Feeling Overwhelmed? Pause, Breathe, Re-focus.
Overwhelmed? It’s a familiar feeling that at times we all share. We wake up and switch on our phones only to be deluged by a digital tsunami of notifications, emails, messages, missed calls, voicemails and calendar reminders. Awake barely minutes and our adrenal glands have already run the 100-meter dash in record-breaking time. Just 5 minutes into the day and you’re exhausted, all before it’s even begun.
Then you have to go deliver……….
Get out there, take the calls, do the meetings, diffuse the problems, write the papers and fight the fires. Oh, and planning? We’ve all arrived at the end of an exhausting day, only to glance wearily down at our untouched task list and feel our hearts sink with frustration and just a tinge of despair. That day’s army of new emails, unexpected calls, plus online and physical meetings that were never forecast, but you couldn’t avoid, all had to be done. Which meant ‘your’ work had to wait.
And that’s just work. It doesn’t include all the parenting, partnering, hobbies, plans, ‘lifemin’ whilst trying to enjoy some semblance of a social life. All of which has to be somehow squeezed in between it all. Whether you are employed or self-employed, single or a parent, abled or disabled it doesn’t matter. Whatever your individual life situation may be, chances are good that at times you’ll struggle to get it all done.
Whether you work in music or another industry, taking care of our mental health has never been as important as it is today, an age when our brains have greater demands placed on them than at any other time in human history.
I recently finished 7 months of intense work in two new jobs. In tandem to regular emails and work commitments, they’ve also involved numerous overseas conferences, panels, working groups, interviews and meetings. I have generalised anxiety and lifelong insomnia, all of which add an extra element of ‘spice’ to the whole shebang. But our ‘weaknesses’ can become our strengths and help drive us forward; doing public speaking at industry conferences slams my anxiety into the red - it’s not easy but this 'exposure therapy' is useful in helping me try to overcome the anxiety. As the Stoics say, The Obstacle Is The Way.
Aside from having a great support network of colleagues and friends, I’m fortunate to have some insights into mental health from work and personal experience. These insights are partly from my own conditions, partly from my role as co-chair of the Association For Electronic Music’s Protect Mental and Physical Health - Fans and Professionals working group. Both give me unique perspectives into the dangers of neglecting our mental health at work.
Nourished by a mini vacation, I was again reminded of some tricks we can all use to help us stay well. When I remember to use these they really help me, so you might enjoy them too:
Schedule holidays - like everything, don’t just expect to do it ‘at some stage’, because like a raging river, life races past and can drag you with it. Before you know it you’ll be exhausted and maybe even a little bit broken. Book in vacations now and regularly.
Delete everything - well alright, maybe not everything but at least all the apps that distract you from truly switching off when you do go on vacation. It’s OK, you can re-install them all when you resume work and nothing will be lost. But in the meantime, savour reading a good book or listening to your favourite AudioBook without the fear of new alerts spiking your adrenaline and disturbing your rest. If something is really urgent people can phone you.
Don’t switch your phone on - or at least not until you’ve done your morning routine. Airplane mode is your friend; keep this on overnight to prevent waking up to a flood of messages and flashing red alerts which can trigger anxiety. Your morning routine may involve doing some yoga, going for a run, meditating, hitting the gym, having some breakfast and making a list of what your priorities are for the day (with lists, less is more). Once you’re set then switch off Airplane mode and deal with whatever comes your way - you’re already in control - you’ve got this!
Be present, be mindful - In the UK and US we check our phones on average 60-80 times per day, with some users racking up around 300 checks per day. Be present in your day, realise when you’re picking up your phone intentionally, and when you’re just thumbing through it mindlessly. Intervene and break the habit by taking a conscious breath (two or three would be even better) and then re-focusing on the task in hand. This intervention equally applies to any other addictions we may have, whether they be compulsive thinking, smoking, drinking, food, sex, drugs etc. Mindfulness is a wonderful and powerful tool, so use it.
Pause, breathe, refocus.
Keep your bedroom phone and device free - this will enhance your ability to be present by reducing the urge (and your ability) to ‘check’ your tech. Introduce not having any screen time for at least one hour before bed (unless it’s Kindle or another non-blue screen device). Studies, and my personal experience, prove this to be an effective means by which to aid higher quality sleep.
Pretend it’s night time during the day - setting your devices to permanently to Night Shift mode, where the screen’s alluring and overly stimulating blue hue is filtered out, helps make us more relaxed and less engaged with our alluring pocket rockets, tablets and screens.
Get off social media - Marx once said that words to the effect that “religion is the opium of the masses.” Though he meant it differently, there’s no doubt about social media’s addictiveness and that it's become today’s addiction/sedation of the masses. Delete socials from your phone and watch your productivity and happiness go up as your social media use goes down.
Be a lark (even if you’re an owl) - I work in music so by the nature of my work I’m part owl, but waking up a little earlier can be hugely beneficial. It gives you precious time to yourself to find calm and do something you really want to do before the momentum of the day begins.
Sleep, and sleep well - some of the advice above may sound counter-intuitive to getting more sleep but strangely, getting up slightly earlier (and going to bed slightly earlier) and enforcing a strict routine with less screen time can be hugely beneficial for us. Routine is vital for our circadian rhythm (body clock) so try and get to bed/wake up at the same time.
Be boundried - know when your working day starts and ends. This is especially important if you’re self-employed, as the temptation to check emails outside of ‘normal’ office hours is always there in case you ‘miss work’.
Think of therapy - sometimes we all need an unbiased guide to help us disentangle life’s accumulated knots. Understanding why we each behave how we do can be hugely healing and empowering. My therapist has helped me transform my life and manage my life long anxiety. Just as coaching has long been recognised for its value in aiding professional productivity, so a great therapist can help us do the same with our mind and help us find our way to a clearer, calmer, more peaceful path where stress becomes, well... less stressful.
I don’t always succeed in doing all the above, but I’m happier and healthier when I do. I hope you some of these ideas helpful. For more info contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or instagram.com/tristanhuntuk
This piece was first published in IMS Mixmag Industry Insider, on 22nd February 2019, and also on my Linkedin page on March 26th, 2019: