Feeling overwhelmed by life? Hmm, you are not alone. It is something I’ve struggled with and what we ALL struggle with at some point in time…and for various reasons. It is a symptom of our modern society, with its fast-paced corporate world, rapid turn around of ideas, an influx of information and wanting it all. Here’s what I’ve learned about feeling overwhelmed with life and how to address it.
What Does Overwhelmed Mean?
What is overwhelmed?
Collins English Dictionary explains it like this: “If you are overwhelmed by a feeling or event, it affects you very strongly, and you do not how to deal with it.”1
Being Ahead of the Curve
I once regarded myself as highly resilient. I was a high achiever! YEP! I was like – bring it on! I gained a lot. And, there was no such thing as feeling overwhelmed at work, or at home…
I remember feeling not a tad overwhelmed in planning my wedding years ago. And, feeling wholly excited, rather than overwhelmed, about the new beginnings when moving cities, moving house and re-renting, or having to buy and sell real estate or any significant life-changing purchase for that matter. Though admittedly, I felt stressed, I don’t recall feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
Instead of reducing stress, I purposefully sought out stressful situations, like moving cities, changing careers, and undertaking higher education, including a Masters and Ph.D. in the life sciences.
In some ways it was like a drug — the challenge and pleasure or ‘high’ associated with each achievement made me thirst for more. Maybe it was me seeking approval among my peers or in society perhaps. In any case, such a stress response I suspect was driven by my ego.
Not Dealing with Life Then
Then, there were the major life events – the deaths of my special and favorite people, including my mum and my dad, and then the passing of my fur friends — just some of my losses.
Nevertheless, I dealt with these (or so I thought), just like I dealt with the relationship breakups that made me feel frazzled but not necessarily thinking about the overwhelming feeling. The worst thing that can happen with loss is to get stuck in denial.
Frazzled I was, as a single mum (and an orphaned one at that) juggling parenthood, the household, a job and study at the same time. Let’s face it, being a parent can be stressful when you’re trying to provide a sustainable future and, especially doing it on your own, and maneuvering the singles field.
Then, there was my profession, where I juggled attaining higher education and taking on new roles during times of poorly managed organizational restructures that resulted in eradict changes and immense uncertainty in the workplace.
Resilience Goes Ta-Ta
Yep, you guessed it. All of the above took its toll. No one is exempt. In my opinion, we all have a threshold to resilience.
Sometimes, I felt like staying in bed, pulling up the covers and wishing the world would go away. That’s feeling overwhelmed.
Other times, I couldn’t sleep, with my mind racing over everything I had to do and leaving me incapable of dealing proficiently with the barrage of requests that awaited me the next day. That’s feeling overwhelmed.
Accumulation of Stress Affects Mental Health
I’m not one for working under pressure at the best of times. I much prefer to plan and complete with time to spare. Oh, and I’m probably a bit of a perfectionist, so I like time to review and redo. Short on time? Adds to feeling overwhelmed.
Unlike me, my friend produces brilliant work under pressure. She utterly amazes me in this respect.
But, even she buckles, feeling overwhelmed, with an accumulation of life stresses. At these times, inertia sets in, she accomplishes nothing and finds herself on a downward spiral of feeling overwhelmed and doubting herself. Many of us suffer from this. I consider this analogous to a ‘well’ that has reached and surpassed its threshold level of ‘take’.
Life events take from this well (of resilience), depleting it gradually or even suddenly, depending on how events take place and accumulate.
When Life is Overwhelming
Continuing from one stressful situation to the next without recharging the well eventually leads to depletion nearing the threshold limit. At this point, just a single or minor event can be enough to breach the limit. I have heard a case of a grown man crying at the thought of having to take out the rubbish.
Everyone has a threshold limit and even the most resilient can be affected.
So, life events take from the well and without recharge or closure (which may never be complete), the well becomes depleted. Your own and others’ perspectives, your personas, and the ego can’t fill the well and, possibly they add to the depletion of the well.
