The holidays are over, a COVID-19 vaccine is on the way, and the days are once again getting longer. But are you feeling calm and centered, or are you locked in a place of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm? For most women, feeling overwhelmed is so common, that often times they don’t recognize overwhelm as a problem until it’s too late.
As a former corporate attorney, I lived with the belief that my worth was tied to what I accomplished. The more hours I billed, the more successful I was. The more I could cram into my already overstuffed life, the more worthy of a woman I was. It wasn’t until I was hit with full-blown adrenal fatigue that I realized that my overwhelm was not normal, desirable, or even necessary.
You can get everything done that you want and still maintain your health, sanity, and enjoyment of life. I’ll show you how.
What Causes Overwhelm?
Overwhelm is a state of intense emotion, where it is difficult to think or act rationally. The conscious, or rational brain, can only handle so much input at one time before it overloads and shuts down. Just like pouring water into a glass. It doesn’t matter how worthy the glass is, how thin, pretty, smart, or well-loved it is, the glass can only handle so much water.
Same with your brain.
Your brain can only handle so much input at one time before it overloads, short-circuits, and sends you into an emotional, physical, and mental tailspin. Stress hormones rage, blood pressure goes up, anxiety peaks, and effectiveness plummets. So does your sense of joy, satisfaction, and enthusiasm for life.
How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed
The way to stop being overwhelmed is to stop overloading your brain. Going back to the overfilling the glass example, if you wanted to stop pouring water all over your counter, you might do several things. You might put a paper towel or cloth under the glass to mop up any excess liquid. You might measure the glass and measure the amount of water in the pitcher. You might put a marking on the glass, right at the top, so you would have a visual reminder of when you should stop pouring in the liquid. And then, you would practice.
It’s the same with your brain. You can learn to manage your level of overwhelm with a little bit of awareness, some new tools, and a bit of practice.
The Top Three Tools For Managing Overwhelm
One – Create a Safety Net:
Similar to placing a paper towel under the glass, the first tip for managing overwhelm is creating a safety net. When you manage your expectations, and assume that things will not go as planned, you are better prepared. Not only that, you are pleasantly surprised and therefore happier when things go right, instead of disappointed, bitter, and completely thrown off track when things go wrong. What can you do right now, to better prepare for your day tomorrow? As Ben Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Two – Accurately Assess Both Your Capacity and The Volume of Work to Be Done:
Although you might have huge capacity, drive, and determination on most days, it’s how you are feeling right now that is relevant. We are not machines, and our capacity for work changes day by day. Whether you are fighting a cold, grieving a loss, or foggy from lack of sleep, if you want to stay out of a state of overwhelm, you must be honest in assessing your capacity for work each day. When you know that A) Oh boy, I’m on fire today! Or B) I’ll be lucky to make it to 3:00 without a nap, you’ll have an accurate picture of what you can expect from yourself.
Next, it is imperative that you are honest about the amount of work to be done. This is my biggest downfall. As a list maker, I love to start each day by making a list of the top three things I need to accomplish that day. Although this is a practice I highly recommend, and one of my top tips for helping others break free from feeling overwhelmed and out of control, it really is the accuracy and honesty of the list that matters.
Let me show you why. Often an item on my list looks like this:
- Finalize and post podcast episode
When really it should really look like this:
- Download Zoom recording of podcast and upload into WavePad. OOPS, WavePad requires an update.
- Edit show, adding intro/outro/promo.
- Contact guest for image and bio.
- Hop on Canva, create new show graphics.
- Write show notes. Edit show notes.
- Write corresponding blog. Edit blog. Convert blog to html for uploading onto website.
- Post show to Podbean. Add show description. Add graphics. Post show to website, do SEO, write summary, add different graphics.
- Email show to Dreamvisions7 Radio Network attaching images, notes, and blog.
Can you see the difference between what I have on my list, and what I actually have on my list? One of the best ways to manage overwhelm is to be realistic about what it takes to do what it is you want to do.
Three – Give Yourself a Fair Warning System:
If you are anything like me, you know yourself. You know when the tension is rising, when your shoulders are feeling tense and when you are clenching your teeth or snapping at your family. Right now, make a list of your top warning signs. No need to share this list with others, this is for your benefit only! Then, make a list of five to ten things that make you happy. Reading, taking a walk, stretching, dancing, calling a friend, or making yourself a cup of tea.
This is your fair warning system. Start tuning into your warning signals, and whenever you find yourself starting to slip into overwhelm, it’s your job to stop. No matter what is going on, it’s always appropriate to state what you need, and what you need is to stop and refocus. You can either use your second list, and go and do one of the activities that you know brings you joy, or you can go there in your mind.
I have a memory that I keep cued up in my brain of a glorious waterfall and lake in Hawaii where my husband and I swam. When I’m on the verge of overwhelm, I use that that memory to bring me back down to a state of calm. In my mind, I can feel the cool of the water and the spray of the waterfall hitting my skin. I hear my laughter, I smell the fragrance of the tropical flowers that were circling the lake, and I taste the sweetness of the kisses my husband kept planting on my lips as he’d swim by.
And instead of sinking into overwhelm, I relax and find my calm. And without fail, I end up getting far more done than had I pushed through and ignored my own warning system.
Starting today, which of these three tips might work the best for you? No need to overwhelm yourself with too much strategy around fixing your overwhelm! Simply start with whichever tip seems the easiest to integrate for you today. As time goes on you can add others, but for now, pick one and enjoy the calm and ease that will follow!
Want to learn more? Check out this interview with Christine Arylo, author of Overwhelmed and Over It! and learn
- How to stay focused on your mission and your part and stop getting distracted because you are doing everything for everyone else.
- Learn to balance between being a non-stop-work-machine and self-sacrificing martyr and stand in your power with clarity.
- The art and practice of getting real with yourself, so you can release what no longer serves you, preserve what does, and create the kind of life you desire.