“Life can be magnificent and overwhelming—that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live.”
There have been times in everyone’s life when they have felt the tight chest, heart-pounding, fluctuating emotions and foggy mind of overwhelm.
The unspoken fear of running out of time, being unable to fit all we need to do into 24 hours.
Or the invisible threat of not doing enough, disappointing ourselves and others and feeling like a complete failure.
Overwhelm is when we feel too much stress in our lives
It’s hardly surprising that with such fears and threats, conscious or otherwise that we reach the state of stress with a mixture of brain fog, fatigue, frustration and a desire to retreat from the world.
With a lot going on and emotions constantly shifting, the brain is unable to recognise all we are feeling and so it labels us overwhelmed. This lack of clarity around our emotions is how overwhelm differentiates from decision fatigue.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Here's how to reduce overwhelm so you can get back to doing what you love.
The key strategies to reducing overwhelm are to focus on clearing your mind and processing the emotions. Clearing your space and diary so that you can focus back on your own self-care and joy. Then it’s all about setting yourself up for success by tackling the mountain of tasks with simple techniques to prioritise and asking those around you for support.
Although it can be tempting when overwhelmed to keep pushing through, perhaps with a little bit of prioritisation and a focus on the break you have ahead. I suggest that you take a moment and work through each of these stages as you know as much as anyone how detrimental the stress response is for us both in the short and long term.
Clear the mind by making space for your emotions
When we fear we will never get everything done and that we are going to let others down, we can spend a lot of energy suppressing all the emotions in favour of completing the tasks or hiding away. Instead, why not try writing out everything you are thinking, feeling and worrying about, and allowing it all a moment to be present.
If this feels unattainable, take a moment for some everyday mindfulness and connect to your senses. Focus on 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
And of course, there is the failsafe of taking 3 long deep breaths, in for a count of four and out for a count of six to help the nervous system rest, reducing the stress response and bringing clarity.
Reduce immediate clutter
If you are like me then there is nothing worse than being told to take a break or rest when there are tasks to complete and mess all around you, be that the washing up or notes scattered across your desk.
So once you have a little more clarity, take a short amount of time to clear the clutter. That could be physical clutter or meetings, events and reminders in your diary that you no longer need or can wait.
This is your chance to say no.
A chance to show yourself some compassion and leave things less than perfect.
Proof that you don’t have to do everything right away.
Go back to the basics of self-care
Overwhelm can be the killer of self-care, and I don’t mean the bad rap” seen as selfish” self-care, but the literal care you need to give to yourself as a human being.
Get some sleep, drink water, go for a walk and generally make healthy choices and mix in a good dose of fun. Perhaps that’s reading a book in the sunshine, playing with the kids in your life, cooking a delicious meal, or hanging out with a loved one watching TV. Whatever makes you feel good, now is the time to do it. The work and a plan are still there, and you will be coming back to it.
Now I know there is a part of you that feels this is unproductive, it can “wait till later”. However, we are nothing without our health so at least grab a big bottle of water and go for a walk around the bock! Then if it feels more comfortable take a moment to write out a list of things that are currently within your control and those that aren’t as a moment of reflection and perspective.
Get organised and prioritise
Right, now we are back to it feeling refreshed, clear-headed and less overwhelmed it’s time to get organised and make a plan to stop us from slipping back.
I’m a big believer in writing everything out on paper, but you can also do this on your computer or phone. Get it all out of your head and in front of you, that way you know things won’t get forgotten as we focus on the priorities. Also during this process take some time to break the big tasks into smaller step-by-step actions. Although this makes the list longer the tasks are more manageable.
Looking at your long list, I want you to ask yourself:
Which of these tasks help me to meet my goals?
Which of these tasks are in alignment with my values?
Which of these tasks are urgent?
Which of these tasks feel the most important?
Any that don’t meet these criteria can drop to the bottom of the priorities or get delegated to someone else. From the remaining I want you to pick just three to focus on. Put these and no more on your to-do list.
Now I know that you believe you are great at getting many things done at once, but I’m afraid that’s just not true, like a computer, switching between tasks is also draining for your brain. So remove multitasking from your skills list and focus on one task at a time. To help keep you focused, a handy tip is to keep some sticky notes next to you and anytime your brain wanders off on to something else (as it will!) write it down and carry on with your single task.
Lean into others for support
Now for the one thing that so many of us are not great at, asking for support.
With overwhelm already triggered by a fear of letting others down, reaching out can feel even further away. Yet we all know amazing people in our lives (just like ourselves) who would help us in an instant if we asked. So that’s the key.
Get clear with yourself on what you would like help with, your list from above can help with this. Then with kindness reach out and explain your needs. Remember it’s okay to ask someone to listen, if you need to unburden yourself and share the mental load then start there.
If you are still unclear or struggling with overwhelm then come share with me and we can build your unique way to reduce overwhelm together in a free session.
You are not alone
I hope these tips have proved useful for reducing your overwhelm. Remember that as our mental load (aka our invisible to-do list) increases throughout life, it does so for everyone else too.
You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed from time to time and building up the skills to help reduce your stress is paramount to enjoying life.
You are smart, capable and able to ask for help, you don’t have to do it all on your own. Trust in others, know that good enough is good enough and when in doubt take 3 deep breaths.