It’s time to develop new ideas about the resources to draw on.
The best resource, I’ll say here, is your Self.
Take notice of your intention and intuition and use these to guide you. You can do it and you’ll discover what you need to know to do it. This means trusting in your intuition, being in the flow and accepting that change happens.
When I Feel Overwhelmed
For me, I have come to realize two forces combined cause me to feel overwhelmed and potentially on the brink of burn out.
- Looming deadlines (either self-imposed or externally controlled), coinciding with
- Multiple simultaneous demands wanting pieces of me
Oh. wait! I’m a woman. For women, there’s a third: timing. Things can get a lot worse at certain times or stages in our lives (darn hormones).
Thus, it depends on what else is happening – how many balls are in the air, energy levels, hormones, diet, sleep patterns or other internal or external influences.
So, here’s what I found works.
Where to Start When Feeling Overwhelmed?
What to do when feeling overwhelmed?
If that ain’t enough…
My best advice to rid your head of stubborn worrying thoughts is to start with a brain dump. Next, break that brain dump down into achievable bits (or chunks). Most importantly, the chunks need to be steps that you know you can achieve so as to let go of that feeling of being overwhelmed with no control over things.
1. Write Down Everything That Wants a Piece of You
(clear the decks)!
Do a brain dump. Don’t matter the order or whether it makes sense, just write it down on paper. You might find this emotional. If you do, just go with it.
Doing this declutters the mind, lifts the load and helps overcome feeling overwhelmed. For me, it’s a crucial step.
2. Describe Your Goal
Goals help you channel your energy into action – Les Brown
Identifying your goal(s) comes next. Where do you want to be or need to go? Include a timeframe for reaching each goal. And why it is important to you.
- Write down the goal as if you have already achieved it (like: “I have…” or “I am…”) in specific terms.
- Note the start and end dates/times. If no definite end-date, set one that is reasonable.
- Write down why you want this goal (the benefits to you and others specifically).
3. Write Your Plan
This can simply be a dot-point list or …a mental plan of attack for each goal, even. But, I strongly recommend you write your plan down for reasons I mentioned earlier to overcome feeling overwhelmed.
Sometimes it helps to work backward from the end date and end goal to identify the chunks. What do you need to buy and by when? (e.g. when do you need to order a ham or turkey by?) Who do you need to invite? What do you need to make?
List the Things that Need Doing
When you have all these things running around in your head and not down on paper, you suffer inertia or a feeling of no control over your life, or worse, overwhelming anxiety.
You might feel stressed with the demands leading up to the Christmas break, or in completing a special project or event. It’s not just about having lots of things to do and not feeling in control, but also stressing about whether that you’ll get them done satisfactorily (especially if you are a perfectionist).
A lot of people cope with this using lists. You know … the guest list, the gift list, the grocery list, the drinks list, the hire-equipment list, etc. etc.
I find writing lists down helps heaps. But… only after identifying the goal.
A list is the basis of a plan.
- List the items needed to achieve your goal
- Then prioritize them in order starting with ‘1’ as the most important
- ‘Chunk’ the items together where they fit
Once you have your brain dump and ‘chunks’:
- Prioritize the chunks and the bits that make up the chunks
- Identify the bits that make others redundant. This is explained well in The ONE Thing – where choosing one action or item makes the others disappear
- Refine your list (this can be ongoing as a review and a refine)
4. Schedule in Downtime!!
Schedule tasks. Be honest with timeframes.
But…most important — schedule in downtime (factor in things to you that are fun, enjoyable satisfying, rejuvenating).
Sounds counterintuitive but it’s so valuable.
How? Try getting outside in nature, having a change of scenery or interacting with others — all can help tremendously.
Going and relaxing can lift the burden from your mind to “clear your head”.
If you are an introvert, using the time for introspection is important for recharge. If you are an extrovert, then you’ll want to mingle socially to recharge. You might be amazed at how more productive you will be on your return after that time away.
