In a "do more with less," hyper-connected world, it's easy to end up feeling overworked and overwhelmed. Your inbox is full, your calendar is racked and stacked, the boss wants you, the kids need you, and you still haven't found time this week to get to the grocery store. It's a lot to fit into a 168-hour week. Recent research from the Center for Creative Leadership shows that if you're a professional with a smartphone, you're likely connected to your work for 72 hours a week. And then let's say that you spend eight hours a day -- 56 hours a week -- on essentials like sleeping, eating and bathing. That leaves you with just 40 hours a week to do everything else you need or want to do. No wonder you feel overworked and overwhelmed!
If you feel this way, you're probably in a low grade state of chronic fight or flight. We all know how the fight or flight response can provide superhuman strength in an emergency or hyper awareness when we feel threatened. The problem is when it gets stuck in the on position and chronically high levels of stress hormones and low levels of growth hormones leave us feeling anxious, sleep-deprived and exhausted. All of that is why you feel burned out.
So what's the alternative? The answer isn't to work harder. There's too much to do in any given week to begin with, and trying to squeeze more in is just going to make things worse. Instead, try the mindfulness alternative. You don't have to know how to meditate like a monk to benefit from mindfulness. There are simple things that we can learn from mindfulness traditions that are easy to do and will make a big difference in helping you feel less overworked and overwhelmed. I call them the "killer apps" that get you out of fight or flight by activating your rest and digest response. You can use them anywhere at any time of the day to stress less and thrive more.
Move -- New research shows that sitting is the new smoking. If you sit for eight or nine hours a day, the impact on your life expectancy is the same as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. Moving clearly has physical benefits, but it also has mental benefits. As reported in the British Medical Journal, short stints of movement and exercise increase your capacity to think clearly. The rhythmic, repetitive motion of going for a walk or stretching for a few minutes activates your rest and digest response and pushes the reset button on your brain. You might just come back to work with fresh insights on that problem that was sending you into fight or flight in the first place.
Breathe -- There's a reason Navy SEALS are trained to do four minutes of deep breathing several times a day. The routine establishes a balance between their fight or flight and rest and digest responses. That helps them think clearly under conditions of extreme stress. It can do the same for you. As few as three deep breaths from your belly can alleviate the overworked and overwhelmed feeling that comes from keeping your foot on the fight or flight gas pedal.
Connect -- A 2010 meta-analysis conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University examined the findings of 148 different studies that tracked the social habits of more than 300,000 people around the world. The BYU analysis found that people with strong relationships with family, friends or co-workers have a 50 percent better chance of being alive at the end of a 7.5-year period than people who don't have strong relationships. The meta-analysis also showed that having weak relationships is more harmful than not exercising, twice as bad as being obese and about as bad as being an alcoholic or smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. If you want to live a longer, healthier life, you need to nurture strong relationships. In addition to making life sweet, strong relationships can help you feel less overworked and overwhelmed. Less stress means a longer, happier life.
Reflect -- In those moments where you're feeling really overworked and overwhelmed, take time to ask yourself, "What's going right?" When you stop to reflect on this question, you will almost always find something in your life that's going right. How can you build on that? Taking time to reflect on what's going right is a great way to get out of fight or flight and into rest and digest.
Move. Breathe. Connect. Reflect. Practicing one or more of those "killer apps" throughout the day can help you fell less overworked and overwhelmed.