Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about feeling overwhelmed. We all know what it’s like — that anxious feeling we get in our chests when we’re no longer able to keep it all under control. It’s the tipping point between having enough time to get it all done and running out of bandwidth. When we have too much to do, we run from one thing to the next, without any time to digest what’s happening. Our ability to deal with others, to listen, to analyze, to be present to any one thing gets compromised, and life becomes a blur. Sometimes we get so overwhelmed that we become paralyzed and can’t seem to get anything done at all.
I wonder what would happen if I actually let myself stop in the midst of feeling overwhelmed? It’s the last thing I’m inclined to do as I’m running to keep up with the demands of my life. But what’s the worst thing that could happen? Would others think I’m a total slacker? Would I be letting other people down? What if I don’t get back to someone exactly when I said I would? Or if I don’t get the wash done or work on my presentation early enough to get it done right?
When my clients are overwhelmed, I often suggest that they try to take one thing at a time and focus on what’s directly in front of them. But I also know how difficult that is when you have competing responsibilities. For example, it’s Sunday morning, and you’re working on your computer because you have something due for Monday that you didn’t get done last week. Your kids are playing in the next room. A fight breaks out, and you can hear that it’s escalating. Your spouse yells from the other room, “Honey, would you make sure the boys don’t kill each other?” You’re trying to stay focused on your work, but the noise level in the other room is calling you away. “Hey guys,” you yell, “can you keep it down to a dull roar in there?” There is a momentary silence, some laughter and relative peace for a few minutes. Now you’re concentrating on the work in front of you. Pretty soon, the noise level is up again and your attention is distracted back to the kids. Finally, you get up from your chair and march into the other room to let the boys know that they need to go to their separate rooms. After a few minutes of groans and excuses, they depart. As you make your way back to the computer, your spouse comes in and asks when you plan to fix the dryer. It seems to never end.
A big part of feeling overwhelmed is the inability to complete something to our satisfaction. We don’t feel good when something is only partially done or not done well. Quality work requires quality time and attention, and when we split our time between multiple things, we produce fragmented results.
So what’s the answer? Here are some suggestions for dealing with overwhelmed feelings from a World of Psychology blog entry, “Overwhelmed — These 6 Strategies May Help” by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Accept your anxiety. Battling feelings of anxiety only boosts them. According to psychologist Marla W. Deibler, “It’s normal to experience some degree of anxiety when our stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable or imminent.” Allow yourself to accept what is and ride out the wave.
Change overwhelm-inducing thoughts. Pay attention to what your thoughts are telling you. You can replace “I’ll never get this done” with “I may not get this all done today, but I can get at least a good portion of it started” to reduce your mounting anxiety. Also, thinking that we can control everything is a big stressor. Letting go of what we can’t control and focusing on what we can control reduces stress. Taking a break from whatever is stressing you out also brings relief — a short walk, a few stretches at your desk or a cup of tea with a friend or co-worker can help reduce stress.
Change your multitasking mindset. If you’re multitasking, you’re already doing too many things at once. Expecting quality results out of something that’s only getting a small portion of your attention is like expecting yourself to talk and listen simultaneously. Try driving a car and texting at the same time, and you’ll know what I mean. Allowing yourself to completely focus on what you’re doing is a relief. And the satisfaction of doing a high-quality job is wonderful. The idea that everything needs to be done right now is an illusion, and one that produces huge amounts of unnecessary drama in our lives. There is no need for the extra drama — one thing at a time is a discipline that’s essential if you want to keep your anxiety down.
Focus on right now. Just as allowing yourself to focus on one thing at a time is essential, so is being present right now. Each moment comes cleanly on its own. If we don’t fill it with old baggage and emotional anxiety, it gives us the space we need to just be in it.
Take a deep breath. When I’m feeling anxious, my breath becomes shallow and quick. If I can pause a moment to take a really deep breath and slowly blow it out, the fire of anxiety begins to dim. I can feel my feet on the ground, I can see out of my eyes, I can focus. Deep breathing encourages the body’s relaxation reflex.
Take action. To quell overwhelm, engage in an action that you enjoy. Listen to music or take a walk in nature. Chat with a friend about a happy subject or read a book. All of these activities can reduce stress.
Socrates said, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” As good as it feels to be industrious, responsible and hard working, beware the life that holds no joy in its activities. Don’t forget to see the humor in your life and have a good laugh on a daily basis. Allow the joy of the moment to bubble up within your heart, and try not to take it all so seriously. Getting stuff done can feel like you’re accomplishing something, but when you don’t have time for what’s really important in your life, it becomes a wasteland of to-do lists that have checks by their entries.
This week, I’m going to try some of these suggestions to counteract my feelings of anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I hope you try them too.
Have a good week!
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