Feeling overwhelmed? How to help yourself and others

Show notes (summary)

Volunteering within your community can be hugely rewarding. But let’s be honest, it can also mean there’s sometimes a little too much to cope with. And with lockdowns and opening-up and everything else we’ve all been through recently, it can even become overwhelming at times. Our guest, stress and well-being expert Dave Algeo, offers useful self-help and advice that can be passed on to others. Listen in as Dave entertains with memories of children’s madcap TV show Crackerjack and some odd vegetable metaphors to get some of his ideas over. Are you carrying too many cabbages?

Transcript: Season 1 / Episode 19

Johnny Thomson 00:00
Hello and welcome to The Village Halls Podcast sponsored by Allied Westminster, the UK is largest specialised provider of village hall insurance and the home of VillageGuard. Running a community building or putting on the kind of activities that everyone enjoys at a village hall can be incredibly fulfilling. But let’s be honest here, it can also sometimes feel like there’s just too much to do, or too much to cope with. And after everything we’ve all been through over the past year and a half with lockdowns and opening up and all of that, I think many of us understand more now more than ever before, what it feels like to be overwhelmed by everything that’s happening in life. My guest today is stress and wellbeing expert Dave Algeo, a writer, and trainer who helps people identify the small but significant things that can make our lives better. Dave also has a strange obsession with vegetables, which we’ll get onto shortly. But in the main, he’s here to talk to us today about feeling overwhelmed and how we can cope better with some of the stresses and strains in our lives. Hi, Dave, thanks for being my guest on the show today.

Dave Algeo 01:13
Hi Johnny, thanks for inviting me. It’s great to be along and share my vegetable alchemy, I guess.

Johnny Thomson 01:20
Brilliant. Now, Dave, I mentioned there about people who volunteer in their local communities and how vital they are, of course, within those communities. And I think it’s fair to say that many of these people, who make up our listeners of course, have a tendency to take on a lot in life. And that’s got to be a good thing in the main yes?

Dave Algeo 01:39
Oh absolutely. Not just from the bigger picture of the community, but from the individual’s perspective as well, definitely.

Johnny Thomson 01:46
But unfortunately, it’s not all just positive things in life is it? There are those negatives, too, as I mentioned in the introduction. So I guess a good place to start is to get onto your love of vegetables that I mentioned as a way of describing and understanding both those positive or negative pressures, and how we can end up feeling overwhelmed by everything.

Dave Algeo 02:09
Absolutely. And I think I’m guessing your audience may well remember my inspiration for the for my cabbage metaphor that I like to use. But before I kind of introduce it, this idea of the combination of the good demands that we take on and the not so good demands, I think is important because we do take on a lot of these challenges and demands in life, for lots of reasons, you know, to put a roof over our heads or to get some sense of purpose and meaning in life. Or, you know, exercise to get fit or that kind of thing. They’re demanding both physically, emotionally and psychologically. And I think that’s important to recognise, because whilst positive, they’re still adding to the cumulative load of the demands on us. And I’m not saying we ditch them because they’re all incredibly important and positive, but that’s where I guess I’ll introduce the metaphor and mention a programme called Crackerjack!

