One of the side effects of a busy life with many choices and decisions is the nagging feeling of overwhelm.
Can you think of a time when you had so many things on your list that you did not know where to begin?
I think that overwhelm can be described as the numb feeling of desperation that we experience when life seems to be spinning out of control. It feels like there is too much to do and too little time and the mind is jumping around from one thing to another.
Overwhelm is one of the main reasons behind a lack of action, feeling stuck and experiencing hopelessness and despair.
What are some of the ways that we can manage and get beyond Overwhelm?
1. Awareness of Overwhelm
The very first step towards managing and overcoming overwhelm is the awareness that you are getting overwhelmed by events, people or situations.
Do I frequently get overwhelmed?
When do I get overwhelmed?
Where do I experience this debilitating feeling?
Are there specific people who sap my energy out and make me feel overwhelmed?
Are there specific experiences that always leave me feeling overwhelmed like the visit of certain friends or family?
Everyone becomes overwhelmed for different reasons. Become aware of what makes you overwhelmed. You do not need to fix anything at this stage. It is often a powerful exercise to bring out the awareness of getting overwhelmed out into your open attention.
Many people think that admitting overwhelm, even to themselves is a weakness and continue to go on feeling stuck even though it does not feel good.
Become aware of the role of overwhelm in your life.
Make a quick inventory of what makes you overwhelmed.
2. Scratching Below The Surface: The Reasons
“There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” -Henry Kissinger
What are the reasons that we experience overwhelm?
When you scratch below the surface of overwhelm, you may collide with other issues.
Some of the reasons that I have felt overwhelmed in the past:
Uncertainty and not knowing how to proceed forward in a project.
Fear of success and fear of failure.
Expectations that are so high that they paralyze.
Assumptions that things need to be a certain way.
Feeling a loss of personal control and feeling like that nothing makes a difference.
Trying to do too much all at once and taking on too much responsibility.
Trying to do everything myself and unwilling to delegate to others.
What are the reasons that you experience overwhelm? Let me know in the comments below.
3. Slowing Down And Taking Radical Self-Care
“Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last. Just kicking down the cobble stones. Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.” -Simon and Garfunkle
I love the lyrics from the classic song above. Whenever I am doing too much and experiencing overwhelm, this song just pops up in my head. It is a reminder for me to slow down and enjoy what I am doing at the moment.
You may feel overwhelmed when you are doing too much all at once and when you are unable to touch the fun and groovy moments of joy.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ―Thích Nhất Hạnh
The quick solution is to slow down your hectic pace. Slowing down immediately brings a blast of fresh relief to your stressed out mind and body.
One of the quick ways out of overwhelm is to take radical self-care of yourself. Make time every day or a few times every week to do the things that really make you happy and allow you to slow down.
Whether it is…
brewing a pot of tea and enjoying it,
listening to your favorite music or taking a walk along the arts district of your neighborhood,
when you consciously make an effort to take care of YOU, you feel more relaxed and refreshed.
Another technique to get over the feeling of overwhelm is simple deep breathing. A deceptively simple but highly effective technique from the monk Thích Nhất Hạnh is while breathing in, you say, “Breathing in” and identify it as the in-breath and while breathing out you say “breathing out” and identify it as the out breath.
Sitting in silence and practicing gratitude are also wonderful ways to shift your focus away from overwhelm.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”- Thích Nhất Hạnh, Being Peace
Slow down and enjoy the journey.
Schedule in periods of “you time” where you do the activities that you love to unwind.
Bring the fun and groovy back in life by savoring the journey and finding things and activities that you love to do.
Focus on your breath as a method to uncouple from overwhelm.
4. Decrease The Number Of Choices
“Too many choices can overwhelm us and cause us to not choose at all. For businesses, this means that if they offer us too many choices, we may not buy anything.”-Sheena Iyengar, Psychologist and Economist
Too much choice paralyzes your best intentions to make an impact in your life because you are spending all your energy and willpower making decisions and mulling over them.
Research has shown that willpower is a limited resource and gets exhausted contrary to the popular belief that willpower can be limitless.
According to work done by Dr. Barry Schwartz and in his TED talk, he explains that giving yourself too much choice decreases happiness and makes you paralyzed. It is interesting that the consumerist trends in society have you believing just the opposite.
