3 Steps to Deal With Overwhelm and How to Keep It From Coming Back
You know how it goes. You are cruising along, getting all of the things done. Managing the house, the kids, the dogs, school, work...you know, just getting it all done. Things are busy, you know you are juggling a lot but hey - you got this right?
Then slowly you wake up each morning and it gets a little harder each day to stay on task and accomplish what you are hoping to accomplish. A few days go by and you are seriously starting to lose control of your calendar. A week in and you can barely get out of bed and focus on getting coffee. What the hell just happened? You were doing so well?!
One word y’all - OVERWHELM!
Today we are going to go over the 3 steps for stopping the tailspin of overwhelm and getting you back on track in as little time as possible.
Step 1 - Focus
This sounds obvious but let’s really talk about what it means to focus and more importantly how to do it. It’s not helpful if you don’t know how to do it and when you are in the grips of overwhelm doing this seems impossible. It’s like your brain just shuts down. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the overwhelm is happening in the first place.
Getting focused is first and for most about slowing down your brain. Remember that - slow down your brain, that is the goal. Overwhelm is a type of stress and that means your system is running in fight or flight. You aren’t really able to pay attention so the first order of business is to bring your nervous system into the parasympathetic mode or out of fight/flight.
A simple way to do this is literally to just sit and breathe. I’ve seen lots of folks say that you can get settled in 3 breaths and yes, even 3 breaths can get you still. But remember, we are needing to slow down the brain. Give yourself 5 minutes. Just breathe.
I like to put in some nature sounds; rain, wind through the trees, ocean waves, and sit with my eyes closed and just breathe. Sometimes it helps for me to put one hand on my heart and the other over my diaphragm. If it isn’t distracting try music, something SLOW.
If you don’t have 5 minutes give yourself whatever time you have.
If breathing isn’t really what your body needs try a slow walk outside, or even inside. Walk mindfully feeling and experiencing the way your body feels as you are walking. Here are a few more ideas that can be helpful:
Lay on the floor with your feet extended up the wall. Don’t knock this till you’ve tried it.
Take a hot shower.
Give yourself a gentle hand massage.
Look into tapping.
After you have done this for a little bit you will FEEL the difference. You can tell the thoughts in your head have slowed down. You will feel more clear and focused. You are ready for step two.
Step 2 - Get a Quick Win
Pick two or three short small tasks and do them immediately.
Need to clean out the dishwasher? Do the dogs need feed? Is there a quick phone call you need to make?
Do it. Don’t think - just execute. It is still really easy to slip back into overwhelm if you get distracted and stressed again too quickly. These items should take less than 2 minutes each. Don’t worry if they are the most important things on your list, right now that isn’t the point. Right now we are just trying to maintain the focus we worked so hard to cultivate in the last step.
Do NOT - I repeat - DO NOT try and accomplish some major long complicated task right now.
You will get overwhelmed again and will need to start over.
Why are we doing these little items? To give your brain a little love of dopamine and help you feel accomplished.
Overwhelm happens when we get stressed that we can’t get done everything we need to do. We can’t seem to make progress and that adds to the feeling of overwhelm. It becomes a cycle that increases the stress with every iteration. Every time you don’t finish something, you get more overwhelmed which makes it hard to finish anything!
To stop this cycle after you have some focus and have slowed down a little the most important thing for you to do is to accomplish some shit. Just get a few things checked off that list. Little things, make a phone call, unload the dishwasher, answer one email.
Grabbing these two or three little things gives you a sense of empowerment. It reminds you that you are capable of getting things done and everything is going to get finished. So you can stay relaxed.
Now we are ready for step three!
Step 3 - reset priorities
Now you are ready to do some work. It is less likely that you are going to get swept away so sit down, get out your calendar (yes your calendar), and a pencil. If you just barrel into tasks again you are going to get overwhelmed again. Now is the time to look at everything that needs to get done and find time to finish it.
It’s really important that you use a calendar for this. If you just make a big list it isn’t going to be as helpful. Using a calendar lessens the chance that you will get overwhelmed again in a week. Plan on figuring out the next week of tasks. If you have things that will take longer than a week to accomplish keep a running list in your calendar of things to look at the following week.
The calendar makes it easier to put things in order and organize your TIME. If you need to go grocery shopping and get your oil changed you can schedule the oil change BEFORE the grocery store so your food isn’t in the car for an extra 20 minutes or so while you are waiting on your car. That’s obvious but when you make this foolproof for your brain the number of decisions to make in the moment lessens which also lessens stress.
The other reason you put this in the calendar is so it actually gets done. If it isn’t on the calendar it doesn’t happen. This is just a reality of life. When you have a source of truth for your day you can more easily just start crossing things off.
