I would be remiss to end Mindset Month (October) without talking about overwhelm, because the last 20-ish months have been crazy. The pandemic has been hard, very, very hard for most of us. No-one really seems to have come out unscathed, whether that’s mentally, physically, emotionally, or financially or a combination of them all. On top of everything else we must cope with as part of normal life, we also had constantly heightened stress caused by the countless lockdowns and restrictions, combined with so many unanswered questions and contradictory points of view.
Our worries escalated from our normal day to day stressors to concern for family and friends, devastation at not being able to visit family abroad, working from home in a space not ideal for doing so, home schooling while working full-time, dealing with the ranges of emotions towards and from our fellow house captives, health concerns, not being able to visit ill or dying relatives, not being able to get married or attend funerals, losing our homes, trying to get refunds on all previously booked holidays, relationships collapsing, ruined Christmas plans, ruined milestone birthdays, getting wound up about other people’s ways of coping and/or bending the rules, worrying about furlough and redundancies, needing sick leave while working from home, vaccination protocols and a myriad of things that turned our lives upside down.
This is not stress like any of us have ever experienced before and it is overwhelming just reading through that list, and some people experienced every single thing on that above list and more.
Overwhelm doesn’t affect us all in the same way, but some of the feelings are the same. In my case, I would describe it as feeling heavy, like you’re in the ocean struggling to keep your head above water and your wet clothes are joining forces with the waves to just drag you under. It’s scary, demotivating, engulfing and feels like a soul-level tiredness that impacts your ability to think clearly and that creates confusion and brain fog, which in turn, causes you further stress. Pretty soon, if you don’t do anything about it, you will burn out. Read more about burnout here.
What causes overwhelm?
The world is so different to the way it once was, say 30 years ago even. Lifestyles are different and more flexible, but work doesn’t seem to have moved with the times. The work model is still based on the old-fashioned notion that in a family, one person went to work, while the other stayed home and kept the house. And it is an old-fashioned notion, because it is not financially viable for the vast majority of the world’s homes to have a one person only income, which means the care of the home then has to be split to make it possible to get everything done. More pressure.
We all just work harder when the ever-growing demand calls for it. The mantra of ambitious people is “anything is possible if you work hard enough” because we are driven to success and often unable to take our foot off the pedal.
Constant availability. In this age of such advanced technology, we find that we are available 24/7, just a quick check of a work email can send us straight back to our desks in the middle of the night to sort out something that used to wait until the morning. We are available constantly by phone, email, social media etc. and it is all very unhealthy. I’m a tech junkie too, I love it all but since I smashed my Apple Watch (accidentally) last month, I haven’t been quite as available to all the little pings etc and I probably will not be replacing it. It’s been a revelation actually, even if I no longer know how many steps I’ve done or what my resting heart rate it, in fact I’ve found that I don’t stress about that or my rewards medals at all anymore.
Perfectionism! Always trying to be perfect or make everything look perfect, makes the task much bigger than needs to be. I used to create drafts of work in my corporate career, that were word and visually perfect, only for them to be returned from review covered in red pen and remarks and new visual suggestions, it was soul destroying at first, until I realised that the reviewers had a better insight into terminology and cultural nuances that land better with the audience, it’s not personal. I soon started to send outlines and first drafts to ensure that I was heading in the right direction. It has saved me days of work.
Being disorganised. Overwhelm can be triggered by not being organised in terms of your priorities. You cannot not do everything at the same time without taking yourself into a state of overwhelm. Don’t over-commit yourself to so many projects. Focus on a maximum of 3 major projects and stay connected to delivering those projects. I use ClickUp to manage my projects, big and small.
Lack of boundaries. Not having firm, enforced boundaries in place will allow other people to force decisions onto you, leaving you little recourse to decline the task.
Not implementing and maintaining a self-care regime. When we feel overwhelm setting in, we try to compensate by resting less, being less sociable, getting less exercise and working more. This is the absolute formula for burnout, and it is time to sort your health out as a priority.
How can I overcome overwhelm?
Overwhelm can also cause fatigue, interrupted sleep patterns, mood swings, lack of enjoyment of the things you usually enjoy, withdrawing, lack of motivation and all sorts of other symptoms which are common in a variety of other ailments. It is essential that you take action to overcome overwhelm, so that it doesn’t turn into something bigger and more devastating. Below are some tips to help you overcome overwhelm.
