Do you have so much on your plate that you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed?
Do you sometimes feel you’ll never get through your list of priorities? Or that you’re constantly reacting to someone else’s requests?
Even when you enjoy what you’re doing, when you feel daily pressure to take care of yourself, your family, your team, and your work, it’s easy for stress to set in.
Juggling between work, family, and our personal needs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what can seem like a never-ending list of priorities and to-dos.
When you’re overwhelmed or working from a place of anxiety, it’s difficult to make the best decisions for your career, your business, or your people. It can actually stunt your professional growth and keep you stuck – especially when your wheels are turning day in and day out. It can also prevent you from enjoying your days the way you otherwise could.
You may find yourself busy but not making the progress you like – or working much longer days and not getting the time for important priorities outside of your business. This pattern gets in the way of you appreciating life and the fruits of your success the way you could.
Yet in this time of fast-paced lifestyles, 24/7 connectivity, and heightened commercialism, it seems that everywhere we turn there’s a demand for our attention.
And on top of that, in the U.S. we are working longer hours and taking less time off.
The result? More stress and less time for ourselves and our loved ones.
Given all of this, what can you do to get back to a place of more control, ease, and even enjoyment?
8 Ways to Overcome Overwhelm
Here are 8 stress management techniques to help you begin to overcome a sense of overwhelm – and the anxiety that goes with it – in order to live a more relaxed and enjoyable life.
1. Push pause.
You can’t get away from being overwhelmed from a place of overwhelm. You need to be able to step away to get the perspective to make changes.
Although taking a break may seem counterintuitive when you’re super busy, I’ve seen it work for clients and I do it regularly myself. No matter how overwhelmed you are, carve out some time – even 15 minutes – to step back from everything. Push the pause button: take a walk around the block, get out of the office for a cup of coffee, listen to music, meditate, go for a short drive. Do whatever you need to be able to look at your life and work from a distance.
Pushing pause will give you more clarity and perspective. The mental space can free you to see a way through a challenging situation or to get a fresh perspective on a challenging problem. This helps you prioritize, make better decisions, and use the rest of your time more effectively.
Once you’ve pushed the pause button, ask yourself what is most important. When you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s difficult to get a clear sense of what’s most important. It’s easy to dive in and try to take care of everything at once – which adds to overwhelm and long workdays.
Ask: what is the most important thing for me? What will help me get traction on what’s most important today? This week? This month? This year?
For a leader and decision-maker, this can truly be challenging. I see highly successful clients who’ve been in business or led an organization for decades still struggle with prioritizing.
If you’re unsure, take some time to get clear on what is most important to you. What do you enjoy doing? What are the 3-5 things that will help you get traction on your top 2-3 goals? Focus on doing things that are important to you and will move you toward your highest priority outcomes, instead of trying to do everything on your list.
3. Do a Brain Dump.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s usually a lot going on inside your head. Thoughts, unfinished to-dos, projects, and ideas may be swimming in your mind, cluttering your mental space. One very effective technique is to do a brain dump – get everything out of your head and onto paper.
Find a pen and a piece of paper or a notebook and write down everything that’s on your mind. Write without editing, and list out everything. Don’t worry about the order or priority at this stage – you can come back to it later. The goal is to get the ideas and to-dos running around in your head out of your head and onto paper.
Once you’ve done this, you can revisit step #2 and begin to prioritize your list.
4. Relinquish Control: Delegate, Delete, or Delay.
We can try to do everything by ourselves, or we can focus our energy on what we enjoy and do best. This frees us up to spend our time doing the things that are most important and fulfilling to us.
Where can you relinquish some control in your day? I teach clients the three “Ds” – Delegate it, Delay it or Delete it. What work can you give to someone else? Delegate it. What work is not as time-sensitive as it may first appear and can be handled later? Delay it. What could actually be removed from your list without a major impact? Delete it. This takes practice but gets easier with time.
5. Get Support.
Often when we’re feeling stressed, we vent to our friends, family, and even our colleagues. And sometimes you do just need to vent. However, if you really want to move past overwhelm, too much complaining can leave you feeling like a victim of your circumstances, which results in being even more stuck.
