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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

4 Not-So-Obvious Signs That You Need to Slow Down

Everyone gets a little busy now and then—between work, after-work events, studying, hitting the gym, and trying to have a social life, it’s easy to try to cram a million things into our days.

But while keeping a full schedule is fine, trying to fill every moment of every day is asking for trouble. And unfortunately, it’s all too easy to cross over from “feeling a little hectic” to seriously-overloaded territory—and barely even notice.

Sure, if you find yourself falling asleep at stoplights or accidentally wearing your slippers to work, that’s a pretty dead giveaway that you’re running on empty. But here are four less obvious (and just as important) cues that it’s time to slow down—plus some easy tips for pumping the brakes.

1. Good Girl, Bad Attitude

If sudden angry outbursts toward your roommate, significant other, or co-workers are punctuating your conversations, that's a likely sign that you’re stressed, overwhelmed, or in need of a healthy night's sleep. Sure, you may not think you have time to squeeze in eight hours each night, but consider this: getting enough sleep not only makes you feel better, but it’s also been shown to sharpen your attention, improve your memory, and lower your stress level. And that’s worth making time for!

A snippy attitude can also mean you've made commitments you can't or don't want to keep, and you're a little bit mad at yourself. The solution there? Learn how to say no. Follow your gut feeling when you’re approached with a request for your time, and don’t be afraid to turn it down out of fear of hurting someone's feelings. Help when you can, but be realistic and remember to think of yourself, too.

2. Forget Me, Forget Me Not

Once, following a trip to the grocery store, I found the carton of milk in my pantry. Luckily, only moments had passed before I whisked it into the fridge, but it got me wondering why I’d put it there. Too many worries? Too much on my plate? No down time? Probably all of the above.

Of course, these things happen every now and then—if you can't remember your boyfriend's name one day while you're staring right at him, it’s probably just a momentary brain-blip. But, if you repeatedly call out your boss' name when yelling for the dog, then you have too much on your mind.

If you’re feeling increasingly forgetful, take some advice from the pros and fine-tune your to-do list. Just knowing what to include and what to delete will have you breathing a sigh of relief. (And if you have to, put a sticky note on your pantry door saying “milk doesn't belong in here.”)

3. Good Food, Bad Food

When we're rushed and our calendars are full, something’s got to give—and unfortunately, that’s often our good eating habits. But if you’re finding yourself on a first-name basis with the kid in the drive-thru window, you’ve got too much on your plate (no pun intended).

Of course, you might not always have control over your schedule, but you can keep control of what you eat. And while fixing your eating habits won’t necessarily fix your overcommitments, it will leave you better energized and better able to handle that busy schedule.

Fill your purse and desk with healthy snacks, such as apples, walnuts, almonds, and dried fruit, to keep you from running to the closest burger joint when you’re famished. And always keep bottled water nearby—besides keeping you hydrated, sipping on water will help you feel full until you can get to a place where you can make a healthy food choice.

At home, a bit of planning ahead can make all the difference. Before you leave for work in the morning, prep a healthy, colorful salad and let it chill all day, or take a chicken breast out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge. When you get home from work, you'll be halfway to dinner.

4. What, Me Worry?

If your attempt to catch a reinvigorating nap in a crazy day only makes you more anxious about all the things you could be doing, then it's time to make some compromises. The truth is, taking time out every now and then is necessary for your sanity—it can recharge your batteries and help you think more clearly.

What’s more, when your brain is scrambling to keep up with the hectic schedule you've put it on, you can lose sight of the important things in life—an intimate dinner, a phone call with a friend, or a Saturday morning spent roaming the farmer's market.

So how do you relax when things get really hectic? Though most experts agree making a to-do list will alleviate some stress from a busy life, Dr. Oz thinks there's something to be said for writing an ignore list instead. In his "5 Quick Rituals for a Better Day" video, he says writing down just a few small or large tasks to not worry about that day can lower your stress level by getting something off your plate.

Constantly running on overdrive will eventually catch up with you. So pay attention to the small signs, and pick up on it early when things start getting out of control (chances are, you’re not noticing as early as you think.) And then take steps to slow down—ideally, before you show up to the office in slippers.

Photo courtesy of Céline Artigalas.