5 powerful reminders for when you're feeling overwhelmed

If you're juggling too manyballs and feeling overwhelmed, here’s how you can hit refresh (without letting your balls hit the ground).

An increasing number of us are living with the exhausting daily reality of trying to juggle more and more balls in the air.

It’s not a reality we planned for or one we want to keep going into the future, but it’s one we increasingly find ourselves in at different phases of our lives.

Maybe it’s when you’re trying to nail the big project at work, get your feet under the table of a new job, plan a wedding or get ready for a holiday. Whatever the circumstances, they all add an extra dimension alongside what exists in your already full life.

It’s easy in these situations to feel a sense of overwhelm enter and take over and with it an increasing belief that what you are desperately trying to achieve is insurmountable.

Tangibly overwhelm can manifest itself differently in each one of us. Sometimes it shows up as poor sleep quality, frustration and anger or tears, shortness of breath, neck pain and exhaustion. 

Often we are feeling the impact of our sympathetic nervous system perceiving a threat and responding with a release of hormones which trigger the body to become tense, more alert and quick. This can help us in the short term when faced with physical danger but if the perceived threat is a longer term emotional threat, this reaction can put pressure on the body and lead to a range of stress related health issues such as adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure and digestive issues amongst others. In fact research shows us that 75-90% of all visits to Doctors are for stress-related complaints.

Researchers have documented rates as high as 50% among medical residents and 85% among financial professionals. Whatever the true figures it’s important to recognize the signs of overwhelm and address them before they turn into burnout.

Often, rather than addressing overwhelm, we try to numb it by turning to short term mechanisms like food, smoking and alcohol. Whilst they seem to provide a short term sense of relief, we know they never help in the long term and an add further issues to our list.

So how can we reduce the overwhelm and focus on the tasks at hand?

MAKE SPACE

Seems both counterintuitive and nigh on impossible when we’ve got so much to do, but once your sympathetic nervous system becomes overwhelmed your sense of clarity diminishes and with it your decision making abilities decline rapidly. Asking your nervous system to process more and more information makes the situation worse, not better.

By creating a sense of space around you, your nervous system can start to replenish and with it your ability to process information and make decisions. For some people this might look like a walk in the park without your phone, for others it’s a long hot bath or a swim at the local pool.

Rick Hanson in his book Buddha’s Brain suggests breathing deeply from your diaphragm along with visualizing yourself in a peaceful place like a forest or secluded beach.

Whatever helps your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and leave you breathing deeper and feeling lighter, do this first and things should feel very different. Remember that if you’ve been pushing your body hard for a long time it may take longer to recover and replenish, so give it the time it needs or seek help from your Doctor or another healthcare professional you trust.

STOP THE COMPARISON

So many of the reasons behind why we feel pressure stem from trying to live up to the lives of those we see around us. The image we portray to others can look very convincing, but the reality deep down can be so very different. We don’t see beyond the surface of most people in our lives so aren’t privy to what’s really going on inside of them.

Take the pressure off yourself and think about how much of the expectations you feel come from your assumptions about other people. You’re the only one living your life so you’re the only one who can decide if something is too much or not. 

GET CLEAR ON YOUR BARE MINIMUMS

When we are busy juggling balls, we often forget or ignore our basic needs, the things we need to take care of ourselves so we can function. This stems from the well known theory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and can help build our resilience and ability to cope with what life throws at us.

Write your own list of bare minimums but remember not to overcomplicate them with what you think you should have this is about what you need. 

Maybe it’s 7 hours sleep, time on your own (if only a few minutes), or with a loved one or movement of your body, gluten free food or a breath of fresh air. Get clear on yours and be faithful to them, day in day out despite the overwhelm. 

TAKE THE BIRDS EYE VIEW

When we’re busy in the detail of juggling lots of balls we can get so absorbed in all we’re doing that we become very detached from why we’re doing it. We can forget about what really matters and feel a sense of disillusion take over. 

When this sense of disconnection takes over it is so much easier to become overwhelmed because there’s nothing meaningful fuelling you forward.

Make a list of all the balls you’re juggling and for each allow yourself to answer the question ‘Why does this mean so much to me?” Whilst you’re doing this prioritise the list and do it base on what really matters to you. 

This can help you streamline what you’re doing if you realize there are things on the list that really don’t mean very much to you and it can seriously turboboost your efforts with a deep sense of meaning and intent. 

ONE STEP AT A TIME

A lot of our overwhelm is created from thinking about a future task we’ve not yet started, or the exhaustion that comes from working on two tasks at once.

A Harvard Business Review study found that workers who work on one task at a time accomplish 52% more than workers that multitask in the same period of time.

So practice focusing on one step at a time trusting that when the time comes to work on the future steps you will be able to give it your full attention and will get there a lot quicker if you don’t think about it right now. 

When the overwhelm has struck, we’re unlikely to achieve anything and risk sending balls flying left, right and centre. When we take steps to address the overwhelm, we’ve got a much better chance of juggling those balls until we can take a well earned rest.