Overwhelm is becoming a major cause of stress and anxiety for many people. In today’s fast-paced world, we have access to so much information at the touch of a button. We are never far away from an email, SMS, or social media notification. So it’s important that we learn effective ways to overcome overwhelm.
We also have higher goals and aspirations than ever before. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, relax! Take a deep breath and let’s get started in learning how to overcome overwhelm.
In this article, I will cover what it’s like to be overwhelmed, the 2 fundamental types of overwhelm, and the difference between overwhelm and burnout. I’ll also cover the 6 key components of overwhelm.
I’ll then cover the 10 best ways to help you overcome overwhelm. I cover many of these ways in depth and some may surprise you!
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How Do You Know If You Are Overwhelmed?
You are experiencing overwhelm if:
- You’re not enjoying what you are doing, and your mind is busy thinking about other priorities.
- You find it difficult to concentrate.
- You can’t make the best decisions, because your anxiety levels are too high.
- Your life is unbalanced, as a result of spending too much time in one area.
- You no longer enjoy activities you found pleasurable and fulfilling in the past.
- You feel stressed.
The 2 Types of Overwhelm
There are 2 types of overwhelm. These are:
1. Having too much on your plate. You have too much to do. There are many competing activities and priorities. You are not sure where to start.
2. Having too much information. Because of the internet, even simple things, like booking a holiday, can feel overwhelming. There are so many review sites to check before you book. With an abundance of information (often conflicting), it can feel like you don’t know where to start.
Overwhelm or Burnout
What is the difference between overwhelm and burnout?
Overwhelm is having too much to do or too much information right now. It’s short term.
Burnout occurs when you’ve been working too hard for too long and you’re exhausted. Your body and mind need a break, so it’s crucial to take some time to rest and recover.
The 6 Components to Overwhelm
To help you better understand how to overcome overwhelm, I will cover the 6 components to overwhelm.
1. Unrealistic expectations.
When you have high and strict expectations or you set very challenging goals, this puts unnecessary extra pressure on yourself. This creates additional stress and if you don’t achieve your goals, you feel like a failure.
2. Taking on too much.
This means saying “yes” to everything. Saying “no” feels bad for many people. You could be rejected if you say “no” and feel guilty. But saying “yes” to many unimportant things creates frustration and resentment. You realize that you are not following your dreams, achieving your goals or following your own path. This doesn’t feel good inside. It’s often worse than the feeling of guilt when you say “no” to people.
3. Putting too much pressure on yourself.
This often comes from listening to negative self-talk such as:
- What am I doing wrong?
- I’m not good enough.
- Why does it all have to be done right now?
This internal critical self-talk creates extra pressure that you don’t need.
Trying to make something perfect will always take more time than making it good enough. You then have less time for other things on your to-do-list and you’ll feel even more overwhelmed.
This perfectionism tendency often comes from the critical self-talk I already mentioned. Challenge that inner voice. Listen to it less or ignore it completely. This will reduce or stop the need to do things perfectly.
5. Being unable to relinquish control.
This is wanting to do everything yourself. Perhaps it’s because you don’t trust others, or you believe that no one else can do the job as well as you. As a result, you struggle to delegate things to other people. This leads to a mountain of tasks that only you believe you can do. More tasks equal greater overwhelm.
6. Identifying yourself as an overachiever.
Being an overachiever, especially in the Western world, makes many people feel special and proud. Your extensive list of past achievements and future goals makes you stand out from the crowd.
But if living up to this makes you feel stressed and overwhelmed, then it’s time to let go of identifying yourself as an overachiever. This will help reduce overwhelm, and you will feel more relaxed and happier.
The 10 Ways to Overcome Overwhelm
Now that you understand what it is, I will cover 10 ways to help you overcome overwhelm.
1. Brain Dump
When you feel overwhelmed, there is a lot going on in your head. Your mind is cluttered, and you can’t think clearly. I call this “cloudy thinking”.
The solution is to get this all out of your head and on to paper or your computer. Write or type everything down. No need to order or prioritize. Just do a brainstorm or brain dump.
