You know the feeling. You say to yourself, “I cannot handle one more thing.” And then, it happens. Another crisis email hits your inbox. Someone cuts in front of you on the freeway. Your friend asks you to do them a favor. Your child calls you with an urgent request. Oh, and what’s for dinner? Now you have been pushed over the edge. You find yourself tumbling down the hill unable to stop the spiral. Some of us cry, some of us yell and some of us just shut down.
When I start coaching people, I ask them how much capacity they have. Most of time, they tell me they are at a 3 or 4 out of 5. Yikes! If you are at maximum capacity or close to it, that means you are walking a fine line between holding it all together and crashing and burning.
So what can we do about it?
Three types of capacity
When looking at capacity, I ask my clients to think about it from three different areas–emotional, physical, and relational. Most people are maxed out at their emotional capacity. Physical and relational capacity can be up there too depending on your life experiences; however, emotions drive behavior, and that means you are tapping into your emotions everyday whether you realize it or not, so it’s the biggie!
How can you tell if you’re emotional capacity is maxed out? You may find yourself getting irritated or upset quickly, snapping at people (often those who are closest to you). You get easily overwhelmed and stressed by everything you have to do. When someone tries to add one more thing to your list, watch out! The emotions run high.
The good news? You can learn how to dial it back, open up your capacity and remain firmly planted on the cliff looking out at the beautiful view!
What NOT to do when you’re at capacity
Because you live in the external world, you are focused on all of the stuff you have to do. You probably go about your days checking things off your to do list, which is always long and never ends. “If I can just get a few more things off the list, I’ll feel better.” “If I don’t do this now, I have no idea when I will get to it.” “If I don’t do this, no one else will.”
This is the unwinnable game. It’s this kind of behavior that sucks up your capacity quickly because it is rooted in a desire for control, a need for validation, or even fear of what could happen if you don’t hold everything on your shoulders. You feel like you have to do it all. “I can’t possibly NOT do this.”
Where does that come from? It’s connected to your innate desire to belong, to be loved and accepted by the people around you. It is human instinct and it is exhausting.
While it seems counter-intuitive, checking things off your list does not lead to greater capacity. So how can we shift the cycle?
How to expand your capacity
What you actually need to do to increase your capacity is get curious and learn to tap into your inner authority.
If you find yourself at emotional capacity, take an emotional inventory. Do you know how you’re feeling? Most of us don’t take the time to stop and check in with ourselves about how we are really feeling. We say, I feel “bad” or I feel “overwhelmed” What does that mean? Bad are overwhelm are not emotions. Your emotional inventory is your roadmap for taking action. When you identify what you are really feeling, you can explore it, see it for what it is and then begin to figure out what you want to do about it.
If you find yourself at physical capacity, take a moment to listen to your body. Get quiet and ask your body what it needs. Is it asking for rest? Maybe you need to give yourself a timeout. Maybe it needs a good soak in the tub so you can release some tension. The challenge here is to actually give your body what it needs. So often we take our bodies for granted, however, your body will take what it needs when it needs it (think about your last cold or injury).
If you find yourself at relational capacity, start focusing on yourself. Be aware of the words should, always and never. Those words are your first clue that you are not putting yourself first. It may feel selfish, but you need to have a great relationship with yourself before you can have a great relationship with anyone else, and this includes your children! Love yourself enough to put yourself first.
Our natural instincts (stress response) when we are at capacity don’t actually help us. Instead, they cause many people to get stuck in an endless stress-response-cycle. It can be difficult to get yourself out of such a cycle. It takes building awareness, exploration, and experimentation which is really hard to do alone. That is where coaching can be really helpful.
Let’s talk about what your life experience would be like if you could learn to expand your capacity and live your life with more joy and less stress.
Start by taking my quiz to find out “How Stressed Out Are You?” And begin to learn to reduce your stress by expanding your capacity!