How to recognise that you’ve taken on too much (before it’s too late and you crash and burn)

How to recognise that you’ve taken on too much (before it’s too late and you crash and burn)

About once every 5 years I crash. Physically. Mentally. I just stop being able to function like a normal human.

When the storms clouds eventually pass and I’m able to reflect on it, it always comes down to the same thing. Taking on too much.

It’s simply a result of becoming overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I put on my plate, which slowly creeps up on me over time then shoves me so hard in the back I end up face down and struggling to get back up.

It’s truly awful when it happens. You feel like you just want to curl up into a ball and hibernate till it goes away, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do that. Unless you’re a badger.

The best thing to do about this situation is to be patient, then afterwards reflect on it, analyse what happened in the build up to it, and to try to avoid it happening again.

I’m just starting to come out of one of these crashes and wanted to share some stuff I learnt to help get back on track and some of my own warning signs, in the hope that it helps you (and me) to avoid going through the same thing any time soon.

Warning signs:

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  • My daily routine goes out the window – When I check the note pad next to my bed I notice that I haven’t written my 3 daily blessings for a number of weeks. I can’t remember the last time I meditated. I don’t have my breakfasts planned and ready, so I dither around in the kitchen for twice as long as normal, then end up leaving late for work (and I’ve usually forgotten something)
  • I struggle to prioritise – a normally robust decision making engine in my brain goes into slow motion and can’t figure out what is more important when presented with more than one option. Or even when there is only one option I still dither over HOW to do it.
  • I don’t want to socialise – Being around other people feels a pressure. Rather than enjoying people coming to talk to me at my desk, I hide away or pretend to be on conference calls when I see people coming
  • My sleeping pattern changes – rather than going to bed between 10:30 and 11pm and getting up between 6:15 and 6:30, I find myself staring at the TV at 1 in the morning, dozing off on the train home, and struggling to get going in the mornings.
  • I don’t find things funny when other people do – and spend more time getting irritated than normal.
  • I’m working more hours but getting less done – leaving the office after 6pm on a regular basis, yet still having a huge list of tasks to complete, and what feels like the workload of 3 people looming over me.
  • I feel numb – <zombie mode activated> No fun. No enthusiasm. Limited energy.

How to get back on track:

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  • Talk to people about it – you need to tell your partner. Tell your boss. Tell your kids. Trying to hide it only makes it worse. If you let people in, even if they can’t help, at least they’re aware of where you’re at and why things are different.
  • Make lists – when you’re feeling forgetful, writing stuff down makes you feel like you’re less likely to drop the ball. Seeing things written down in black and white also helps with prioritising.
  • Be kind to yourself – a bit of self compassion goes a long way. I normally go through a cycle of being really angry with myself for letting it happen, then eventually being compassionate and giving myself some space to recover.
  • Give something up – you can’t do it all. Especially when you are suffering a blip something(s) have got to give. You can pick them up again when you’re feeling better, but don’t worry about letting things slide a little for a short time. The world will keep on turning.
  • Go back to basics – strip away the craziness. Limit distractions and focus on one thing.
  • Get your routine back, one piece at a time – don’t be frustrated that you can’t switch back to normal overnight. Just slowly build back up. I normally start with getting back to the breakfast preparation the night before, which normally has a positive knock on effect to getting out of bed more easily the next morning.

How to avoid it in the first place:

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  • If you begin to feel like your workload is full to bursting, it probably is, so be conscious to say no and not to take on even more.
  • Set some rules and limits with yourself –  about your daily routine, the number of hours you work, your activity levels. This makes it easier to spot when things start to change.
  • Don’t get cocky – when things are going well and everything seems to be falling into place, appreciate it, but don’t gloat, even to yourself. This is VERY dangerous. Confidence is one thing. Arrogance is something else.
  • Be aware of your own warning signs – unfortunately in order to know these, you have to go through this experience first hand, so it’s super important to capture these if ever it happens.

I hope you never experience this, but if you do, I hope this helps in some way.

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