During lockdown, I’ve been lucky to be able to help c1000 people manage their emotional well-being through my popular ‘Building Resilience’ webinars.
Having exposure to so many people has highlighted several common reactions to the excessive amount of change we’ve all been facing, and its negative effects.
Based on the feedback from my sessions, following are the top five things that could signify that you are in emotional overwhelm and how to combat each one successfully.
1. Difficulty focussing
If you are struggling to focus on even the most simple of tasks, chances are, you’re trying to do too much at once, or are not accurately prioritising jobs.
Writing lists is a brilliant way to combat this. When there are too many things in our heads, they always seem much bigger/more difficult than they really are.
Get everything out of your head and on to a list (I call it a ‘Tolerations List,’ i.e. a list of things that need dealing with, but you’ve been tolerating). ‘What gets written down gets done’ and signifies to your unconscious brain that you’re committed to taking action.
Next, prioritise your list in terms of the biggest pay off and get straight into action. I recommend doing your ugliest/hardest/worst job first (often we spend more time worrying about doing the thing we should do than it would take to do it).
Once you’ve completed your ‘ugly task’, the rest will be a breeze. We are ‘completion creatures’, so getting your worst job done first, will give you a sense of achievement and help positively set you up for completing the rest.
2. Using ‘numbing’ activities/feeling constantly exhausted
If you find that you are putting off work or other essential things such as exercise in favour of what I call ‘numbing activities’, it can signify overwhelm. By numbing activities, I’m referring to excessive levels of ‘Netflix’ binging, online shopping, gaming, alcohol consumption, etc.
All of those things are fine in moderation but can signify a problem if they become out of control/take up most of your ‘spare’ time or you use them to replace things you should be doing.
To understand where you’re spending most of your time, consider completing an activities review. Over the course of a week, make a note of how much time you spend on the types of things that add no value. Often, we don’t realise how much time we are wasting. If, at the end of the week, you consider it to be excessive, make a conscious choice to do something about it.
To combat procrastination, use the 18.104.22.168.1 method (Mel Robbins). Research shows that there is around a five-second lag between having a thought and taking action. Your brain is designed to avoid pain, and therefore, if you don’t want to do something, in that five seconds your unconscious mind will invent any number of reasons not to do it.
To circumvent this inbuilt safety mechanism, as soon as you have the idea, count back out loud from five to one and launch yourself straight into action, giving it no further conscious thought. Counting down occupies your unconscious brain and removes the space it needs to come up with excuses!
3. Trouble sleeping
Your sleep patterns are a good indicator of your emotional well-being. If you’re having trouble getting off to sleep or, like many people, you’re waking up at 3.00 am it could be an indicator of emotional overwhelm.
If you’re having trouble falling to sleep, your usual sleep pattern has likely been disrupted during lockdown. To remedy this, go to bed and get up at the same time (even at weekends) consistently for two weeks – taking care not to oversleep (most adults only need around 8 hours).
If you wake up at around 3.00 am, DO NOT reach for your phone/turn on the light or TV. Instead, leave a notepad by the side of your bed. When you wake, reach for the pad and scribble down whatever thought woke you; it will reassure your subconscious that the problem has been dealt with and it’s likely that you’ll fall straight back to sleep. It doesn’t matter if it’s legible or not – you were woken because there was something your subconscious wasn’t able to satisfactorily ‘file’ away.
If you do this over a couple of nights, you’ll find that you stop waking up (unless you need the loo … I can’t help you with that one!).
4. Difficulty regulating your thoughts/emotions
Even very positive people have found themselves struggling to manage their thoughts and emotions during lockdown, and it’s been even worse for existing worriers.
It’s critical to remember that WE CREATE OUR THOUGHTS. They aren’t plopped in our brain by a superhuman being, we create every single one. Therefore, with the right tools and knowledge, we can also control and change them.
We cannot have two thoughts at once. Therefore, as soon as you notice yourself having a negative thought, immediately think about something positive/happy/fun. For some, that can be a problem if they’re already on a negative downward spiral. If that’s the case for you, I suggest making a list of things that make you smile/happy and keep it with you. As soon as you notice a negative thought (and now you’ve read this, you’ll be more conscious of them), and deliberately change your thoughts to something more positive from your list.
Another great way of changing your emotions is moving your body. Motion creates emotion. As soon as we change our physiology, we change how we feel. Getting up and going for a 20-minute walk not only helps burn off stress hormones such as cortisol, norepinephrine and adrenaline, but it also releases feel-good ones such as endorphins and dopamine. Use the 22.214.171.124.1 technique if you’re struggling to motivate yourself to move.
5. Constant headaches, feeling generally unwell
When we are continually in fight or flight (our body’s response to excessive stress), over time, it can adversely affect our health. As I’ve already discussed, when we are continually in this mode, it negatively affects our biochemistry. If we do nothing to address the unhelpful levels of hormones, over time, they can suppress our immune systems, leaving us more prone to infection and illness.
Exercise, healthy eating and good sleep will undoubtedly make a huge difference in combating the stress response; however, if you’re feeling unwell for a prolonged period, you should seek professional advice and support.
There is no stigma attached to getting help for mental health issues; in fact, on the contrary, it signifies great strength. Therefore, please reach out to a friend, colleague, health professional sooner rather than later if you’re struggling with your health or mental well-being.
I hope you found this useful. If you’d like to study this topic in more detail, I have an online course available to help you build and maintain your mental resilience. Click here for more information or contact me for a free, no-obligation conversation about how I can help you through 1:2:1 coaching.