It starts relatively harmless. You get a headache. Then you’ll notice they come more frequently. You have difficulty falling asleep at night or wake up during the night.
Your muscles are constantly tense. You’re tired all the time. The brain is often foggy.
You worry (too much), you feel lost sometimes, perhaps there are days you feel gloomy. Maybe you feel rushed, always aiming to complete the next to do on your list (or your boss’s).
If it’s really severe, you might experience panic attacks.
Is this you? Then you might be overstraining yourself. It’s what happened to me last year.
Confessions of a Workaholic
Hello, I’m Nick and I overstrained myself by doing way too much. For months, I kept on going. Chasing my dream of becoming a full-time writer. Chasing the growth in all areas. But this was supposed to be something I’d do on the side. I mean, I already had a full-time job, some other projects, a busy social life, etc.
I stretched myself too thin. I’d easily spent 30+ hours a week on my writing, sacrificing my evenings, getting up earlier, working on a Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. But at what cost? I never took time to relax.
I’m a big consumer of self-help articles/listicles/books. It’s helping me to grow on one hand and on the other hand it’s exhausting me.
It’s in my nature to demand a lot of myself. I must, I must, I must. Read a book per week, write 7,000 words on my novel per week, write 2 blog posts per week (at least), write 1 short story every month, produce 1 podcast episode per month, promote all my writing, keep up with Medium, keep up with my social media channels, etc. Then I had my regular job, working 40 hours a week.
In my spare time I felt I needed to exercise, meditate, have a morning routine, watch my diet, see my friends, see the latest Netflix shows, go on dates, go to the movies, travel, go to museums, … You get the gist.
I just like to say: don’t follow all the advice you encounter, you’ll be overwhelmed… and in my case overstrained. Plus, don’t try to get everything all at once (heck I even used a quote about it and made a case for it in a previous article). Why am I not listening to my own advice?
Why did I overstrain myself? Because I want too much.
Ryan Holiday advised me to publish in as many places as humanly possible. HUMANLY!
Why need to publish a podcast every month, and a short story, and 2–3 blog posts per week, and grow my audience, and write a novel — while working fulltime?
I mean it was me who said do one creative thing and one thing for growth per day. I’d do 3 creative things and 3 for growth. I worked at night, I crammed in something writing related to pursue my dream.
My own mind demanded inhuman productivity and dedication.
And there it is. The mind. I’m in my head all the time. Anxiety, I wrote about it before.
It’s like my own internal RAM memory has been in used to its max for months. Without ever shutting my computer brain off. No standby. Dozens of programs always running in the background. Hundreds of tabs open on my browser.
Your computer usually hisses and puffs when this happens, it becomes hot. A brain does the same to your body but you’ll only notice the damage done once it really overheats, or worse: explodes.
Health First, Career and Everything Else Second
Rush, rush, rush.
No rest, not hitting pause.
Once you take a break and actually do nothing, you are back in the present. Whether you’re meditating, doing breathing exercises or just simply stare out of the window.
Without health there is no dream. Without your health you can’t even enjoy it.
It’s like you are driving through a beautiful countryside abroad and not take notice because you can only think about the destination.
You aren’t enjoying the seemingly small achievements, so will you ever enjoy the big ones?
With a mind always dreaming of a future outcome you forget to enjoy the beauty of the present.
If you’re paralyzed by your own productivity, overstraining yourself, or even get yourself burned out it’s too late. And all that you’ve done will likely be in vain. You can’t enjoy what you’ve done, let alone continue.
If you can’t continue, you can’t grow. So in order to grow, take care of yourself. At any cost. Otherwise it might end up costing you a lot more.
I don’t know how it is in your country, but here in the Netherlands too many people sit at home completely burned out. Most of them millennials like me.
How to Relax More and Find More Balance
Naturally, this is different for everyone. I made a list of things that spark my anxiety, make me feel rushed and tense. That list was long and it provided me with a roadmap. I needed to approach these situations differently, or even eliminate them.
What gives you energy and what takes it away from you? Focus on the first, eliminate the things that drain you.