This will have a cathartic effect. It will help you release emotions, get things off your chest, and clear your mind.
There are a few ways to do this. One is to use the “3 Ds” method.
The 3 Ds Method
The 3 Ds stand for Delete, Delegate, and Delay.
- Is this task necessary?
- Do I need to do this task at all?
You won’t always know the answer to these questions. You may need to try something without knowing if it will help or work. For example, a specific health supplement that might help with a chronic health condition. Or a specific business idea or strategy.
However, if you can, decide if a task is really necessary before you do it.
- Do I have to do it?
- If it needs to be done, do I need to do it myself?
I’ll cover delegation later in this article.
- Does this task need to be done today?
- Could it be delayed or postponed to a later date?
This will help you with prioritizing.
The Tim Ferris Method
To prioritize efficiently, Tim Ferris uses 3 questions:
1. What are the 20% of activities, responsibilities, or people that will give me 80% of the results and positive emotional states that I want?
I love the fact that he includes positive emotional states in here. It’s not only about results, it’s about feeling good too.
2. What are the 20% of activities, responsibilities, or people that are creating the pain and negative emotional states in my life?
This is about identifying anything that drains your energy.
3. What would this be like if it was easy?
Let’s say you’re writing a book and you think it will take you 3 months. What if you could write it in one week? To write a book in one week, you might need to involve other people or pay to get some work done. This question challenges your thinking and opens your mind to doing things more effectively or quickly.
Some other questions to help you with prioritizing could be:
- What is the most important thing for me?
- What is the most important thing that will make me more fulfilled and happy?
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What intuitively feels like the right thing to do?
3. Plan Your Day Effectively
To overcome overwhelm, it’s important to set realistic goals and plans for the day. It’s good to aim high and stretch yourself, but don’t overdo it. Having many unfinished tasks on your to-do list at the end of the day increases stress and makes you feel like a failure. Ask yourself, “Does this really need to be done right now?” and be brutally honest with your answer.
Create time blocks. Allocate chunks of time for your daily tasks in a calendar. After each of the major time blocks, you can include 10-15 minutes of reset-time for meditation, a brief nap, or for a quick walk.
Schedule some catch-up time later in the day – 30 to 60 minutes to deal with tasks that overran. Or for phone calls that disrupted your schedule. You can use this time later in the day to recover and get back on track. This safety buffer will help you overcome overwhelm.
4. Pause or Take a Break
When you feel overwhelmed, your mind is full of stressful thoughts and this can create a vicious cycle. Thinking about those thoughts and all the things that must be done, creates more stress and anxiety. You can’t think clearly.
Taking a break allows your mind to reset. You only have a finite amount of mental and emotional energy available. Even if you allocated 15 hours a day to get everything done, you will find that your energy wains and you’ll become less productive as the day progresses.
Taking breaks will help recharge and replenish your mental and emotional energy. When I have an entire day available, I start with great intentions to get a massive amount done. However, after 4 or 5 hours, I lose concentration and focus and feel like I need a break.
When you pause or take a break, you want to slow down your mind. Reading the news, checking in on sports, or randomly surfing the internet, will keep your mind active. Activities such as meditation, taking a nap, or going for a walk allow your mind to slow down and rest. This recharges your mental and emotional energy.
The “Pause Exercise”
- Meditate. Start with a 5-minute meditation to calm your mind and regain mental clarity.
- Observe emotions. Observe your emotions with a sense of curiosity and non-ownership. Realize that these are purely emotions. They are not you.
- Write them down. Write all your emotions down. If you know why you’re experiencing them, write that too. This will create a sense of separation between you and the experience, so you can see it more objectively.
- Acknowledge that your feelings are temporary. See them as clouds in the sky. Imagine that the blue sky is the real you and the clouds that are passing are your emotions. Acknowledge these emotional clouds, with a genuine sense of curiosity. This will help them pass more quickly.
- Plan your next steps. Ask questions such as “What am I going to do about it?” Then write down all the answers and options. Consider all these options rather than the path you feel you must take. Often when you’re overwhelmed, you’re thinking is very rigid and focused on one solution or way out. Planning your next steps, whilst in a relaxed state, will provide you with options you hadn’t thought of.
