11 tips on how to deal with overwhelm by Mark Pettit of Lucemi Consulting

Coping with stress and overwhelm is an essential capability to develop.

Overwhelm can leave you feeling stuck, trapped and unsure of what action to take.  Learning coping skills to deal with overwhelm is you take the time to treat the causes of overwhelm.

Overwhelm creates a level of complexity in your mind making it difficult to think clearly and be effective.

As a time management coach I’m often asked how to deal with overwhelm. 

Let’s start with a simple definition of what overwhelm is.

Overwhelm is a manifestation of stress.  You can feel overwhelmed when you have too much going on or you have too many obligations. These experiences can cause you to feel a level of anxiety that you can’t handle everything.

The impact of feeling overwhelmed include feeling exhausted, confusion, forgetfulness, procrastination, difficulty in staying focused and an ability to make decisions and take action. 

Overwhelm causes distraction and lessens your ability to problem solve and be productive on your most important work.

Overwhelm is that in-the-moment sense that you just can’t handle it all.  If you are feeling constantly overwhelmed, there are some simple strategies you can use to prevent overwhelm.

In this article I’m going to share 11 tips on how to deal with overwhelm so you can feel clearer, more focused and be ready to take action on your most important projects and goals.

How to deal with overwhelm 

Here are 11 tips on how to deal with overwhelm.

1. Accept that you’re experiencing overwhelm 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck with more than you can handle it’s important to accept that you feel overwhelmed. You can’t get out of overwhelm until you recognise where the overwhelm is coming from and make the necessary changes.

When you’re overwhelmed it’s important to pinpoint the stressors or activities that are overwhelming you.  A good starting point is to look at all of the activities you are currently undertaking and identify which ones are causing you to feel overwhelmed.

This will help you diagnose the projects or activities that are causing you to feel overwhelmed or stressed.  You can then explore whether eliminating or delegating specific activities will help you deal with overwhelm, and take the necessary action to create real change.

2. Stop your overwhelming thought process

If you want to change overwhelm inducing thoughts it’s important to step away from the overwhelm.  When we think that a project, challenge, stressor or situation is too much for us to manage we feel overwhelmed.

Overwhelm can affect our ability to think and act rationally so it’s important to get some breathing space to consider the cause of the overwhelm.  When you feel overwhelmed in the moment you can’t think clearly.

Stop your overwhelmed thought process by going for a walk, breathing deeply for a minute, meditating or just simply taking a break from work.  Do what you can to calm your mind so you stop feeling overwhelmed from stress or anxiety.

When you can think clearly and logically you can identify the cause of the overwhelm and take the necessary steps to reduce that overwhelming feeling.

3. Focus on the present moment 

If you want to let go of overwhelm the first thing you can do is stop everything you’re doing.  When you have the courage to stop what you’re doing you can diagnose the cause of the overwhelm and take the necessary action.

Overwhelm expands the more you stay feeling overwhelmed.  You can’t work through overwhelm hoping it will just stop.

To stop feeling overwhelmed I focus on being present.  I stop what I’m doing and focus on one important task, and work on that until complete.  This helps me stop thinking negatively about my overwhelm and helps me focus on the positive.

If you’re feeling stuck with overwhelm right now, it’s important to focus on the present moment and focus on just one thing.  Divert your energy and focus from everything else apart from the present moment and doing just one thing at a time.

4. Take action 

Overwhelm is a type of mental and physical paralysis where you feel unable to think clearly or take action.  Feeling overwhelmed can also cause you to procrastinate and waste time and energy on unimportant projects and tasks.

The best way to deal with overwhelm is simply to take action.  To get in motion so you can make progress and build momentum.

Take action by deciding on one specific thing to work on.  Start by identifying the first step and focus on getting that done.  Don’t worry about anything else apart from that one thing in front of you.

Take the first step.  Get it done and then move onto the second step, and so on. 

The simple act of taking action on just one thing will help you feel clearer and less overwhelmed.

5. Take time out to gain clarity

If you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s time to do something about it.  To deal with overwhelm stop being immersed in your overwhelm and take some time out so you can clear your mind and think clearly.

Overwhelm makes everything feel bigger and more complex than they often are.  This overwhelming feeling causes stress and anxiety in the moment. 

