Got Pandemic Overwhelm? 4 Fixes.

I wrote this a year ago and now as I repost this Omicron is making it’s way across the U.S. and I have retired. I bought the bubbles mentioned and the dollar it cost was worth the smiles!

As I write this, it is February of 2021, a year into the pandemic. I thought this whole thing would have blown over by now. I thought we would be back in the communal workplace, making business travel plans and I’d be free to use my passport. Nope. In the last week or so, I’ve noticed articles about how this pandemic could last for upwards of 5 years. What?

My dog is great company and a terrific, if not needy, co-worker but I want to get back to the office. I want to run into random co-workers walking down the hall or by the water cooler. I want to be able to reach out to that co-worker who lost their son last year and find out how they are coping. I want to see the latest pictures of several coworkers’ grandchildren. I want to be planning the annual field day events. Nope. It is not going to happen. Not anytime soon. Perhaps never.

By now, like me, you have probably adapted to the “new normal”. You have your home workspace figured out, you have your Zoom background dialed in, you have your wardrobe culled down to Zoom tops, yoga pants, slippers, and earrings you can wear under a headset. Now in the winter of our discontent, we need to figure out ways to punctuate the work day so that we are not working ten-hour days without a break. We can’t cheat and do back-to-back Zoom calls. I have some ideas on how to close the stress loop even if you can’t get outside.

Here are 4 fixes for winter pandemic overwhelm:

  1. Move.  As in, move your body. Let’s assume you live in Minnesota and it’s minus 20 degrees outside. There is snow everywhere and ice on the sidewalks. Figure out a way to move inside. Put your phone on a charger in a separate room (this will also stop you from blindly screen scrolling). Put dishes or clothes or groceries away, one item at a time.  Walk to the farthest bathroom when you need to wash your hands. Watch a yoga YouTube video (like this one from my yoga expert friend Susannah), dance to my boyfriend Roy’s favorite dance music, “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, stretch, lift weights or do pushups. As written by Michelle Bihary on Harvard Business Review, “If space is a big constraint, try standing at your desk to improve your metabolic health. Alan Hedge, Professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends using a 20-8-2 breakdown to guide you: 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes of standing, and 2 minutes of moving for every 30 minutes at work.” In order to move, you will likely need to revamp your schedule to give at least ten-minute breaks between meetings.
  2. Mindfulness.  Mindfulness does not require being a monk in a monastery. It does not mean you empty your head of all thought. It is really about just being in the moment and paying attention to your body (instead of your head…i.e. thoughts).  I have been trying out three apps recently: HeadspaceCalm and Insight Timer. A trend in all of their meditations, and sleep stories (yes, they have sleep stories you can drift to sleep on); the trend is inhaling for 4 beats, holding for 4 beats and exhaling for 6 beats. If you can do this for 5 cycles, you will be less stressed and overwhelmed. It closes the stress loop. As Bihary wrote, “A simple practice is to take five deep breaths, five times per day. When you concentrate on breathing deeply (as we do in yoga), you’re disengaging yourself from distractions, lowering your heart rate, ingesting more oxygen into the lowest part of your lungs, and stabilizing your blood pressure — in turn, lowering your stress level.” Being mindful can be as simple as taking a break to intentionally breath deep.
  3. Grateful.  Being grateful reduces stress. Bihary espoused, “Gratitude practices and expressing appreciation have long-lasting positive effects on the wiring of our brains. Research shows that gratitude takes our attention away from toxic emotions by helping us focus on more comforting ones. People who consciously count their blessings tend to be less depressed. When we feel grateful, it increases our levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel happy and enhancing our moods.” My gratitude journal has morphed over the years from an evening to a morning event, from three things to ten things; and now to my current habit of writing five things I’m grateful for (almost always people or my dog, Baci) and one thing I’m grateful I actually physically did like “drove safely, hiked or maintained my sobriety.” Figure out what suits you and give it a try.
  4. Connection. There are those out there who have way too much connection with their spouse, roommate or homeschooling children. By far I have seen that the folks who seem to have suffered the most with working from home are those that live alone. I live and work alone from home for most of the week and am fortunate to spend the weekends with my boyfriend. Finding ways to connect can be tricky depending on the current local requirements. Let technology be your friend. I am super lucky that my daughter Natalie has started calling me weekly via FaceTime. It makes a huge difference to see as well as hear her. My family has orchestrated a few family Zoom calls that have been a huge bright spot as well. In the book Burnout, connection is one of the many cures for closing the stress cycle although the book was written pre-pandemic. Figure out ways to connect with coworkers and family on a more casual basis like virtual trivia nights or family feud. Make time to connect with others on things besides production reports and customer complaints. 

