We are living in exceptionally difficult times. Last week, just when we thought we might finally get a reprieve from all things COVID, Russia invaded Ukraine. A friend posted this on social media: “Why am I so exhausted?” she asked. “I have been for the last week. I’m wondering if I have chronic fatigue syndrome.” Friend after friend jumped to comment, offering comfort and reassurance. “Many of my friends are experiencing the same thing,” one said. “I’ve been feeling that way too!” said another.
It’s so important – at all times, but especially in difficult times – that we intentionally pace ourselves. That we conserve energy for what’s most important, and not push or stress ourselves unnecessarily.
Stopping your habit of rushing through life is easier than you think
A while ago, I worked with a successful yet exhausted executive coaching client. She was a busy working professional, a wife and a devoted mom to her young son. Before we started working together, she described herself as overwhelmed, with an “all-consuming” job that spilled all over into her personal life.
When we met for the first time, I noted right away that she lived “on the run”. At work, and in her life. Zooming from one thing to the next, including back-to-back meetings on Zoom, she felt like nothing got her proper attention or was getting done well.
She was going way too fast. And it wasn’t working.
I started to address this issue as soon as I noticed it. We dramatically improved her experience of her days, and quite quickly. Through very simple, minor changes in how she moved through and scheduled her life, she was able to slow down and worked at being more intentional in everything (versus racing and scrambling her way through her day). This quickly transformed the quality of both her work life and home life.
I see this all the time in working women, especially working moms. I see it in myself, if I’m not careful.
Notice how your day feels when you push and rush
When we feel stressed and busy, with too many things to do, it’s tempting (and maybe even logical) to constantly push ourselves.
Dig deep and push through that busy workday, or that crazy overpacked schedule (while resenting it and asking yourself “why on earth did I agree to do all this?”). Does this sound familiar to you?
In difficult times, when it feels like the whole world is falling apart, we may push back (or cope) by pushing harder.
You get up, race through your early morning routine, race to work (or to your desk, if you’re still working from home). Always a little late for meetings, you constantly feel like you’re just trying to get through. You hammer out responses to emails during any break you can find. You shovel down food, hardly having time to chew or taste it.
Why stop for a proper breakfast, break or lunch, who has time?
You race back home or back into your personal life, where you hopefully get some personal or family time in. In the background, though, in either your head or your actions you’re still trying to get work-related things, or additional things, done. You pump out those evening emails, in any gaps you can find (or worst case, right before bed). Ugh! No.
Notice the words I’m using, that characterize so many people’s lives these days: race. hammer. shovel. pump. push. rush.
Breaking the rush/push habit helps you conserve energy and protect your health in difficult times
When you operate out of this habitual pushing and rushing, you’re so focused on getting things done that you’re never fully present. You naturally increase the production of stress hormones, because your body is sure that there must be some kind of emergency happening, giving your feelings of stress and your pace. Your back, neck, scalp (everything?) feels tight and tense. It seems like most of the time, you only fill your lungs at the very tips, who has time for a deep breath?
You continually feel the stress, the background driving hum under your skin. It’s exhausting. It’s not very sustainable, either, though many people do it for years on end. Not surprisingly, burnout or other mental or physical health challenges will often emerge. Mind and body trying to get our attention, trying to slow us down.
As I always say to my executive coaching clients, my goal isn’t to sacrifice your business or professional success on the altar of “life balance”. Quite the opposite. If you slow down and work and live more intentionally, and if you take better care of yourself, you’ll be way more effective. At everything in your life.
Here are some strategies to try, if you’re tired of rushing and want to increase your capacity to navigate difficult times:
1) Become aware of your habit of pushing or rushing. When you catch yourself doing it, ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Are the extra seconds or minutes that you might gain, really worth all the tension and stress? (Most likely not)
2) Whenever you catch yourself rushing or feeling keyed up, pause and consciously dial back your pace. Take a few deep breaths (you’ve probably been breathing very shallowly). Relax your tense shoulders. Focus on what you need to do, but without that extra pressure. You’ll probably find that you can do most tasks more effectively, from an intentionally more relaxed state.
3) Leave yourself time to get to wherever you’re going, or to prepare for your next meeting, etc. Let go of any magical ideas about time that keep you rushing around, perpetually late, scrambling and feeling off-kilter. This one action alone will make a huge difference in how you and your days feel.
4) Forget the multi-tasking and allow yourself the luxury of being present with whatever you’re doing. We know from studies that multitasking doesn’t actually work. It just makes you feel more tired and scattered. Sure, sometimes you may need to take care of something while you’re engaged in something else, but don’t make that a habit.
5) Building on #4, practice being present. When you’re in a meeting, be in the meeting. When you’re with your partner or child, put down the phone and be with them. Put down your busy distracted thoughts, too, and be with the people around you. If you’re out for a walk, notice the lovely or interesting things in your environment. See your world. Most of us spend way too much time in our heads, and not enough time in our lives.
6) Breathe. Taking a few deep breaths, especially with a focus on a prolonged exhalation (e.g. the “4-6-8 breath” : breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 6, out for 8), activates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms your body’s fight or flight response. Heart rate comes down, blood pressure lowers, muscle tensions decreases, and the increased oxygen helps to clear your head. This is a great, very effective way to slow down, pause, refocus and reconnect with yourself and your life.
7) Formal mindfulness practice, which takes a few minutes to focus on your breath or other sensations, can be very helpful as well during difficult times (you can try this out via the free downloadable UCLA Mindful app, for example).
Most importantly, don’t let rushing and pushing become your default way of moving through your days. Life’s too short. If you’re speeding through your life all the time, the odds are pretty good that you’ll rush right past the things that matter most.
Slow down. Breathe. One thing at a time, especially during difficult times. You’ll be surprised (and delighted) by how much you still get done, and how much better it all feels.
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