5 Steps to Take Care of Yourself

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Working in the public sector can place high demands on your physical and emotional well-being. You're in jobs which require you to be switched on all the times. Unlike some other jobs I had, there was never a time when I was a probation officer that I said, "I don't have anything to do."

When you do have a holiday, rather than looking forward to it, you're thinking about all the work you have to do beforehand, doing the work you would do in the time that you're away in the weeks before you go. It makes you question, is it worth having a holiday at all?

You put in an excessive number of hours each week, building up your flexitime but not having time to take it. Your workloads are so high you are effectively doing the work of two people. You wish it wasn't like this because you don't know how much longer you can maintain this pace. You don't remember a time when you didn't feel tired.

If this is a situation you can relate to then maybe it is time to take better care of yourself. Here are 5 steps that might help.

  1. Set yourself boundaries and stick to them.  If you want a better work/home life balance, this does not happen by accident but by design. It's almost like you have to create a rule book for yourself and stick to the rules you make. Get off autopilot where work has become the main focus and switch your priorities to you
  2. Don't turn to behaviours which might make matters better in the short term but can lead to other issues later down the line. Each person has their own way of dealing with stress, high workloads, job pressures. The volume of work can often result in you putting in 12-hour days on a regular basis. For me, chocolate was the thing that momentarily made me feel better. I would not have a lunch break, often eating junk food at my desk, very rarely getting up to move about or going out to get some fresh air. Be aware of what behaviours become your short-term coping mechanisms and question how useful they are to you.
  3. Make the time to look after yourself. If you say you don't have the time, then maybe it’s time to review how you are spending your minutes and hours. We often tell ourselves that we are too busy to do this or that but in reality, our perception of time is skewed. Things don't take as long as we think they do, and we like to see ourselves as being busy. But, if we were honest with ourselves, watching the latest episode of Britain's Got Talent is just a form of procrastination.

    (If you want learn more about procrastination, read my blog post,
    5 Steps to Deal with Procrastination
    )

    If you don't believe me, make a list of everything you do during the day and night, and how much time you spend doing these things.  Look through your list and decide which things are the most important, the things that give you the most in return or what things are necessary.
  4. Identify which activities or environments which energise and drain you. This includes people who you spend your time with. As an introvert, getting away from everything is a way that I recharge my batteries. I like nothing more than renting a cottage in the middle of nowhere, spending the day at the beach or going for a walk in the woods with my dogs. It's not about being unsociable but being around large crowds or noisy environments, I find draining so I often turn to nature to boost my well-being. I have friend who are extroverts and for them, being in the thick it with lots of people boosts them no end.
  5. Take the pressure off yourself and give yourself permission to relax, to do nothing, to really switch off, do whatever you want. It is so easy to fall in the habit of just work, work, work. With targets to meet, you put in more and more hours and looking after yourself falls by the wayside and you tell yourself, you must do everything. As a result, you neglect your own needs and there is little wonder you might feel stressed, tired or at risk of being ill. You tell yourself you have no choice, but you do. Put you first and cut yourself some slack. You can only do some much within the working day, you are entitled and deserve to have an enjoyable life beyond the work environment. The problem is everyone feeds into this notion that you must get everything done, no matter what the cost. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy because it is us that places such high expectations on ourselves, not the organisation. When was the last time, you truly relaxed? If you haven't done it recently then make it your top priority this week.

It is so important to take care of yourself; you only have one life in this world, so you need to be able to make the most of it.

Facing Down Overwhelm

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As I sit here writing this blog post I can't help but feel a little overwhelmed because today I have loads to do and lots of things on my mind. Thoughts are racing, ideas forming and time is flying away from me.

Throughout my working life as a chemist and a probation officer, there were many times when feeling overwhelmed was a regular occurrence. I am sure it has been the same for you from time to time. Overwhelm is very common in both our personal and professional lives.

