Do you feel overwhelmed juggling school, work and personal life? Perhaps you’re in class and instead of listening, you’re thinking about all the tasks you need to get done for the day including finishing your assignment, studying for your exam, doing laundry, going grocery shopping or squeezing in time to talk to a friend. Do you ever have racing thoughts about how you’re going to get everything done? Think that it’s impossible to finish everything? You may stop paying attention in class, feel your heart beating faster and your palms getting sweaty. It can feel as though your world is closing in.
If you can relate to feeling stressed out about all the demands of life, you’re not alone!
Living in an up-pace society, we are often placed with multiple demands, which can easily make us feel overwhelmed. In turn, this can make it more difficult to be able to focus and concentrate, making getting everything we need to get done for the day that much harder.
Our minds are often racing between thinking about the past or the future. We rarely stop to be present in the moment. If we can begin to learn to center ourselves back to the here and now, we can reduce anxiety and increase concentration by putting the breaks on in our brain.
Here are 10 some simple, easy grounding techniques, which can help to reduce anxiety when we notice it creeping up.
- 5-4-3-2-1: Look around the room and name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
- Box breathing: Picture a box in front of you. As you move up the side of the box, take a deep breath in for 4 seconds. Next as you move along the top of the box, hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then as you move down the other side of the box, breath out for 4 seconds, and finally as you run along the bottom of the box hold for 4 seconds. Repeat.
- Mindful eating: Take a raisin or other piece of food. Examine it. What does it look like? How does it smell? How does it feel? Slowly begin to chew it. How does it taste?
- Counting backward: You can do this several ways, my personal favourite is to count backwards by 7 starting from 100.
- Ice cube technique: Take an ice cube and move it along your arm. Notice the temperature, if it melts, how it feels, and what it looks like- again, tap into your 5 senses.
- Teddy bear technique (for children): Lie on your back and place a teddy bear on your belly. As you take deep breaths in and out, watch the teddy bear move up and down with each inhale and exhale.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: Start with your right hand in a relaxed state. Slowly begin to clench your hand. Notice the tension as you begin to do this, as you transition your hand from a relaxed state into a fist. Next, slowly begin unclenching your hand back into a relaxed state, again noticing the difference in tension. Repeat these steps with your left hand and then move along to other body parts such as your foot or leg.
- Naming colors: Name everything in the room that is blue. Now name everything in the room that is red. Now everything in the room that is yellow, etc.
- Mindful walking: As you walk, notice the weight of each foot on the ground and how your weight changes as you take each step. If you are outside, notice if it is sunny, hot, cold or rainy. If it’s sunny, notice how the sun feels on your skin. Notice if you can hear cars passing or birds chirping.
- Monitoring your heartbeat: Place your fingertips together from both of your hands. Notice your pulse in your fingertips and pay attention to the rhythm of your heartbeat.
There’s a principle called Parkinson’s Law that says “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
Put simply, that means that the more time you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take to get it done.
For example, when you block off a whole weekend to work on a paper, but then find yourself procrastinating like crazy and get almost nothing done? Or when you have a bad date that is goes on forever because you didn’t set a clear ending?
Yeah. Exactly. That’s Parkinson’s Law in action.
But it’s not just papers or dates — it’s everything we do. Whether it’s cleaning, shopping, relaxing, errands or partying, the time each of those tasks takes up way more time than we thought they would. Think about your life and your habits, and consider how much you really get done when you give yourself tons of time. The answer is probably not much.
Here’s a better approach that’s a secret weapon used by the world’s most productive people.
The next time you have to complete a task, put a deadline on it that’s firm and then work backwards using what’s called the Pomodoro Technique.
This approach makes you give yourself only 25-minutes to complete a specific task followed by a 5-minute break. So that’s a cycle of 30-minutes… 25-minutes of work, 5-minute break. Each 30-minute cycle is called a Pomodoro, hence the name.
Once you repeat a Pomodoro four times, take a longer break of up to 30-minutes. Then sit back down and do another round of four Pomodoros, or as many as you need to do to get your work done.
All you have to remember is that one Pomodoro is 25-minutes of working time followed by a 5-minute break. And then after four Pomodoros, take a 30-minute break. Got it? Great.
The key, however, is to be organized and have your work cut into manageable chunks. It’s not like you can write a massive essay in 25-minutes. And I know that breaking up a big project, like a paper or a major research project, down into small pieces doesn’t feel natural. This is especially the case if we feel stressed about it and feel like it’s so big that no matter what we do, we’ll only ever scratch the surface of it.
That’s not true. Break. It. Down.
Before you begin your work if you’re using this technique, make a list of the bite-sized tasks that you have to do to write, for example, a paper. Your list might start to look like this:
- Pick a topic and narrow it down
- Draft a clear thesis
- Look for research to support my thesis from online sources
- Look for research to support my thesis from journal articles
- Go back and refine my thesis based on the research reviewed above
- Outline my three main arguments in a couple sentences each
- …and so on
Then once you have your list, start at the first item with one Pomodoro. Get it done before 25-minutes is up? Great, move onto the next. If not, let it roll into the next 25-minutes. Make sure that you’re focused during each Pomodoro. Don’t do anything but that one thing. Keep all other distractions at bay.
On a logistical note, there are a ton of apps and tools out there to act as a timer. You can use a timer on your phone. Or you can try PomoDone (which has a free version) or Pomotodo (which is also free for the basic plan). All will work. Just find something that works for you.
So before you dive back into work, stop everything and give this a shot! It might not feel natural at first, but keep at it. Before you know it, you’ll be a productivity machine.
Oh, and by the way, I wrote this blog in exactly two Pomodoros.