It was the weirdest thing. I couldn’t focus, my productivity drastically dropped, everything seemed familiar but unfamiliar at the same time. Disarrayed memories were flooding my head, emotion was heightened. Decisions were hard to make and slow to arrive at, and then I was unsure of whether they were the best decisions at all.
Have you ever been caught in a wave at a beach and it dumped you off, and kept you pounded underneath the surface before you could eventually rise out of the water? Well that is what I was experiencing last week. It was awful.
What I was experiencing was simply ‘not me’. I would usually be described as organized, productive, efficient, problem-solver, solution-focused, decisive and so on. But last week I seemed to be everything but me. There are many ways to describe overwhelm but overwhelmed I was.
It wasn’t until I sat back and put some of the facts of my recent life in the front of my mind that I could begin to see what was going on. Then I realized that it was indeed a sense of being overwhelmed.
A brief version of what was happening for me was that I lived in 4 houses in 3 different states of this country, over 3 months, downsizing, packing, unpacking, repacking and all the logistics that go with that and much more. Ultimately the completely different lifestyle my husband and I had planned, could not happen because of the actions of others, hence all the chopping and changing. So after this rather head-spinning period of time, last week, it simply caught up and pounded me as overwhelm.
We all feel overwhelmed at times and it has a way of creeping up on you. No matter what the cause, it simply feels awful and can range from simply wanting to scream if just one more person asks you to do something, to feeling you are ‘losing the plot’ or to such a level of fear and anxiety that you may need some professional help. It is not something you ought to simply ignore. If this is what you might be feeling right now, then I want you to think of me beside you, encouraging you to take some action to care for yourself. Right now. You deserve it.
If you are anything like me, you might like to understand a little more, what has caused you to feel overwhelmed, why it has happened, before looking at ways to address the matter. Below are extracts from a wonderful post written by Tina Su (click here to read the full post).
The Likely Causes of Overwhelm
- Expectation of a particular outcome.
When you place strict expectations on yourself or on a particular outcome, if things do not turn out the way you imagined, you feel a sense of discrepancy between what you want and what is in front of you.
- Taking on Too Much.
You have an innate drive triggered by survival instincts to please others and to avoid displeasing. As a result, you may not be good at saying no. Or sometimes, your good intentions have you commit to more than you can realistically take on.
- Pressure on Yourself
You may place unnecessary (and unreasonable) pressure on yourself through self-criticism and other negative self-talk.
- Perfectionist tendencies
You may have a voice in your head that also tells you that things must be perfect. Even if you don’t consciously register this, it takes a lot of energy to keep up, resulting anxiety and stress in your body.
- Need to be in Control
Much of what happens in your life is not under our control. You simply can’t do everything yourself. Yet many of us want, or try to do everything ourselves.
- Being an Overachiever
Like ‘perfectionist’, ‘overachiever’ is another label you can give yourself. This one is a socially accepted label that often makes you feel special, admired or doing the right thing. There is nothing wrong with having a lot of accomplishments under your belt. However, having too much on your plate can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Ok, I want you to do a check on yourself now. How many of the qualities can you identify in yourself?
I will confess: I put expectations on myself often beyond what is reasonable, then I get stuck into the project/task until I have completed it to the standard (usually very high, even, perfect) that I expect of myself. So that means I put pressure on myself, have been labelled an overachiever, and am guilty of taking on too much. Yipes!!!
How about you? What qualities did you find true for yourself? How did that make you feel?
Now let’s move forward and find ways in which you can be kinder to yourself. Yes, you have much say in this and I want you to take care of yourself, and as my wonderful friends remind me, that it is ok to ease up and be more reasonable to me. I hope that I am as good a friend and help them do a balance check when they are overwhelmed as well. So what can you do?
Ways to Prevent, Minimise or Manage Overwhelm
- Only do what only you can do, and be ok with that.
Many of us spend time doing things that other people can and should be doing. Sometimes it’s because you like doing it; a particular task can feel comfortable or fun, and so you don’t want to let it go. Sometimes it’s simply a habit – and yet now somebody else is ready, willing and able to do it.
Step back and do a check. Is it of critical important for you, and that only you can do it? Ok. But you may find that it was a nice thing to do, not of critical importance, or that it could be delegated, or simply not important to attend to at all. Stay away from self-generated tasks or sucked into someone else’s panic or time pressures. Be real and kind to yourself.