Instead, get support. Ask your friends, colleagues, or a mentor for feedback on your priorities, your ways of achieving your goals. Consider working with a business or success coach to shift patterns that aren’t serving you.
Whoever you engage, get their support to talk through challenges or ideas with a solution-oriented mentality. Ask them for any insights or advice they have about what’s worked for them. Collaborating with others in resolving your overload will ultimately be more satisfying for both of you – and far more useful.
6. Set Boundaries.
Time is our most precious commodity. It is the only resource that is un-renewable. So, it’s important to spend it wisely and consciously. Because we have a limited number of hours each day and each week…
Learning how to say no – diplomatically and graciously, but still no – can be a lifesaver.
Many of the people I coach and work with who are the most overwhelmed either aren’t sure how or aren’t willing to set reasonable boundaries. Sometimes overwhelm leads to more overwhelm because they continue on committing to more than they can reasonably accomplish without pushing pause.
When someone asks that you take on a project or help them with a task, consider whether you can actually deliver on a “yes” – without crowding out other important priorities or putting yourself in a difficult position. If this is the case, let the requester know and respectfully decline. One powerful phrase that keeps things positive is: “Thank you for asking me. I’d love to help/be involved but I just don’t have the bandwidth right now.”
Even if the person asking is your boss or your customer, you can still set boundaries. Keep your language positive yet firm and solution-oriented. Try something like: “Given my current priorities, that will be difficult. Let’s find another solution.”
You can set boundaries around just about anything: weekend family time, daily personal time, a weekly date with your significant other. I encourage clients to set and schedule boundaries around things like email – when and how often you check it.
7. Reduce or Eliminate Distractions.
When we feel overwhelmed, it can feel comforting to do something mindless to try to unwind and relax, whether it’s browsing the Internet, checking social media, watching TV, or flipping through catalogs. I personally tend to flip through home furnishing catalogs when I feel this way. The challenge with this is that the extra information that comes in becomes more noise that further clutters our already overwhelmed state of mind.
The best thing you can do for yourself is something that allows you – and your mind – to slow down. Try leaving the TV and computer off. Maybe you take your dog for a walk, read something inspiring, or listen to soothing music.
This is especially true at the end of the day. Doing things that quiet your mind instead of cluttering it will help you sleep better and wake up feeling more refreshed.
8. Be conscious.
In our culture, it’s easy to wear our busyness as a badge of honor. Busy people are often respected as important and influential. Yet if you want to feel less overwhelmed, it’s important to be conscious of which activities are most effective and productive, which are most aligned with your professional and personal priorities.
One recent study found that executives spend about a third of their time in meetings and another 20 hours/week in miscellaneous time. When we do a time log exercise, many clients are surprised at how they actually spend their time over the course of a week. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to be conscious of how you’re spending your time.
And while it’s easy for your day to get taken up by self-generated tasks and conversations, if these are not productive, they can end up adding to your sense of being buried and living in constant reaction mode. This is not to say don’t have that lighthearted conversation with a colleague (see number 1 above). This can be beneficial and even necessary. Instead, as you engage in activities, notice if they support your mental, physical and emotional health.
How to Shift Away from Overwhelm for Good
This gives you a flavor of some of the more in-depth tools and processes I use when coaching clients to figure out what is important and better prioritize.
Ultimately, what you want to do is to understand what’s driving you to overwhelm in the first place so that you can shift the underlying pattern. This takes looking at the reasons behind the pattern – and in my experience, is best done with a coach, guide, or mentor.
Treat the feeling of overwhelming anxiety as a friend. It’s an indicator letting us know that we need to slow down, to re-focus on or adjust course in some way.
It is also a reminder that life doesn’t have to feel bad. We all have choices and we can design our day and shift our experience.
And no matter how rough your day was today, or yesterday may have been, every morning is a new beginning, a chance for you to make changes, a chance to rewrite the story of your life. What will your story be?
Curious to see what coaching can do for you? Schedule a session!