Tips for Overcoming Overwhelm

As we go about our day to day lives we all have so many things that try and grab our attention, claiming that they’re THE most important thing that we need to focus on from the moment we wake up.  The stress and frustration then builds and these are not feelings we want to be saturated by.  They deplete our energy until we run on empty, not having enough of it to give to our families, partners, job, friends.  We then don’t take care of ourselves – we eat rubbish, don’t move our bodies and sleep poorly – all of this just adds to the brain fog and lack of energy and so the cycle continues.

Overwhelm isn’t new to me. I met it as a student. I met it again when having busy days in a stressful work environment and it’s appeared again now that I’ve started my own business and have so much to learn. When I get pulled under by it I have to remind myself of the ways in which I’ve been able to work through it before and I’ve listed the things below that have worked for me in the hope that they can work for you too.

 1.     STOP and take a step back

Try and focus on why you’re feeling overwhelmed.  

Are you trying to be everything to everyone?  Are you saying “yes” too often to people?  Are you trying to get ALL the things done at the same time?  Are you over-estimating how much time it’ll take to do things?

Whenever I feel overwhelmed and my mind is cluttered with my thoughts, I find it really useful to just dump it all out by writing down what’s on my mind.  I have a journal, but really any piece of paper, notebook or, if you prefer, computer, phone or tablet will do.  I find that journaling, just getting it all out there, is so powerful because as I write I make more sense of what I’m thinking, how I’m feeling and I find that I can come up with solutions that I can’t “get to” through just chasing and dwelling on my thoughts alone.  

I also find that it helps to simply write out my ‘to-do’ list so I’m not continually trying to remember everything as I go along. 

2.      Prioritise and focus

I remember when multi-tasking was revered and that you were pretty special if you could do lots of things at once.  Do you remember hearing things like: ‘women are great at multi-tasking’ and ‘men can only focus on one thing at once’?  Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the men-folk, (and some women-folk), who focus on one thing at a time have got it going on.  So much research has been carried out that has proven that multi-tasking is NOT an efficient or productive use of our time because we just switch between tasks without getting very far through any of them.  Picking one task at a time to focus on and work through, means that you finish it more quickly.  You may have worked that out for yourself but it’s nice to know that the researchers agree with you (right?)

So, look at your list of things to do and think of/write out why you feel they need to be done NOW.  Then look at them again and objectively ask yourself if they do need your immediate attention.

3.         Ask for help

There are many reasons why we don’t ask for help for example: “I don’t want to be a burden”; “I’m being selfish”; “I don’t want them to think I’m ‘failing’”; “people have better things to do than help me”; “asking for help shows weakness”; “I’ll be indebted to them if I do” to name a few.

Women especially are generally raised to be “nurturing”; caring and looking out for other people without question and expecting nothing in return.  We also feel that we have to try and “prove” ourselves capable in the workplace by pushing ourselves to outwork men in order to prove we’re just as good and capable as they are.

If your manager is piling on the work and you don’t know where to start, ask them.  It doesn’t have to be confrontational, just ask which of the various jobs they’ve given you is the priority for you to focus on because you can’t do it all at once.

You’d likely be amazed at the support you’d receive if you asked for help.  There has been research, (for example that by Raposa et al, 2015), that have found that people actually rate their well-being and their level of positive emotions higher when they help someone.  They also found that “helpers” had a better response to daily stress.  So think of it this way, when others help you they’re actually helping themselves :)

4.         Just say ‘no’

I’ve recently been putting into action something I read on the interweb, (but I can’t for the life of me remember where), and that is that “no” and “no thank you” are complete sentences in themselves and require no follow-on in terms of justification.

Many of us feel the desire to people-please but the next time someone asks something of you that you just don’t have the time or energy for, “just say no”.  It is actually easier than it sounds and it’s such a relief when you don’t have to add more ‘stuff’ to your already over-stuffed to-do list.

5. Slow down your mind

When feeling overwhelmed it’s tempting to do things to relax like spend time on the internet, on social media or watch box-sets all night.  But all we’re doing is adding more information and “noise” to our already over-stimulated, overwhelmed minds.

Instead, carve out time for more gentle self-care/personal time.  And make it a priority!  I would suggest that you put it in the diary and not make it a last minute decision.  Make these times sacrosanct!  Communicate with those you need to that you’re taking some time for yourself.  It doesn’t have to last all day. It doesn’t even have to last few hours.  

You don’t have to schedule spa days, manicures or take bubble baths, (although there’s nothing wrong with pampering), instead you could sit in the garden with a cup of tea and just let your mind go, get stuck into something creative that you’ve been meaning to do, pick up an instrument you haven’t played for a while or listen to soothing music. Meditate if you like, or learn how to.  

 Make yourself priority. To do so isn’t selfish, it’s an absolute necessity.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.  Take care of yourself first” (Ursula Foster).