I know easier said than done, but you can always do it gradually. Small steps for the big wins.
Since I was having panic attacks and felt so overstrained I couldn’t even read a sentence, I needed to take a long weekend of doing nothing. Which was weird to say the least. I was so used to be in productivity mode.
Luckily, it worked. Walking in the park or on the beach, massages, a sauna visit, lots of reading, napping and just sitting down doing nothing (the hardest thing ever).
But I knew that one weekend wasn’t the cure for my problem. Just like I schedule my writing, I need to schedule my rest. No excuses.
The following things give me energy and help me to relax and find balance, I’m sure some of them might help you too:
- Meditation: I tried to do this once a day, but if I skipped one I didn’t beat myself up. This is the best tip. When I feel overwhelmed, I used my Headspace app and do a 3-minute session, it almost always worked.
- Walking: Preferably in nature or if that’s not possible, in my neighborhood. Walking without a goal or purpose can be very relaxing.
- Rebounding: I have a quality rebounder at home. Perfect for softly relaxing my tense muscles and short movement breaks.
- Running: Outside, in the park and sweating.
- Yoga: I’m fairly new to this, but it calms me down.
- Writing: Although one of the causes of stress, it’s also one of the cures. Journaling, writing articles like this, or simply escaping in my of fictional worlds.
- Cryotherapy: 3-minutes in minus 110 Celsius for a complete reset. It’s tough, but worth it. I almost feel stoned afterwards and sleep very well.
- 5-Minute breaks: Stare, do nothing. Simple, hard, but effective.
- Read: Preferably fiction, because the non-fiction books set me off in ‘I-want-to-improve-mode’.
- Fewer appointments: I usually had a plan every night, cooking for friends, going out for drinks, whatever. Now I plan 3 nights a week tops and keep the rest to myself. I usually watch a TV series, movie, read or write.
- Drawing: Something I used to love doing as a kid and teenager. I haven’t made anything in ten years. It’s fun, although I’m not very good.
- Screenless Sunday’s: This one is hard, but mind-blowingly helpful. I check my phone in the morning, and then I leave it in my room. I read, walk, exercise, draw, nap, stare and do all of the above basically. After dinner I allow myself to watch some tv though.
When I was feeling so overwhelmed, I immediately sought professional help. I ended up getting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
I learned to break my (vicious) thought patterns. I learned to recognize the moments I made myself do too much. I learned how to take a step back. I learned that a panic attack is not dangerous. I learned not to avoid certain situations. The list goes on.
Sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Professionals can help. Help yourself by asking for help.
Get Out of Toxic Situations
I was stuck at my job. I hated it. The reasons for that might be fitting for another article. Long story short, I had my own business, things went sideways and we got taken over. Then I had to do the same job for someone else. I felt like a failure and I didn’t have that entrepreneurial ‘spark’ anymore.
I needed to get out of that situation. I was hanging over me like an ominous cloud, ready to wreak havoc. I needed to burn bridges.
So I did. And I sat down and thought: “What do I really want to do?”.
If you’re in a similar situation, sit down and think about what changes you think you need in your life to feel more at ease. Then think about how you can achieve it.
This is what I wanted to do:
Go On a Trip
I know this is not possible for everyone. I was in the fortunate position of having saved up money, no responsibilities and having time on my side. If you’re flexible and have some money, please travel. Preferably for a long time (I traveled for 3,5 months).
Traveling is perfect to reload, destress and to get inspired again. It takes the edge off. You don’t HAVE to do anything if you don’t want to. It provides you with time to think. You’ll get out of your daily grind and meet new people and see amazing things.
You can confront your issues and embrace uncertainty. Slowly, I started to feel relaxed again. To a point that I’m a completely different person as to who I was at the end of last year.
I’ve found many ways to calm myself down, change gears and develop a new life for myself.
By going to therapy, burning bridges, going on a trip, and implementing calming habits into my life, I’ve found my way again. I haven’t had a panic attack in almost six months!
I know I’m not the only one stretching myself too thin.
Let me know if you struggle with this as well.
What do you do to find balance in your life and avoid overwhelming yourself?