Do you ever feel like you’re being bombarded from every angle with doctor’s appointments, school forms, grocery runs, and endless piles of laundry? And then on top of that, the world is screaming for your attention with constant pop-up notifications and pings on your smartphone that want to remind you that you haven’t checked Instagram yet today. If you want to stop feeling overwhelmed, I’ll share with you three techniques I’ve used that do the trick every time.
But first… Why do we get overwhelmed?
To some extent, overwhelm happens because we let it happen. I know you don’t want to hear that. But we have to understand that simple fact in order to take control of the solution. We get overwhelmed for a lot of reasons (and usually it’s several of these reasons all piled together). Sometimes our lack of clarity on what our priorities are leads us to saying yes to everything, which ups the stress meter. Perhaps we put our self care on the back burner to try to “get more done.” Ooooh self care. Now that’s a buzz word today, right?
What else can lead to overwhelm? Some of us have perfectionist tendencies [I’m raising my hand here] or our expectations are ridiculously high. When the expectations don’t align with reality, we end up feeling like we’re mentally or emotionally drowning. We also have a societal problem these days because we willingly open the door to every possible distraction to life. Social media, constant email checking, tablets and browser windows, Netflix and all sorts of multitasking maneuvers. All these things subconsciously and slowly add to the feeling that there’s wayyyyy too much on our plate.
So let’s knock this out already.
3 Strategies for Conquering Overwhelm
1. Refuel your tank
It’s so simple. But it’s so very hard to put into action. When overwhelm stems from too much on your plate, the default response is often: “Let me double down and work harder and longer to get these things accomplished.” The problem is that the more overwhelmed we feel, the less productive we tend to be. Especially when combined with exhaustion and burnout. By not taking a break, we are actually fueling the wrong fire. (Hint: It’s the one called OVERWHELM.)
Overwhelm is a feeling. It’s an emotional response to expectations that either you put on yourself or that someone else is putting on you. In order to deal with the expectations (and stop feeling overwhelmed), it’s important to be mentally and emotionally centered and grounded.
And let me reinforce this. In moments of ultimate overwhelm, those times when you feel like your eyeballs are going to pop out and your chest is going to explode from the stress, you will resist the refuel. Your overwhelmed alter-ego will tell you not to stop for a break. She will do everything in her power to convince you to forge ahead. Remember this. You are prepared for her. Tell her to shut up. And take a freakin’ break.
Change your environment. It’s amazing how much simply going outside can help. If you can’t do that, then do some exercise. Or lay down and take deep breaths. Or do something you like to do — read, draw, listen to music, dance, pet your dog, etc.
The point is that it’s your brain that is feeling weighted down and its quite frankly distorting your thought processes. Give your brain muscles a break. Stepping away will allow you to come back to it refreshed, with new perspective and much more energy. I promise.
2. Unload your brain
Have you ever thought of some little thing you need to do, and then said to yourself: “That’s so simple, how could I forget to do that?” So you don’t write it down?
It feels silly to write down something like, “Put the library book in son’s backpack to return to school tomorrow.” And as simple as it is, that’s the first thing forgotten. It’s not monumentally important. But that’s not the point. Most things aren’t. It’s the combination of a MILLION LITTLE TINY THINGS that becomes overwhelming. Those little things snowball into bigger things that could have been avoided.
So: Write. things. down.
In fact, try doing a brain dump. It’s a super sexy way of saying “write down every single to-do, big or small, that’s on your mind.” Any idea you considering. Any project you need to tackle. Household chores, school events, or Saturday plans.
Now your brain can chill a little because it doesn’t have to remember so much. Ahhhh. Once it’s written down, you can organize it. I use Evernote to organize all my lists and notes. I have one main daily to-list and a lot of other notes for holidays, party plans, school stuff, and blogging. You can create whatever is relevant for you.
Now you can decide what to let go of, what to delegate to someone else, and what you need to start saying no to. It’s okay to say no to things that take more than they give. You can reschedule things that can wait and decide what is priority right now. Put reminders in your calendar for important things! Now you know what to take action on, and seeing your progress will zap the overwhelm.
3. Start a Mindfulness Practice
Practicing mindfulness is about being in the present moment and attentive to the details, without judgment. Noticing. Acknowledging. Allowing. Yes, you can do the exercise below as a quick fix to stop feeling overwhelmed in the moment. But it’s also a long-term solution. A way to shift your brain to a healthier way of processing emotions so you don’t end up buried underneath overwhelm in the first place.
Mindfulness has the ability to build new connections in the brain that allow you to shift the way you respond to external and internal experiences. It’s a tool that lets you experience the joys of life more fully and deal with the challenges in a healthier way. And the benefits of mindfulness go far beyond dealing with overwhelm.
- Reduce anxiety and stress.
- Sharpen your focus and mental clarity.
- Tune you in to your true sense of self and purpose.
- Allow you to have a more fulfilling connection with others (including your family and kids).
- Help you take control of your emotions.
- Keep you more in touch with your physical body.
Try this simple 5-minute exercise:
Get comfortable. Close your eyes if you want. And challenge yourself to simply stay in the present moment for these five minutes. If you start thinking about a to-do list or something that happened yesterday, just take another breath and steer yourself back to the present. No one is grading you on this, and there is no right or wrong. Now that you’ve got the basics, go through these four short check-ins with yourself:
• Check in with your breath. Take three deep breaths to connect your body to your mind.
• Check in with your body. Are you comfortable? Are you tensing up any muscles? What would happen if you release any tension? Simply notice.
• Check in with your surroundings. What’s the temperature like? Is there a lot of noise? What kind of noises? Do you have tons of distractions or are you able to focus easily?
• Check in with your feelings. Are you content? Worried? Peaceful? Agitated? Etc. How do you feel about life right now? Finally, take 3 deep breaths to wrap up this exercise.
Stop feeling overwhelmed. Seriously. Stop.
Overwhelm steals your power. So take it back. The next time you feel like you’re drowning, try one of these strategies. You might not want to, in the moment, so remember to listen to the wiser version of yourself that you tend to push away to the corners of your mind in stressful times. She knows what’s up. And for even more tools to keep in your stress-fighting toolbelt, get the free e-book 10 Powerful Strategies for Crushing Overwhelm. Nothing’s gonna stop you now.