Spring is here. You’ve got time to do all these things you have always talked about. Yet this sense of overwhelm is keeping you from getting started. Maybe you’re vegging out with video games, talking on the phone, or laying around instead of doing even one of the many things you need to do or want to do. It just feels like being in the ocean being hit with giant wave after wave and you just can’t get up. Life still demands that you be “on”, but you can’t get going.
What do you do when you’re overwhelmed?
First, take a chill pill. Relax. Meditate. Breathe. Take a hot bath. Have a cup of coffee or tea for five or ten minutes. Do nothing. This will give your nervous system a chance to down regulate so that you can see clearly and feel more balanced. If you are really keyed up, make it fifteen minutes. Or thirty. You say you don’t have time, but this is a really important step. The effectiveness of everything else you do is impacted by your ability to attain calm for just a few moments first.
Put on your mindfulness cap. See things as they are, not how they feel they are. It may feel like people are judging you, things have to be done perfectly or right now. It might feel like the world is coming to an end. Is that really true?
Get Clear on What You Need Right Now
While you are here, ask yourself what you need right now. Do you need to fall apart? Fall apart. Do you need to be with someone else while you fall apart? Ask for help. Maybe you just need to admit that things are out of control before you can move on. Or is this about forgiveness? A need to end something? The desire to feel heard? Whatever it is, use this time to do some self care. Only when you’re good (or as good as can be under the circumstances), move ahead.
Make a Mindful List
Now, with your mindfulness cap on, make a list of the things you have to do. Stick to bullets and small chunks like “do the dishes” instead of “clean the kitchen.” Delete any commentary or judgment. Remember, we’re making it a mindful list.
It’s easy to get distracted. Especially if we want to be distracted so that we don’t follow through with what we don’t want to do. Set yourself up for success by reducing distractions. Distractions are one more thing to pay attention to and add to the sense of overwhelm. So turn off your phone. Stop checking social media and text messages. Close your door. Reduce the background noise, and get to work.
Avoid Making New Commitments
People who have a hard time saying no can create huge piles of commitments for themselves that they don’t have time to follow through with. Learning to say no is a form of self care. You matter. Self care matters. Relationships are important too, but for now, “no” is a magic word that will help you dig yourself out of an overwhelming hole. Just say no.
If you can give some of the load to someone else, delegate. Great leaders are neither micromanagers nor do-it-all types of people. They work as a team. If delegating is possible and within healthy boundaries, share the load. If it’s all your work, perhaps you can still ask for help. That’s what friends do.
It may seem that the most important items on your to do list should be done first. No. When you’re overwhelmed, the most important thing is to get started, so we’re going to do that by targeting the thing that is easiest to accomplish. Maybe it’s even something fun. If you have a list of ten things and you can knock out three very quickly and easily, it will give you a psychological boost to see that you’re a third of the way there. That can give you juice to keep going on the things that take longer or aren’t so enjoyable.
Gratitude helps us get through everything. Maybe you focus on being grateful to have a job to do. Maybe it’s about being healthy or skilled enough to do something. Be grateful to have the money to do something or the time. Be grateful to have a family or partner to do things for. We’re all abundantly lucky. All we have to do is look around and see it. When we know why we’re doing what we’re doing, it makes it easier.
There may be many steps between you and your goal. Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” So take that step. And then take another, and another. Slowly you the sense of overwhelm will ease, the scenery will change, and things will look very different. Just keep going.