5. Change Your Mental and Emotional State
When you’re overwhelmed, your primary focus is on getting all the work done as quickly as possible. You’ve got so much to do and you feel the easiest way to overcome the overwhelm is to get the work done. But you want to resist that temptation. Why? Because the overwhelmed mind is closed, frantic, and reactive. It’s not the place to do your best work.
Your mental and emotional state affects your productivity. You get so much more done when you’re in a positive emotional state.
So, how do you change your mental and emotional state? How do you regain that open, creative, and confident mind?
Well, the best thing is to stop working and get your body moving! Physical exercise will change your mental and emotional state. If you have the time, do a full 45 to 60 minute workout. Otherwise some jumping jacks, pushups, or yoga poses can help. Going for a quick walk or a run is also an excellent idea.
If exercise isn’t your thing, call a friend or watch some funny videos on YouTube. Have a good laugh! This will change your mental and emotional state.
6. Change Overwhelm-Inducing Thoughts
An important way to overcome overwhelm is to deal with overwhelm-inducing thoughts. These are typically negative or uncertain thoughts. It’s thinking that you:
- lack control.
- can’t work fast enough.
- aren’t doing the right thing.
- aren’t good enough.
These thoughts form the backbone to overwhelm. The solution is to question them.
Ask yourself, “Are these thoughts reasonable and realistic?” If not, change them. Remember, you are not your thoughts. You are the person behind your thoughts. You can ignore or challenge them. You wouldn’t blindly accept criticism from another person. So don’t do that with your thoughts either.
To deal with challenging and overwhelming thoughts, ask yourself 3 questions:
- Is this thought accurate?
- Is it reasonable?
- Is it helpful?
Example 1 – “I will never get this done.”
Is this thought accurate? No, it isn’t. It includes the word “never”. The reality is you will get it done.
Is this thought reasonable? Probably not. It would depend on what the task is and your ability to do it.
Is this thought helpful? Definitely not. It will not help you get this task done.
Now you have answered these questions, it’s time to come up with alternative thoughts that are accurate, reasonable and helpful. Here are some examples:
- I’ll do as much as I can today and I’ll ask for help or an extension if I need to,
- If I split this into smaller chunks, it will seem more doable and I’ll be able to measure how I’m progressing.
- If I take a break, I’ll be able to think more clearly. I’ll be more productive and I’ll do the right thing”.
Example 2 – “I don’t know the best option to choose.”
Is this thought accurate? No. there could be several options that could be equally effective.
Is it reasonable? No. It’s unreasonable to assume there is only one best option, when several great options might exist.
Is it helpful? No. “I don’t know” is an unhelpful thought because it doesn’t give you any choices or solutions.
You could change this thought to “I’ll research and decide the best option for me, knowing that I can change it later if I need to. Besides, I’ll learn from this experience anyway.”
So challenge overwhelm-inducing thoughts and change them. The new thoughts will lead to positive emotions and behavior. This is a very effective way to overcome overwhelm.
7. Be Conscious of Time Spent
When you don’t have any immediate time pressures or deadlines, it’s very easy to coast through the day and achieve very little. This is especially true when you don’t plan your day in advance.
The solution is to decide how long certain tasks will take and then block out that time in your calendar. Then use a timer to track how much time you spent. I use TogglDesktop to track my time. It’s free.
What happens if you get to the end of the time block and haven’t finished the task? Well, for starters, don’t beat yourself up! Instead, either make a conscious decision to continue the task right now. Or create a new time-block to complete it later. It’s important that you make this a conscious decision.
Many people are unaware of how much time they spend on certain tasks. And then they wonder why they feel so overwhelmed with all the things they didn’t do.
8. Consume Less Information
If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information available, then consume less of it! This seems like a simple way to overcome overwhelm, but it’s easier said than done. The internet makes it so easy to go into information overload.
When planning to purchase a product, there are many review sites to help you make the right buying decision. Same with researching holiday destinations or accommodation. It’s so easy to spend hours reviewing all the information and then feel overwhelmed.
