Are the first three words that come to mind as I reflect on the last few days of the historic Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings for the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson, an event, which at times felt more like a trial than a hearing.
While the height of her position is foreign to most of us, the position she found herself in the last few days, is not.
Many of us women are all too familiar with the deluge of direct and subtle attacks we confront on a daily basis as we attempt to ascend and measure up in our roles in boardrooms and living rooms. Yes, I said living rooms because the lives of many women intrinsically involve both.
While Brown Jackson gave us the ultimate masterclass in grace and grit while exuding excellence, it was also an open reminder of the many facets of the fight for equality women face…in the office and at home…
In Brown Jackson, I saw deliberate, purposeful, and often superhuman attempts to suppress her humanity…her justified anger…the need to excuse herself from the room…the desire to call in a lifeline…and maybe just scream…at the tops of her lungs from the depths of her soul. Instead, plastered smiles were required to enter the room, because unlike her male counterparts, grace is not extended for human- like expressions of anger, frustration, assertion, or hurt by women.
What human would not be stressed, burdened, overwhelmed by the incessant attempts to silence, shut down, and shut off the essence of who she is as a woman and a consummate professional?
The research supports the unequal burden women carry. According to a 2020 report by the American Psychological Association, “More women report experiencing extreme stress than men. Twenty-three percent of women report their stress level at an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-scale, compared to 16 percent of men."
So I ask, how are we, as women, protecting ourselves from the regular assaults on our humanity…that come as a result of simply rising to the expectations of womanhood?
While a certain level of stress will be part of our life journey, to not become overwhelmed by it, we must be deliberate about addressing it.
So, I’ve put together 7 ways to help reduce the stress and overwhelm in your life with a companion challenge to “Take Overwhelm by the Helm” over the next 40 days:
Believe it when you see it. Growing up, I remember my mama often saying to me “I’ll believe it when I see it” when I’d promise to do something she doubted I’d actually do. Hearing those words would set a fire under my butt to make something happen. When we see people in positions we aspire towards, our belief in the possibilities solidifies. Before you can see something manifest in your life, you have to first believe it is possible. So, let me ask you a question. Do you believe a less-stressed life is possible for you? If so, write down the vision of what that would look like for you. You must establish, “A Life with less overwhelm IS possible mindset.” Write your vision for it.
Find the culprits. I love a good show of Law and Order. When law enforcement is trying to identify the person responsible for a crime, they’ll often bring all the possible suspects in a room and line them up. Then, they place the witness to the crime in a secret two-way glass room and ask him or her, “if they see the perpetrator in a line-up.” If you were to assess the last 7 days, what would you say were the biggest perpetrators of overwhelm in your life? Before we can arrest the overwhelm-contributing behaviors in our life, we have to first identify them. Find the culprits.
Don’t stuff your mouth. As a mom of 5 boys, my boys often treat dinnertime like the Indy 500. They eat a meal as if whoever stuffs their mouth with food first and finishes fastest wins an award. In our current culture, reaching the finish lines with plates and mouths full is celebrated – despite its contribution to massive losses of peace and sanity in our lives. Many of us struggle with digesting long-lasting changes in our life because we’re stuffing too much food in our mouths at one time. Break down your weekly priorities into 2-3 action steps you can take each week to address the culprits you identified in number 2. If those 2-3 items feel overwhelming or you try to address them and get stuck, break them down into even smaller steps. Like a fraction, you want to break your action steps down to the lowest common denominator before you add more to your plate. Battles over overwhelm are won in bite sizes, not big gulps.
Get Hyped. The highlight of the confirmation hearings for me was watching hype man Senator Corey Booker remind Sister Ketanji, who she really is…despite the ugly being thrown at her. What Booker underscored in that moment was the power of human-to-human affirmation. Booker reminded Brown Jackson of the power of reframing...That it's important to not allow what people think of you and the thoughts that seep into you to overwhelm you, but to choose to take your power back to remind yourself that you are indeed enough when you’re being told you don’t measure up. Who can pull you into their arms, words, and power to remind you of the truth amidst a storm of lies? Their fuel is essential to our life travel. Pull up to the fuel pump of your sisterhood…and brotherhood…and fuel up.
Only plastic red cups are best solo. Growing up, I was a competitive dancer. Like every young girl in pursuit of the gold star, I wanted to be selected for the coveted "solo." Yes, I wanted to be the one girl on stage, front, and center, with all the spotlights and eyes on her. I wanted to be acknowledged as the selected one - the golden child, if you will, of dance. As an adult, I found myself continuing to desire to be the "it" girl even when it didn't benefit me. I believe many women have been sucked into the "it girl" lifestyle. In adulting, there really is no prize in becoming the "it girl" for all the things. The mess of overwhelm that may now take over your current adult life likely wasn’t created by one person and likely can’t be resolved by one person (you). Solicit help. Who can assist you with your overwhelm culprits at work, home, church, the community? If you don’t have a village you can count on, this is a clear warning sign you need to create one. Make a list of all people, places, businesses, and things that can help you. Red cups are the only thing that are best solo.
Check off the days. As a former CFO, I am obsessed with tracking data and measuring the results. The more consistent we become in our efforts, the more we cultivate the ground to establish new habits. If you take daily action to mitigate overwhelm, you may not eliminate all the overwhelm in your life, but you will develop a practice of identifying areas of improvement and taking bite-size steps towards improvement. Keep a tracker of each time you are proactive in reducing overwhelm in your daily life. Changed lives are built one day at a time.
Take the "Reduce the Overwhelm" Challenge. While our lives may be demanding, most of us can take small, practical steps to reduce and/or eliminate the sources of overwhelm in our lives. This is why I've created a practical 40-Day Challenge that addresses the mindset and strategic issues that typically create overwhelm within our lives. It includes 30 days of ideas to reduce overwhelm, a 40-day tracker, and vision builder.
The question is not if we will find ourselves in the position of being exhausted by our simple existence as a woman, but when. We must remember young girls are not just watching us ascend but also how healthily we cope with that ascension. Let’s demonstrate how to not just do it well…but to be well while doing it.
Take the challenge and take the steps towards a life of less overwhelm.
Najah Drakes is a Work-Life Balance Strategist, Personal Development Coach, and Self Care Expert at Spark Her Blaze. She helps successful women to purposefully achieve as much success in their personal lives as they do in their professional lives. After over 20 years of working with multi-million dollar companies, Najah now uses her strategic and data analysis skills to help women harness the data of their lives to empower them to live more purposefully physically, mentally, and spiritually.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
LinkedIn: Najah (Ade) Drakes