How many times do you find yourself overwhelmed with the tell tale signs of stress creeping in - the frantic mental state, rapid heartbeat, tension headache, tight jaw - and you think “If I can just tick a few things off my list I will feel better”? So you push, cancel that lunch date or stay back at work to “get it done”. The idea of slowing down or taking a break seems ludicrous right? The idea of fun, joy, or playfulness is a distant mirage. Follow these signs and promise it will come back into reach.
We have incredible in-built alert systems in our bodies and behaviour. They will tell you when you are pushing too hard, and when it is time to slow down and recalibrate. Our job, is to learn how to listen.
Your Behavioural Stress Profile
The signs are all the symptoms of how stress presents itself to you. For me, my heart rate rises, I refresh my email every few seconds, I get headaches and neck tension, I type-delete-retype emails or text messages, I find myself worrying “What if I don’t get this resolved today?” on repeat, I begin to lament out loud “This is so frustrating” or “Ahhhh I don’t know what to DO here”, I put off eating in case I “miss something” or leave my husband waiting because “I just have to [insert obsessive activity]”. Once you know your stress profile you can meet it and manage it by slowing down. Slowing down for you may be taking 5 minutes outside, doing a breathing practice or some physical exercise, muting your email and phone notifications while focusing on a task, delegating or asking for help, or completely taking some time off.
Here are 4 common signs that it is time to slow down, not speed up.
This may sound bizarre but observe your note taking and list making behaviour. Are you constantly scribbling things out and starting again? Are you constantly rewriting and revising your to-do in a different order? This is the mental overwhelm transferred to paper, a visual representation of the lack of clarity and trust in our capacity to get through. Put down the pen, slow down, and perhaps revise your relationship with the To-Do List.
Otherwise known as “worrying about possible scenarios that haven’t happened”. When we spend all our energy worrying about what could be “there” rather than focusing on being “here” we become paralysed and unable to take considered action toward the optimal result. Our ego mind will try to justify this as responsible future-proofing for all possible outcomes, but this is the misplaced energy of control sabotaging self belief and trust in our abilities to get exactly where we want to go and creatively problem solve when necessary along the way. Taking a break will bring you back into the present so you can focus on the immediate next step.
Asking “How will I fit this all in?”
If you find yourself saying to your partner, colleague, friend “I don’t know how I’ll fit it all in”, then perhaps it’s a sign that you won’t without burning yourself out! Rather than stress out and overspread yourself, take a look at what you’ve committed to and see what is optional, what can be delegated, what can wait, and importantly - do you have cushion room to tend to your own wellbeing? Reprioritise and respect that not everything can be or needs to be done at once.
Playing tetris with your calendar
A tell-tale sign that you need to slow down is constant reshuffling of your calendar or abandoning personal appointments and intentions. If you are going from appointment to appointment with no down time in between and no space for personal time you will be stuck in what I call a “planning loop”. This loop sees you take on information, responsibility, commitment, and energy but does not allow you space or time to digest, integrate, or act upon it. It’s like an aspirin stuck at the surface bubbling and fizzing but never calmly descending and dissolving to provide relief. Time to take a non-negotiable break and use your current calendar as a visual guide to what is “too much” so you can revise your time commitments moving forward.
Are you aware of your inner alert system or do you need a tune up?