If you’ve ever looked at your running shoes gathering dust at your front door and thought ‘I don’t have the energy for a workout right now’ then this post is for you.
If you’ve ever watched other people in your life exercise regularly and thought ‘how on earth do they have the time?’ then this post is for you.
If you’ve ever uttered the words ‘I just can’t deal with organizing a trip to the gym today’ then this post is for you.
I’m writing this because every single sentence above could have described me at some point or another over the past two years. Even though I’m a trainer, even though I have a degree in Exercise Science, even though I know (probably more than the average person) about the immense benefits of regular exercise, even though I genuinely enjoy exercise, I do get too overwhelmed to workout.
Today we are going to talk about how overwhelm is a paralyzing, healthy-habit-killer and what we can do to turn it on its’ head.
If you are the overwhelm-prone type (like me), then there’s a good chance that you:
Have a hard time asking for help.
Are capable enough to get everything done, but find it stressful to do so.
Regularly fill your to-do list with way more chores than you’re realistically able to complete.
Have a history of running yourself into the ground.
Spend a lot of time in your head, worrying or over-analyzing all the things you should be doing.
Sound like you?
Perfect, sounds like me too.
Overwhelm can strike at any time in our lives. Yes, it can show up during truly challenging times. For me, overwhelm was at an all time high when my Dad was in the hospital recovering from a massive stroke, my husband was traveling 8 months out of the year, and I was single-handedly running an in-person and online fitness business during the week while traveling by plane to be with my Dad each weekend.
But overwhelm can also rear its’ head during ‘normal’ weeks where we are juggling work, family, and social responsibilities. In fact, this is more common for me. And I tend to feel a lot of shame that I seemingly can’t handle the regular responsibilities of being an adult, or that I can’t do it all without feeling stressed about it.
Your life doesn’t need to be totally turned upside down for you to experience that drowning, exhausting feeling of being overwhelmed.
So here’s the thing. If overwhelm can happen at any time, and many of us are experiencing it’s negative side effects including low motivation, irritability, feeling ashamed, fatigue, stress, worry and analysis paralysis, then what are we to do?
As a trainer whose work involves helping my clients break down their barriers to exercise and regular self-care, I know that sticking to a consistent workout routine is a major de-stressor for me. It improves my mental health quickly and substantially. And yes, overwhelm is a mental health issue.
Exercise and self-care often get left off the to-do list when we are feeling overwhelmed, but they are the exact things that help us deal with our overwhelm healthily and powerfully.
So here are the steps that I’ve taken to deal with my own overwhelm. Getting honest with myself has allowed me to exercise regularly and feel much better mentally. Surprise, surprise, it’s all about mindset. It’s about how we think about ourselves and our surroundings.
Let’s start with three questions:
Do you need to lower your standards of what constitutes a ‘good’ workout?
I know that the more I have on my plate, or the more overwhelmed I feel, the more I need to lower my perfectionistic tendencies.
Sure, the internet and our perfectionist mind tells us that a ‘perfect’ workout would last for one hour, be performed at a fitness facility, would include a warm-up, weights, cardio intervals, core and a cool-down stretch all done in a matching new outfit from lululemon.
But in reality? A really good, effective workout can be completed in 20-30 minutes. Literally 95% of the workouts I’ve performed in the last 2 years have been 30 minutes or less.
A really good workout can be completed at home. Dumbbells, a piece of exercise tubing, a mat. That is all you need to get a really great sweat session. Here’s an example of a minimal equipment, home workout.
A good workout won’t feel amazing every single time. It’s about prioritizing the consistency of our workouts, not about needing them to be epic. And when we are done the 20 minute session, even a small boost of endorphins makes tackling our to-do list so much more manageable.
Use this mantra —> The opposite of perfect is done. And during times of overwhelm, a workout being done is exactly what we’re striving for, it helps us to focus better and get the ball rolling on many other tasks.
Will exercise help you deal with your stress or add to your mental load?
This is a question I ask myself regularly. The truth is that 9 times out of 10, a short and effective workout will help me to deal with my stress better.
During the last two years when my overwhelm seemed to be at an all time high, I decided I needed a different way of dealing with normal, everyday life stressors. This is the thought process that has helped me immensely:
We all have the same 24 hours in a day.
We have the capacity to get a lot done, if we are realistic about what can be achieved in a stress free, enjoyable manner.
Being highly productive isn’t worth it if it’s going to stress the heck out of us in the process.
Spending time worrying about how I’m going to fit it all in, and how much I want to do is the biggest roadblock for me to get things done.
When I try to explain this to people who do not deal with overwhelm, their tips of ‘just stop worrying’ and ‘just get going on the things you need to do’ only served to fuel the shame I felt for not being able to handle a ‘normal, busy’ life.
So I decided to do more of the things that help me deal with overwhelm, even if these things seemed overwhelming too.
For me, these things are: Regular time outdoors, regular exercise, reading instead of mindless social media scrolling.
Use this mantra —> Exercise beats overwhelm. It’s the endorphins, it’s the meditative like focus you need to count your reps, it’s the uninterrupted time to yourself that is spent in a positive, caring place. While it may feel tough to get in the habit, short workouts and walks are the antidote to overwhelm.
Which overwhelming thoughts can you give up for good (or at least for today)?
A big part of overcoming overwhelm for me was managing my thoughts. I’m a ruminator, an analyzer, a ‘need to make sense of things’ thinker. So ‘just stop thinking about things’ wasn’t an effective tool for me.
What was a helpful tool for me? Being able to recognize and dismantle my own thinking traps. This comes from cognitive behavioural therapy and is an effective and simple strategy for healthier thinking.
Thinking traps are common when we are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or sad. They are characterized by a distorted interpretation of reality, rather than sticking to the facts about what is really going on.
The following two thinking traps are what I work on dismantling when I’m feeling overwhelmed:
Fortune Telling: Involves thinking patterns that try to predict what will happen in the future, usually with a negative connotation surrounding them.
Here’s an example: We may think ‘tomorrow is going to suck, I have a huge meeting that is going to be a train wreck, I don’t know how I’ll get through it’.
Mind Reading: Involves jumping to conclusions about what other people are thinking about us or certain circumstances without concrete evidence.
Here’s an example: We may think this way about a friend or co-worker ‘I bet she acted cold to me because she’s upset that I didn’t return her texts right away’ when in fact, we have no idea about what is going on in this person’s life.
Thinking traps contribute to overwhelm because they are heavy on the cognitive and mental side of stress. They allow us to perceive situations as more stressful than they may actually be.
Use this mantra —> I will stick to the facts when it comes to my thoughts. I will not make up stories. I will not jump to conclusions, nor will I take the actions of others personally.
Of course these three questions are just a start at dismantling overwhelm. Learning that exercise (short workouts!), and healthier thinking patterns can help us experience less overwhelm from the get-go is a fabulous place to begin.
As always, these things are a work in progress for me. I know I’ll always be more likely to get overwhelmed than my husband. I know that prioritizing exercise and self-care are vital for me to stay mentally healthy. And I know that I’ll always have to coach myself down from adding 456, 823 things to my to-do list each morning.
Good luck to you on your journey to regular exercise and beating the overwhelm bug!
Many of the women I work with find that embracing short and consistent home workouts is an incredibly helpful step in combatting overwhelm and stress. Grab your copy of my wildly popular home workout program the 8 Week Muscle Makeover HERE. The workouts are between 18-30 minutes in length, and designed for home use. You’ll love it!