5. Visualize Achievement
Each day, try and use visualization. Visualization Meditation is a good technique for this.
- Imagine you have already achieved your goal (play it out in your mind’s eye). If you worded your goal as if you already had achieved it, repeat those words in your head. Reinforce this by imagining the smells, sounds, tastes, sights, and touch associated with the goal.
- Imagine completing your task(s) for that day. To advance this, include a special room in your visualization where you have assistants that might include a mentor, coach or another specialist, and documentation that helps you with your tasks.
- Note the personal qualities you will develop in achieving it.
6. Reward Yourself
In this, you acknowledge completing the chunks with a reward/celebration
AFTER COMPLETING TASKS ALONG THE WAY make time to CELEBRATE THE WINS!
Rewarding yourself is energizing and helps with future motivation
Also, being able to tick off each task on completion is satisfying and this helps in reducing stress.
Tools to Help
For writing your goals and lists, choose a journal, diary or planner that resonates with you. I tend towards using one for each segment of my life. In fact, I suggest you keep one special journal, diary or planner for the purpose of this activity.
Have you tried Trello?
Trello is an online organizer, calendar, and team collaborator. I use this as well. It’s so flexible and easy to use and a good tool to help avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Zack had suffered burnout and you might recall I mentioned a person brought to tears with having to take out the rubbish. Well, that was Zack.
I was completely burned out and depressed. At one point, the mere thought of having to take the trash out brought me to tears. I decided I was going to stop treating myself like a Ford Pinto and start treating myself like a Ferrari.Zack Arnold
Zack’s Course List included: Fitness In Post | Optimize Yourself | Trello For Post-Production
- A calendar (online or hardcopy) as a simple way of planning and scheduling.
- Reminder apps (iTunes or Google Play)
- To-do apps (iTunes or Google Play)
Self Care and Putting It Into Perspective
How big is your problem? Look at it from the whole of Earth perspective. Look up at the stars. Observe the full moon rising and the sun setting. Does the problem become minuscule in proportion?
What’s the worse that can happen?
Get outside, get some sunshine and take in the fresh air to lessen stress. Take a break from your phone, computer, and tablet and get in touch with the real world.
Beware of burn out or even brownout.
Words of Wisdom
Every now and then go away.
Have a little relaxation.
For when you come back
To your work
Your judgment will be surer;
Since to remain constantly at work
Will cause you to lose power of judgment...
Go some distance way
Because the work appears smaller
And more of it
Can be taken in at a glance,
And a lack of harmony
Is more readily seen.
~ Leonardo Da Vinci
Lastly, but not least, communicate.
- Communicate to your inner Self – reflect, pray, listen to music, imagine, and meditate (or some other similar daily habits)
- Get outdoors for fresh air to clear your head and let the universe communicate
- Talk about it… verbalize it, shout it to the ocean, the trees, the birds
- Enlist the help of family, friends or team members, seek input from others. Like ants and bees in nature, humans can achieve greatness through teamwork.
- Tell someone (who you’re comfortable with) about your concerns. From my experience, the other person may not have the answers, but the mere fact I verbalize it often frees my mind allowing ideas to flow into my head. And, the load always seems lighter to carry.
- Get a mentor and coach. If you can afford it and desire it, enlist professional services. If not, and no one presents on the physical plane – access your best and free resource – incorporate a mentor and coach in workshops of the mind during visualization meditation (more about this in future posts).
Feeling Overwhelmed Can Happen Anytime
For example, with running a business, managing staff, planning a wedding, renovating or building a house, studying for exams or with being a working parent or just living. No one is immune. What are the ways you have found helpful?
Hi, this is Mary-Anne. I have a PhD in Earth Sciences and a whole heap of other life experiences. I am a believer in wellness through wildness. This is about connecting with the nature within and the nature around to keep fit and healthy in body, mind, and spirit. I enjoy researching and writing about natural things that support our wellbeing and then sharing the benefits I discover.