The Overwhelmed Mind: How do you reclaim your focus?
Loss of focus.
Loss of drive.
Loss, maybe, of libido.
Overwhelm happens. The list of things that need to get done gets too high. Focus starts to scatter. Memory gets hazy. A sense of listlessness fades in. Or a slight feeling of panic, breathing only in the top of the lungs, short breaths, held stomach, tension tightening in your stomach. Hard to connect with your partner or loved one, and certainly the hmm, romantic side of things is less that optimal. You wonder if you have ADHD, or an anxiety problem, or does the feeling of being overwhelmed lead to a sense of fatigue and you wonder, is this the low energy of depression?
Before you go there, take a moment to look at a few key structures in your life.
Before you judge your self as not being as strong, confident, capable, and intelligent as you are, take a moment to look at a few details in the structure of your life.
You've read about this: sleep. If you are getting 7 to 8 hours of good sleep a night, then move to the next detail. Just remember, good sleep is when you fall asleep within 20 minutes, and wake refreshed and recharged and clear headed. A deep sleep occurs when you fall asleep before 11 pm, when you match your sleep-wake cycle to the circadian rhythm. There is information on a four hour sleep cycle: my caution would be to see how this plays out over a person's longer life span. Studies show that when someone sleeps less than 5 hours a night for 2 weeks in a row, then cognitive abilities are similar to that of an impaired driver. So, if you are getting a good sleep, great, move on to the next detail.
If not, then it's important to review sleep hygiene and sleep stimulus control techniques and follow these for ultimate sleep. You want a deep sleep to allow astrocytes to recharge the brain, clean it out, reset your neurochemicals. Avoid the blue light of a computer, cell phone, or other device so that melanopsin doesn't incorrectly signal the brain. Time exercise which stimulates norepinephrine which wakes you, at the time of the day that works best for your sleep. Use the design of your brain to work for you. If you still have difficulties with sleep, see a doctor to rule out medical contributions to poor sleep.
Optimize your work style. Are you working in an amped up, high octane state? You might be burning out your brain waves. When you're on problem-solving mode, your brain waves operate in "beta" which is high frequency, and fatigues the brain over time. Beta brain wave state is actually lower voltage than when you operate at "alpha", your chill out mind. Think of positive daydreaming: daydream about a vacation, or your loved one, or something you enjoy, as a recharge for your brain, literally. Set points in your day to daydream, so can harness back the brain power for problem-solving.
Another key point: your memory system likes books more than devices. Your key memory center is like a little curled up seahorse shape in your brain, which is why it's called "hippocampus" which is Latin for seahorse. You are always growing new brain cells here, and you recharge this new growth with exercise, which produces BDNF. If you are charging it up properly, it can work well, but know that it assigns proteins for memory associated with places in time. So, a screen that constantly changes but remains in the same place over time, when you scroll, will not help your hippocampus remember the same way a book or static piece of information will. So, if you need to remember something and your brain is feeling foggy, take a break, daydream, and print up the material if you have been reading online. Take a break from the computer. Consider using a handheld daytimer, a physical calendar, or other mode that is physical, not screen based, to record important events.
Recharge your neurochemicals. Most of these are created in your gut, so diet and exercise, intermittent fasting, intestinal health, and a good gut biome are important to how your brain functions. A balance between rest and alert modes of your nervous system are also important. Pace your self. Alternate high powered physical activity with yin yoga and meditation or mindfulness. Balance work with play. Give your intestines a break every so often to heal, repair, and not have to deal with food constantly presenting itself and needing to be processed. Your gut, your digestive system, is an extremely large surface area, so keeping it light with respect to meals and leaving large gaps between meals can give your intestines a break and allow for energy to go to other areas. Exercise to produce more new mitochondria, the little cells within cells that power up your energy stores. Consider checking your cortisol levels with your doctor to see if you need to turn the dial up on relaxation.
Reset your relationships. In my line of work, the number one stressor for people coming into the area of respite and refuge that the hospital can be, is stress from relationships. How you tend to, and show up, in your connections with other people is of high importance. Learn to tell the signs that you are getting stressed in a conversation. A tense jaw, shoulders creeping up, feeling the your brain just froze, holding your breath. Feeling anxious, angry or numb, are all signs of the amygdala firing up, and this will disrupt your logic and clear headed thinking. Frustration counts too. Feeling any of these - anxious, angry, numb, frustration, fear, checked out - are also linked to chaotic rhythms in the heart's electromagnetic field, and thus disadvantageous for health. Learn how to step away, establish clear boundaries, communicate what you prefer to have happen, and cultivate the space of your interpersonal interactions towards a sense of harmony.
As this area can be challenging at times, if it's not working, consider reconfiguring your brain's operating system with a technique that does make a difference - psychotherapy. Yes, though I'm wondering if I still have your attention, therapy can help you achieve success with ease in a way your mind wasn't even aware of being possible before. Part of the key to this success is learning how to skillfully master your ability to work with others in a way that involves minimal stress, maximal happiness, and replenishing joy.
What about the other area of drive, in relationships? Libido. Yes, a very powerful and pleasurable aspect of life. If this is not accessible, or waning, there are a few things to tease out. Of course, you want to check for medical states that impeded testosterone or other hormones, health in general. But if it's still an issue, and you aren't facing a depression or anxiety concern, you may have more of an issue with how you find the spark of erotic connection with your partner. More on this in future posts, but, for now, I'll give you something to think on. What if the erotic isn't, as Esther Perel has said, about Distance? What if it is actually about deep diving into the sometimes fearful land of vulnerability with your partner. Admitting to aspects of yourself you have kept hidden, or inquiring into aspects of your partner that you don't understand. We all have hidden parts of us, and sometimes the most vulnerable places are the sexiest. Partly due to surprise, partly because the fascination and eroticism of intimacy is connected to how much trust you build with your one and only.
Try those four for optimal wellness.
Stay tuned for more blog posts on overwhelm, as it is a state of mind with many factors to be considered. If you try shifting your habits, but still find your self struggling, then it's best to see a professional. Determining what is ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Adjustment Disorder, or other things that can impact your ability to work is key.
Sometimes, when people get overwhelmed, they also fall into patterns of addiction with substances, and this can lead to even worse function at work. You want to keep your job, your focus, you sense of pride in your success and your drive for achievements. Health is wealth - you can't work if you are not healthy. So staying clear of addictions and optimizing focus and reducing overwhelm is a good start to a fine career feeling.
So, next time you feel overwhelmed,
- take a nap
- go for a run or walk
- connect with someone you love
- be vulnerable
- take break
- set clear boundaries
- know your signs of overwhelm
- know your quick resets to calm
- book an appointment with a key professional
- daydream of something positive that inspires awe
Wishing you the best, always,