In this day and age, it’s hard to catch a break.
When our friends, family and work colleagues can ping us in seconds on text message, email and our social media accounts, it’s near-impossible to escape the cycle even for a five-minute shower, let alone a solid night’s rest.
“We are experiencing more stress than ever these days, with the 24-hour news cycle and our constant connectedness through electronics and reachability,” Helen Odessky, Psy. D. psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety from Stopping You, explains. “It’s even more vital that we’re intentional when it comes to stress management so we have the energy to give to our work and our loved ones and are able to enjoy what we have.”
Sound familiar? (We feel ya.)
How to tell if you’re overwhelmed
If you think your to-do lists might be piling too high for you to handle, here are nine signs and solutions for turning your situation around before it negatively impacts your health, relationships and career.
You have a history of saying “yes” too much
“There are a lot of reasons people say ‘yes’ too much,” Grant Brenner, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and author of IRRELATIONSHIP, says. “You may be a compulsive caregiver, doing things for others to make you feel better about yourself or to avoid displeasing people, or you may be a ‘workaholic,’ using compulsive work to avoid difficult psychological issues, like an addiction or eating disorder.”
It’s also possible that you’re too worried about the consequences of saying “no,’ either for professional development or social advancement. You may be concerned that you’ll get let go if you don’t do everything you’re asked, but being too much of a people-pleaser may make it hard to get ahead. “If you have difficulty being proactive or finding efforts to be assertive, the way you were told you should be on your performance review, your plan may backfire,” Brenner warns.
You’re no longer putting out quality work
If, in the past, you’ve excelled at your commitments, in both your work and personal lives, but are no longer able to do a good job, you might be taking on too much. Examples include not meeting deadlines, getting behind on big projects, consistently not completing daily tasks, getting dates or times confused, and forget important things or appointments.
“When assignments or projects are returned to you for revision or correction, it could be that you’re making silly mistakes or not paying attention to details in your work when you have in the past,” Kathryn Moore, Ph.D., psychologist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., says.
A way to deal with this is to set concrete goals in your professional and private life. “Only say ‘yes’ to things that are in line with those goals,” Dr. Moore suggests. “For example, if your professional goal for this year is to develop your own consulting business, only say ‘yes’ to opportunities that would help you reach that goal. Or, if in your personal life, a goal is to run a 5K in six months, only do activities that support you in reaching that goal, like joining a running group.”
You feel resentment about the things you’re doing
You notice that “takers” seem to gravitate to you
When you step back and think about how much you have on your plate and how stressed out you are, you may notice that a lot of people around you seem to be willing to ask you to do things, without offering much in return. For example, when you ask others to lend you a hand, they either apologetically explain why they wish they could, but just can’t, or, they may just ghost.
“People select each other for the way giving and taking fits together, which can be a healthy mutual dependency or unbalanced,” Brenner says. “You may hold yourself to very high standards, but let others ‘off the hook,’ or may appear to be more kind and compassionate to others, but very harsh with yourself.” This makes it easy to take on too much, because you may be trying to compensate, even punish yourself (sometimes), for being ‘bad.” “This never works,” Brenner warns. “Instead, what happens is you find yourself taking on more and more, feeling temporarily better, but eventually crashing.”
You’re experiencing changes in your appetite
Whether you’re eating more or less than usual, or simply forgetting to eat altogether, this is a sign that something’s off. “When we’re doing too much, it’s very difficult to be in tune to what our body needs and wants, and we often substitute that with our emotional cravings instead,” Jenny Giblin, clinically trained therapist and health and wellness expert, explains. “Everyone reacts differently to stress, so while some people may lose their appetite and drink more coffee, others may reach for chocolate or pizza the moment they can.” Try to focus on eating what feels good to you—maybe that’s treating yourself to a frozen yogurt or having green smoothies with a protein bar. The most important thing is that you fuel your body with the nutrients it needs and take care of your health.
You start canceling or backing out of commitments
It’s normal to occasionally feel like you don’t have time to work out or hang out with friends and family, either because you’re too busy or have too much work to do. But, having a healthy social life can be one of the best ways to deal with stress, especially when you’re with people who care about you and know how to make you feel good.
You feel irritable and emotional “for no reason”
If you start noticing that you’re more reactive in a negative way when it comes to interactions of all kinds, for example you notice you’re snapping at co-workers or are short with your partner, it may be because you simply have too much on your plate. You might also notice you’re feeling more tired and sluggish, which might entice you to turn to alcohol or other substances, like marijuana, to relax, Dr. Moore says.
“You may start using even more than you used to or more often, which might start to affect you, such as using instead of going to work or hanging out with friends, or, worse, showing up to work or missing work due to being hungover or sick due to using,” Dr. Moore warns. “If these signs are affecting your work and home life, you might want to consider talking to someone, like a psychologist, to help you find better ways of coping and to understand the reasons you have trouble saying no.”
You’re not taking proper care of yourself
If you’re cutting out the things that keep you healthy and energized, like exercise and sleep, to get everything done, it’s time to ask others for help. “When you’re starting to have difficulties with your mood, sleep or experience unexplained bouts of anxiety, seek out a therapist who can help you prioritize, set boundaries and problem-solve through difficult situations,” Dr. Odessky says.
In the meantime, until you can get the help you’re looking for, practice mediation to help recharge your mind. Even just a few minutes a day can make a difference. “I recommend breathing in and counting to three, then exhaling and counting to six,” Giblin says. “Taking longer, slower exhales can help reset your nervous system and calm your mind.” And, when it comes to sleeping, make sure to set new rules for yourself, like no phone after 9 p.m. or taking a hot shower before bed. Making your room feel like a sanctuary can help you fall asleep more easily and feeling well rested will help you power through your day.
Others tell you you’re taking on too much, but you feel like you’re never doing enough
You may not be aware that you take on too much or are intellectually aware, but emotionally disconnected from that reality. But, when people point it out to you, you find it difficult or impossible to take in, so you find a way to distract from or block it out. In other words, you know you’re under strain, but when someone asks you do something, you somehow forget that, and then regret it. “It’s hard to be aware of one’s needs and hard to put them front and center, even when we’re aware of those needs,” Brenner explains. “Somehow, it feels frightening, even impossible, to express needs, making it hard to say ‘no’—or, it may seem like there’s no way to say ‘no,’ which sounds OK to you” But when other people are telling you they’re concerned, it’s time to take stock and reflect on how much stress you’re really under with and how it might be affecting you in negative ways.