This is a guest blog post, written by our amazing Lifehack Coach Jessica Lackey

Do you find yourself feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and overrun by a neverending to-do list?

When that feeling of panic arises, you may think that your next step is to buckle down, turn on a focus timer, and knock out the next thing on your to-do list.

(I know that’s what I always assumed the answer was!)

This approach is now known to be detrimental to your productivity (and mental health) in the long run. Here’s what you should actually do to head off overwhelm once and for all. 

Online Task Managers Asana

Lifehack Coach Jessica Lackey

Warning: Meltdown Ahead!

For years, I used to think that simply working harder and longer would get me the results I wanted.

I would push through a long task list no matter how long it took.
No matter how many cups of coffee I’d need to stay alert.
No matter how tired and anxious and depleted I felt.

I truly thought that was my only option.

In reality, I was pushing my body to the brink of total exhaustion on a regular basis. I never felt fully resourced. And pretty much anything could push me into a meltdown… 

Because the more our stress response gets triggered, the easier it gets to trigger it. 

Here’s the thing – our brains can’t really tell the difference between mental and physical stress. It’s designed to keep us safe from any and all threats – and it can’t really distinguish the difference between being eaten by bears and the relentless stress of a never-ending task list.

And chronic stress disrupts most of the systems in our body. Your immune system, digestive system, reproductive system…they can all be affected by prolonged stress. 

So in the last several years, I’ve learned to work WITH my body instead of fighting AGAINST it.

Let’s dive into what you can do immediately to start re-regulating your nervous system when you start to feeling that creeping sense of anxiety and overwhelm.

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Step 1: Stop & Breathe

The truth is, it is impossible to focus and perform from a space of fight, flight, or freeze. 

Instead, you need to regulate your nervous system and get grounded for more focus and better performance.

The first step is to do some deep breathing.

A few deep breaths can help you reconnect and think clearly – instead of reacting in a frenzy. You’ll start to get more clarity about what’s actually important and what needs to happen next.

This is because your stress response often constricts your breathing – that is why when you experience anxiety or a panic attack, you may hyperventilate. This is your sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze) trying to help you get out of the danger it thinks you are in. 

Deep breathing helps to mitigate the fight or flight response because it activates the PARAsympathetic nervous system (your “rest and relaxation” system). 

It is a pretty intuitive practice. But if you’re struggling to feel results, I suggest holding your inhales for 3 seconds, and holding your exhales for 5 seconds. Extended exhales help to quickly turn on our ‘rest and relaxation’ system.

The more you practice, the more comfortable you’re going to feel with this exercise.

Step 2: Take A Walk

Taking a walk sounds so simple, I know. But the list of benefits is a mile long (pun intended)!

First, walking increases your body’s blood flow, especially to the brain. This is an excellent way to physically dispel anxiety and overwhelm AND give yourself a boost of energy when you’re feeling depleted. 

But what can take a regular walk and make it extra potent is mindfulness – focusing only on the present moment and being very intentional about what you’re thinking about.

Taking a few moments in your day to disconnect from the digital world and just take in your surroundings works WONDERS for your mental health. So leave your phone at home, get in some movement, and see what creative ideas pop up!

Step 3: Drink Some Water

When’s the last time you had something to eat or drink? 

When we are stressed, we can forget to take care of ourselves. I know I’ve been guilty of that in the past!

But hydrating and fueling yourself keeps your body’s systems operating. Nutrition regulates our hormones so we can focus on tasks ahead instead of focusing on finding sources of energy.

I also like to approach drinking water as an embodiment practice. Reconnecting with your body and breaking away from your computer helps us remember that we are human, in a human body that we need to nourish and take care of.

Why is body regulation so important?

The stressors of everyday life aren’t just going to go away anytime soon. But you can change the way that those everyday stressors make you feel. You get to choose how you respond to them.

When you respond from a place of calm, you’re going to make more rational decisions, make fewer mistakes, and get more done than if you were to just keep “grinding” and ignoring your physical and mental state.

In our membership program Lifehack Tribe, one of the most important concepts that we teach is the idea of leverage: figuring out the one action that you can take that makes everything else easier.

Sounds to me like working with our bodies and getting out of “fight, flight, or freeze” could be the ultimate leveraged priority!

Thank you SO much for reading.

To your success,

Jessica Lackey
Lifehack Method Coach

Demir & Carey Bentley

Demir and Carey Bentley are the founders of Lifehack Method, WSJ & USA Today bestselling authors, and executive productivity coaches. They've helped thousands of people avoid burnout and soar to their highest level of productivity. Read more about them here.