Johnny Thomson 02:59

Dave Algeo 03:01
That’s right! It’s Friday, it’s Five to Five, it’s Crackerjack. Now, when I was researching this particular topic around psychological and emotional strain, one of the things that just popped in my head was the idea of a game on Crackerjack called Cabbages and Kings. And for those of you who you know, that’s bringing big bells, or even none at all, I’ll quickly describe it. They used to have, as you know, Crackerjack was this madcap children’s programme where they’d have kids in a studio, utter chaos, they’d custard pie them, gunk them, whatever. But there was a game on there where they’d get a few kids up on the stage and they’d get a chance to take part in a quiz to win prizes. If you got a question right, you’d win a prize. That’s the good stuff. If you got a question wrong, or you dropped something, you got a cabbage. And that’s the not so good stuff, because if you got three coverages you were off weren’t you and it whittled down to the last kid on the stage, desperately holding on to this pile of cabbages and cuddly toys, hoping desperately not to drop it, all for a Crackerjack pencil. Well they got the prizes as well and the cabbages. But that visual. Now, if you imagine you may not have seen the show, or all remember it, but if you imagine yourself, you’re kind of carrying around a lot of the cuddly toys or the toys, the positive demands, the things you’ve taken on in order to feel fulfilled, to get somewhere to improve yourself to you know pay the bills, you know, put a roof over your head, that kind of thng, they’re positives. They’re demanding, but they’re positive, we associate them psychologically positively. But then we have the cabbages and the cabbages are those more negative ones, or ones we would choose not to have, but we kind of grudgingly take on because we have to. You know, it could be, you know, I hate running, I have to run if I want to get fitter, or do that marathon that’s on my bucket list. You know, that kind of thing. So the cabbages represent the undesirable, or the stuff we’d choose not to do ordinarily.

Johnny Thomson 04:46
And just to get this right Dave, just to understand. So a cabbage would be something like when people say I don’t have time for anything. Yeah, that that sort of thing. Or you know, I’m getting pressure from me friends about this when I’ve got all of these other things to do.

Dave Algeo 05:02
Yeah. So you’ve got a bunch of cuddly toys, which are the day to day stuff that you would choose in life to do. You know, because you enjoy it, it’s fulfilling, it’s meaningful, that kind of thing. But the cabbages are those things that you’d rather not do, but you might, you know, if you’re working, or as you say, if you’re volunteering, you’ve got tasks and demands, like admin I would guess, you know, keeping keeping the books, that kind of thing may not be your favourite job. So it’s more of a cabbage than an enjoyable thing. But you were right, to highlight the pressures that we can sometimes feel psychologically, you know, guilt, or I should be doing it, or somebody asks you and you feel terrible, because you’re not, you know, that sense of duty that kind of can drive us to take on far too much. So, the point is, we can probably, most of us can handle one or two cabbages, you know negative demands in our life, the challenge is when they mount up thick and fast and, or they’re particularly big ones, you know, some big life events that are negative. But I guess this is where coming back to your audience and, you know, not being in that particular role myself, and just having a chat with you, I think, understanding over the last year, it’s been particularly challenging as well. You know, they’ve been the backbone, I guess, for a lot of the communities. Being there to arrange a venue for vaccinations or testing, that kind of thing. Now, these are particularly important, but demanding, and when those cabbages mount up, it’s all good stuff in the sense that it’s making a difference, but it can have an impact on our sense of psychological strain. We can feel the strain because we’re just juggling so many cabbages. And that’s a challenge.

Johnny Thomson 06:35
I think the concern at the minute as well Dave is the fact that with everything opening up, you know, a lot of a lot of village halls, community buildings and so on had to close down and yet they kept going with various things during that time. But of course, now opening up, it almost feels like those demands have multiplied so much, you know, and we all get back to it with great enthusiasm, but then can essentially put ourselves in danger almost of being overwhelmed by too much, trying to do too much, trying to get everything back to how we felt it was before.

Dave Algeo 07:08
Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of that can be because there are deadlines involved, but there’s also potentially the pressure we put on ourselves to get it back quicker, sooner, and take on so much to get it back to that state, you know. So you’re right, there’s external pressures and the stuff we add to ourselves. And if you’re a particularly compassionate, driven person who wants to help, you could be potentially driving yourself and taking on more cabbages than really is sustainable, you know.

Johnny Thomson 07:34
Yeah. Nobody wants to eat too many cabbages let’s face it!

Dave Algeo 07:37
Exactly. I mean, yeah, let’s not go there with the consequences of that. But the point is, in psychological terms, the consequences are that if we carry them for too long, without break without rest, without pacing ourselves, we can end up burning out. And burnout can be physical, you know, if you’ve ever been through a gruelling physical experience, but as destructive really is the psychological and emotional aspects of burnout, where you can feel physically, psychologically and emotionally just exhausted, drained, and motivation goess, you feel detached and be more vulnerable to the more negative aspects of physical and psychological ill health really.

