Feeling run off your feet or unable to progress towards your goals, big or small, is a horrible state to be in. We’ve all been unsure of our ability to deal with the plethora of tasks and responsibilities on our plates. It’s enough to drive anyone under the covers, avoiding all thoughts while waiting for the storm to pass.
One of the things about being overwhelmed, though, is that our brains won’t shut up. Maybe, then, let’s respectfully listen to them. Before we go any further, I want you to pause, turn away from the screen, and think about what sets you off. What makes you overwhelmed, weighed down, and out of control?
TIP: Write it down. Start with your first thought, then trace this back, seeing if you can find a trajectory that reveals why you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Why overwhelm happens
There are a lot of reasons why we may feel overwhelmed at any given time. But before we home in on the exact cause of our stress, it’s important to remember that overwhelm always boils down to one thing: cognitive fatigue. The factors that lead to that fatigue are different in every situation.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- Distraction – unable to focus
- A fixed mindset
- External stressors – relationship, work, tasks, finances, society’s busy complex and anti-rest syndrome
- Internal stressors – existentialism, fear, self-doubt/loathing, schemas, too much consumption instead of production
- Running away from something
- Clutter – treating your body/house/car like a dump (a surefire negative feedback loop for your self-esteem)
- Physical fatigue
- Non-acceptance of reality – dwelling on the past and/or future
- Aspiring to a lifestyle that you feel is better than what you’re currently experiencing.
- Feeling inadequate, especially in terms of happiness
Solve your overwhelm RIGHT. NOW.
Your goal is to feel equipped to deal with overwhelm when it hits. To feel confident in using strategies that minimise and manage overwhelm, without expecting a cure.
Here you see before you a grand ol’ list of steps you can take – right now, later today, or some time in the future – that will help to alleviate those pesky symptoms of overwhelm; help you take back some control of your day, and your life.
While the list has been constructed in no particular order, it can work as a month-long experiment in taking back control. I suggest reading through it once, and choosing one thing you naturally gravitate towards the most (or the one thing you shy away from the least). Try the action step, and observe if it makes a difference. The items are things that have worked for me. They may not necessarily work for you. But there’s no harm in giving it a go, especially if it means a reprieve.
Not sure about moving forward?
If you’re having trouble getting yourself started, do this: write down an action you’re interested in trying, then write next to it why you think it will be helpful, and how long it’s likely to take.
Then, break down the action into smaller steps that are much easier to start with. A good rule is to focus on the task at hand for 5-10 minutes. You’ll often find that once your brain relaxes you’ll keep going once this original time-frame is up.
A Month of Solutions for Conquering Overwhelm
- Manage your time – track your time expenditure for a day. Learn how to time-batch your tasks. Organise your to-do list into time frames. Brain dump everything you need to remember to do into a pocketbook.
- Practise consciousness. Spend some time sitting with your discomfort, noticing your surroundings, and conversing with your current expectations and concerns in this moment.
- Download the Fabulous app. Get started with the introductory challenge and focus on habit-building (a great way to streamline your thought processes).
- Download apps that encourage focus and deep work. Like the Pomodoro or 10 minute egg timer. A fixed amount of time that counts down before your eyes allows your brain to feel safe enough to ease into work, allowing you to be more open to productivity and time passing.
- Place your phone in another room, and put it on Do Not Disturb. Only have specific numbers, like those of family members, be allowed to break through this setting by listing them as Favourites.
- Sit with a diary lay-out for a single day and consider what you can actually take on in the time that you have.
- Read this Lifehack article about energy time frames, and consider if you’re flogging a dead horse by mis-timing your activities.
- Google the science behind why you’re feeling the way you do right now. For instance, did you know that post-relationship you feel physical pain because the same neurons are lighting up as when you withdraw from cocaine? A clinical view of your situation allows you to change your perspective and implement more logical responses.
- Make a list of all the areas in your life, e.g. work, relationships. Note which ones might be causing stress. Brainstorm some small action steps specific to these areas that you can take to move you closer to calm.
- Identify your support network. Write a list of things you might like them to do to help you manage your overwhelm, however indirectly.
- Take this schema quiz. Janet J. Klosko and Jeffrey Young published a truly insightful book that breaks down the schemas, or skewed lenses, through which we all see the world. It comes with step-by-step guides to help you manage your own unique combination.
- Curate the content being presented to you on social media.
- Or, better yet: impose a social media detox. Observe your mental and physical responses to eliminating this addictive aspect of most of our lives.
- Clean out your pantry. Create a meal plan that actually appeals to you, as opposed to just ticking boxes (tinned tuna, anyone?).
- Go for a walk. Even just around the block. Put the phone on Do Not Disturb. Notice the fresh air on your skin. Breathe deeply.
- Make a dance party playlist on Spotify, just for you and your alone time.
- Make anything tangible, from start to finish. Enjoy spending time on a project, big or small, that gives you something at the end to show for your efforts.