When researching different therapies, diets, marketing techniques or pretty much anything else, you will find an immense amount of information and paths to follow. And the information, advice and suggestions are often conflicting.
When I was getting ready in the mornings, I used to listen to marketing podcasts. However, I soon became overwhelmed with all the different and conflicting information. So, I decided that I knew enough for now. This significantly reduced the feelings of overwhelm that I had around growing Self Help for Life at the time.
It’s very important to be selective and strategic with the information you’re consuming. It might seem like a good idea to listen to podcasts when you’re doing other things, but if that makes you feel overwhelmed, then perhaps it’s time to turn them off!
Also, don’t blindly assume that other people’s advice (especially from experts), is right for you. There have been many times in the past where I’ve followed certain advice for business, personal development, or health and found that it was not right for me. It’s hard to avoid this sometimes.
The key message here is to consume enough information to take action. Once you take action, be aware of how this feels in your body. Does it seem like the right approach? Often your intuitive or gut feeling can be very helpful here.
9. Ask for Help
One of the best ways to overcome overwhelm is to get help from other people. There is a great saying which is, “You can do anything but you can’t do everything”. It’s impossible to do everything yourself, so enlisting the help of others is so important.
Why I didn’t delegate or ask for help
For the first 18 months of Self Help for Life, I did everything myself. This included designing and creating the website and learning about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), so I could rank my content higher on Google. I produced image quotes for social media, researched and wrote articles, recorded and edited videos, and published content on many different platforms.
I was very busy and needed help. But I was reluctant to outsource some of these tasks to other people for several reasons.
Firstly, Self Help for Life wasn’t making any money at that time. I didn’t want to spend money when I wasn’t making any.
Secondly, I felt I could do everything better myself. I had a fear that someone else wouldn’t do as good a job as me.
Thirdly, I believed I would have less control over the process. I didn’t want to give up control. Perhaps you can relate to that?
Lastly, I knew it would take more of my time in the short-term to train another person to do some of my tasks. This is often a challenge. You might need to work more hours now to train someone else up, so they can take work off you in the future.
These reasons stop many people from delegating tasks or getting help from others.
Getting help from others
I encourage you to ask the following question. “What am I doing that someone else could do instead?” Ask this question for all the different areas of your life.
Maybe it’s chores around the house. Perhaps your partner could help you more. Or you could get your kids involved in return for extra pocket money.
If it’s at work, perhaps you can talk to your manager and renegotiate your workload. Managers are not always aware of how much you have on and will keep giving you work. Sometimes, you have to tell them politely.
Some people are reluctant to ask for help or talk to their managers because of fear. They’re afraid of looking like a failure or seen as unable to cope. However, it’s simply being assertive and honest about what you can do. It’s about knowing your limits and asking for help when you need it.
10. Set Boundaries
To overcome overwhelm, you want to remember that time is your most precious resource. You cannot replace time. You only have 24 hours in a day. So you want to spend it wisely. Learn to say “No” nicely to other people’s requests.
Resist saying “yes” if you know you will regret it or feel resentful later. When saying “No”, offer other alternatives or solutions. Perhaps there is someone else that can help or another way of meeting their request.
Set time limits for different areas of your life. I limit Self-Help for Life activities to 3 to 4 hours a day, so I can also spend time on my hypnotherapy business in Sydney. Ensure that you’re scheduling time for the gym, family, relaxation, and hobbies.
As much as you can, focus on your own wants and needs first. It’s not always easy, but you can do it.
“Wants” are your goals, desires, and aspirations. “Needs” are more around relaxation, self-care, and having a sense of connection with others.
Understand what your needs are. Then find activities that will support those needs. Maybe you need a certain amount of time alone or for certain hobbies or creative tasks. Perhaps you crave social connection, so time with friends is an important need for you.
Finally, email and social media can be huge time-wasters. Set limits on how much time you spend checking emails or on social media, especially if it’s overwhelming for you.
So these were my 10 ways to help you overcome overwhelm. I hope you found them useful and I encourage you to apply these into your life right now.
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