Bihary had another stress booster that I haven’t tried out yet but will throw out as another suggestion: blowing bubbles. I love blowing bubbles but since I don’t have a grade school kid in my house, I haven’t stopped at a store to pick a bottle up. I’m putting it on my shopping list though! If there is something that incorporates deep breathing and being in the present moment it is the magic, fun and fragility of blowing bubbles. I hope you try a few of these fixes for the winter doldrums. If there is any way to get outside for even fifteen minutes, that is super effective too. What is your favorite winter doldrums fix?

Coping with Overwhelm

You found out you didn’t follow procedures for sending the secure email and now the entire process needs to be restarted.  Again.  You didn’t double check your suitcase and forgot your cell phone charger AND your asthma prescription for your week-long business trip.  Ugh.  You finally decide to refinance your home and the list of items you have to complete is daunting.  Sigh.  You are in the throes of overwhelm and it can be paralyzing. Whoa!

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My husband, dog and I have been in the middle of The Bureaucracy of Overwhelm after our home was flooded a few weeks back.  Moving out, moving into temporary housing, contacting FEMA, SBA, our Insurance Company, Mortgage Company, Contractor, Debris Bins…the list is overwhelming.  Endless. Ceaseless.  I am not saying that I have handled this without any stress or crying, but the coping is getting easier.

 

So this is what I have learned about coping with overwhelm:

 

  • As Creighton Abrams famously said, “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.”  I had three (yes, three!) clients have this exact same insight this week.  One was refinancing a home, another was planning on selling a home and a third was working on a big project.  We all cope with the overwhelm of a big project.  It’s so important to break it down.  I felt like the universe was giving me a hint with the three separate clients all quoting the same quote.  I learn more from their insights than my own.  So what did I do?  I focus on one agency a day.  FEMA one day, SBA the next, the mortgage company the day after that.  It’s too overwhelming to deal with all of them at one time.  Break it down into manageable pieces.

 

  • So what do you do if your routine was to meditate and take a 30-minute walk before the flood?  You need to be meditating and taking a 30-minute walk after the flood.  Even if you are in a new place, and you don’t know where you want to walk or what space you want to meditate in, figure it out.  Develop and adapt to get your routine back in place.  We’ve been living in temporary housing for exactly a week and I finally used this fabulous routine that my friend Susannah recommended called “Qi Gong: 7 Minutes of Magic (for Health).”  I had been using it every morning pre-flood.  Now I need to add it back into my routine post-flood.  It is magic.  Put your routine back together to help alleviate the stress of overwhelm.

 

  • For the past year, I have been trying to move from scarcity to abundance.  I had committed to golfing in a charity golf tournament pre-flood, but had not yet written the check.  The tournament was a week post-flood.  I wavered.  A hundred and fifty dollars is a hundred and fifty dollars.  But I was coming from a place of abundance.  “I always have money coming my way.”  I wrote the check.  We played and had a great time.  It felt so much better than cowering at home gnashing my teeth, hoping for an insurance adjuster or FEMA representative to show up.  Fire up your internal flame for abundance.

 

  • It’s amazing how we are surrounded by wonderful, caring people.  We have had countless offers of support, whether it was moving debris, moving out, financial help, offers of temporary housing and even gift cards for dinner.  I knew that everyone was supportive, but when there is a disaster and there are so many that are worse off than us (at least we had a roof over our head for the first few weeks post-storm), it is humbling to receive so many offers of  help and support.  Being grateful is a much better space for me to be in mentally than the “Why did this happen to me?” headspace.  Remain positive and you’ll reduce the overwhelm.