Pick your priority for the day. If that is to clean your house, then clean the house. Do it well, with your full attention and do it to completion. Then you can begin a new project.
Get super organised. When you’re organised, you feel like you can take on the world. List all your worries and projects, no matter how big or small. Then assign them either to the column for ‘Priority’, if they are non-negotiable, critical items for happiness and success; or to the column for ‘Should’. Withdraw yourself, delegate, or bin anything in the ‘Should’ column.
Then prioritise all items in the ‘Priority’ column – I use ClickUp to create project plans and activity calendar and I list out the specific activities I need to complete to finish the project. What is the one thing you must concentrate on right now? Start with that and then do all the items in priority order.
We only have a certain amount of time, but more importantly a finite amount of attention span so we cannot make everything a priority at the same time.
Get some exercise. Exercise will help you to clear your mind and focus. Just a 15 minute walk can clear your head, you don’t have to do a 3-hour powerlifting session, unless you want to.
Change the language you use to discuss your situation with that little voice in your head. Try “I am unavailable for overwhelm” instead of “I feel so overwhelmed”. Remind yourself to focus on the priority projects you have given yourself.
Track what triggers you into feeling overwhelmed. Did the message from the PTA and a school event send you over the edge? Did a piece of work a client asked you to work on make you want to hide in your blanket fort? Ask yourself why these things are triggering you and get rid of them.
Challenge your beliefs and assumptions around whether someone else can do the task. You cannot do everything yourself, decide who can support you, and how.
Delegate. Anything and everything you possibly can. Ask yourself “do I have to be the one to do this?” and then delegate it. Delegation is the antidote to overwhelm. Enlisting help is the intelligent way to ease the burden on yourself, but only after you have been through your list of ‘priorities and shoulds’ and gotten rid of the things you really don’t need to be doing. You have got to stop shoulding all over yourself, your obligations don’t need to stretch into the things that don’t move your needle forward and aren’t your responsibility.
Pay a Coach or Accountability Partner to hold you accountable. When you pay someone to hold you accountable, there’s more skin in the game so you tend to take it more seriously when you don’t complete the tasks, probably because you feel as though you’re letting both of you down when it’s paid for, not just one of you. If you would like to explore this option, I am available – get in touch to discuss how I can support you.
Get your calendar out. Consciously schedule priority tasks into your calendar and stick to it. If you need to finish work at 5pm because you have a date with your daughter, or a gym class or a friend, stick to it. Keeping the promises you make to yourself and others will make you feel better about yourself.
Get a cleaner, or any other service provider that will ease the pressure on you. Drop the guilt about hiring a cleaner, it can take 3-4 hours to thoroughly clean a house each week. Hiring a cleaner instead, would save you 162-208 hours per year. That’s roughly 7 to 9 full days per year, what else could you do with that time? You would also be supporting the economy by providing employment to another individual. All of that aside, it is nobody else’s business how you spend your money or who you hire. If ‘they’ want to judge you, let them but make sure they do it from afar.
Overwhelm is a very scattered way to exist. It is stressful and compounds.
Set firm, clear boundaries and stick to them.
Say no when you want to say no and say yes when you want to say yes.
Put yourself first and take care of your needs first. Taking care of yourself forces you to learn the art of “who else can do this” and allow yourself to enjoy the ride
If it is a priority, calendar it out and if it doesn’t fit in, go back to “who else can do this”.
Take a break. I don’t just mean take 15 minutes away from your desk, I mean book some time (like a week or two) off and rest. Delegate what you can and reschedule everything else. When you feel overwhelmed, you need to rest and look after yourself.
Give Yourself Grace and allow yourself to be overwhelm free – this is a common theme of my blogs this month, because it’s time for you to stop beating yourself up. If you are feeling overwhelmed, then it is clear you are already doing so much that you need to give yourself some credit for. Giving yourself grace will give you the mental space to start to process everything that needs to be done to get yourself back on top of it all.
If you are a professional or an entrepreneur and you’re feeling especially stressed, let’s talk.
I can help you with mindset, productivity, self-belief, accountability, overwhelm, fitness and many other areas that may be troubling you.
Books worth reading on the subject:
The Success Lie by Janelle Bruland
The Burnout Fix – 5 simple things to overcome overwhelm and achieve peace of mind by Dr Jacinta Jimenez