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Overwhelmed? Here are 3 quick, research-proven ways to give your nervous system a break

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

The world around us continues to be unrelenting with ongoing civil unrest, racialized trauma, a seemingly never ending pandemic, and in the midst of it all, we still have to do the business of, pay bills, laundry, etc,

Understandably, you may be feeling depleted, overwhelmed, exhausted, demoralized. Even though we are feeling these things, we are still expected to show up as our best selves at work, leave our feelings at the door and get our work done. But how do we do that? First and foremost, it’s OK if you can’t do it. You’re human and there are limits to what every human can manage.

There are many dimensions that play a part in our well-being. Each dimension is like one piece of a “lifestyle pie.” When one piece of the pie is missing or hurting, it causes a void, and that missing piece imbalances the rest of the dimensions. When we feel off-balance in one or more areas of our wellness, it can show up in our work. The six dimensions we focus on when we talk about wellness are vocational, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual.

Many people are feeling depleted or taxed in one or more of these areas, and have been for a while. While what’s going on around us is certainly overwhelming at times, there are some quick things you can do to help alleviate the stress. We recognize these strategies do not solve or take away the stressor. They are designed to give your body temporary respite from the physical effects of stress.

Recognize that your health/well being needs extra attention.

The first step is to acknowledge that you are struggling and give yourself grace. This can be the most difficult step for many people so know that you are not alone. Check in with each of the areas of the wheel and try to identify which piece of pie needs your attention right now. If it is hard for you to give yourself that grace, try Kristen Neff’s “Four Step Self-Compassion Practice.” Say the following 4 things to yourself:

  1. This is a time of suffering

  2. Suffering is part of being human

  3. May I be kind to myself

  4. Say one kind thing to yourself

Make some protected time to focus on your own wellness in an area that you identify as needing some attention.

We know that this can be a challenge with family, work, and day-to-day life, but it is crucial that you take back some time to give that piece of pie the attention it needs. Research has shown that even a few minutes will help calm your body, so focus on starting small. For example, if you need to check in with your spiritual wellness, you could get outside into nature for just a few minutes. Even just standing outside or opening the windows for a couple of minutes will help rejuvenate your system and give you a break. Take a short walk around the block to nurture your physical wellness. Read a book from your TBR pile or watch a documentary you’ve been eyeing to give your intellectual wellness some love. Taking one deep breath nurtures your physical and emotional wellbeing by sending your nervous system a message that it’s OK to calm down, even for a moment. Tending to your wellness is long-term, ongoing work so know that these are not quick fixes. However, they can give you some short term relief.

Try to make some human connection.

Making connections with another person is a huge boost for your wellness. Human beings are hardwired for connection. Even a short conversation with your grocery store cashier can be a powerful boost for your nervous system. Reach out to a friend or a loved one, a colleague, or neighbor. If no humans are around consider other living beings in your area such as animals, trees, or other plants. Humans need to connect with other humans, but in the absence of that other living things can help as well.

These are all small strategies that we encourage as part of our larger, holistic Tiered Approach to Wellness. To learn more about the Tiered Approach to Wellness and the work we do with individuals and agencies, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at our emails listed below. Take good care and we’ll be in touch soon.

Tonya Wilhelm:

Jen Goepfert:


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