How to Banish Feelings of Overwhelm
Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all, or by having everything happen all at once. ~Paul Coelho
Have you ever felt like life was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you – all at the same time? I think everyone has experienced the feeling of overwhelm at some point, and for that moment in time, all that matters is to somehow find a way out of the turmoil.
Unfortunately, all too often what happens is we either end up stalled, simmering in our own frustration and stress; or we start doing anything and everything just to create movement, without considering whether the actions we’re taking will improve the situation or not.
The reality is your feeling of overwhelm is not about the number of tasks on your plate, it’s about conflicting emotions, and your inability – for that moment – to see what course of action to take. This is why effectively resolving overwhelm requires first taking a step back and letting go of the struggle within you.
Banishing Overwhelm Begins with Self Awareness
Find a quiet spot for a few minutes of solitude.
Before you can begin to resolve feelings of overwhelm you need to shift your mood by breaking the grip of tension and stress – find your center and calm your nerves. This can be challenging to do once you are already feeling overwhelmed, but it’s pretty much impossible when you’re surrounded by the noise of everyday life and constant interruptions. Make the time to find a quiet spot for some thoughtful solitude. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, let the tension gradually flow out of you with each exhale.
What’s really going on?
Once you’ve reached a calmer frame of mind, think about what’s really causing you to feel overwhelmed. The easy answer is ‘Too much to do!” but emotions are what trigger feelings of overwhelm, so it’s important to try and identify what action or event brought you to this point.
Create a list of priorities.
Next make a list of what tasks and commitments await your attention. As you work on your list check your gut reaction to each item – if there is anything on that list that creates anxiety just thinking about it, you need to take a closer look at why.
Asking yourself questions is also a powerful way to uncover internal conflicts. For example, are there really too many things to do, or is it that there are things on the list you really don’t want to do? Have you’ve committed to something because you thought you should, but now regret that decision? Or maybe the trouble maker is one big project that has been weighing heavily over your head, and suddenly realizing the deadline is looming triggered your feelings of overwhelm. Can the project be broken down into smaller tasks, or can you delegate or get extra help with some of the work? Finally, is there anything on your list you really don’t need to do? Maybe you’ve been reluctant to ask someone else to pitch in at home, or maybe you just been doing some things so long they’ve become habit.
Once you’ve taken a closer look at the items on your list, it’s time to prioritize them. This sounds like the easy part, but more often than we realize, when we’re anxious to get rid of a task – or if someone is making a lot of noise about getting it done – that alone will make it a priority in our mind, when in fact it may not be that important at all.
When I was 20-something … I walked into my boss’s office and told him that I felt like on any given day I was facing a tsunami of things I could pay attention to, and there was no way I could work any harder to make stuff happen. I was asking for more resources, as the answer. He sat me down as he might one of his kids and gave me this advice: Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys.
Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you. ~Nilofer Merchant, Founder of Rubicon Consulting
Once your list of priorities is set it’s time to take action on the top priority. It doesn’t really matter how small the task or the action is… this is simply about starting to get things done and out of the way. Your goal now is to build momentum. Once you have momentum, it becomes easier and easier to start on the next task on your list.
Be sure to occasionally stop and recognize your progress. This is an important step to begin feeling that you are back in control of your life.
Prevent Future Overwhelm by Becoming More Self Aware
Successfully working through a period of overwhelm is an invaluable opportunity to become more self aware. Self awareness can’t be learned from a book, it is a continual learning process developed by becoming clear about who you are and what really matters to you, your values, and how you relate to the world. These things can only be learned by being fully present in the moment.
How about you? Have you ever experienced feelings of overwhelm? Did you learn any valuable insight in the process of working through the situation?
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