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Overwhelmed with Overwhelm

“That's your solution? Have a cookie?' Astrid asked. 'No, my solution is to run down to the beach and hide out until this is all over,' Sam said. 'But a cookie never hurts.” ― Michael Grant, Gone

I completely agree! A cookie sounds great right about the time when I just need to be doing something with my hands and giving myself a minute to get into a better head space rather than in this overwhelm I am feeling about my whole life. My favorite cookie is a good old- fashioned chocolate chip cookie, gooey and soft right out of the oven. MMMMMM. Biting into that sweetness and feeling that deliciousness light up my insides and send my mind into euphoria for just one moment while my world crashes around me. Oh yeah, that’s my version of hiding out until the storm of overwhelm passes. But alas, overwhelm can’t pass on its own. But I did thoroughly enjoy the cookie.

What does overwhelm feel like to you? I mean, we know how it feels to be drowning in helpless hopelessness. To be burdened beyond reason, to feel like the entire world is crushing us to teeny, tiny pieces. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of overwhelm consists of mostly verbs, actionable words that take on a life of their own when we own the overwhelm. See if you agree: Words like, upset, overthrow, overcome, submerge, overpower, engulf, inundate, flood, drown, despair.

You could say that our country right now is overwhelmed with bad, devasting, disagreeable, heart wrenching news every day. Add that hopeless feeling to the individual who feels overwhelmed by their job, boss, co-workers, house clutter, children, illness, and their life in general and you’ve got a perfect storm of upset.

According to Forbes contributor, Joseph Folkman, “a global survey of 2,957 people found that based on their work life and work ethics 14% feel chronically overwhelmed. Of that group, 16% were female and 13% were male”. Interesting also was that “older respondents feel much less overwhelm”. The article goes on to say that “young people feel more obligated to volunteer for assignments and resist saying no”.

This extra work load, all those little things we can’t say no to, aids in the feeling of overwhelm which then makes people slow down which then leads to not getting projects done or turned in on time which then leads to feeling inadequate which then leads to a level of depression and anxiety which then leads to more overwhelm. Whew.

Think about a time when you made the choice to not take that summer vacation for fear that you would lose your job or lose your momentum on a project or someone else might take the lead to make up for your absence or perhaps you would lose your position because you didn’t put the work first. I believe our country is in desperate need of a vacation. Think about a time when you knew you were having a house full of people and you tried to get the clutter put away and sorted but you wound up just throwing everything into a closet instead and hung a skull and crossbones sign that said DO NOT ENTER?

If your work life is the foundation of feeling overwhelmed, if trying to find a work/life balance is just too daunting, read the full Forbes article here and get some helpful tips on how to turn that drowning feeling around and take control back without hurting anyone, most especially yourself.

If you are wondering if overwhelm is exactly what you are feeling you can take a quick assessment here and start taking control back right away based on the results you get.

So, what are the best ways to manage your life when you are feeling overwhelmed? According to the Huffington Post contributor Sura, “realize that feeling overwhelm is a “state of being.” “It has more to do with how to manage your time and energy, than the actual content of your life.” We each have a finite amount of time each day to manage. Sura reminds us that “Michelangelo, Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein also had 24 hours in a day.”

Sura prompts us to recognize and acknowledge how we feel. Here are some questions to help you become more aware of how you are feeling:

  1. Do you feel anxious?

  2. Are your nerves shot?

  3. Do you feel burdened and heavy?

  4. Are you feeling a sense of losing inner peace?

  5. Is it hard to breathe?

  6. Are you constantly stressed and tense?

  7. Do you experience constant pressure?

  8. Do you feel irritable most of the time?

  9. Do you feel a loss of fun in your life?

How to shift away from overwhelm:

  1. Stop! Give yourself the gift of time and space to slow down and breathe. Rest, regroup, refresh, renew, regain perspective and relax. You will be ok. Remember the instructions when you fly on a plane, “Put your oxygen mask on first so that you can then be of help to those next to you.” Take care of you.

  2. Decide what is most important to accomplish and make a list from most to least. It’s not that something won’t get done at all it’s just that some things are of more importance at this moment than other things. Even if you find that your least important items keep getting pushed further down the list, ask yourself if it really was so important to begin with. Perhaps those least important tasks will wind up getting taken care of within the important tasks.

  3. Break down your list further by breaking down your most important items into even smaller pieces. Item A is now broken down to item A1, A2, A3. Create a plan of action that is more manageable. Make each sub heading specific and definable not just general and open ended. Realize that by making these lists you are gaining control and when we feel in control we feel empowered and energized.

4. Say no. Get real with yourself first. If you know your schedule or list of to-dos’ is long and each item will take considerable time to complete, then you need to get real with yourself and your colleagues/family and simply say something like, “I know this is important to you and I would love to help but I must finish what I am working on first. I will check back with you when my project is finished, and I would happy to help at that time.” No hurt feeling, total appreciation for your honesty and you get to keep your feelings of overwhelm in serious check.

5. Are you by nature a people pleaser? Do you feel compelled to say yes even when you know that you don’t have the time to give away? I have a friend that hates saying no. When our friendship was new, and we didn’t know each other as well as we do now, I would throw out an idea for a get together and he would say yes, every time. Then his wife would have to be the one to tell me that it can’t be done and that we would have to try again another time. Now, I always only ask his wife when we can get together. Know your own values and character strengths. Had he said, “I have to check with the wife” or had he said, “I would say yes but it’s not completely up to me”, I would have respected that immediately. By taking time to know yourself and your breaking points you not only honor yourself but also those that are in your inner circle.

6. Do you feel emotionally paralyzed most days where nothing gets completed because you are devoting your time all over the place and yet nowhere at all? Get control one step at a time. Realize that feeling overwhelmed is a choice you make. Practice makes perfect. Practice techniques that will help you get to know yourself and only do what you know you can do. Stay present and mindful of your schedule and your feelings. This will help guide you and keep you in better control of your tasks and schedule.

7. Get support. I don’t know why we tend to feel bad asking someone for help? Is it that we think we should be super human at all times? Is it guilt we carry thinking that we are burdening someone by asking them for help? If you are feeling like every thought and every word you speak is in a form of complaining or heaviness or stress, then it might be time to unload some of your burdens to help you feel above water again. Very often when we ask for help the person or people we ask have felt the same way you are feeling in this overwhelm and their understanding is exactly the help you will need.

8. Do you take enough mental breaks to recharge? How about a 15-minute workout away from your desk? How about a 15- minute meditation to help you re-center yourself and get your second wind? How about a short walk or perhaps just concentrate on deep breathing? If it helps at all, set a timer and give yourself the gift of time to breathe and get centered.

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one”. - Mark Twain

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How was this article helpful?

Which of the symptoms weigh heaviest on you when you are feeling overwhelmed?

How possible are any of the tips to eliminate/minimize/simplify overwhelm?

Photo Credit: Abbie Bernet

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