Help! I'm Feeling Overwhelmed

Today's 'Ask the Expert' question is being answered by certified professional organizer Sue Becker.

Do you have a question for one of our experts? Email sabrina@patch.com.

Reader question: Lately I've been feeling constantly overwhelmed by demands at home and at work. Are there strategies I can use to help me get my head above water?

Sue Becker: When life gets busy (and when doesn’t it?) we often feel that we have to put our head down and plow full steam ahead to get as much done as possible. While it may seem counterintuitive, taking a break can actually help you accomplish more, and make life more enjoyable at the same time. Giving your mind (and body) a chance to rest can help refocus your attention and boost your energy as well as help relieve stress and sharpen your cognitive ability.

In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, energy management gurus Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe the physiological changes our bodies go through when we’ve reached a low point in our energy cycle. While techniques such as drinking coffee or eating a candy bar may successfully produce a short-term energy boost, they’re not a great substitute for our body’s natural cycle of engagement and recovery.

I’ve experienced this productivity recovery phenomenon first-hand. Back in my paper-writing days during college and grad school, I’d intentionally walk away from my current writing assignment for 15 minutes or so and be amazed at the renewed focus and energy I’d discover upon my return to the task. I’d also marvel at the ease with which I’d catch errors that I previously hadn’t noticed.  A fresh set of eyes and a clear mind made all the difference.

Taking breaks has also been shown to be highly beneficial for people with AD/HD. My own experience when working with clients with AD/HD has shown that when they take a short break of ten or so minutes, it breaks up the monotony (serving their desire for a change of pace) and boosts their energy. “Green” breaks during which they look outside (or even go outside) to look at the green grass or trees have also proven to be highly beneficial. A study by researchers at the University of Essex (England) found that just 5 minutes a day of exposure to nature is all you need to improve your mood and self-esteem.

To get yourself in the habit of taking breaks, determine what your concentration threshold is and set a timer to remind yourself to walk away from your current project for a while. The length of the break is less important than the act of simply changing your focus for a moment – something as simple as taking a bathroom break can do wonders for your productivity. Maybe drinking eight glasses of water a day (or whatever the experts now say is the proper amount) can have a side benefit of boosting your productivity by making you take a bio break every few hours.

 So how will you build breaks into your day to minimize the mental field trips your mind takes as you work through your day?

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