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Overcoming Overwhelm: Breaking Free from the Cycle of Exhaustion

How did I get here?

This was a question that I found myself asking over and over again as I’m barely staying on top of my work. There was always a new fire to put out and another problem to solve, and by the end of the day, I’m mentally exhausted and have to weigh my options between having take out or going straight to bed.

For many people with kids, family, or other responsibilities, it’s even more complicated!

Women tend to put everyone else before themselves, and when there isn’t enough in the tank to even think about where the cycle started, how will you ever get out of it?

Let’s take it back.

Early Experiences: The Foundation of Responsibility and Overwhelm

I was 4 when my baby sister came along. Even before that, I was taught to be independent. My mum went back to work 6 months after having me, and by the time I was 3, I would wake up earlier than my parents to watch my Saturday morning cartoons and would get my glass of milk from the fridge so that my parents could sleep in. When my sister came along, they taught me to feed her, help change her, and soothe her.

I was taught to care for another person before I could fully comprehend my own needs and desires.

This early experience instilled in me a sense of responsibility and nurtured my ability to empathize with others.

The Cycle of Overwhelm and Neglect

Being compassionate and understanding is all well and good so how did it lead to being overwhelmed and neglecting myself?

School was easy for me because I had clear directions. Participate in class, take notes, do your homework, rinse and repeat. Sure there were choices but it was the choice between taking Geology or Literature. Easy.

It wasn’t until I was officially an adult, free to live, work, and do whatever I wanted that the overwhelm started.

The endless freedom was exciting at first! I remember moving into my own apartment and realising a week in I could eat ice cream for breakfast and no one would judge, care or even know!

I would not recommend doing it, I felt icky the rest of the day but what a triumph having the ability to do it!

But once the excitement wears off the dread starts creeping in. My parents did a great job in keeping me healthy and balanced but I also didn’t have a lot of choice. Breakfast lunch and dinner were planned, as were curfews, bedtimes and most of my time was taken up by school.

Woe is me a stable, sheltered upbringing.

The reality is, I never had to give two seconds to what i wanted to do with my life because I followed the script that had been repeated to us. Go to school get a degree, have success and a family.

We all know it’s more complicated than that.

Balancing work and personal life

My parents were successful workaholics so I became a successful workaholic. I would pour myself into my work do a great job, get promoted then spend my free time being a kid. Indulging in the video games and books that brought me joy and called it a day.

It worked at first, when my job was limited and You couldn’t put more than 35 hours in. It blew up when the work started being endless. I had less and less time for my personal life which made grip onto it harder. I took on the work hard, play hard lifestyle which included partying harder than ever. Not because I enjoyed drinking but it felt like the fastest way to let loose and relax.

I worked 6 days a week because people were depending on me and I could take it. I had to.

I wanted a love life but it suffered due to my work. I prioritise work over my partner, I prioritise my partner over me. Me wasn’t even a consideration until it had to be.

Breaking Free from the Cycle

Everyone reaches a point where they can’t do it anymore. Whether you can’t put out the fires faster than they are coming anymore, a catastrophe blows up your frail system or you simply hit a wall of exhaustion and realise something needs to change.

The first step on this transformative journey is recognizing your self-worth and acknowledging your personal needs. In a society that often glorifies selflessness and sacrifice, it can be challenging to prioritize ourselves. However, understanding your own value and the importance of self-care is crucial. Take a moment to reflect on your needs and desires. What brings you joy? What fulfills you? Challenge the notion that selflessness is the only path to success and happiness.

Establishing boundaries is the next vital step in breaking free from the cycle. Setting boundaries allows you to protect your time, energy, and emotional well-being. It's about learning to say no when necessary and communicating your limits effectively. By clearly defining your boundaries, you create a space where you can thrive without being overwhelmed. Don't be afraid to seek support from loved ones, colleagues, or professionals. Remember, you don't have to carry the burden alone. Sharing the load can prevent burnout and help you navigate through challenging times.

Prioritising self-care and well-being is not a luxury; it's a necessity. Engaging in self-care practices is crucial for maintaining balance and replenishing your inner resources. It encompasses physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Take the time to nurture your body through exercise, nutritious meals, and sufficient rest. Nurture your mind by engaging in activities that bring you peace and joy, such as reading, meditating, or pursuing a hobby. Finally, tend to your emotional well-being by expressing your feelings, seeking therapy if needed, and surrounding yourself with positive influences.

