EP 61: Overcoming the Overwhelm Loop
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we're talking about the recurring feeling of overwhelm that a lot of leaders can relate to, and then actually how to overcome it. So super exciting discussion. And I'm sure it'll resonate with everyone. My guest is Heather Yandow, a nonprofit consultant with Third Space Studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. And what Heather does is she essentially helps nonprofit leaders to really understand how they can create impact and then generate more of it. So Heather, thank you so much for being here. Really, really excited to have you join me today.
Heather: Great. I'm really glad to be here. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. So I'm glad to be able to talk about a little bit with you today.
Kelly: So we are actually connected after you published a blog post. And I think the blog post was essentially based on an article that you came across in the Harvard Business Review. So I want to hear a little bit about the main theme of that, and then we'll kind of dive into getting some kind of relief or remedy for these people.
Heather: Yeah. So the article that I saw in the Harvard Business Review is how to deal with feeling constantly overwhelmed. And so certainly, I see that all the time with nonprofit leaders that I work with, but I also see it in consultants, and in folks running small businesses that I work with. And so that article really, really just spoke to me and so it talked about how being overwhelmed shows up, feeling confused, unable to make decisions, irritable. And then also what are some of the strategies that you can use to address that? And what are some of their top tips for thinking about how to deal with overcome.
Kelly: Right. So if we start to dive into it, I think a good place to start is talking maybe about the physiological symptoms of overwhelm and burnout, right? Every single person listening or watching this can really relate to that. I know you can. I know I can. I think starting there, but then also, what does it feel like? And how do you recognize it? I think that's a really great place to start.
Heather: Yeah. So I think a lot of the leaders I talked to recognize burnout in their rearview mirrors. They can look back and say, oh, yeah, last summer, I was really burnt out. But a lot of us it's hard to recognize in the moment.
Heather: It might be, yeah, we're just really high functioning, right? And so we are used to having a million things going on and answering emails at all hours of the day. And so we don't realize the toll it's taking. Some of the signs that the article explains and that I really feel as well are feeling of just being foggy, inability to make simple decisions. So I don't know about you, but I get to the end of the day and I'm negotiating with my partner where to go for dinner and just cannot go.
Kelly: You’re just like pick a place. I don't care if it's Greek or Thai or whatever.
Heather: I’m just like I can't make another decision. So that to me is one of the signs. Certainly kind of stress but stress manifested all kinds of ways. For me, it manifests in irritability. And so I know when I start getting snippy with my dog, that there's something going on, when I'm angry at this adorable little thing, who does nothing but love me that there's something else happening. And then of course, you've got kind of this the sleeping, eating, exercise problems that come up with when you're overworked and overwhelmed.
Kelly: Yeah. I think for me, it's when I look back at when I was running my agency, it was especially in that, the last few years of it, it was just a loss of passion, just a lower vibration in my own mood, maybe a little bit of being feeling lethargic. Those were the things that I could, reflect back on and say, yeah, that if I look at that, those were definitely my physiological symptoms.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it definitely gets to the end of the day, sometime, and all I want to do is go to bed, it's 8 o'clock, and I'm just spent, and so that for me is some of that lethargy as well.
Kelly: And that's also your body communicating to you like you need to shut down, or if you don't consciously shut down, like we're going to shut you down, we're going to make you feel that exhausted where it's like, the only thing you want to do is crawl under the covers and just like shut it down for the night. So as you were, sort of you read this article, you subsequently wrote about it, what were your top three takeaways, whether those were for the executive directors and leaders of nonprofits that you work with, or whether those are for creative and technology agency leaders who we’re talking to you today.
Heather: Yeah. So I think three things that I really got out of it that reinforced some of what we hear all the time, but just particularly in this context. So the first was really thinking about what's your main source of stress right now. How can you identify what's happening? What are the projects, what are the tasks, whatever it is, that's really, you are struggling with the most, that you're thinking about the most, that you're stressing about the most? Identifying those and the steps you can take to actually address whatever is happening there. Sometimes I find that I'm stressed about something because I'm letting it hang out in the back of my head, and I'm not bringing it to the front and saying, okay, I actually need to think about how I'm going to get work in the second quarter of next year. Right? What's the plan for that? So that's number one. It's kind of being really clear with yourself about what is contributing to what's going on in your brain. The second that I really like is really carving out more boundaries around your work. So that can be time boundaries and that I'm only going to work between x and y. It can be time blocking. So really thinking about if you've got a project that's on your mind, you haven't been able to find the time for it, can you just start with an hour next Tuesday morning, and just think about that project? And then along with that is just saying no, right? Really being clear. I can't do that then or I need to push this off. It's not a good time. And then the third piece that I think is probably true for you. It's certainly true for me is to let go of the idea of perfect.
Kelly: Oh, do you know me?
Heather: So just thinking about what needs to be A plus work? And what can be B plus work? And where do we really need to spend our time and energy making it perfect? And where can we say, this is great. This is good enough. This is ready to go. Let's get it out into the world. So those are the three big ones.
