“I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibilities, expectations, and lack of time.”

“I’ve tried delegating tasks, taking things off my To Do list, creating boundaries and saying ‘No’ to more things–these time management strategies just aren’t doing the trick.”

“I’m needing to find ways to lessen the burden, create more breathing room, and feel less anxious and edgy all the time.”

I receive messages like these, from people just like you, all the time. 

From the outside looking in he looks like he’s got it all figured out, that he knows exactly where he’s going.

People marvel, “Wow! How does he do it all, and make it look so easy?” The truth is you don’t. You’re barely holding it together, starting to fray at the seams. You might not fall apart today, or tomorrow, or even next week, but the overwhelm is building, as is the persistent uneasiness in the pit of your stomach. If you’re honest with yourself, you’re scared, at times hopeless, and feeling stuck with no one to turn to. Your friends are also your peers, and your parents don’t understand this new terrain. You’re tired of going it alone.

Does this sound like you?

If so, you’re not the only one. There can be a lot going on in our mind making us feel stressed and like it’s all too much. However, dwelling on feelings of overwhelm, and letting them knock you off course can be detrimental not only to your productivity, but to your overall well-being too. While these feelings can be difficult to avoid in today’s wild new world, dealing with the overwhelm is often less about managing our time and tasks, and more about managing our thoughts and emotions. 

For some of the greats, this comes naturally. But for most, they work hard, behind the scenes with experts like myself and my colleagues, to reboot the programming that successfully got them to the top, but won’t keep them there. Somewhere along the line they had to make the switch and learn a different way of operating. Being a conscious, inspirational leader is absolutely a learnable skillset. 

If you’re managing a team of any kind, or hoping to one day, and you’re feeling overwhelmed and/or stuck, with more than you can handle, more often than you care to admit, and you’re ready to move forward differently—better handle the strong emotions that arise in these challenging times—I’ll tell you what I tell my clients…

Three Common Causes Of Overwhelm, Aside From Work Volume

1. Fear of “Bad” Outcomes

Think back to the last time you really wanted something to go a particular way–did you have a lot of fear of a “bad” outcome happening? Even though you did everything you could to influence the result you wanted? 

If so, you’re not alone. This fear can get intense and cause us to feel overwhelmed. Our anxiety compels us to avoid what we’re afraid of, and yet avoidance only leads to more fear and reinforcing the story that the thing we’re afraid of is actually something to guard against.

The next time you notice you’re worried about something “bad” happening today, think about how likely that outcome really is. Ask yourself–Has it happened many times in the past? Is it the most likely outcome? Are there other things that could happen instead? By looking directly at what we fear, we can see things more clearly and begin to lessen our feeling of overwhelm.

Next, choose to redirect your energy toward the things that are in your control. Walk yourself through it in your mind and how you would respond if the thing you fear were to arise. I bet you’ll see a way you could manage through it. 

Often, the things we worry about don’t end up happening, or they’re not as bad as we initially thought, thus the anxiety we experience causes us unnecessary suffering.

2. Uncertainty

Have you noticed that since the pandemic began you’re questioning yourself more than usual? Are you taking a fresh look at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it? Are you asking yourself if you’re on the “right” path? At times feeling anxious about your health and well-being, and that of your loved ones?

If so, you’re not alone. Uncertainty puts us in a very uncomfortable state and can cause us to feel overwhelmed. While we may want to know in advance how our lives will go, this wish leads to a lot of stress and anxiety—we resist reality and fight internally against our circumstances. As soon as we turn to projections about the future, we divide our attention between the object of our focus and the moment we’re experiencing. Often we aren’t even aware this is happening. But as long as our energy is being split, there will always be a sense of conflict, or stress in the mind. 

So the next time you find yourself struggling to be. Here. Now. Consider forgiving yourself for the past and making peace with the future. So that you can stay present for your life. For today. Try and make today a good day—go for a walk in nature. Connect with friends. Be with your children. Read a book. Do whatever brings you joy. You will find that some of the stress in your mind can be alleviated, just by being present for your life.

When we let go of our anxious preoccupation with the future, we accept that uncertainty is baked into life, which puts us in a stronger place to choose how we respond.

3. Mind Racing With Thoughts

Do you feel guilty taking time off, or anxious about returning to work and what awaits you there? What I’ve found working with the best and brightest leaders is that it’s often about more than a ballooning inbox. The more self-critical questions lurking just beneath the surface—“What if they don’t want me around anymore? What if they realize they don’t really need me? What if they see, what I fear most, that I’m just not that valuable?”

If so, you’re not alone. Whether it’s fear of a “bad” outcome, the inherent uncertainty of life, or a loud inner critic, these concerns can make our mind race with thoughts going in every direction, which can easily bring on overwhelm. 

Instead of trying to push these thoughts away, we can learn to observe and accept them. A lot of stress can come from trying to get rid of, or suppress the feelings. Instead, just try to acknowledge them and let them be there.

To begin practicing greater awareness and presence, try this mindfulness technique the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and disproportionately out of sorts.

  1. Slow down and notice the feelings in your body. Is your breathing quick and shallow? Is your face flush? Is your chest tight?
  2. Take 5 deep, fortifying breaths in, and long exhales out.
  3. As you do so, feel your mind begin to center and calm itself. When your thoughts sneak back in, as they will, just notice you’ve been distracted, let it go, and come back to your breath.
  4. Check in with your body again. Are you still holding tension? If so, repeat steps 1-3 until your body has relaxed and released the stress.
  5. Come back to the email, event, or individual and re-examine the situation. Feeling more settled, with a clearer mind, you can see a way through. Can you access the intuition and creativity that has gotten you here. Can you respond in a way that allows you to set the tone and show up as the leader you want to be, instead of the reactive, dismissive one.
  6. Your team respects and appreciates you more, because you show up for them, rather than shutting them down.

You can be aware of and let the emotions arise in you, without having them take over.

They will eventually pass, and they usually do so more quickly when we don’t resist them. With this approach, leaders are better able to set the tone and lead in a more conscious way. 

If you find yourself struggling to regulate your emotions and set the tone of your organization by leading in a more conscious way, feel free to reach out and see how I might be able to help you sharpen your tools, to lead more effectively.

Or check out these other musings:

Great Leaders Set The Tone

3 Emotionally Intelligent Practices To Upgrade Your Leadership

Shifting From Impulse To Greater Choice