Incorporating self-care into your daily routine may seem challenging, but it's essential for breaking free from the cycle. Start by carving out small pockets of time for yourself, even if it's just a few minutes each day. Practice mindfulness exercises to bring awareness to the present moment and reduce stress. Prioritise activities that bring you joy and make you feel alive. Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish; it's an act of self-preservation.

Breaking free from the cycle requires courage, self-reflection, and a commitment to self-care. By recognizing your self-worth, establishing boundaries, and prioritising your well-being, you can embark on a journey of liberation. Embrace the fact that you deserve happiness, fulfilment, and a life that is not overshadowed by constant exhaustion. You have the power to break free and create a new narrative for yourself. It's time to reclaim your life and rediscover the joy and harmony that you truly deserve.

How does woo woo shit relate to my work?

I would be asking the same thing.

You are overwhelmed at work and it’s not because there is too much to do.

“But there is too much to do, Erika! If there wasn’t then I would be overwhelmed, I’d just be whelmed.”

I apologise for the bad joke.

There is always going to be more work, if you could squeeze 48 hours into 24, there would still be more.

The problem is in prioritising and understanding that you can’t get to everything. So what are you going to focus on?

If you have specific goals in your life, if they are aligned with your values, you will move through this life sifting through all the noise and distraction to get to your destination.

Think of it like driving a car on the highway. There is a lot happening. You could look at the cars going the other way, crane your neck to see what other people are doing, wearing, listening too. You can change the radio station and play with the gps, you could pull over and look under your seat. You can roll the windows down and have a snack. The possibilities are endless but if you have a destination, you can focus on getting there the way you want.

Are you trying to get there safely or are you willing to take some risks to get there quickly? Are you willing to prioritize your own well-being and mental health along the way? These are the questions you need to ask yourself as you navigate the overwhelming world of work.

It's important to understand that taking care of yourself and finding balance doesn't mean neglecting your responsibilities or giving up on your ambitions. It means recognizing that your well-being is just as important as your work and that by prioritizing self-care, you can actually enhance your productivity and effectiveness in the long run.

One way to incorporate "woo woo" practices into your work life is by embracing mindfulness and creating moments of stillness amidst the chaos. Mindfulness can help you stay present and focused, reducing stress and increasing clarity. Consider incorporating short meditation breaks or deep breathing exercises into your work routine. These practices can help you center yourself, regain perspective, and make more conscious decisions.

Additionally, exploring your values and aligning them with your work can bring a deeper sense of fulfillment and purpose. Reflect on what truly matters to you and how your work can contribute to those values. When you have a clear sense of purpose, it becomes easier to prioritize tasks and say no to distractions that don't align with your goals.

Remember, it's not about completely eliminating stress or achieving a perfect work-life balance. Life will always have its challenges, and work will always demand a certain level of effort. However, by integrating self-care practices, setting boundaries, and aligning your work with your values, you can break free from the cycle of overwhelm and neglect.

Ultimately, this journey requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and the willingness to make intentional choices. It's about taking small steps every day to prioritize your well-being and create a work environment that supports your growth and happiness. So, as you reflect on how you got here and how you can move forward, remember that you have the power to shape your own narrative and create a life that aligns with your truest desires and aspirations.

Take a Step Today

Here are some small steps you can take today. If you do it, wonderful! But don’t take the gas off the pedal, you need to keep going. Habits need to be formed so keep yourself accountable or ask someone else to help you.

  1. Reflect - answer some questions to help you figure out what is important to you. Here is a great article I found by the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck guy but you can easily google other resources.

  2. Read into it - Reading one article won’t solve your problem. There are so many self help books out there that can help you figure it out. Here are a few of my favourites:

    1. Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

    2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

  3. Track it - Can’t know where you are going until you know where you are. Track how many hours you spend doing what in a week. You may surprise yourself as to what you spend your time doing.

    1. I use a simple spreadsheet to see what I’m doing every 3 months or if I’m feeling out of flow

  4. Find support - Reach out to a friend and talk to them about how you feel. Being isolated isn’t the answer!

  5. Get professional help - A therapist, coach or mentor can help you get a hold of your life faster than you could do it alone.

    1. Betterhelp - Not how I found my therapist but could be convenient

    2. Me - Erika. I coach women who are overwhelmed in communication ubt much of the work is in establishing a system that allows you to know what you want to say i.e. finding your focus.


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