When work and home life get completely crazy, many of us feel we need to do MORE to get things back under control. Kelly Exeter takes a different approach to coping under pressure: she starts deleting.
We’ve all experienced that ‘perfect storm’ of business and life.
Those weeks where the presentation we committed to months ago is now upon us at the same time our kid falls sick, the project that’s been stalled forever suddenly goes into overdrive, a problem client is giving us grief, our sister needs a ‘big favour’ and, yep, the fridge died.
No matter how organised we are, these periods pop up every now and then. When they do, I find the only way for coping under pressure and getting back on top of life is to delete these five things:
I’ve written a whole book on perfectionism! An illuminating thing my research showed is that most people with perfectionist tendencies don’t consider themselves to be perfectionists. (Yes, we apply perfectionism to our perfectionism.)
Which means, the first step in deleting perfectionism from your life is understanding if you’re a highly-driven person who holds themselves to high standards and likes doing things ‘properly’ – chances are, you have perfectionist tendencies.
When people with these tendencies find themselves in situations where life is out of control, their perfectionism ramps up in an attempt to gain back some kind of control. All this does, however, is put them under even more pressure.
Which is why, when life gets crazy, I consciously give myself permission to do things ‘well enough’. There’s a time and a place for high standards but when you’re on the brink of burnout, that ain’t it.
2. ‘Just one more’
What’s one of the first things we sacrifice when life gets crazy? Sleep. What’s the biggest barrier to adults going to bed at a reasonable time? ‘Just one more’.
- Just one more chapter of this book I’m reading.
- Just one more episode of my favourite Netflix show.
- Just one more email.
When you’re struggling to stay on top of things I know it’s futile to ask you to seek out more sleep (which is what you really need). But what you can do is re-think that ‘Just one more’.
We all have a finite amount of emotional bandwidth and when we’re on edge trying to stay on top of everything, that emotional bandwidth is close to being tapped. Which means we do not have the capacity to invest in other people’s drama.
At times like that I tell my partner if he needs to vent about something, he needs to do it a friend. If a client is angry, I will make concessions I might not ordinarily make. If a family member wants to have a difficult conversation with me, I’ll ask if it can wait for another time.
Yes, these are all avoidance, but they’re also self-preservation. When things are crazy, our ability to be there for other people or ensure we don’t overreact during difficult conversations is compromised. That’s why it’s smart to leave those conversations for another time, or make concessions that will allow the conversation to end quickly, and with a minimum of fuss.
I used to be able to overthink for Australia. I’d spend hours in my head, replaying old conversations and anticipating what might come up in future conversations. I’d try to divine what one line in an email really meant. Were they being passive-aggressive? Do they hate me? Should I do something to make them not hate me? It’s ridiculous that they hate me – I’m a nice person. I am a nice person, aren’t I?
One day, I had a blinding moment of realisation.
“Kelly, do you know, you don’t HAVE to engage with EVERY thought that enters your head.”
I cannot tell you how much the simple act of letting thoughts enter my head, and then pass on through, has saved my mental health in times of massive pressure.
Give the above a try and see how freeing it is. (It works just as well when you’re not under pressure too!)
5. Staying still
When we’re struggling under the weight of our to-do lists and scrambling to get through it all, the other thing we find it easy to sacrifice is exercise. Which is a huge shame because exercise is far and away the cheapest form of therapy at the best of times. At the worst of times, it’s essential. It’s easy to think we just don’t have time but honestly, even a 10-minute walk each morning or afternoon might release just enough endorphins to keep our emotions on an even keel.
Can’t get out for a walk? Do ten squats while the kettle is boiling. Set a timer to go off every hour and when it does, stand up at your desk and do a big stretch. You’ll be amazed at the tension that gets released and it might be just enough to get you through the day.
Doing more is never the answer
When life gets crazy, we get very reactive. We do more because ‘doing’ makes us feel like we’re exerting control over all the craziness.
It’s not, however. It’s just adding to the load.
Consciously choosing to do less and cut ourselves a bit of slack? That allows us to preserve our emotional bandwidth. And experience has shown me time and again that this is absolutely the fastest path to regaining control, and feeling on top of life again.
What do you delete from life to help you with coping under pressure?