- “What is Most Important?”
When we are feeling overwhelmed, our mind becomes clouded by the task at hand, and by the thoughts that cause us to feel stressed in the first place. When you step out, ask yourself, what is the most important thing for me? How do I want to feel?
Many times, we get so caught up in the doing, that we forget why we are doing it. Instead of being busy doing and then hoping that it will lead us to what we want, start with asking, “How do I want to feel?” Focus on doing things that are important to you, instead of lots of unimportant tasks that overwhelm you.
- Question your assumptions.
Often you do things – both professionally and personally – because you assume “you have to” or “you’ve always done that or done it that way.” Really? Think about the things you do regularly that feel like a waste of time. It may be that they yield so little value for you and others, given the time spent, that you should just stop doing them altogether.
- Focus on one thing at a time
It’s hard to resist the temptation to multitask when you are overwhelmed by your to-do list. But the benefits of multitasking are a myth. In fact, it takes one and a half times longer to do a task when you are juggling a few. Instead of dragging your attention all over the place, pick one task and do it with excellence. Switch safely between tasks, rather than moving to something new while you are still thinking about the previous thing. Stop the distraction of multitasking.
Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, there is likely a lot going on inside your head. The best thing to do is to dump these thoughts out through writing what’s on your mind. Write without editing, and write out every thought. If you have a bunch of to-dos running in your head, list them out. If you have an idea, brain storm on paper. Remember to not worry about keeping things looking neat and perfect. This will limit your freedom to get the thoughts onto paper. Once out of your head you can make better decisions as to which is of critical importance, important, good, nice, or not useful…. Use whatever evaluative scale you want, then focus on the ones of critical importance to you.
- Giving Up or Sharing Control
Believe me, this is much easier said than done. I know from my own experience, but I have come across countless number of people who struggle with this. But I would encourage you to keep at it. For me, I didn’t want to give up control because I didn’t want to burden anyone else with tasks that I thought were my responsibility. Others don’t release control because they don’t trust others to do the task as well. Whatever is your specific issue, work on it. What I found is that when you share or give up control it creates opportunities for others to learn, derive benefits and feel good about themselves.
- Get real support.
Ask those close to you to help figure out how to reduce your overwhelm: get their support to think through how to do the strategies above, and ask them for any insights or advice they have about what’s worked for them. Involving others in resolving your overload will ultimately be more satisfying for both of you – and far more useful.
- Say no.
Learning how to say no – diplomatically and graciously, but still no – can be a life-saver. If you haven’t set reasonable boundaries for yourself there is a great risk of committing to much more than you can reasonably accomplish.
Whenever a request of you, before you say yes, think about whether you can deliver on the commitment you’d be making, in light of all your commitments. If a ‘yes’ would put you over the line, let the requester know and respectfully decline. And even if the requester is your boss or your client, you can still say a version of no: just frame it as “that would be difficult, given my current priorities; let’s find another way to get this done.”
Make decisions about what’s important to you and how long you want to spend on them. Create boundaries around important activities. Do not allow unimportant noise, distraction and activities to creep in. For many, this might include learning how to be assertive, as your time is just as precious as anyone else’s.
- Find time to think.
This may seem entirely counter-intuitive but it works. By getting some thinking time you can step out of the jungle of thoughts in your head and make some sense of them, which in turn leads to better decisions by you. Even 15 minutes a day – to step back from the fray and look at your life and work from a distance, will help you use the rest of your time much more effectively.
Have a quick look at the list of 9 strategies above, you might have different ones that work brilliantly for you. Would you be willing to share those in the comment box below to help others? That would be fantastic.
Here is my challenge to all: select one of these strategies and implement it to prevent overwhelm. Once you have mastered that, you can select another strategy that resonates with you to implement. I am currently working on the first strategy. In all that is currently on my list of projects, tasks, responsibilities, both professional and personal, I can only do what one person can do. I am ok with that.
Remember though, every investment of your attention should give a return. When your energy is depleted, carefully consider what is bringing you into overwhelm. Then focus on the things, and people, that energise and uplift you.
“What is coming is better than what is gone.
Let this belief aim you in the direction you need to go.”