Let's admit it. The majority of us who take the path of digital marketing – especially agency life – tend to naturally get a buzz from long days of multitasking and high-intensity projects. It's what makes us tick.
No matter how many digital marketing tools we use to organise our time, most of us will at one point in the day have a momentary pause while we try to work out which tab, which app, which client, which task we are working on!
This month is National Stress Awareness month – raising awareness and sharing tools for managing this common, yet sometimes debilitating, state we all can find ourselves in. The Mental health Foundation estimates 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they've felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
A small amount of stress, a byproduct of our evolutionary fight or flight mechanisms, can be the boost we need to push through projects. But what happens when we find ourselves in a permanent state of stress, or in the case of myself, you are presented new challenges when you combine a mental health disorder such as ADHD and Stress.
Managing stress is an interesting one for me. I have ADHD. Many people think that means you are forgetful and scatty and trail off mid-sentence to talk about squirrels. It doesn't. Some people have compared it to being a hunter in a world of gatherers. Some research hypothesises that we have a different set of mental skills leftover from hunter-gatherer times that enabled us to function in that world.
I mean, that might be nonsense, but I can relate. For me, my brain is always in flight, fight mode. Everything is an emergency, and it's like I can feel the cortisol all the time (if that was a thing).
Having ADHD makes me incredibly creative and single-minded in pursuing whatever goal is current for me. I am constantly forming ideas and trying to do all the things. Whilst this might make for a perfect skillset for running an agency, and I think it does, it still brings about unique challenges. It's common for me to feel like everything is a lion, or tiger or Bear. Every task and request must be dealt with immediately, on pain of death.
Ok, I know this is a bit dramatic, but if I am going to talk about managing stress, I thought it would be helpful to talk about how that feels for me. Stress is the physical sensation of urgency, threat'., that 'act now. I feel like that all the time. In one sense, it's incredible because I get a hell of a lot done. I mean, not to blow my own trumpet, but I am prolific. In another sense, it means unless I can genuinely, and I mean genuinely, switch off my brain, I feel stressed a lot. So how do I do it?
When stress affects me deeply, I can tell that I can't take in any more information because I lose the ability to think and form complete sentences. My brain is like a slow computer that freezes & crashes until I reboot it. And this is what I do. I reboot it. I have an 'Andi Troubleshooting Guide' because I can never remember what to do to get out of it when I get to that place.
Here's what I do.
If I am working and frozen like a deer in a headlamp, I:
This is quite cathartic. It gives me the sense of starting fresh. Next, I will check my emails, to-do lists and generally create a brain dump into my remarkable tablet (or Bear App). I then transfer this to my ToDoist App, which is all nicely synced with my watch & I can see what I need to do.
I use my calendar extensively. If I don't, I will work all day and night. So, it's important to me to set clear boundaries of personal time, contingencies. Then I can see what's reasonably left to accomplish my work goals.
I'm a very visual person, but rather time blind. This means I don't always have a sense of how long things take, and I end up saying yes to everything, resulting in stress, fatigue and burnout. The calendar helps me manage this visually. I put everything in there. So, if I have a meeting, I will give myself enough time beforehand to prepare, time to show up ready with a cup of coffee, and time to make notes afterwards. If I didn't do this, I would back-to-back myself and forget everything I ever knew.
Being busy is an Olympic sport nowadays. I once had this bloke on my Facebook who was constantly banging on about his 16-hour days and how that made him more successful than everyone else. He said it made him less of a loser. I deleted him.
One thing I have learned is busy is a state of mind. You either have work to do, or you don't. It's how you view it that makes a difference. I have a lot to do a lot of the time, but I get far less done when I 'feel' busy because it's a stressful feeling.
Ensuring I make time for walks, lunch and self-care in my calendar means I have an instant visual of my life as a whole. Planning my personal time in the first means I can work with gratitude and get things done. I can visually see the 'rewards' of working for myself. I love the freedom to take a walk when I want, go to the gym, enjoy a nice lunch in the city, work from anywhere and so on. If I plan to do that, then I feel all the more joyful about my job.
Seeing my day mapped out like this also helps me get work done in the allotted time, rather than just endlessly working 'because I can'. Check out Parkinson's law for the theory of that.
I try and start the day with a cup of freshly ground coffee, a massive glass of water & then I take the right vitamins and eat some breakfast.
Honestly, we are all so low on the D's in the UK that I feel seriously bleak if I don't take them.
I mean, I live in Manchester, and we have five months of grey as our winter. Currently, I am using Neubria Edge and Neubria Spark. This may be a shameful plug because they are a client, but it's coming from the heart. This stuff works for me better than any supplement I've had ever.
Self-care is a must. Think whale sounds and chimes. When I get overwhelmed, it always helps to remember the things that make me feel good.
For me, these are the following:
Finally, this is an ADHD tip, but it works whoever you are. Sometimes self-care is just about allowing yourself time to do something fun for those all-important dopamine hits. Dopamine is the seat of motivation, after all. When I feel a bit fazed out, I have a menu of stuff I can 'go to' to make me feel good. This can be more minor things' appetisers' or big things' entrees'. they can be super indulgent things' dessert' or even things that are bad for you if you have too many 'drinks.'
Why not make yourself a 'dopamine?
Depending on what you like to do, here are some of my favourites in no particular order. Don't judge; you can choose your own and decide where they lie on the 'menu.'