Schwartz says that too much choice has two negative effects on people. The first one is that it causes paralysis and not liberation. The second effect is that too much choice comes with an “opportunity cost.”
Opportunity cost is when you have to choose between many choices and you feel that the choices that you had to eliminate might be better than the one you made. The “what ifs” subtract from the overall satisfaction that you gain from a choice.
Schwartz gives the example of a research study done on investments in voluntary retirement plans done at a huge investment firm Vanguard. Ironically for every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, participation went down two percent. This is staggering because if the employer offered 50 funds, 10 percent fewer employees participated.
Assess if too much choice is causing analysis paralysis, inaction and overwhelm.
Become aware of the mental rumination of the after effects of choices and this opportunity cost may propel your thinking into overthinking and overwhelm mode.
5. Unitasking, the key to less overwhelm
“There’s no need to overwhelm yourself with thoughts, because you know that you’re just as good or better than some of the players you’re going up against.” – Cobi Jones
Multi-tasking sounds great as a technique but it is a recipe for overwhelm for many people.
Our conscious minds cannot process more that 110 bits of information per second. This means they begin to enter the overwhelm zone when too many programs are active at the same time.
According to prominent psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, in his TED talk titled, Flow, the secret to happiness:
“our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear me and understand what I’m saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That’s why you can’t hear more than two people. You can’t understand more than two people talking to you.”
Focus on unitasking instead of trying to do too many things at the same time.
6. Script The Critical Moves
“And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
In the book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, authors Dan and Chip Heath speak to this very issue of needing to have a very clear and easy to follow action plan in order to avoid confusion, analysis paralysis and overwhelm.
According to the authors, what looks like a resistance to change is often ambiguity or uncertainty or the lack of clarity on how to move forward on something.
The example that they give is how two West Virginia communities underwent a major change in their eating habits as a result of being coached by two professors on switching to 1% milk that has significantly less amounts of saturated fat.
The professors realized that the whole milk was the source of a big chunk of saturated fat in the diet of average people and here was a behavior that could be more easily changed than offering a complex dietary solution.
Instead of telling them to “eat healthy” or giving them a pyramid with a wide array of choices, all they required was giving them a foothold or a place to make a change in behavior that was not too difficult and not ambiguous.
The authors say :
“Ambiguity is the enemy. Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors. In short, to make a switch, you need to script the critical moves.”
Write out your vision for 1 year.
Break up the vision into many small manageable parts.
Take the first part and associate actions with it.
Begin with the first action… Pick one thing that is the most important task and complete it. Then go to the next one.
Script the critical moves and make them as unambiguous as possible.
7. Ditch Excess Criticism, Judgment and Perfectionism And Practice Detachment
“The law of centrifugal force seems to be as true for the human condition as it is for the Newtonian mechanics. The faster our lives spin, the more things tend to fly apart.” ― Richard Paul Evans
Excessive judgment, criticism and perfectionism have the capacity to keep your thought process engaged in negativity and use up the much-required mental energy.
When negativity becomes habitual, it uses up a lot of your available attention and leaves very little room for getting meaningful tasks and actions done.
As a result, people who get mired in criticism and perfectionism get overwhelmed with ordinary tasks because they simply do not have the energy left over to perform them. The result of course is overwhelm.
The solution is to become aware of the stickiness of negative thoughts and dispositions and to actively choose better alternatives, which are detachment and letting go.
Jettison excessive criticism, judgment and perfectionism from your life.
Become aware of negativity and choose to release it by practicing detachment from the stories that propagate them.
8. Reframe, Refocus, Realign and Take Tiny Steps
“Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance” -Unknown
It is very important that you refocus and realign your direction when you experience overwhelm.
When you get bogged down by the details of a project, it is best to put things in the proper perspective and to not assign too much meaning to the lack of forward motion.
Here are a few ideas:
It is better to focus on the solutions, and not just the problems.
Give yourself the permission to not do anything at all till you get grounded and are able to refocus on the solutions.
Take a very tiny step forward and decrease the expectation of what you think you need to accomplish.
Take action to bust through the fog of overwhelm. The idea is that you lay down one small brick at a time and that all the parts matter to the whole.
Now over to you! Let me know in the comments below if you have any techniques to overcome daily overwhelm. I would love to hear from you!