Picture the scene: It’s 3pm, you’re hunched over your desk and you can feel tension sitting uncomfortably in your shoulders. A million thoughts are rushing around in your brain, and you can’t quite focus, but you must, because you still have so much left to do.
This is the feeling of being overwhelmed and it’s what happens when your attention is pulled in too many different directions. Consider it the mental equivalent of having too many tabs open. Unless you start closing off some of the distractions, pretty soon you’ll crash.
The brain actually perceives the feeling of overwhelm as a threat and triggers a series of survival reactions throughout the body. The overstimulation can weaken your problem-solving and decision-making skills, hamper your ability to learn and engage, and even affect your brain health over time.
Basically? Overwhelm is the enemy of productivity and left unchecked it can pull your focus not just away from your goals, but from the beauty of the present moment too.
If you’re a serious goal-getter - which we know you are - you’re probably wondering how you can get stuff done without falling victim to feeling overwhelmed. We have you covered...
How To Manage Feeling Overwhelmed
Find the source of your stress
Are you stressed out because you’ve taken too much on? Perhaps you just simply couldn’t say no to your boss and now you’re struggling to get everything done? Maybe you’re a bit of a perfectionist and you’re feeling overwhelmed because when it comes to your work, nothing less than perfect will do.
Once you know the source of your stress, you can resolve the issue that is making you feel this way and make plans to work through it. That means if you’re a perfectionist and a lot of your stress is self-imposed you can find ways to cut yourself some slack – and if you said yes to your boss when you really wanted to say no you can work on firming up your boundaries.
When you’re overwhelmed it can be easy to feel powerless. But we’re here to tell you something: No matter how bad things seem you always have the power to take back control.
Do it, delegate it, or dump it. That’s our motto when it comes to prioritising and the Eisenhower Method can be particularly useful when deciding what needs your attention ASAP and what can be put on the back burner.
To use it, jot down all your to-dos, and decide whether they are 1. urgent and important, 2. not urgent but important, 3. Not important but urgent, and 4. Not important and not urgent. Then? Schedule your tasks based on their urgency and importance.
Another method? Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog Technique. Instead of wasting your precious mental reserves stressing about that task you’ve been putting off, you simply ‘eat that frog’ by doing your most dreaded task first.
To keep on top of everything, use The Head Plan Productivity & Wellness Journal. It’s your productivity base camp, helping you to narrow your focus by choosing one main goal for the day and organising your top three tasks into a prioritised list.
Practice being in the moment
What’s the opposite of overwhelm? When you’re overwhelmed, you’re not in the moment. Instead, your mind is often in fifteen different places at once.
In a fraction of a second you could be worrying about how you’re going to get all of your work done, stressing about that email you have to send, or fretting that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
The good news? There are so many ways to calm a racing mind and bring your attention back to the present moment from meditation and journaling to deep breathing and hypnosis.
Here’s one of our faves: when your mind is racing, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and place your hand over your heart. You feel that? That’s your heartbeat, in every given moment it’s giving life to every single organ and cell in your body. It’s proof that you’re alive and a reminder that you are here on this earth for reasons greater than you can even imagine.
Take a time out
We know what you’re thinking: “I have a million and one things to do, and you’re telling me to take a break?” Yes, that’s exactly what we’re suggesting.
You owe it to yourself to protect your precious energy, so work regular breaks into your day, even if it’s only a few minutes to make a brew or a moment or two to take some gentle, calming breaths.
If taking a break is something you struggle to do, schedule it in. Research suggests that we can maintain optimum concentration for a maximum of 90 minutes, so try working your breaks around that.
Get it all out on paper
Did you know that researchers estimate we have around 60,000 thoughts a day? It’s little wonder we’re stressed. When your head feels like it’s swimming with thoughts, grab your journal and get it out all out on paper.
This practice is known as freewriting and it allows you to ‘brain dump’ your thoughts and clear out all that mental clutter that’s making you feel so frazzled.
Here’s a pro tip: write without judgement. This is for your eyes only so write away to your heart’s content until your stress begins to melt away and you feel a little lighter.
How To Prevent Feeling Overwhelmed
Here’s the thing, in our busy, busy world, overwhelm is pretty much inevitable. There will always be tasks and to-dos that require your attention and occasionally there’ll be competing commitments that require all of your attention at once.
The good news is, you can prevent overwhelm before it strikes. If you’re gearing up for a busy period in your life, try our three-step process:
- Set firm boundaries
- Double down on self-care
- Close some metaphorical tabs
That means saying no when you need to, using your Head Plan Journal to practice self-care every day, and eliminating unnecessary distractions - excessive screen time to name a few.
When it’s been a long day and it’s not over yet, your thoughts are running a mile a minute, and you’re growing tired of spinning plates, we want you to turn to these words by Max Lucado.
He says, “The key is this: meet today’s problems with today’s strength don’t start tackling tomorrow’s problems until tomorrow. You do not have tomorrow’s strength yet. You simply have enough for today.”
To put it simply, the antidote to overwhelm is focusing on one thing at a time. It’s giving your energy to what’s right in front of you and trusting that when the time comes you’ll have the strength to manage what comes next.
As Louise L. Hay puts it, “Your point of power is always in the present moment.” So, what can you do NOW?