 For me, when I am in a state of overwhelm, it is as though I have a tornado in my head. At first, it is slowly forming, turning and picking up things as it does so. You can see and hear the thoughts, ideas, self-talk and information, swirling round but you can't grab hold of any of them. More thoughts flood in, together with negative emotions which feed even greater energy into the rotation which then seems to just be getting bigger and faster, the more you try to get control of it. You know you just need to grab hold of one thing, but everything is going too fast, you can't focus, and this just makes things worse.

There are many contributing factors to the state of feeling overwhelmed.

  • Constant interruptions: We live in an on-demand society, being bombarded by various demands upon our attention and time. Emails, notifications, phone calls, conversations, additional activities, the dog wanting to play, the kids running around the house or fighting over the TV. There might always be something or someone placing a demand on you. These can all serve to constantly interrupt our flow of attention on the task at hand.
  • Commitments & expectations: Taking on too many commitments can leave you going beyond the point of being stretched in a positive way to a sense of overwhelm as the number of commitments are too great, placing a strain on you. This is coupled with then both internal and external expectations you experience because how you feel you are, how you want to be seen and other people's previous experiences of you.
  • Emotional state: Feeling stressed or anxious can lead and compound to becoming overwhelmed. Equally some unexpected event can have an impact on your emotional state, be it feeling worried, upset or angry or being out of control, for example.
  • Tiredness: Not getting enough sleep and being physically exhausted can affect how we process things and how we respond to daily life.
  • Mindset: Whilst some people might thrive on pressure, there are others that struggle to deal with it. The pressure can be down to the high standards you might hold or an inability to say no. Sometimes we place more pressure on ourselves than others do.
  • Time: At the end of the day, there is only a finite amount of time. We choose what to fill it with but, when it reaches a point that we are too busy, our feelings of overwhelm build and we lose all perspective. We cannot focus, we don't plan, and we don't act.

People's experience of overwhelm is different from person to person. Maybe you can deal with an extra activity being added to your day. Maybe the addition of anything else, no matter how small, is enough for the tornado to touch down and cause a path of mass destruction. It may differ depending on the context, whether in your personal life or at work. Whatever the setting there are ways in which you can reduce the sense of overwhelm and reclaim that focus.

Within a work setting:

  1. Switch off distractions & interruptions: Whilst this might be sacrilegious and you may not have done it in some time, turn off your phone. Close email programmes and browsers. Log out of all social media platforms. Put a do not disturb sign on your door. Create your best "do not talk to me right now" face.
  2. Brain dump: Get a big piece of paper or a notebook and spend some time just writing everything thing down that is going on in your head. Start to reduce the tornado's intensity by pulling stuff out, one thought at a time.
  3. Sift: Once you have done this, it's time to start sifting through, getting rid of anything that is external to you and, therefore. beyond your control. Cross out every single thing that you are not responsible for.
  4. Sort: Now you have cut through some of the noise, it is time to start sorting through what you have left. Prioritise, focus on the now and create a to-do-list. Michael Hyatt encourages you to focus on the Big 3; put the 3 things which are the most important or have the greatest impact at the top of your list and focus on those things first. Keep prioritising until you have gained control and have done everything you need to.

Within your personal life, it is also possible to use the above technique to move out of overwhelm but it might not always be practical. As an alternative, try this technique:

  1. Switch off distractions & interruptions: You don't want anything further being added when you are already feeling overwhelmed so switching off devices is still a useful step.
  2. Take a break: Change the energy by changing your emotional state. Take a break, go for a walk, sit down and just take a moment. It doesn't need to be long, you need a moment to breathe and to create an opportunity in which the energy is not so intense.
  3. Focus on the now: Be present and focus on what is right in front of you. Deal with that issue there and then. You'll gain a sense of achievement and allow you to take back control. Don't multitask, it is just going to keep you in overwhelm. Slow the tornado down so that you are tackling overwhelm one step at a time.

I didn't plan on covering this topic today when I was planning out this series of blogs but, given I could feel a tornado beginning to spin in my head, it seemed appropriate for me to deal with what was in front of me and highlight some steps which might help you the next time you are feeling overwhelmed.