- Follow Brene Brown‘s advice on taking a break when your brain wants you to. Consider taking a mental health day, and prepare for it so you don’t have to stress any further. Fight the need to recover before it’s time – this often comes from a place of society-induced guilt around work performance and the busy complex.
- Make a list of your values. Make a list of actions you do that make you feel crap. See if there’s some overlap. You might not realise your values are so well-hidden because you’re acting in opposition to their interests. For example, isolating yourself from social situations because you see yourself as introverted but feeling crappy as a result might mean you actually really value social connection, and suffer when you deprive yourself of it.
- Browse reddit for some subreddits that might act as opportunities for inspiration and accountability.
- Put on a timer, and surf the Internet for some direct answers to your problems. Timing yourself is key here, as we can all too often end up going down the rabbit hole that is the Web. Information is everything. Obsession is its dark side.
- Prepare a list of things to do that you can access and follow whenever you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Maybe this could be the tangible thing you produce from Dot Point 17! One idea is to turn all of these items into a little flashcard booklet. You could even get creative and organise the cards by time-frame or situation! Or, print out this list as a calendar. I’ve already made it for you!
- Read psychology-based self-improvement books (think The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, 12 Rules For Life, and Reinventing Your Life) that encourage slow and challenging actions for genuine, long-lasting results. Because, let’s face it, we live in a golden age of self-improvement resources. Oh, I know. Standing in the Motivation aisle of Dymocks can almost have the opposite effect. Whittling your choices down to the anti-self help-style books can be a Godsend.
- Ask yourself these three questions, courtesy of Derren Brown’s Happy: I am responsible for how I feel about external events. What am I doing to give myself this feeling? Is this thing that’s upsetting me something which lies under my control? If not, what if I were to decide it’s fine and let it go?
- Keep an eye on your maladaptive behaviours. Consider doing this immediately after a negative situation, or at the end of the day. Review how you felt, how your body responded, the choices you made, and what you’d change if it ever happened again.
- Accept, now, that there isn’t a magic solution to your problems. If there were, self-help wouldn’t be such a lucrative industry. Just know that your experience has been, is, and will be, felt by many others – perhaps closer to you than you think. The downs in our lives are inevitable, and for this fact alone shouldn’t be stigmatised or amplified to the point of shame. Time will pass, and we each have the power to detract from the negatives we are guaranteed to face eventually.
- Research different systems of psychotherapy. For example, CBT and ACT. Read about how they work, and consider delving more deeply into any that you find yourself interested in. I benefited greatly from reading The Happiness Trap, which outlines ACT in manageable exercises. ACT allows you to engage with your emotions as separate entities, letting them in and embracing them in order to ultimately disarm them.
- Never underestimate the power of your phone to wreak havoc on your perception of the world around you.
This is timeless advice for me. I can get so swept up in staying connected digitally and then feeling like I have absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m talking months (years!) of not pursuing interests that I KNOW make me happy. Even when it comes to writing this blog post – I’ve honestly been very inconsistent with this site, but I have to say, outlining and brainstorming for 10-15 minutes at the beginning of my journey with this post was so cathartic. Not picking up my phone or allowing distraction added to that calm feeling on so many levels. Whatever you’re avoiding is probably the hardest thing to start, but once you start (like rising early in the morning) your brain inevitably adjusts and you feel so. Much. Better. Also, your brain will start running, as though on a treadmill getting faster and faster, spilling out ideas for you to consider, play with, and get high off your own creativity. Whatever you’re yearning for exists, it’s just lying dormant. BELIEVE IN THE PROCESS.
- Pause, and move forward from where you are. Be willing to take the risk of missing the mark of your ideal self. For example, tonight I walked to the gym, did what I could, then went home. I knew I needed to tidy my house, so I did that, in a relaxed manner and without resistance. I thought about what I needed to do, regardless of any golden system looming over my head. This made me feel so much calmer and in control. Use what you have right now to do what you need, to feel in control of your imminent future. Don’t stay caught up in long-term fantasies of perfection.
- Reconsider the way you look at goal achievement. Look at everything you want as something you need to earn. You deserve personal power, and flexibility of choice. But you don’t get it for free. Accept your now, figure out what you need to do, and work diligently, at a reasonable pace, toward your future.
- Reconsider shifting your view of power. Overwhelm often comes from the feeling that you’re not enough to take on all the tasks before you. Take a long hard look at the expectations swirling around your head, and see what you can do – whether that’s action, delegation, or deletion. You want control? Be in control.
Alright, here’s what I’d love to see. Try any of these tips and leave a comment detailing how you found the experience. Is there anything you would change, for you specifically? I’m only one person, so I already know that these are all applicable to me, but you always need to find what works for you and then do your bit by passing it on.
And by all means, get on that Google and look up lists of things to do when you’re feeling down, exhausted, or overwhelmed. There are enough ideas out there to keep you going for a long while!
In the meantime, get started on this free calendar, which will help keep overwhelm at bay for a whole month!