Feeling Overwhelmed? Put yourself in time out.
Updated: Mar 16
I was working full-time as a manager of essential workers. The stress and uncertainty would weigh on me at times. Every day provided new challenges with no blueprint. You made it work. I kept coming in early to offset any surprises for the day. Among the fellow managers, we leaned on each other. Staff rose to the occasion as best we could. After a while, I started noticing I was becoming irritable. Requests were still coming in, but I did not want to hear from anyone. I was flooded.
The Science of Flooding
The brain has an internal alarm system. If nothing activates the alarm, there is a balance between the survival center (limbic system) and the brain's reasoning, relational center (prefrontal cortex). When the alarm is activated by stress or threats, the survival center increases activity, and the reasoning, relational part of the brain reduces activity. We become irritable, angry, fearful, and activated to fight, take flight, or freeze. With high unending stress, flooding is freezing.
I describe being flooded as a bucket of water so full one more drop could make it spill over. If you are that full, you are mentally flooded. Flooding can happen when you are in an unending high-stress situation. During this time of COVID, many have had to adjust expectations. When the demand on production increases by 15% and 27% of your staff is out for illness and childcare, everything will not get done. You prioritize the items for the day and make peace with those priorities. When you cannot let things go at work, you take work home, which breaks your boundaries. So you work at work, work at home, and have nowhere to retreat. Where do you go to get a break? What's going on around you has gotten inside of you. How do you get cleared out?
When I felt myself being flooded at work, I put myself in timeout. I got up and went to my car. I sat in the parking structure. I could see, hear, and smell the rain. I could hear myself breathing. I could hear my hair move across my jacket as I turned my head. I sat there for about 20 minutes before I went back inside. I felt more like myself afterward. I realized I had to set boundaries. I stuck to 8 hours a day at work and stopped taking work home. I also decided not to do anything that felt like work on Sundays. If I wanted to make breakfast, great. If not, I ordered it. One day of rest, renewal, relaxation, and recreation. One day to unplug from constant demands. One day to give yourself something that puts wind in your sails.
Personal Leadership Includes Self Care
As leaders, we keep going when we should stop. Maybe you're a manager at work. Or maybe you're leading a family as a single parent while juggling work. Or administrating your parent's affairs. If you can't stop, considering creating pauses in your schedule. Take a time out. Set boundaries. Unplug. You are not only responsible for leading others. You are also accountable for personal leadership - leading yourself. Personal leadership includes self-care.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books.