Johnny Thomson 08:13
Yeah. So I imagine then that the kind of starting point with this is the need for honesty with ourselves and recognising those feelings of being overwhelmed. And recognising that we need to do something about that yeah?

Dave Algeo 08:28
Yeah, I think it might start just even before that is, do you even stop to check in with yourself? Because how often are we so on the go, or so in the thick of it, that we we just keep going. So we kind of unconsciously register that ‘come on, we need a break here’, but consciously we’re still pushing on, driving and because we’re so committed and passionate about what the work you’re doing. And I think so checking in with yourself is probably a number one thing. Every so often, just take a moment, you know, to just check in how am I doing, a breather you know, whatever breathe count to ten, but just check in, but then also know your warning signs I guess is important. I often use the metaphor of, you know, tomatoes, you know, when they’re fresh they’re firm, they’re tasty, but when they get a bit off, go past their best, they get a bit squigee, wrinkly, you know, you wouldn’t want to eat them. You can tell can’t you? And I think it’s knowing your warning signs of you going past your best. You might not get smelly, wrinkly or squigee, but in a manner of speaking, you know, you might find that you’re not sleeping as well. Or perhaps you might be drinking a little bit heavier, or you can’t switch off, your head is always buzzing, you know those kinds of things. Or you’re feeling particularly irritable or angry. So what are your warning signs? If you check in and if you notice, some of those signs are present, that they are indicators to say, maybe it’s time to just put the cabbages down for a moment.

Johnny Thomson 09:54
Yeah, yeah. And so how can we deal with the demands of life better, I guess? You know, what steps should we be taken and what what advice could we be giving? I think it’s not just to ourselves, but also recognising this in others is important as well. So you know, how can we recognise in others a sense of them being overwhelmed as well, and what can we do to perhaps help if it’s not also a feeling those things?