 

  • I really could not have survived all the overwhelm without the love and support of my family.  My husband and I are constantly taking stock of each other.  “I couldn’t do this without you.”  “I love you so much for being there.”  “I can’t believe you took care of the debris bin.”  My son drove all the way from Miami to help us move out and my daughter came home to move her belongings after being ill.  My husband has gone from a king size bed to a queen.  Two bathrooms to one.  His own office to sharing a computer in our living room.  They went above and beyond out of love.  Love helps me cope.

 

As my husband said yesterday, “I’ve never gone through anything like this.”  I responded by giving him a big hug.  I recognized the experience of feeling overwhelm but getting through it together…..priceless.

6 Ways To Crush The Control Freak Within

You walk into your kid’s bedroom and start straightening the room. Your spouse suggests eating out and you shut it down because you already have something planned. Your assistant thinks we should move the venue for the offsite and you dismiss it as a bad idea. If it’s not your idea, it’s a bad idea. It’s your way or the highway and it’s exhausting.

Control Freak

I’m crushing my control freak and Thanksgiving was a sure test. Instead of being the Director, stage crew and lead actress, I was a bit part in the most intricate meals to put on during the year. So how did I crush my control freak? Here ya go:

1. They are what they are. In don Miguel Ruiz‘ book, The Mastery of Love, he does a magnificent job comparing your relationship to your loved ones to that of loving a dog. If you own a dog, you don’t try and turn it into a cat. So why do you try and change the people you love in your life into something they aren’t. I’ve asked my husband to walk with me in the morning or meditate. He turns it down every time. So guess what? He’s not a meditator or morning walker. I need to let go of the idea that I can change him. Whew. What a relief. They are what they are. Don’t try and change your dog into a cat or your husband into a Zen Master.

2. Get rid of your agenda. Throw it out. This was incredibly difficult on Thanksgiving. My plan was to not have a plan. No time line. So I was going to relax and let the day play out in a natural non controlled way. My daughter and her boyfriend were driving to the house mid morning. And my son was likely to wake up around noon. No sweat. We will make dinner when we make dinner. This took all my faith and patience as I normally would have been up at 6 AM brining a turkey. But I persevered! Dump your agenda.

3. Be open to new possibilities. Both of my kids are great cooks in their own right. My son has been living in Miami and wanted to try two new dishes for Thanksgiving. One was a Colombian dish called Tostones (fried plantains) and the other was Arroz con Coco (coconut rice). This is not typical Graham Family fare for Thanksgiving. But he had already talked to his sister and they were game to give it a try. So I sat on my hands and shut my mouth. So in the middle of my kitchen on Thanksgiving Day were three young adults deep frying plantains, caramelizing coconut milk and cubing up bread for stuffing. Quite the mélange. A delicious mélange.

4. Less is more. If you have ever been to a dinner party at my house you know that I go overboard. I mean 6 different appetizers, 7 sides, two entrees and 4 luscious desserts overboard. Overkill. Overwhelm. And I am exhausted by the end. So this Thanksgiving I embraced less is more. Since my son wanted to make arroz con coco, I didn’t bother bringing up mashed potatoes. “Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes are you kidding me, Cathy?” Yep. No mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. We roll with arroz con coco.

5. Everyone is wholly perfect. This from Ruiz’s book again. My dog is not half perfect. So why do you think your family is half perfect. I don’t need to change or control anyone. I just need to control my thoughts and let go of my judgments. This is not easy and I know I am a work in progress but just looking to come from a place of acceptance is the secret. Reconfigure your thoughts and begin to believe that everyone is wholly perfect the way they are.

6. Believe in everyone else’s wisdom. When I let go of control on Thanksgiving, everyone else (I mean even the dog) shined. They were all invested. They were all playing their parts and working together like a well oiled machine. This was the first time ever that I gave up the reins of control and everyone rose to the occasion. But you have to believe that they can rise to the occasion. You can’t start thinking about the time your son burnt the pancakes or when your daughter messed up the macaroni and cheese. Have faith and it will find you.

I remember when I initially suggested have the kids make the meal on Thanksgiving, my husband raised one eyebrow and said, “Really?” and I said, “Yeah, don’t you think they can do it?” and he said “I’m not worried about them. Can you let go of control?” So I guess you could say that he threw down the gauntlet. Well I did it. Now so can you.

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on December 6, 2015