When you take some time away you can look at the specific things that create the overwhelm and gain some clarity about actions you can take to get rid of the overwhelm.

6. Set better boundaries   

Overwhelm happens when you don’t have your boundaries set and you keep adding more and more to your to-do list.  You feel overwhelmed when you overcommit to achieve sometime in too short a deadline.

The antidote to overwhelm is to stop saying yes to everything and start sating say no to yourself and others more often.  You can reduce overwhelm when you choose to only take on things that you really want to take on.

It’s easier to deal with overwhelm when you simplify your to-do list and manage your daily objectives, rather than continuously adding to them.

7. Organise your day

If you don’t organise your day, other people will do it for you.  If you organise your day, so you have clear direction and focus, it’s easier to not feel overwhelmed.

A lot of overwhelm comes because all of a sudden you’re distracted or you’re reacting to everybody. So, in the moment, you feel like you have too many things to do, and you don’t know which one to focus on first, so you feel overwhelmed.

Or you lose focus from your original task, so you feel like you’re falling behind.

But, if you block your time out well during the day and, most importantly, you begin the day knowing exactly what you want to achieve, it will help you minimise daily overwhelm.

Now, there will be days when things happen which throw your planning out of the window, but they will be rare if you plan ahead.

By knowing what you want the day to be all about, and what you want to achieve, it will help you deal with those moments of overwhelm because you have greater direction and focus

8. Take time to rejuvenate

We often feel overwhelmed when we’re tired, fatigued or exhausted.  When we can’t think clearly and make decisions, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

To manage day to day overwhelm, it’s important to take breaks between projects or tasks.  If you jump from one major project to another, your energy levels will drop.  It’s important to take breaks and give your mind and body a chance to reset and recharge.

Your brain needs silence between projects to bring your full focus and creativity to the next important piece of work.

If you don’t take some time away, you’ll get distracted and get overwhelmed.   I always take breaks during important projects and use the 60-60-30 time blocking method.

This method allows you to work for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break.  Then work for a further 50  minutes and take a 10 minute break.  Finally, take a 30-minute break before starting again.

These breaks could be for exercise, a quick walk, meditation etc.

9. Plan your day in advance

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the end of the day if you haven’t finished everything on your to-do list.  The best way to overcome that is to have less items on your to-do list.

If you have so many things going on during the day, and you’re just jumping from one thing to the next, it’s difficult to get a clear handle on what you achieved, what didn’t get done and what needs to happen tomorrow.

To stop this overwhelm carve out 30 minutes at the end of the day, or in the early evening, to celebrate what you achieved, identify what important things didn’t get done that day and lay out your priorities for the following day.

This way you’ll end the day feeling good about what you achieved, rather than overwhelmed, and be clear and focused about your plans for tomorrow.

10. Set better deadlines

We often experience overwhelm when we set unrealistic deadlines, or add another project to our existing deadlines.

Reduce overwhelm by getting clarity on what a realistic deadline looks like.

If you don’t set realistic deadlines you put too much pressure on yourself, or scramble to meet other people’s deadlines.

You may have a preferred deadline, but it’s important to get clear on whether achieving it is realistic or not.

If you’re working each day without a clear and real deadline, it’s easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed all the time.

If you put too much pressure on yourself to deliver work in too short a window, chances are you’ll feel overwhelmed.  Give yourself a bit more time, and you’ll feel clearer and more confident about delivering the work.

11. Get some perspective 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed regularly, it’s important to get some perspective.  Perspective will help you feel more positive, and give you the ability to deal with the challenges that create overwhelm.

You can work with a coach, find an accountability partner, or speak to your boss or a peer.  Simply sharing your stresses with them, and exploring ways to overcome your overwhelm will help. 

Summing Up 

If you are feeling constantly overwhelmed the 11 strategies I’ve shared will help you learn how to deal with overwhelm.  It’s important to identify the primary source of overwhelm and change your mindset if you want to get rid of overwhelm.

Handling overwhelm takes commitment and courage.  You can deal with overwhelming feelings if you take some time out to identify the cause of overwhelm and focus on what’s in front of you rather than trying to power through your feelings of overwhelm.

This article was originally published on the Lucemi Consulting blog.

About the Author

Mark Pettit is a time management coach based in Colchester, Essex, UK. He is the Founder of time management coaching company Lucemi Consulting.

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