Dave Algeo 10:23
Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I think it’s knowing yourself, you’re own signs and sometimes the best way to learn those is to speak to somebody who knows you well. A partner, a friend who you know, because we’ve all had that friend whose said are you okay, you don’t see yourself you know, there’s something there. And I think as a caring friend or family member, if we can just pay attention to those Spidey senses, the Spider Man senses I talk about you know that tingle, that says something’s not quite right with them. Check in on them and allow I guess, allow some space and allow that initial response of no I’m fine, you know, or I’m not bad. The default response. Don’t just accept that, because we all say that when we’re asked, don’t we? So, just just, we’re not talking about putting the thumb screws and the light in the face, you know, we’re just talking about genuinely caringly saying ‘howay let’s have a cuppa and take five minutes out’ that that kind of thing. So, if you’re talking about that, it’s knowing the signs of your friends and colleagues, but also checking in with them genuinely. So you check in with yourself, but check in with others, I think is is a key thing. Know the signs, and then what do you do about it? And I often think, well I think there’s two stress states of mind. There is overwhelm and overload. Now overload is the grind. You’re carrying the cabbages around, the demands day to day. You’re ploughing on, you’re pushing on, you’re doing things, you’re managing, but you’re feeling the grind. Overwhelm is that peak state in a moment where your fight or flight kicks right in, you know where steam is coming out of your ears, you maybe want to press send on an email you should never press send on, that kind of thing. It’s when we move out of sort of chronic stress, if you like, to acute and peak stress, where we are feeling not thinking and that needs different tools in the kit to overload. So I often like to distinguish between them, because getting rational with yourself in, when you’re in overwhelm, just doesn’t cut it does it? You know? So what we need when, if you’re in a moment where you feel like your head’s about to explode, you feel panic, frightened, angry, whatever that stress response is manifesting in itself, I often say three things. Well, you basically you need time and space. So I always say remove from heat, take yourself away from the source of the stress, because that will only continue to stimulate and provoke you to stay in stress response. So wherever possible, walk away, put the kettle on, go for a break, have five minutes, you know, that kind of thing. Second thing is then, use your physiology, your body. Because your body has some amazing mechanisms to help you control and manage your stress level. And the one thing that I say that well it’s always with you, is your breathing. And your breathing and your stress response are controlled by the same system, the autonomic nervous system. And we don’t need to remember that, we just need to know that when you’re stressed out your breathing often goes with it, doesn’t it? So what we need to do is recognise that actually, we can reverse that and use it with a bit of practice a breathing technique to rein the stress response back in. So what we can do is if we find ourselves in overwhelm, is step away from the computer, step with that person, that place for 30 seconds, a minute, then do what I call a rescue breath, which is just breathe in for two, count of two, breathe, sorry, hold for a count of two and then breathe out for a count of four. And repeat very slowly, but focus your attention on the breathing and the counting. Because what you’re doing is detaching yourself from the attention from the source of the stress, but using your physiology to bring yourself back down. And then my next thing is to get perspective, because we all overreact in stress and overwhelm don’t we? So my my thing is a silly question, but is then to say, right is what’s just stressed me out, is it cabbage or sprout? And that’s where, it’s basically asking myself is that a big thing or a little thing? Because how often is it, and this is for all the listeners to be honest here, how often is it that you are very good at generally day-to-day carrying the cabbages around and coping, but it only takes one sprout size thing to tip you over the edge? Yeah, you’re going off at sprouts like fireworks, but you’re doing so well carrying the cabbages. And that’s where cabbage or sprout, a silly question, is about recognising was it a small thing that tipped me over? If it was don’t sweat that sprout and then look at the cabbages you’re carrying and identify the smelliest one, the one that’s most problematic or pressing, or the one that’s really on your mind and really worrying you. Because your brain doesn’t want to deal with that, but the way we need to deal with that is don’t sweat the small sprout and get to slicing and dicing that cabbage and the cabbages into smaller chunks into sprouts size chunks and sweat those sprouts.

Johnny Thomson 13:06
Yeah, Yeah, because the cabbage is the thing that’s going to affect you in the long term, isn’t it? Like you say you can do the breathing exercises, you can calm yourself down, you can relax, but unless you deal with that cabbage – I love how I’m just slipping into your terminology here and talking about cabbages and sprouts – but unless we as you say kind of slice that cabbage and deal it then you’re going to be stuck with these problems for a long time yeah?

Dave Algeo 14:53
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that’s the thing, that’s where overload, dealing with the underlying overload, we tend not to go off at the small stuff, the sprout size stuff if we’re on a good day, and we’ve got nothing else, you know, we haven’t got a lot on our plate, we tend to be quite calm, composed, and well able to handle that. It’s when we’re carrying lots of cabbages. So as you say, avoidance is not the answer, it’s about confronting the cabbages! What what are the, you know you can grab a pen and paper, jot them down, what are the demands I’ve got, give yourself credit for carrying a lot of them and then pick the smelliest one, the one you least want to deal with, and slice and dice and chunk it into sprout sized chunks. Because your brain under stress works better with sprouts, it can sweat sprouts, it doesn’t want to deal with cabbages. So by chunking it down what I mean is probably what many of you do, which is you kind of say, right well what do I need to do? What are the actions and the tasks? You might create the to do list, something practical that can make you go right, I need to do that first and that second, or I need to ask such and such for a bit of help. But by confronting the cabbage and breaking it down, we make it more manageable for us and we can then start to feel more in control. And like we’re coping. And actually probably look at the pile of cabbages and go, actually that one’s not my problem, why am I taking that cabbage on, that’s somebody else’s? Because how many of us are very good at taking on other people’s problems or challenges? You know, leave it with me, I’ll sort that out. When actually it’s their cabbage to sort out.

