Can I teach you my 10 simple steps to dealing with overwhelm?
You wouldn’t be the only woman to have too much to get done in too short a time period.
I know I have…
Of course the problem is that the more overwhelmed you get, the more ineffective you get at dealing with overwhelm. Overwhelm is kryptonite to your executive functioning, so the worse it gets, the worse you get, and the vicious cycle repeats.
Oddly, I haven’t been at problematic overwhelm levels for quite some time.
Don’t get me wrong…
There’s an insanely, ridiculously, stupid amount of things going on most of the time in my life. I’m sure you and I are the same on this: there is always way too much to deal with on any given day, and the “to do list” is insatiable. There are moments when I’d love to just throw in the towel and go on holidays for, like, 5 years! Indeed some people do. But for me it’s when life becomes it’s most wildly chaotic that I realise just what is important.
When life gets especially nutty, somehow I find a certain wildish grace through it all.
I’m not saying I’m perfect (there are still sometimes tears and snappy comments). However, with every year that passes I get a bit better than the old version of me would have been.
So can I share with you what gets me through?
10 simple steps to dealing with overwhelm
This is first and foremost. Without creating time to breathe, step back and look at the big picture you’ll get into wheel spinning detail, and then progress to panic very quickly.
Get up from what you’re doing, break state- go to a café for a cuppa, go for a walk, take an exercise class, punch a cushion (not your spouse). What you do doesn’t matter, that you change what you’re doing does.
2. Recognise it’s OK
It’s important then to have a quiet little conversation with yourself to give yourself some support. Tell your inner perfectionist to take a hike, and let your inner child know its perfectly normal to be overwhelmed and stressed when you have ALL THIS *$#! going on.
Sometimes reassurance that stress is a reasonable response is a good place to start. Accept you’re not at your best, recognise it’s fine that you’re not, and for the love of God don’t start feeling like a failure. Every normal functioning human being has cycles: times when they are great, and times when they are not so great at dealing with life’s adventures. So this time is not so great. So what? That’s life!
3. Dump it out
Having given your inner child a little pep talk you’re now ready for what I call the dump. Grab a fresh piece of paper and a pen (and a cup of tea- all this is to be done with much drinking of tea ;-). Now, write down every little thing you have to do, that’s causing you stress and eating at your attention. Get detailed; right down to the looming deadlines, the babysitting for sis, the work to review and the dripping tap in the ensuite. All these things are competing for attention right now. Write them all down.
4. Best Friend Deleting
This doesn’t mean you delete best friends. Though if they are the cause of the problem – well- perhaps!
Instead, this is a very specific approach to your list. The first pass through the list is with your “Best Friend” Hat on. Imagine you were your own best friend. You are the best friend of the wonderful, talented, but currently overwhelmed person. As your own best friend go through the list and cross off or delay anything at all that you can.
One of the secrets to dealing with overwhelm is that it is never interminable. Your current state of depleted functioning is just that- your current state. Tomorrow, or in three days, or next week you’ll be back to your normal self and be able to get 18 times more done than you can do today simple because you are feeling rubbish. So delaying is often a fine strategy.
So with your best friend hat on, if you wanted to save this poor creature from unnecessary heart ache, what would you delay or delete altogether for them.
5. Best Friend Delegating
Of what’s on your list now, what could you possibly give to someone else? A staff member, a neighbour, a friend, your Dad? Of course, we all know they won’t do it as well as you, but let’s face it, you’re not doing ANYTHING just now in this state, so anyone is a step up from you! Ask for help.
6. Refocus on the big picture
Sometimes we cause ourselves overwhelm when we are trying to fit a ridiculous number of teeny tiny tasks into an even teenier schedule. But when you look at what your intention is behind the task, the task itself becomes defunct.
For example- I remember a time a couple of years ago when I really wanted to spoil my sister because she was feeling overwhelmed. (Isn’t that the way? We always overwhelm ourselves when trying to save others from overwhelm!) So I thought I’ll cook her a meal and take it over to her, and be a listening ear for everything that was going on. Great idea right?
Well, first I had to go and buy all the ingredients, and it was so busy in the supermarket, I left fuming. Then I slaved away making this fancy boeuf bourgignon thing which took hours. All the while I was getting more and more stressed because I hadn’t done what I needed to do at work. The meal wasn’t turning out right. I was getting stressed. I had told Kath I’d be at her place at 7. It was already 8 and BAM!- overwhelm struck. After a moment of tears and tantrums, I took a step back from what was going on.
I realised my INTENTION was to be a listening ear for my Sis. But instead here I was on the opposite side of the city, cooking something I had no idea how to cook- when it would have been far easier to drive over three hours earlier, buy a bottle of wine and pizza en route and chat. Which fulfilled on the intention far better anyway!
So remember- what’s the big picture? And is this task getting you closer or further away? Ditch, delay or change the task accordingly.
By the end of this process you should now have a smaller list that is actually an adequate reflection of the intentions that are competing for your attention at present. Now go through and prioritise. Give each task a grade.
A= Absolutely has to happen today (challenge yourself on this- is anyone going to die? Remember, you’re not at your best just now, you’ll get 18 x more done tomorrow!)
B= Brilliant if you could get it done today, but not essential to life.
C= We’ll “C” if we get to it today!
Then, for each A, assign a number from 1,2 3 and onwards in the order of how you’ll do them. Do the same for the Bs and the Cs
By the end of this process you know what you need to do. It’s time to get back in action…
8. Make tea
(Self explanatory – you need lots of tea)
9. Eat the elephant one mouthful at a time.
You’ve heard the joke right? How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time. So its time to start with A1. Do it. Then A2. Do it. Then A3. Do it. And after each one TICK IT OFF AND CELEBRATE. Give yourself acknowledgment and accolades and continue for as long as you can maintain your state.
10. Rest and reward
It’s crucial that after an emotionally challenging day like this that you take some time to unwind. A bath, a movie, a massage. Whatever it takes to get you to a place where you’ll sleep well. Remember – it’s not about time management; its about energy management. So a small investment at the end of a big day pays massive dividends for the rest of the week.
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