and how you recover. Build restorative renewal practices into your days, nights and even weekends, and create habits of resilience in your body and mind.

This ancient art of simply letting yourself switch off naturally enhances your ability to be your most creative and productive self.

 

To read more, download my latest e-Book for free: It Takes a Culture: Building a Wellness Strategy for the Modern, Distracted, Uber-Individualized Workforce

(Photo: Trike Daily)