Johnny Thomson 16:35
Anything else Dave? Is there any more vegetables you want to throw in the mix there, potatoes or carrots, or anything like that?

Dave Algeo 16:41
This is a whirlwind trip around my allotment isn’t it? Well, I guess obviously there’s a lot more to it than that. But one of the things that we often forget, classically forget, if you go back to that Crackerjack analogy, the kid is holding the cabbages and the toys are underneath. What happens is the toys represent self-care, the time to do the things for you, that matter to you, not just from an enjoyment perspective, but sustain you, nurture you, recharge your batteries. So I often talk about one of the best things you may need to do is to stop and take five or 10 minutes out for you. And that can be hard for, particularly for people who are driven to be serving others, to actually think about themselves. And it’s not selfish, it’s self-care. In order to be sustainable is to take time for yourself. And what could you do in those five or 10 minutes? Now I this is where I would introduce my radish. And it might seem a bit like random, but the point is not everybody likes radish. And that’s like us isn’t it, because it doesn’t matter how hard you try, there’s always somebody not going to like you, not going to appreciate you and going to find fault with what you do.

Johnny Thomson 17:44

Dave Algeo 17:45
So often we’re trying too hard, but in the process of trying too hard, we grind ourselves down even more. So I use the radish as the metaphor for that part of us that gets a bit beaten down and we need to nurture that inner radish, the metaphorical inner radish. And I won’t go through them all, but some key things are take some time out where you park the to do lists, you park other people’s agendas and you take yourself off and do something that you find just enjoyable, pointless possibly, but just enjoyable. It might be a walk, it might be listened to some music, might be I don’t know just sitting and daydreaming, because that’s actually very, very good for your brain to allow it to decompress and to remind yourself you matter. And other ones are things like get outside more, which some of you may be doing it already, but getting outside into nature into daylight even on a rubbish day, is really really important. We have evolved to be outside, not in boxes called rooms.And just reinject and remember how to have fun as well you know. It’s it’s been a challenging 18 months and I think we can fall out of the habit of having a laugh, you know, and taking time to have a bit of a giggle and just that kind of fun element. What does that mean for you and tap back into it What did you used to love doing that made you giggle, that made you feel like a kid again or a teen, whatever it was. Indulge in that a little bit, because that is where you can nurture that in a sense you’re inner radish, your soul, whatever you want to describe it, you can start to bring yourself back to who you really are you know. You might have forgotten who you are in the midst of all these cabbages you know. You a cabbage carrier aren’t you, but actually you’re not, you’re a human being you’ve permission to be human.

Johnny Thomson 19:18
Yeah. And I mean that’s it in essence isn’t it? That’s definitely the key message here Dave. The kind of people who work tirelessly for the local community and are so caring for those around them, the message is that they need to be equally caring for themselves yeah?

Dave Algeo 19:34
Yeah, absolutely. And if that’s something that’s hard, because for whatever reason you’re conditioned not the thing like that. Think about it in terms of how do you pace yourself for the long run and the long run means you do have to stop off and take a break and amble a bit rather than run and sprint. You know, you take it, you take it steady and pace it out and you’ll be here for the, God willing, for the lot longer run of things if you do that you know.

Johnny Thomson 19:59
Brilliant, brilliant Dave. Now I know you produce your own podcast called The Sprout Sweater. And I would, I would have had no idea what that meant without our conversation today. And it’s a fantastic podcast and really entertaining. And so that’s a great way, I guess for anybody out there who’s listening wants to hear a bit more about this, interested in finding out you know, some more advice around stress and so on, could could tap into yeah?

Dave Algeo 20:26
Yeah, absolutely. And I do cover other things like just, sort of how you know, things like how do you form new habits, good habits, break old habits, that kind of thing. The Sprout Sweater is a 10 minute, a 12 minute podcast where I kind of just try to give you bite size chunks of things to think about or do that week, you know.

