"I feel all 6s and 7s today!"
My grandmother looked normal to me; what the heck did she mean by that?
As a kid, I was still struggling to understand why adults said such odd things. Like the time I was too shy to speak up, and someone asked me if a cat had my tongue. What cat? My tongue? Gross.
Plus, we didn't have a cat. We had a beagle with awful breath.
Or when one adult disagreed with another, the proper exclamation seemed to describe male cattle droppings. (Email me if you can’t figure it out.)
What she meant by her centuries-old saying about being at 6s and 7s was that she was feeling scattered and overwhelmed. Too much to do, and everything a priority.
When too many demands come at you, it can feel like you can't get your head on straight long enough to think.
From exhaustion or low blood sugar to mentally-hijacking generalized irritability, as if your skin is on too tight, everyone has those days—everyone.
Listen, you're not failing. It's your brain telling you to slow down while it catches up with what's going on around you.
But instead of paying attention to your body, self-castigation and procrastination step in, making you feel as if you're in control of your focus. But they make things worse by distracting your focus away from the path out of your dither.
Standard advice says it can help to ask yourself a few questions to decode the confusion.
Is it humanly possible to do what you're doing in the time you have?
Is this typical and possibly ADD-based overwhelm?
Is someone really dying, or are they just making you feel like they are?
Do you need help, instruction, or tools?
While the questions above are helpful, starting with them can destroy whatever focus you had left. Instead, let's simplify it with five steps that start by listening to your body.
First, rescue your brain with oxygen.
Drop your tense shoulders. Take a breath. And another. They’re free. It’s surprising how often we hold our breath when stressed. Try it.
Second, are you hangry?
Do you feel hungry, emotional, or tired? There is little that can't wait 5-10 minutes while you recharge your body with something to eat or drink. That break also gives your mind a chance to be creative and push overwhelm out of your way so you can problem solve. Plus, it is much more pleasurable than beating yourself up for perceived failures.
Third, record everything.
Capture everything you’re tasked with, on paper or digitally. This helps clear your mind, too, since you cannot remember all you think you can. Figures vary, but typically research says we can hold 4-9 things in mind at one time. Even that's not accurate because we cycle through them, one by one. Add in one too many thoughts and you'll either overwhelm or forget something.
It's not a deficit; it's biology. You're human.
While you're busy congratulating yourself for all the thoughts you hold in the front of your stellar memory, there are thoughts falling out the back of your mind, unnoticed and forgotten. Write stuff down, and don't apologize for doing it. It's smart.
Fourth, practice CALM.
Cull is the keyword in this acronym. Reduce what you can. Prioritize what's left.
Is there blood? Put that one first. If there isn’t, then it might not be the priority you thought it was.
As you work through the sequence of breath, food and water, and capturing your ideas, you can now incorporate these mind-clearing problem-solving questions.
Must you be the one to do it, or is someone foisting it off on you?
How long can it wait?
What can you do to inch closer to completion? For example: If you can’t complete something because you need a piece of information, make that call first.
Who can help? Ask ‘em. The worst they can do is say no.
Remember, being at 6s and 7s is telling you to slow down for 6-7 minutes and catch your breath and your mind. Take a moment to ease yourself into clarity.