3 Easy Steps to Reduce Overwhelm
I can feel it starting to creep its way up into my mind like a common garden bindweed–it's a slow progression at first, but I know in the matter of an eye blink, it will have consumed me completely, leaving me feeling short of air and claustrophobic.
Perhaps you have felt this way too. As though somehow, life has gotten so busy, so frantic, so out of our control that we are now drowning. For some of us, this happens because we have a tendency to simply overbook ourselves. Maybe we are someone who struggles to say “no” to things and before we know it, we don’t even know when we will have time to go to the grocery store, nevermind figure out a time to relax or unwind. And for many of us, it could really just be our state of being: constantly anxious, stressed or overwhelmed.
Regardless of the reason we feel this way, there are many things we can do to help ground ourselves and ease our mind so that the wall of static that feels to be surrounding us will break down.
If this feeling is one that happens to you more than you’d like, I cannot suggest this enough. I do this all of the time and it has helped me tremendously.
First and foremost, get to know your limits. You know when too much is too much for you. Are 3 social activities in one weekend the thing that tips the scale? Are you someone who needs at least a half day on the weekend to rest and recuperate before the work week starts? Is more than 1 event too much for you to plan or lead in one month? Only you can answer these questions–and if you don't know the answer – take some time to consider your past experiences. What did past you feel like they needed when you were super overwhelmed? Or another question – what do you constantly say you need? Is it a day off? Is it a day to just sit at home? What has been missing or what needs to be added to help you feel more in balance?
Once you have the answer to that – go into your calendar and start putting notes in your calendar about this. I cannot tell you how many notes appear on various weekend days that say “DO NOT SCHEDULE ANYTHING! YOU WILL THANK ME LATER! - Love, Past Brittany.” I have learned over time what my window of tolerance is for consistently being on the go, planning things, hosting, meeting deadlines, etc. And those notes from my past self make future Brittany very very thankful because it prevents me from getting overwhelmed.
However, prevention is not going to help you if you are overwhelmed at this moment. But don't fret, there are things you can do right here and now to help calm the storm.
Delegate out what you can. Cancel whatever is not a priority or something that will fill your cup.
As an example, last month I was inundated with events and balancing work and social life. There was an event I was helping to plan that I was (and continue to be) super excited about. However, I realized I bit off more than I could chew, and I had to stop back. It pained me to do so because I realllllly wanted to participate more, but my schedule and my stress level would simply not allow it. And so I had to step down from my responsibilities, delegate out what I could, and remove that from my plate. That act, though painful, was a major weight off my shoulders and the bindweed coiled around my brain felt like it was plucked from the root and removed.
However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, whenever it seems to be that so many people, when overwhelmed, move to cancel are the things that make us feel good or fill our cup first – like hanging out with friends. Do. Not. Do. This. If your schedule is full of responsibilities, work, and things that drain you and then you cancel the social things that make you feel good–you are only going to make your overwhelm and stress WORSE. Your mind and your soul NEED feel-good activities. So do NOT make that the first thing that you cancel. It will not end up helping you in the long run.
2. Break. Things. Down.
OF COURSE we are going to enter into brain overload when all that is swarming around our head is the infinite list of things “we have to do.” Without breaking it down into finer details for ourselves, every item on that list is taking up equal space and equal energy in our mind when realistically, many of those tasks are going to be shorter tasks that only feel monumentous.
This is going to sound so simple (because it is) , but despite the simplicity we don't take the time to actually do this. If you're saying “yeah yeah i know, i have the list in my head, i already do this, its fine,” you are exactly who i am talking about. I mean literally - take a pen, take a paper, and start to list out every single thing you need to do so it is written in black and white in front of your eyeballs.
Then break down each item further. Are there additional “to-do’s” within that “to-do?” For example, “Lonnie's birthday party” – what does that entail? Do you need to write a guest list? Send invites? Buy paper plates? Order a cake? Or do you just need to buy a gift and wrap it? Break down each and every item.
And yes, I am aware that if you have to see it in black and white it might be overwhelming also. But you will not be any more overwhelmed than you already are. You will just be more organized and clear minded once you get through this rough part of seeing it on paper.
Once you have everything broken down, next to each item, write down how long approximately that will take you to do. Is it a 3 minute task? Is it a 3 hour task? Allow yourself to see how long things will actually take you.
One of two things will happen here: either you continue being overwhelmed, yet more organized and clear minded (as stated earlier), which will be improved upon in my last and final step or you will realize that you actually have much less to worry about because all the tasks, while high in number of items to do, actually require less time and effort than you realized and can get checked off quickly and easily.
One of the greatest components that lead to overwhelm is continually avoiding the things we have to do. It will cause such a build up of energy and angst for nothing – because at the end of it all, it ends up getting done. So we can choose to go into this spiraling or we can take the time to break it down and make it easier for ourselves by addressing it first.
3. Time it out
From here, we can then schedule accordingly. If you have six 5 minute tasks, you can schedule 30 minutes for yourself at any point in your day that works for you - and boom, six tasks complete. Knowing how long something will take you also will allow you to schedule it properly into your day (such as lunch breaks, evenings rather than scrolling the phone or watching a show, etc) and allow you to also see clearly that you have the time to complete your tasks.
People ask me constantly how I manage my life with running a business, seeing clients, working a full time job in addition to my business, have a social life, write, exercise, cook, clean, plan events, etc. This is exactly what I do. I break it down into digestible tasks and schedule when I am going to complete the various tasks so that I know I can get them done. It allows me to remain efficient while not continuing to feel like I am drowning. I don't avoid what has to be done. Avoiding the to-do-s lets them grow into an untamed beast while we turn our heads the other way. By doing this simple task, I have more control over myself and my schedule. I do this every week by looking ahead to see what the next few weeks have in store so things don't creep up on me.
This doesn't mean I don't get overwhelmed. As I said, just last month I had to step back from a responsibility I had signed up for, which is ok! Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs in terms of what we think we can take on :) But we can pivot where we need to.
Incorporate these skills wherever you can, but especially when you start to feel or say you are overwhelmed or have so much to do.