Remember to not overload each day with tasks - inevitably fires will crop up. A kid will get sick, there will be an emergency at work, your tire will be flat. Don’t put some much on your plate each day that you don’t have built-in flexibility. You will need that. Give yourself wiggle room and don’t worry if the day doesn’t go as planned. When you have a handful of tasks in your day instead of 20 that is easier to do.
Put in the must-have things first and add to the day with items that can be left off just in case. :)
Once you have this new priority list for the day (and the rest of the week), you can start actually getting those big items done. Again, don’t think - you’ve already done the thinking - just execute.
You will find that most of the items on your list aren’t as mission-critical as you think when you use this strategy. And when you start to realize that it’s ok if things move from Mon to Wed you have less stress in your day. Save your worry for the shit that matters, not the shit that doesn’t.
Do this and you will get through the rest of your day feeling productive and accomplished. You’ll feel good about yourself. Be sure to keep it up by weekly/daily looking through your calendar and making sure your task list makes sense. Move things around as needed.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t feel the stress of overwhelm, we just wouldn’t worry about it. But the world is hardly perfect and you are a human being...you will feel this sense of spinning out of control again and when you do you can easily use these three steps to get back in control.
You can do some things though to limit how often you feel overwhelmed. Here are a few extra tips for keeping the overwhelm at bay and less likely to happen in the future.
1. Don’t multi-task:
Most people think they do better when there is some background music or noise. That’s fine, but music, your Facebook feed, open email notifications, and people coming in and out of your space are NOT the same thing. Set yourself up for success by limiting the amount of stimulus in your work area. If listening to some music while you work is helpful, keep the music low and wear headphones. If you are working from home and have little ones in the house have activities already set up for them when you need quieter moments.
If you are in an office don’t leave social platforms open to notify you of activity. This includes email. The more often you have to switch between tasks without completing one the more stress you accumulate. That will be manageable for a while but if it’s a regular occurrence eventually you’re going to get overwhelmed again. You have control over some of this. If you limit what you can when stuff comes up that you can’t control it won’t completely derail you.
2. Finish little tasks first.
The rule is if you can do it in 5 minutes or less just fucking do it. Don’t think - just execute. There’s a time to think, I’m all about thinking, but if you are completely sidetracked trying to decide what’s the “better” thing to do you are just wasting time. Most things, at least 90%, don’t matter all that much. If you can get it done just get it done don’t wait to decide a better time to send an email or make a phone call that will take just a few minutes.
If you put off these little tasks what generally happens is you forget to do it at all. Especially if it wasn’t already planned in your day. If something comes up that isn’t on your calendar and it will take 5 minutes or less to complete just fucking do it. Trust me, you will thank me later.
3. Schedule time to plan your time
Seriously...I know. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds completely unnecessary. It isn’t. This is mission-critical time.
I don’t care when it happens; Sunday night before bed, Tuesday afternoon when the little one is asleep, or Friday night with a glass of wine, set a time in your calendar to plan your time for the next week. This is so so so so important. This time is priceless.
And what are you doing with this time? Everything you did in step 3 above. You pull out your calendar, a pen and you decide what you are going to do and when you are going to do it.
Just in case I wasn’t clear - you are DECIDING what you are going to do. This is your time to think.
This is when you decide what your child is going to wear for their spirit week at school.
This is when you decide when you are going to the grocery store AND when you decide you are going to make your list.
This is when you decide when you can get your pet to the vet and WHEN you will call to schedule the appointment.
Don’t forget the tip above - if you can do something quickly in 5 minutes or less just do it.
If you can’t put it on your calendar when you are going to get it done OR when you are going to think about it.
I know that sounds stupid guys but you need to understand - your calendar is a snapshot of your life. And you are in control of what goes on it. If you want something to get done, even if what that thing is is just time to think about what to do, knowing when you can do that will save yourself SO MUCH STRESS!!!
Do this for a month and see how you feel. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
You get stressed less, you aren’t as worried about how you’re going to finish everything. You feel more empowered and better self.
You feel like a bad-ass. Cause you are. You just totally owned your fucking week!
Boom - mic drop!
And that is it y’all. Overcoming overwhelm in three easy steps and three tips to limit how often it comes back.
Remember in all this, you are a human being. Things happen. The shit hits the fan. Some things you can’t control, build in what you can, give yourself some wiggle room, and don’t be upset when you feel that crazy spinning out-of-control sensation. Just do the steps above and move forward.
If you need some help getting this set up reach out - that’s what coaches are for! You can schedule your first appointment with me for free at https://calendly.com/consider-jennifer/coaching-session.
You can also follow me and learn more about how to #beonpurpose with your life @considerjennifer on FB, IG, and TikTok. Hope to see you online there.
You can also find me on YouTube so be sure to like and subscribe! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCr93k9Yi4GNM0dEUZiiyZRw
Till next week guys -#ConsiderYourLife #BeOnPurpose