Johnny Thomson 20:42
Yeah, and you’ve got a website as well, which can be found out what is it, stressedguru.com?

Dave Algeo 20:48
Yeah, or sproutsweater.com, it’ll direct you to the podcast page. There’s loads of resources there. And you’re more than welcome to check in on some of those resources. And I’ve got a sleep programme that I’m currently about to launch as well, if anybody has trouble sleeping, then there’s loads of good advice in that for them as well.

Johnny Thomson 21:04
Fantastic. Well, listen, thanks for joining me today. Maybe we can come back and explore some of those issues in more depth in the future. And yeah, but yeah, thanks for helping me to understand what to do with all those cabbages I’ve got building up in my allotment, next door to yours. And, you know, it’s been really insightful. And I hope more than anything, it helps some of, you know, our wonderful people out there who give so much of themselves for their local community just to stop for that moment and think about themselves too. Let me know what you think by emailing me at johnny@thevillagehalls podcast.com or by commenting on our social media. But thanks again, Dave, I’m, I’m feeling better already!

Dave Algeo 21:46
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Johnny Thomson 21:49
And that’s all folks for this episode. Don’t forget you can get your entries in for our Wonderful Villages Photo Competition, as you could win £1,000 for your village hall and £500 for yourself. There’s information about the competition on our website. And thanks as always to our headline sponsor and specialist insurance provider Allied Westminster for supporting our podcast and whose services you can discover more about at villageguard.com. And to online booking system provider Hallmaster who also make our podcast possible and can be found at hallmaster.co.uk. You’ve been listening to The Village Halls Podcast, a unique listening community for Britons village church and community halls and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. We’ll be back again soon with another episode. So if you haven’t already, please visit thevillagehallspodcast.com to subscribe, sign up for updates link through to our social media pages and to find out more. Until the next time. Goodbye for now.

This is Episode Zero, where I’ll briefly introduce what the Village Halls Podcast is about, who it’s for and what (hopefully) it will go on to achieve. My name is Johnny Thomson and I’m your podcast host.

In the UK, there are more than 10,000 village, church and community halls or centres, each run and supported by incredible groups of volunteers. Village Halls are not simply places for social and physical activities, often they are the lifeblood of local communities and a real lifeline for people of all ages, offering essential services and at times emergency facilities. As such they’re a critical part of the national infrastructure. Yet strangely, and despite the growing popularity of podcasts in the UK, there is currently nothing on offer to those who run, provide support or are involved closely with village halls. That is until now!

The idea behind The Village Halls Podcast is to develop a listening community for Britain’s village, church and community halls and anyone interested in the vital community services they provide. At least twice a month there’ll be a new episode on offer, featuring different guests, each with useful information to share and hopefully some entertaining stories as well.

Episode 1 for example, which is coming soon, will delve into the history of village halls over the last 100 years and take a look at what the future might hold. And later, we’ll also be exploring ways in which some halls have been able to breath new life into their activities, as well as some of the challenges halls face right now and some of the ways these challenges can be overcome.

So please, keep listening. There’s all kinds of ways of listening and receiving updates. You can subscribe through your favourite podcast service, such as Apple, Spotify, Google or Amazon, simply search for The Village Halls Podcast and subscribe. Or you can visit our website at www.thevillagehallspodcast.com and sign up for updates. If you’re not all that familiar with podcasting, there’s even a short guide on our website to introduce you to some of the basics.

And finally, please remember this podcast is not just for you, it’s about you. The people behind Britain’s fabulous network of Village Halls and so I’d really love to hear from you. Please get in touch by emailing johnny@thevillagehallspodcast.com or through our facebook or twitter pages and tell me your stories. Feed in your ideas for future episodes, what YOU want to hear about. I want to hear what you’re up to, what kind of successes and challenges you’re facing and then why not come on the show, be a guest and share what you know.

Keep listening, join in the discussion on our social media pages and let’s see where The Village Halls Podcast takes us. Until the next time, goodbye for now.