Feeling Exhaustion or Overwhelm?
You’ve forgotten to turn Airplane Mode on.
Since COVID-19 hit, millions of people report feeling more exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed. If you wonder why, or what you can do to feel more at peace, balanced, or energized in these uncertain times, consider that you’ve missed turning Airplane Mode on.
Since March 2020, depression in the US has risen by more than 30%, sales for anxiety medication have rocketed by 37%, and nearly 9 out of 10 people report continuous high levels of stress. Our mental well-being and peace of mind was far from rosy before COVID struck. Now, we can’t ignore the enormous levels of stress any longer.
I live in Santa Barbara, a true bubble of beauty — hours away from any COVID hot spot. For years, I’ve worked with clients remotely. And yet, I find myself asking: “I wonder how I’ll wake up, tomorrow.” Some days I wake up rested. Yet many times I feel exhaustion from the moment I open my eyes. And at other times, I start the day with a deep sadness from… God knows where. When I speak with my clients, which mostly run larger teams in global organizations, they share the same overwhelm, exhaustion, and often anxiety about their own lives and the well-being of their team members: what might the future bring for their job, their organization, and their families?
Searching… Searching… Searching
A few weeks ago, I picked up the phone and called my mentor, Rob, to ask him what was going on and how we can better deal with the added stress in our lives. He told me: “Peter, you’re running on Airplane Mode.” I waited for him to explain. “Have you ever been on a plane and forgot to turn your phone on Airplane Mode?” he asked. I responded that I have. “What happened?” he continued, and then answering his own question: “If the flight is long, you probably got off the plane and found your phone’s battery drained.”
When we forget to switch our phones to Airplane Mode, up there in mid-air, they constantly search for a connection to a cell tower. When they can’t find one to connect with, they continue sending energy out, searching… searching… searching.
Since COVID hit, many of us do exactly the same. We scan the horizon, searching for certainty, something familiar to connect with. Something that we can hold on to for a faint feeling of familiarity, so our minds can tell us: “Puh, this feels safe and normal. I can rest.” Usually without much success.
So, we keep searching, scanning the news for some piece of information to provide us with certainty, speaking to friends about the dire situation in an attempt to calm our mind, to suggest that everything will be OK. Why do we do that? Because our brain continuously looks for something familiar — something that matches our values, where we feel safe. If we don’t find that familiarity, we experience stress. You’ve probably experienced this first-hand when you went to a party where you didn’t know anyone. At first, you feel apprehensive — searching for someone or something familiar. And then, once you find a familiar person to connect with, your brain can relax. You start chatting away, back to being your usual self.
These days, there’s not much out there that feels familiar. Wherever we turn, uncertainty and change are staring back at us. We keep searching, scanning, draining our batteries, getting exhausted.
3 Questions for Keeping Your Battery Charged
Bad news is: the change and uncertainty around us isn’t likely to go away. When COVID disappears from the news, other global issues will jump to the front page. Climate change, racial unrest, Brexit, raging fires, or hurricanes aren’t going away, and the media is more than happy to keep us engaged. Crisis sells.
As you feel your batteries draining, consider these suggestions to remain empowered in our volatile world:
It’s your choice whether you engage in the external noise. You can choose to keep searching for information and outside solutions, or you can turn inward, where you’ll ultimately be able to find a place of stillness, peace of mind–maybe a connection to something more meaningful than anything from the outside can provide.
I take time to meditate every day, for example, spend time in nature, breathe, connect to loved ones or to a higher power. When I feel anxiety or stress, my body usually wants to move forward — do more, fix something, write a few more emails, or handle the situation at hand. When I’m strong enough, I force myself not to follow the impulse but instead stop, go for a hike, sit quietly and connect to that inner place of stillness. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a practice. But whenever I am steadfast enough to sit through the urge to DO something (my body starts getting really restless), I arrive at a place of balance, inspiration or peace. Do that, and you’ll find a place where you’re present and alive to everything that’s going on around you, where you can — just for a moment — disconnect from the “story” and connect to what’s deep and real.
Question 1: Each day, how much time do you choose to turn inward as compared to the time you spend turning outwards (searching or doing)?
(I know, the ratio can be a bit shocking).
Be “In It” but not “Of It”
Turning inwards doesn’t mean to disengage, though. Our current times are too important to check out. We need all hands on deck to maneuver the transformations ahead of us. So, can you stand in the fire, be fully present with the situation at hand, be informed and well-read — and yet not be thrown off-kilter by it? Practice to not avoid the storm, but to move into the eye of the storm: present to what is happening around you, centered when you’re feeling triggered, truthful with your feelings and actions, and compassionate with yourself and the people around you.
Question 2: Knowing that there are people who turn this time into an enormous opportunity for themselves, their family relations, and their business, how can you think differently to make this time an extraordinary opportunity for you, too?
Embrace Uncertainty as though it was a Lover
And lastly, can you practice to be comfortable with the uncertainty that’s around us? One of our Conscious Business Institute partners says: “Wherever there’s uncertainty, there’s fear.” Our most widespread fear as humans is the fear of uncertainty: if you knew you’d be financially better off if you quit a job you didn’t like; would you be afraid to leave? If you had the certainty that COVID didn’t pose critical health risks, would you worry about it?
If we want to access our authentic power, live truly free and successful lives, we cannot shrink in the face of uncertainty, nor can we continue to dominate and control. We need to master one of the grand challenges as humans: to become truly comfortable with uncertainty.
Question 3: What are uncertainties you’re worried about, and how would you show up if you could relax into the notion that there’s a bigger picture — an opportunity for growth — unfolding for you, and for us as humanity?
It’s a Practice
Are these recommendations easy to accomplish? No, they’re not. They take practice. Probably life-long practice, help of a community, and maybe a good glass of wine here and there. Ultimately, though, this is the path we share as humans; the common journey of growth and evolution that binds us together. On this common journey, how much time do you choose to dedicate to going inside rather than searching outside, and to support others on our common path–your spouse, your children, your friends, or your coworkers at the office?