You know that feeling when the phone is ringing, someone is trying to have a conversation with you, you've got a floating to-do list in your head, noisy family demands and then the door goes? That is what life feels like at capacity and we all know it to some degree.
This year has been a real journey for me. I started feeling strong, creative and knowing effortlessly my next steps until bit by little bit I found myself floundering. The things I had been doing so easily were suddenly impossibly hard work. As I tried to plug the same amount of energy in at the end as I had at the beginning, I was surprised to find that instead of feeling fulfilled and excited, it felt overwhelming and daunting. Here are some things I learned along the way...
The danger of comparison
You might think that because you have a friend who gets up at 2 in the morning, runs a marathon every other day and single-handedly holds up a family and a business - someone who it seems is doing it all - that you shouldn't complain because you are struggling with your job, your family or your own mental health. I was baffled by my sudden crash because I am lucky and supported in so many ways. For those few weeks it almost felt like I didn't deserve to have a tricky time, but things don't work that way.
Any kind of comparison is pointless at best and really damaging at worst. There are so many variables that it will always be apples and oranges, not to mention that the window you have on someone else's world is tiny and what you can see in it is much less complicated than their actual life.
In EFT we also come across this a lot. You have the original feeling (say overwhelm), and then the guilt, resistance and self-directed anger compound the original challenge.
If we can turn kindness inwards to start with it can avoid those layers of pain and negative emotion on top of what is already a difficult experience. Shouting at yourself for feeling tired never offered anyone more energy.
If the body asks for rest and we respond by dragging it forwards harder and faster, we take longer to recover and the road becomes a lot more difficult and unfriendly in the meantime.
Going with the flow
When you are riding high, feeling successful and juggling all your plates effortlessly it's an amazing feeling. It's also temporary, like everything else.
For those energy-rich weeks, months or years we can add more and more to our plates and they will keep spinning. It's exciting and fun but it can mean that when our energy levels start to fall we find those extra plates overwhelming.
It's at those times that we can give into self-criticism, being the person who stands next to the plate-spinner shouting unreasonable demands as they become more and more flustered. Bad for everyone and really not going to make a difference to the fact that we can't go as fast as we did and some of those plates are getting dropped.
Instead we could do what we would tell any friend to do - get rid of the ones we don't need.
This is tricky, especially when we are really attached to them all but the reality is that something has to fall and if we don't consciously decide what it is it might be something crucial - our self care, our important relationships, our health.
If you're an achiever or maybe you like to do everything to amazing standards - which ones can you realistically drop (even if it's uncomfortable) to give yourself that recharge? When you are already running on almost-empty, priorities are key. Forget needing to have an immaculate house or be the host for family gatherings, never mind about taking on extra responsibilities at work if it's not life and death and someone else can do it. It's not the time to be a yes man or woman, even if it's your default.
It's also worth remembering that fluctuation is natural, it's just the seasons of ourselves and it can't be perpetual summer. The leaves will come back to the trees in spring whether we are underneath the tree screaming at them to hurry all winter or not.
Does it make you proud?
This is worth knowing.
If you are someone who hears the phrase 'I don't know how you do it' a lot - does a part of you love it and want to hold on to the label of being someone who can always manage, who doesn't need to ask for help? Does needing to be the likable, up for anything go-to person make it hard to say no?
There is a little hit of achievement every time we manage a tricky juggle, complete a big project, maybe squeeze one more job in. There is also a cost if we didn't really have the time and energy to give to it before we started.
If you knew you were at capacity, how easy would you find it to say no to the next ask? If the answer is 'not very' or similar, it's worth understanding why. There are things that have to be done, even when they feel impossible but more of those plates than we sometimes care to admit are bonuses rather than necessities.
Being the go-to person is amazing and doing lots of things well is a great achievement but it's not worth your wellbeing and it's not possible to sustain unless you support yourself like you support others. Saying 'that's enough' is not a failure, it's an act of love.
It's on you
Ultimately, the thing to remember is that no one else is going to be responsible for making sure you have enough energy or for looking after your needs. If you're someone who struggles to connect with them or express them in the first place, no one else will even know what they are.
The changes can be tiny. If you feel glued to your desk can you check in with yourself each hour and ask if you need a break, a cuppa, to go to the toilet! We can get so lost in finishing a task that we neglect basic needs. For the bigger things, like feeling overwhelmed with family life - is there anywhere you can take a few minutes to read something, listen to an audiobook, write a journal or eat something you love in peace? More time is even better.
The key is the focus and giving yourself some attention so that you're not blindsided when you realise you've been running on empty for weeks and so that, once you know, you can use the tools you need to come back to balance.
That tool for me was and is EFT, a line of connection into ourselves that also offers the insights into how to move forward in a healthy, kind way.
If you think about your wellbeing as something precious it becomes easier to protect. There might be things happening in your life that make that balance very hard to achieve but it can always be worked towards as much as possible.
If we have very little to give for whatever reason, it's even more important that some of it is given to you.
Because we're not actually in control of what happens next...
If we carry on regardless, ignoring the red flags and being 'productive' at all costs, the consequence is burn out. Lethargy, brain fog and big implications for physical and mental health. The body and mind will eventually take the rest they need, with or without our permission.
In a world that prizes doing above everything, it can pay dividends to check in and offer ourselves the kindness and permission we would so easily give to someone else.
My focus for 2024 is balance.
Taking care of myself doesn't mean stopping or even doing less. I am looking forward to achieving as much and more as I did in 2023 - but in a paced, sustainable way and in better partnership with my mind and body, who deserve for me to listen and respond when I push them too hard.
Wishing you a 2024 filled with success, health and plenty of recharge x
If you are struggling with overwhelm and burnout or would like to know how EFT can support you to work through resistance to putting yourself first, get in touch for a free consultation.
Questions worth asking...
Have I been keeping up my hobbies and interests?
Am I getting less joy from things I usually love?
Am I feeling sluggish physically, or less creative and sharp?
What gives me joy and how can I build it in, even if it's for tiny moments?
What do I need right now?
I'm Jess, EFT Practitioner & mindfulness teacher, adoptive mum to two adorable little fireworks and a passionate advocate of the idea that change really is possible, no matter how far away it feels.