Earlier this week when my neighbor and I were walking through the forest at lunch she said exasperated, “I’m just not happy! I didn’t notice it creeping up on me, but now that it’s here I can’t seem to shake it.”
Henry, her big old dog that still chases bears, was meandering behind us as we continued on the path. The trees are giant here, with tall cedars and pine trees canopying overhead. Patches of sunlight streamed through illuminating the roots and rocks under our feet.
She continued to share that she has been really struggling at work. Since Covid, she’s been working from home, then she changed companies which was stressful (yet still working from home) and is overwhelmed with the expectations on her plate at work and being a mom of 2 kids.
I asked what changed, and she said, “Nothing, I think it’s just been slowly coming on, and now I just feel angry, and exhausted, and joyless all the time. I don’t know how to get it back. I know exercise would make me feel better, but I’m just too mentally and physically exhausted right now to do anything.”
We broke through the trees and onto the residential street by the golf course into the full sun and blue sky.
This is really unusual for her. Typically, she’s really active (we also run together in the summer), she’s extremely positive and upbeat, and is such a lover of life and the outdoors.
Lately, she’s been feeling very blah. She said she felt a heaviness and negativity that has been wearing on her. Even though she’s been too exhausted to exercise hard, she has been walking with her husband every morning.
She also shared that the walk is her mostly complaining to her husband about work, then feeling guilty for dumping on her partner, and then making her dread her workday before it’s even started.
Yep, she’s in a rut.
Today on our walk, she said the tips I gave her earlier this week helped her so much that she shared them with her co-workers, and so I thought you should have them too!
There are 2 main components to this cycle that I could see, and they are:
Dreading Work which was contributing the feelings of anxiety around work.
Stress and Exhaustion which was coming from the overwhelm she felt around her workload.
Below I’ll give you some context and the tools I gave her to remedy them both.
With my neighbor, there’s three pieces to address.
The first, is how venting before work is impacting the rest of her day.
When you complain you are telling yourself a narrative (which isn’t necessarily true, it’s just a perception of what’s happening), and it then triggers an emotion. The emotion, whether that’s anger, frustration, or anxiety, then continues to feed the narrative, which feeds the emotion, which then again feeds the narrative, and you get stuck in this feedback loop.
We’ve all been there.
It’s like when a car cuts you off in traffic. You get cut off, and instantly think (even if it’s not consciously) they must be trying to kill you, or why else would they act like that!? Then you get pissed. This isn’t great to start off with when nothing really happened, meaning that there was no accident, and everyone is safe.
But the kicker is that it’s not just the momentary frustration of them cutting you off that impacts you. You might be so mad that you want to tell someone about it, so in the retelling you relive that moment with all its anger and fear. Your nervous system also fires right up again like it’s happening in this moment because it can’t tell the difference.
Now, imagine if you continue to tell even MORE people. With every retelling you are flooding your mind, emotion, and body with stress hormones over and over again.
Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need to vent, or work things out, ONE TIME. The problem is if we continue to repeat it. So the morning complaining needs to be curbed for her own personal well-being.
The second part is how to change the habituated complaining on their walk. Just like you can have a habit of getting up from your desk at 10:30am for a mid morning snack whether you’re hungry or not, you can also get into habits of thinking. And often our habits are contextual.
For example, if you do always get up from your desk at 10:30am for a mid-morning snack, it may not have anything to do with if you’re hungry. But it may have everything to do with where you are and what you’re doing.
If it’s Saturday and you’re out gardening, you might be completely oblivious to getting a snack at 10:30am because you’re in a different environment so the context is different. There’s no trigger for the snack.
Because she started complaining on the morning walks, this was now how the walks had started to go. It had become her habit to vent, and then it started her workday with dread and stress.
She decided to ask her husband to direct the conversation on their morning walks and help break the cycle so that she could start her day without the negativity of complaining.
The third piece was that she started every morning sitting at her desk, staring at her screen dreading work, and willing herself to get started. This is also a habit because it’s a repeated behavior, which is now, fueling a repeated emotion, and they are triggering each other in this cycle.
I told her to change up her context. Instead of sitting and staring at her screen she needs to interrupt the habit somehow. I suggested walking into her office and doing 10 jumping jacks, pushups, or dancing to change her state. I love something physical because it helps with endorphins too for extra bonus!
However, it could just as easily be a quick meditation, a phone call with a friend, or anything that would positively influence your state.
Then, I told her to set a positive intention for the day before sitting down at her desk. This helps break the autopilot behavior of dread while also clarifying with intention who she wants to be and how she wants to show up in her life.
Stress and Exhaustion
One of the biggest stressors and feeling of exhaustion for her was that there is always so much work and it felt never ending. The way she would handle it was to just stop at a specific time with things left undone because at some point she just has to walk away, or she would never leave.
So much of our stress is feeling overwhelmed by big tasks that feel like they are never getting any smaller. In fact, most of the time they feel like they just being added onto. Hello, mile long To-do list that gets added onto every day. Am I right?
Again, there are a few components to this.
First of all, I recommended taking a big picture view of what exactly needs to be done and by when. Horizons are critical for seeing the end to something.
Then instead of looking at “completions” as when a file is done (because they are sometimes huge and take a long time), to break up the file into smaller “tasks” that make up the file. That way she can always be ticking something off and seeing daily progress.
Second, I suggested some kind of ritual to signal when the file is finished and reward herself in some small way, even if it’s just telling herself, “Wow, you did it! That was a big file.” Then mentally closing that file off so there is a feeling of completion to it.
Many of us work our asses off to reach a goal and then when it’s done, immediately move on to the next one, moving the bar further ahead and never feeling like we’ve ever accomplished anything. Rituals of completion are critical for this.
The third thing I suggested is that towards the end of the day, or at least the second half of her day, choose tasks that can be finished by the end of her workday. This will ensure a box ticked and a sense of accomplishment and success for the workday. Everyday she has a feeling of success now because she can leave things mentally “done” regardless, if the whole file is finished.
Lastly, I invited her to end her day with positivity by going through her day and mentally noting every good thing that happened so far, whether that’s when Magnus knocked on her door to give her flowers (that he likely picked from her front yard!), a good conversation with a client, or even the way the morning sunlight streamed through her window. It all counts in the positivity bank.
These 4 strategies combined helped her feel accomplished, see a horizon, and leave her workday on a positive note so that she felt more energized, happier, and more accomplished in her life.
As we were finishing our walk up the hill back to our street, she asked me, “Have you looked into the yoga and Life Coaching scene yet in Grand Forks? Because you are so amazing at what you do. I can’t believe how quickly things turned around for me.”
I’m not sure what Grand Forks will bring for me, however I AM grateful that I’ve never been limited to my location and get to work with people all over the world. I will be opening up a few one-on-one coaching spaces soon. If you want to make some changes in your life, and know you need support to make them happen, I’m here for you. Just hit “reply” and we’ll set up a time to chat and see if this is the next best step for you.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the strategies I shared with my neighbor. Have you tried any of these yourself? And if not, is there one or two you can immediately implement that will make a difference in your life right now? Tell me in the comments below.