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Overcoming Overwhelm: Five Key Steps To Visualizing, Organizing, And Using It.

I sat here for longer than I’d like to admit staring at a blank document- The cursor flashing like a four-way stop light, words ready to be typed once I figured out which ones to use and in what order to do so. The irony was not lost on me.
I’m writing about overwhelm and I couldn’t seem to step back long enough to just let it happen.  Therein lies my first point.
1.  Write down whatever five words show up first.  
It doesn’t matter what they’re about.  They could be about the morning or about something stressful in the office.  They could be about dinner last night.  From there, write 5 more that have even a slight relevance to them.
1st:
Cat
Breakfast
Drive
Blue
Wine
2nd:
Soft
Fed
Travel
Favorite
Break
In one step, I’ve gone from objects of every day life to concepts of things I enjoy.  Let’s take it a step further.
3rd:
Nurture
Health
Goal
Change
Companionship
This strategy can be applied to anything your brain reacts to as an attack.  We are wired to immediately deflect these in the form of doubt.  We doubt this will work.  We doubt we have the ability to overcome whatever is creating our stress.
2.  Visualize everything you can.  
Five apples into one bowl.  Five people into one car.  Five concepts on one hand.  It can be daunting to come up with FIVE things to write.  But visualizing the fact that you can count them on ONE hand will ignite a different part of your brain that involves that familiar fight or flight response to pressure.  Visualizing putting five big things onto one surface lets you know it’s manageable and definitely not as chaotic as you want to think it is.
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3.  Count your steps.
This can be taken literally or figuratively.  There is a technique in anxiety and stress management called “grounding” that I’ve found to be highly valuable in dealing with those moments of overwhelming blankness.  You know the ones-  A crippling sense of absolutely everything and nothing going on in your head at once causing a massive short-circuit and a blown fuse.. Maybe that’s just me.
Literally, the act of stepping away to walk and regroup is highly effective.  As you walk, count.  As you count, just keep doing that.  You’re clearing your head to make way for something simple and naturally restorative.
Figuratively, you’re already over half way through the five key steps to overcoming your situation.
4.  Think of two things you look forward to having settled.
Being an extremely visual person, I consider myself lucky to see this as literally switching off as many lights as possible to focus on just one or two spotlights.  When we’re overwhelmed, it’s relatively easy for us to just shut them all off and walk away from a dark room.  We don’t have to look at it then and will somehow deal with the mess later.  The problem with this is in the build up.  That room is still there full of the mess that has yet to be sorted.  This is where the idea of pulling any two things out will help.
Consider it this way:  Organizing your tasks into a list by order of importance and deadline is the first thing to cross off of it!
5.  Give yourself a break.  
This can be the toughest step to take.  We are wired to be our own worst enemy.  It’s a primal nod to how we evolve as people.  If we didn’t challenge ourselves, we wouldn’t get past merely existing.  In a world full of constant static and distractions, it’s easy to let that natural self-challenge to become self-doubt instead.  There are two common and valid hangups with this step.
The concept of giving ourselves a break can seem counterproductive.
The question I get most often:
“How are we supposed to make progress if we are off taking a break?”
My question back:
“How are we supposed to make progress if we’re too exhausted from not taking one?”
Here’s what I mean:  We have to recharge.  We deserve to do it and trust that it is part of a strategy in reaching a goal.  We cannot reach them if we’re on empty.  Taking a break for even ten minutes of mindless Solitaire is more beneficial than we may realize.  It isn’t all or nothing.  It’s ten minutes of putting cards in order.
The biggest key I try to convey to any one of my peers struggling with stress and exhaustion is this:  You deserve to trust yourself and trust the fact that it will get figured out.  You deserve to slow down and let it.

One Minute Day Maker

I woke up and managed to polish this morning’s edition of myself entirely too early.  This meant I had extra time to spread coffee-fueled, unsolicited morning greetings to a far less enthused group of peers.
This morning was different, though.  Perhaps it was due to a pending early exit for me to spend time with a wonderful friend this afternoon.  Or perhaps it had something to do with a particularly energetic morning soundtrack brought to me in part by Robert Randolph And The Family Band.
I came around the corner as an equally cheerful coworker came up hiding something in the palm of her hand.  Her smile lit up as she said with her signature giggle, “I thought of you this weekend.” She slid something across the file cabinet toward me;  a shiny new discount card to replace the expiring one she gave me last year.  I was elated.  It was thoughtful and the timing was absolutely perfect.
I looked at the card as I held it out and thought of such a sweet gesture dropping out of nowhere and into my day.  Something stopped me.
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Upon closer inspection, I realized I was smiling back at my beautiful friend Katie in her blue work vest beaming with pride for a job I know she loves.
What appeared to be an overly done spectacle of excitement over a discount card was actually a surge of spontaneous joy personified.  Someone took a minute of their day to brighten even a minute of someone else’s.  She had no idea whose smile she was handing me.  She does now.  (Let’s be honest- The entire department does now.)
These are the moments where our opportunities write themselves to show our intent.   We never know what will stem from a few seconds of time and thoughtfulness.  We know something will.
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Camp cabin = Impromptu hair salon

And just like that- My day made me.
There are countless chances in our days to do something for the person next to us.  I challenge myself and anyone reading this to follow one step:  Find something short, sweet, and intentional to do for another.
Refill a coffee cup.
Leave a quarter in the vending machine.
Tell someone how genuine you think they are.
What are your one minute day makers done both for you and for others?

The Break And The Balance Of Using Our Stress

Our brains are wired to respond to stress and stimulation in very specific ways.  Adrenaline, endorphins, Serotonin, and Cortisol are all ready to fire in an effort to balance your body.

