Where do I begin?Dealing with overwhelm
Do you ever go through periods of time where ideas or tasks stack up?
You’re considering a career change, you want to start writing a book, to change careers altogether, maybe even countries.
You look at your list with a sense of panic and feel defeated. All you manage is to add to the list, when you should really just start with something.
But when you tuck in, things don’t go smoothly, you can’t resolve the first item. You pick up another, and you stall again. It’s a complex task to deal with, too.
You try to plan your timings – this task depends on the completion of that one. This task is more important to me than that one. This idea is a long-term plan; it can wait.
But this approach doesn’t work either. Days go by and you beat yourself up for not having finished a single thing. Suddenly, you’re quite happy to spend more time at the gym or to deal with petty errands… anything that’ll help you dodge the damned tasks.
Visibility over the list is poor. It becomes impossible to see connections; to see a way out. Everything is important and with time passing, priorities keep changing.
And often, without you realising, the one item on your list you’re procrastinating about, is actually the most important. It gets lost among the other ingredients of your discomfort and drains you from your energy.
You’ve reached the point where you want to be relieved from the burden of guilt and anxiety, but a little voice is telling you “don’t bother even starting!”.
This is a great time to develop self-awareness – to understand that the voice isn’t you. Be mindful of it, but ask it to leave you alone. You’re better than the voice, and you deserve some respite from the ache of feeling swamped.“If I am feeling stuck in life...it is because I’m afraid of something...”-E. Gilbert Click To Tweet
I find that the best way to deal with the sense of overwhelm is to take the following steps:
- Call someone – a friend, a mentor – anyone who can listen, not necessarily even give you advice. Tell them about your concerns and why you’re blocked. Take time to go into detail and see what comes out of it. What fears are holding you back? What solutions haven’t you noticed, which were sitting in a corner of your mind? You may experience that classic feeling of suddenly finding the answer as you’re asking your own question. You may unexpectedly find solutions later on, when you’re having a shower, for example.
- Make note of the one task, which you think is the most daunting of all. You’ll need to respect that one, as it will keep causing you anxiety until you’ve dealt with it. The sooner you start tackling it the better. Act on it gradually but be sure to do this continuously.
- Have your to-do list ready every night before going to bed. Make a list of the top three tasks you want to achieve. Visualise completing them calmly the next day. Sit with the feeling of pride, relief and satisfaction.
- Aim to tackle the first and most challenging task first thing in the morning, with a fresh and calm mind. Continue with the next tasks. Refuse to be distracted and don’t allow yourself to question the importance of completing the tasks at hand – the decision was made with a clear mind, have the confidence not to undermine it.
- Alternate difficult tasks with more enjoyable ones. Surround a painful item with satisfying work. This should give you the confidence to tackle a trickier one – it can be very empowering.
- Create a sense of momentum – set deadlines if you don’t have any. Get other people involved – organise meetings and calls – commit to producing some questions and documents at these times (e.g. if you’re thinking of changing careers, ask to talk to someone in the field you’re interested in, prepare to pitch yourself and have a clear list of questions ready)
- If you’re really stuck, give yourself a break. You’re most likely struggling to find clarity. Go for a walk, enjoy the moment. If you can, take a day to focus on other things, ideally nice ones!
- Reassess the importance of your tasks and start with what is absolutely essential. Be ruthless in your choice.
- Commit to spending ten minutes on an item of your to do-list. Only ten minutes. See if more work ensues.
- Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be naughty about a task, to ignore it until it’s almost too late. Creating a sense of urgency can help some of us to be more assertive, especially perfectionists, who are often master procrastinators.
Whatever happens, don’t blame yourself for feeling overwhelmed. It happens to everyone. You’re most likely worried about something. The key is to remember to come back into the moment and stop worrying about the future, to focus fully on what you are doing now.
“Essentially, over the years, I have learnt this truth: If I am feeling stuck in life then I can be certain it is because I’m afraid of something, and I just haven’t faced it yet.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
I’d love to hear from you!
- How do you cope when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
- Do you have any tips you’d like to share?
Please use the comments section below or email me at charlotte(at)astoryworthliving.com to share your thoughts.
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