Kelly: Yeah, and those are big ones. I mean, all three of those resonate really deeply with me. And within the work that I do with agency leaders, similar to how you're working with nonprofit leaders. Listen, at the end of the day, the titles don't matter. What we do for a living doesn't matter. We are all human. And so of course, those things are going to be really resonant. And like you said before, stress and anxiety and overwhelm, presents differently for each of us. And that's based on maybe our past experiences, how we grew up, what organizations we've been a part of, all of those things. So there's a lot to that, but I think those in particular are really, really strong takeaways. So I definitely appreciate those. There's also something that we talked about the last time that we were together, this concept of, part of the resolution or part of the overcoming overwhelm, has to do with self-care. And there's a big difference between self-care and self-soothing. I think that's a really interesting place to kind of take the conversation because I'm really curious to hear your thoughts about that.
Heather: Yeah. So, the rise of self-care is something that I think more and more people are paying attention to. And so more and more companies and organizations are paying attention to. And there's been something that's floating around in the past couple of weeks or past couple of months on the internet that talks about self-care versus self-soothing. And so a lot of the things that we have in the past I think articulated as self-care are actually just band aids on the problem. So, the wine and bubble bath self-care is really kind of a temporary solution. The practicing mindfulness every day is more of a self-care; it's more long term, helps to get to this overwhelm issue and others. So the big difference was kind of what's happening, at one point in time, what's a quick fix, in some ways that actually doesn't fix anything versus what's taking care of yourself. So the real self-care in that are things like managing your finances, cooking a delicious meal, signing up for exercise classes, there are those things that are not going to instantly fix some of the stress or anxiety you're feeling but overtime are really taking care of yourself, rather than…
Kelly: Yeah, I was just gonna say so that for me what the differences I think underlyingly is it's really the discipline and the commitment after you recognize what that underlying issue is, like where those feelings of the overwhelm, the stress, the anxiety, where are those coming from? And then what can I do on a day to day basis to start to regulate those emotions and make that sort of a lifestyle change as opposed to let me go get a massage because I'm super, my shoulders and neck are super tight because I've been on the computer all week, or the wine and bubble bath or those things are great and I don't discount them. But I agree with you that they are sort of a band aid and they're just to fix what happened today versus like, do you want to actually make this a lifestyle choice?
Heather: Yeah. My favorite kind of self-care that I never thought of self-care is going to the grocery store.
Kelly: Oh my God. I love you. I love grocery shopping. Most people hate it.
Heather: Yeah, I don't love going to the grocery store. But when I started to reframe it as this is an opportunity for me to buy food that will nourish my body. It's a way to get me out of the kind of cycle of buying the takeout food that I know isn't good for me. But that's the only way, I don't have anything in my house. When I reframed it that way, I could see like, yes, actually, as much as I dislike the act of being in the grocery store with all these other people, it is actually self-care.
Kelly: So my trick for that is and why I love it so much is I actually bring my phone. I have my shopping list on my phone, so I have to bring my phone anyway. I plug in my headphones, and I listen to my favorite music as I'm food shopping.
Heather: Oh I love it.
Kelly: And so, this way it doesn't, I'm still in my own world, but I have the same mindset that you have, like I get to choose the things that I'm going to put in my body. And so I think part of that is definitely mindfulness and bringing awareness to every single thing and it could be food shopping. It could be whatever. There's so many different examples of how you can reframe and reset the way that you approach something. First of all, what is your intention in this? How are you feeling when you go into this situation? And you can make things that other people would actually dislike or find mundane. You can make them really meaningful. So I love that example. Yeah. So as we start to wrap up, I want to touch upon something that's going on with you, with this national directory of nonprofit consultants. And just hear a little bit more about that, because that could also be really valuable to the audience. I know it's a separate topic, but I thought that was really interesting.
Heather: Yeah, thanks. So I have launched Nonprofit.ist which is nonprofit.ist, the National Directory and Network of Nonprofit Consultants, coaches, accountants, lawyers, so all of the folks who are serving nonprofits as experts. And it's not only a chance for nonprofit leaders to find new people that they can partner with. But it really is an opportunity for us, as a lot of us are small business owners or work just one or two people in a company. It's a chance for us to meet and learn from each other across the network and to share resources and best practices. So if folks want to check it out, it's nonprofit.ist.
Kelly: That’s amazing. I will definitely check that out. I'd be interested in that. And I know a lot of the creative and technology agency leaders who are listening or watching that serve nonprofits, that could be an incredible resource for them also. And just to loop it all around, if those resources are in need, and part of overwhelm is, not having the right talent or resources or people in your network. Maybe that could provide some relief as well.
Kelly: Thank you for that. Well, this has been a great discussion. Is there anything else that you want to leave the audience with before we wrap up?
Heather: The last thing is just pay attention to your body, pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you about overwhelm. One of my favorite teachers here in North Carolina. So the question to ask yourself is what do I need right now? And I think just pausing and asking yourself that over the course of the day, can really help you address some of this overwhelm and over time build to going grocery shopping, taking care of your finances. Really being intentional about that.
Kelly: Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me today, Heather. This is great.