How to handle stress and overwhelm
Both the stress of work and the stress of finding work are common causes of soloist overwhelm. But there are techniques you can use to clear your mind, lift your spirit and help you handle stress.
I call my method a ‘Modern Mantra’ and reckon it’s ideal for soloists. I last applied it just the other day, when I was besieged by my ‘to do’ list. Every client needed me to work on their project NOW – and wanted the results yesterday.
I contemplated screaming and curling up in the foetal position, then I considered tossing a coin to choose which one to start on, even though this would require me to ignore the other clients’ urgencies rattling around my brain.
Each seemed like a feasible option and I’ve tried them both at various times in my working life. But on this day, I remembered my Modern Mantra and used it to handle the stress and overwhelm.
Mantras have a somewhat mystical, spirtual past. Originating from India, the mantra is generally known as a syllable or poem repeated to help clear the mind and lift the spirit. Once the right mantra is discovered – and spoken out loud – it can quickly make a happier soloist.
My version of the mantra is essentially a happy word-trigger which helps me handle stress during a workday.
"Originating from India, the mantra is generally known as a syllable or poem repeated to help clear the mind and lift the spirit."
While I wanted my mantra to help my workload appear more manageable, I also wanted work to be more fun. And that didn’t mean getting rid of my current clients and finding new ones that looked more playful. It meant it was time to change my perspective.
So my mantra soon became ‘the fun perspective’.
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The trick to get ‘the fun perspective’ was simply to remember it at times when I want to cry, scream or wander off aimlessly into other parts of the house (this can happen several times a day).
I take a deep breath and say out loud: ‘fun perspective’. That causes me to immediately start smiling. Every time I use it I feel a weight lift off my chest. Maybe it’s something to do with having a serious word like ‘perspective’ next to the word ‘fun’ that does it for me, I’m not sure. The thing is, it works.
Does saying ‘the fun perspective’ solve all my problems? No. Does it help me to prioritise work better and get it done? I have to say, to a degree, yes. By relaxing a little, I feel more optimistic about my work, the quality of my work improves and there’s something about my relaxed manner that can be contagious – my clients start to relax a little too.
But ‘the fun perspective’ may not be for you. I heard about a woman who works at a cosmetic counter in a department store. Unsurprisingly, the job isn’t always fun. Standing on a hard floor all day dealing with the general public under unforgiving lighting can take its toll. So, when the going gets tough, this woman says out loud: “I am as light as a feather”.
The mantra makes her laugh every time because she sounds like a hippie – which she’s definitely not. So “I am as light as a feather” actually does help her to feel…well, lighter. Her co-workers think she’s a complete nutter, but I bet they’re benefiting from her smile.
If you work by yourself, you can say your mantra out loud without needing to defend your sanity to smirking colleagues. And if you work with others, remember that talking to yourself is not necessarily a sign of madness – doesn’t the Dalai Lama hum his own mantras daily?