Feeling overwhelmed is an awful experience. Knowing there is so much to accomplish. Not feeling like you have the energy to complete the tasks. Glancing at the clock just enough to feel the pressure of time passing. The felt experience of anxiety that often comes with feeling overwhelmed is stressful.
What causes overwhelm?
There are many causes of overwhelm. Today there is one cause of overwhelm I want to focus on. Let me set the situation up.
You spend time deliberately planning your day. You review your calendar the evening before. The next morning you check to see if you have a good handle on the day. Arriving at your place of work, you feel ready.
An email pops up with a request. You spend time answering the email. That email triggers your memory about something else you must follow up on. You open up an internet browser, committed to handling that task. You promise you will only spend 10 minutes following up on this situation.
While you are working on this item that is on your mind, you begin to feel pressure. You didn’t plan to work on this. You keep thinking you should be working on something else. Whatever you had initially planned to work on, based on what you have entered into your calendar.
In this situation, here is when overwhelm can show up.
Your brain needs some clarification. You already told your brain what to expect. You reviewed your calendar and informed your brain of “the plan.” But now that plan has changed. And if you are a leader in a fast-paced industry or an entrepreneur, your plan can continue to change quickly.
The feeling of overwhelm happens when we want to be doing something we aren’t actually doing because we are doing something else. The sense of overwhelm can also show up when we are physically or mentally in one spot, and we want to be in a different spot (i.e., at work late trying to wrap something up rather than attending your kiddo’s soccer game). The experience is frustrating because you want to be in two places simultaneously. And your brain doesn’t know what to focus on.
The brain needs direction.
What to do when overwhelmed?
Here is the irony, you want to go fast to accomplish your to-do list, yet if you want to decrease the feeling of anxiety and being overwhelmed, you have to slow down.
While this may be really annoying to hear, it works.
Taking a moment to pause. Take a deep breath. Change your posture. If you are sitting, stand. If you are standing, sit. If you are running around, slow your pace. Acknowledge you are feeling overwhelmed.
With another deep breath, ask yourself, what am I doing right now?
Is this the best thing for me to focus at this moment?
Asking ourselves these questions allows the brain to get on board with the program. We become clear we are choosing what to focus on. This gives the brain direction.
Another way to slow our thoughts down is to slow our bodies down. Intentionally walk and move slowly. You will probably feel your body resist this change in pace. It’s okay. Stick with it.
As you slow your body down, notice your self-talk. Chances are your self-talk is stuck on the thought loop of “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve, don’t want to, and didn’t .”Notice this and then choose to focus on a different thought.
Here are some supportive thoughts:
- You’re alright. Take it nice and easy.
- One step at a time.
- You’ve got this.
- You are doing great.
- You can only do one thing at a time.
Feeling overwhelmed can be caused by many things. Doing what we have always done gets us what we have always gotten. Try something different. And remember focusing on what we can control is an excellent place to start.