Feeling overwhelmed is not an easy state of mind to be in. Thankfully, with the right mindset and determination, you can overcome overwhelm.
Your heart rate increases. Your stress never seems to dwindle. You feel paralyzed without any choice or ability to drag yourself out.
I’ve definitely had my share of a life lived in complete overwhelm. I’ve been there as a chronic pain patient with failing health. I’ve been there as a military service member. And I’ve been there as a stay-at-home mom and entrepreneur. It sucks.
There is nothing quite as efficient as feeling overwhelmed in sucking away your self-esteem, your productivity, your sanity, and any aspirations you may have previously had. At some point, I do feel as though we all encounter this at some point in time (though some of us seem to live there more often than not).
What Exactly Is Overwhelm?
Overwhelm is difficult to explain because it is a feeling. It is not an action, place, or thing. It is abstract. You cannot hold overwhelm. You cannot see it or smell it. It is an emotional reaction to how we interpret ongoing events.
To put it simply: overwhelm is a choice you make about how you interpret what your life is like right now.
Overwhelm is a mindset.
Take a moment to read that again: Overwhelm is a mindset you choose based on how you interpret what is going on in your life.
Have you ever had someone tell you: “I don’t know how you manage life like you are. I would be so overwhelmed with everything you have going on…” (I heard that all the time while my husband was deployed with the Navy while I stayed home with no local support system, taking care of a toddler and pregnant, and growing a business)… or: “How do you handle everything you’re doing? I could never do that!” Meanwhile, you look at them with a blank stare wondering how you would be getting by without handling life’s curveballs.
Overwhelm is just a state of mind based on how we interpret what is going on.
We may not always have a choice when it comes to what we are doing and what we have going on in our lives. Let’s be honest… a lot happens in life that we truly cannot control.
We often subject ourselves to feeling overwhelmed when looking at our to-do list, visualizing everything that needs to be done, and understanding the time each line item takes to complete. But this is how we interpret the reality.
The unfortunate truth… you can’t function when you’re overwhelmed. This ends up leaving us in a downward spiral of feeling paralyzed. We have so much to do with so little time to accomplish it, that we become stuck. Meanwhile being stuck just means the list of activities and tasks we need to get done just pile up higher, requiring more time, while we continue to stare at it in this weird whirlwind of a time warp. The next thing you know, the week has gone by and nothing has been done and you’re scratching your head as to how you even managed laundry and cooking dinner.
Staying overwhelmed does nothing for you. It hinders productivity and makes everything worse.
The good news: we CAN control how we respond and react. This is where mindset becomes crucial and will make or break you. This is where you decide “I’m dealing with what I need to and I’m going to overcome” or you decide “I need to hide drunk under my bed until the storm passes.”
The Two Areas in Life Where Most People Feel Overwhelmed Are Time and Money.
If you’re overwhelmed with your time… the harsh reality is not that you don’t have enough time, it is what you’re choosing to do with your time and how you’re prioritizing your time.
We all have the same amount of hours in each day that we allocate to what we feel is important. Sometimes this comes down to needing to take the time to learn how to manage our time more efficiently.
If you’re overwhelmed about finances (which 90%+ of people are), then it is time to re-evaluate spending habits and find ways to increase your income.
7 Steps To Overcome Overwhelm
1. Understand You Are Not Out To Prove Anything
First and foremost… you DO NOT need to prove anything.
You don’t need to prove your value.
You are valuable, but you’re not going to notice how valuable you are when you’re spinning your wheels trying to prove it to everyone else.
You don’t need to prove to the world how important you are by how busy you keep yourself. Being valuable and important is not synonymous with being busy. That will only put you on the fast track to more overwhelm (or keep you there).
2. Determine What Is the Minimum You Have To Do
Kick overwhelm by breaking things down to what you absolutely need to do.
My dad used to ask me one question when I would hit the burned-out, overwhelmed mindset. He would ask me, “How do you eat an elephant?” And the answer was always: “One bite at a time.” Look at your big goals and break them down into “bite-sized chunks.”
There are a lot of “good ideas” and “perfectionism” that *can* go into everything… and there is ALWAYS more that we *could* do, but the truth is… sometimes we make things more complicated than we need. Efficiency is key… so break down those larger tasks into smaller tasks and determine what exactly you need to do.
And remember KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly.
Turn off the noise from your inner “good idea fairy” and get back to basics. What absolutely needs to be done? What is the quickest way you can possibly accomplish that task, without compromising quality?
And don’t forget the importance of taking a break! You need breaks of fun and solitude to re-center and grow your creativity.
3. Acknowledge That Feeling Overwhelmed Is a Choice
Whether you realize it or not, you chose to feel overwhelmed. It isn’t something that just happened to you. Life doesn’t happen to you… it is simply cause and effect based on choices you make or choose not to make.
When you start viewing and believing that you are overwhelmed based on your choice to interpret your life as being overwhelming, you take the first step to personal accountability and shift out of the mindset that keeps you trapped as a victim of your circumstances.
While we can’t always choose our circumstances, we can choose to hold ourselves accountable for making the most of what we are dealing with and overcoming the situation.
4. Realistically Look At Your Time Constraints
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It refers to the adage: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” What does that mean? Basically, if you take a task that could only take an hour to complete but give yourself 8 hours to complete it, you will end up using all 8 hours to complete that task.
Ask yourself… realistically, is there room for change? Can you alter the deadline? Remember that the work you have to do will expand to fill the time you give yourself for it, so if you can complete that task in less time, then give yourself a closer deadline. If you need more time, see if there is a way to extend the deadline.
Often we become overwhelmed when we see large, time-consuming tasks crammed into too short of time constraints, or we fail to break down larger tasks into smaller ones.
Definitely take a moment to cool off, reassess your timing, and see what changes you can make.
5. Review Your “To-Do” List
Two questions you need to ask yourself:
- Is EVERYTHING on your “to-do list” really necessary?
- Do YOU need to be the one to do everything?
There is a huge difference between “what you can/should do” and “what you need to do.”
It is easy to get caught up in the mindset that no one else can do the task as well as you can or how you can. Giving up that control can be so incredibly liberating.
So, if it is a task that is absolutely necessary, do you really need to be the one doing it?
Recommit to the Outcome That You Want To Create
Two questions to ask yourself:
- You need to know “why” you are doing these tasks.
- What ultimately got you feeling overwhelmed?
You cannot be productive or creative when you’re overwhelmed. Looking at the end result of what you’re trying to accomplish with a fresh perspective helps so much in redefining your to-do list, then incorporating which tasks actually need to happen to accomplish your goal (and omitting the “would be nice” tasks that don’t actually need to happen, and delegating any tasks you’re able to delegate).
7. Decide and Define Your Next Action
What is the one thing that can pull you out of this? What can you do to take action and move forward? Then, create an action plan with necessary smaller tasks that build up to accomplish larger goals.
While you recognize there is a lot to do within the time you have set, acknowledge that feeling overwhelmed is an actual choice, and look for how you can manage your time, become more efficient, delegate, ask for help, or scrap tasks.
Then, figure out what you can do next to move forward out of being stuck and into being productive.