But what if we take the same approach as the humans that embody all of these chemicals and hormones?  What if we are able to have complete control of how WE respond to our situations and the actions we take just as the body responds to what it perceives as something that needs fixed?

This is where the pure benefit of stress management outweighs any situation we are experiencing.  In the midst of all of the chaotic physical responses to our stress, our bodies are just trying to balance.  We often forget to do the same outside of the physical form of us.

Here are my favorite five stress management essentials proven to alleviate some of the physical side effects of our experiences.

1.  Handle with care.

Being prepared for the inevitable curveballs life throws isn’t just about having a backup plan.  It’s about what you’ll do when it’s time to use it and what you’ll do if even THAT falls through.  We are programmed for comfort.  If you find yourself getting into that loop of negative thoughts, here’s your opportunity to physically make an effort to change your scenery.  Talk a walk.  Step outside.  Sit down and compile a grocery list.  Doing something small will be reason enough for your brain to take some of the focus away from the chaos.

2.  Look for the gifts.

We don’t have to accept everything with great positivity.  In fact, we can allow ourselves to get angry or upset.  I find almost daily that if I’m frustrated or overwhelmed with any situation, my instinct is to let it sink me.  That’s natural.  Luckily, I have also discovered that I learn an incredible amount of patience through such things.

Our trials are our tools to find what we’re really made of and, more importantly, what we’re made for.

3.  Give.

When our own lives get to be too consumed with daily stress, we tend to look only at OUR current status.  We tend to block out much of what goes on with others simply because we’re consumed with trying to balance ourselves.  But here’s a flip side I have found to be invaluable;  Giving your energy to someone else in need of it breathes new energy into you.  It clears out some of the space in your own mind as you use that pent up stress to fuel an effort to give.  When you wake up to racing thoughts of pressure from work, sadness over a loss, or even just a feeling of being stuck, USE that anxiety.  The negative energy you shed in walking up to a volunteer opportunity gets to be transformed into positive energy for someone else as they hold the tray you’re filling for them.

4.  Sit down.

I see people every day who have somehow convinced themselves that they don’t deserve a break.  The fact is, breaks are not earned.  They’re required in order to keep going.  We cannot operate without them.  I’ve found that it’s more of a responsibility to take reasonable breaks in order to fuel actual productivity and clarity.

5.  Rinse and Repeat.

This is perhaps the most difficult step for me.  After the exhaustion of mental and physical response to stress and putting in the effort to practice the first 4 essentials, it’s often more daunting to me to do it all over again.  The key I’ve found here is patience-  Slowing down and trusting that the process of repeating eventually gets easier.  Implementing new ideas in handling stress is stressful in itself.  If we are able to step back however, we will see that it does get easier.  It becomes the automatic response.  This is where using stress is crucial.

Eventually, we handle our situations as they slowly, but surely stop handling us.

How many times can I say “I”…

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I’m the old trying to be new. Sometimes I’m the wrong trying to be right.  I’m the work in progress trying to stay that way.  I like to think everything balances in the long run..

I love that it all ties together somehow.

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I run.  I write.  I love reading, self-dates, cooking, all kinds of music, and stand-up comedy.  I’ll talk to anyone.  I’ll talk a lot.  Sometimes my filter is broken but that keeps things exciting. I quote Seinfeld and Wayne’s World to the point where it gets awkward.  I never speed.  I love to dance.  I have Earth, Wind, & Fire dance parties on a regular basis.  I’m not above crawling on the floor of the thrift shop for the best deals.  I go to bed too early.

I have all the joy, anxiety, and irrational fears a single gal can accumulate in just under 34 years.

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The last few years of my life have included some huge changes.  I’ve learned to fuel myself- To be good to what I have.  I’ve learned to keep going.  I want to share my new experiences.

I’m thankful for a story to tell.

Me the Foodie…

I’ve changed just about everything in my life over the last couple of years.  Part of that change involved something I’ve always loved the most.  Food.  It was the reason for so many things.  The reason for celebration.  Sadness.. Guilt.. Relief.. Nourishment.. It was the reason I ultimately needed to change my life in order to save it.

Part of my fear in my weight loss journey was being able to stick with new, better habits.  What if I couldn’t do it?  What if I never found something interesting enough to hold my attention?  What if I failed and ended up right back where I started?  I weighed my options.  I decided this would be require an enirely new lifestyle.  Not just counting calories and working out.. This would require a something that would allow me to be free and feel good.. I could not get bored as I had time and time again.  I had to stay excited for this to work.

Enter my good friend Gluten.  We had to part ways.  After several “going away” parties of course.  I chose the gluten free route.  It seemed easy enough.  I could just look for labels that clarified my preference.. I quickly learned how wrong I was.  It was discouraging at first.  I wanted to give up.  That’s when I discovered that I, Darah, would actually get out my pots and pans.. I would conquer this.  I started diving into the recipe books.  I started reading about the science of all of this.  It started to get interesting.  I found that I actually enjoy and can completely satisfy my inner-geek with this- my new adventures in cooking.

It’s gone pretty well I’d say.

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I’ve discovered that a butternut squash doesn’t have to just sit there and be a butternut squash.  It can be brushed with coconut oil, sprinkled with sea salt, and baked into something wonderful.

I’ve discovered that blenders are awesome..

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And I’ve discovered how much I love the endless possibilities of something I have always loved so much.  The feeling of finally realizing that this is nourishment is beautiful.  Food should not be an assault on the body.  It should not be the enemy.  I am here to share.  This is part of my journey.