Most of us know the feeling – there’s too much to do, we’re under pressure, and we feel like a rabbit frozen in the headlights. Things get cloudy, our normal capacity to function efficiently goes out the window, and we resort to doing what’s easy rather than what’s needed. Or if it gets worse, we’re in a panic attack.
Why is this? Chemistry. As your amygdala recognises a threatening situation, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands send signals to adrenal glands and you get a cortisol boost (which can stay in your body all day). Your frontal cortex gets suppressed so you can’t think straight. Sensitivity to new pressure increases. Ouch!
So what can you do about it? STOP. This is an acronym. Let’s look at it.
The S is for stopping. Invest 5 minutes in your mental health. If you continue in the stress cycle, things may get worse, or you’ll just hang on and have an inefficient, unhappy day. So you must pause, and employ your emergency mindfulness pack (here it is). In particular, breathe mindfully with a longer out-breath, smile and feel your feet on the ground. This will reset your nervous system.
The T is for taking care. Your employer, your client and your family need you to be healthy and at your best. So taking care of yourself is a good investment for everyone. You know what works for you – take a walk, have a positive chat, do yoga, (but don’t gorge on sugar and coffee or the stress will come back). Top tip: be kind to someone else, it makes you feel happy. Forgive yourself, drop the self-criticism, have compassion for this human that is you.
The O is for organise. There’s plenty of self-management advice out there so I may not be the best to advise. But from 35 years of consultancy, here’s what works for me: create a table with a row for each task; add columns for urgency, dependencies (what else do you need, from who/where, when), and a practical programme. When you’re clear about this, let others know when the tasks can be delivered, and do not succumb to bullying. You know best what’s possible. You are a human, not a machine. Be polite and assertive.
The P is for pausing. Yes, again, and again. Before you zoom off into ‘doing’ mode, remember the state you were in and how you got there. Commit to checking-in to your mental well-being at least once an hour with a one minute pause – time for ‘being’.
Research shows that we can perform better if we ‘manage our energy not our time’ (Harvard Business Review), and a huge study for the NHS showed that working long hours not only creates less productivity overall but that you are at risk of heart disease.
I hope that helps.