What to do When You’re Overwhelmed

Dozens of demands are bearing anxious weight on your shoulders. A mountain of work exists for you around every corner. There is no possible way for you to achieve all that is necessary with your available time and energy. There is so much to do that you’re frozen by the thought, “Where do I begin?”

When you’re in a mental state of being overwhelmed you are mentally unable to produce results indicative of your abilities. Stress and anxiety are physical responses to environmental truths. See if any of these may be a truth in your world at any point(s):

Truth: You have a massive project due.
Truth: The baby is crying.
Truth: A co-worker continues to distract you, decreasing productivity.
Truth: You have a killer headache.
Truth: There are two high-priority meetings that conflict, but only one of you.
Truth: You didn’t sleep well last night.
Truth: That dog will not stop barking.
Truth: You’ve been neglecting your health and feel gross.
Truth: You’re being micro-managed.
Truth: You’ve lost your sense of purpose by getting pulled under by routine.
Truth: There’s no time for you to spend with your family & close friends.
Truth: You’re hungry.
Truth: You’ve reached the point of apathy.
Truth: You have a flat tire.

Usually, our truths come in bunches: The irritating co-worker, a text from your spouse, message that your son forgot his lunch money, you didn’t get enough sleep, your progress report was due 10 minutes ago, and you’re late for a meeting. That’s when “the freeze” happens. “Where do I begin?”

The simple answer is: You don’t. This freeze is your body’s way of signaling a time-out. If you continue without listening to your body’s frantic cry for help, you’re impacting your short-term and long-term health. So, you don’t begin. Taking a break is the most effective thing to do at that moment. Here are some ways to begin to prepare yourself to tackle all of those truths:

1. Take a physical time out. Here’s an idea.

2. Take an emotional time out. What the heck is that? It means to disengage. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone says, “It’s not personal, it’s work.” There are people at work, and people are personal, so yes, everything is personal because everything makes an impact on your person. Disengage. Regardless of what is going on, remove yourself from the environment completely whether for 10 minutes, 10 hours, or 10 days. Emotionally disengage. You’ll be able to look at your truths from a calmer vantage point when it’s time to get back in there.

3. Deep breathing makes everything better. It’s a physiological truth: excuse me for going all sciencey on you for a moment (yes, I just made sciencey a word) – mindful deep breathing activates your hypothalamus which connects to the pituitary gland in the brain. That sends out neurohormones that are basically little stress fighting soldiers that hold off stress-producing hormones. Without the stress-producing hormones, physical relaxation is triggered. There are a whole bunch of other reasons, and you can read more about it here, but just take my word for it and let’s move on.

4. Delegate. A mentor of mine wisely told me “Only do what only Jane can do, and delegate the rest.” Let’s make that statement yours. “Only do what only (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE) can do, and delegate the rest.” You don’t have to do it all. Stop mentally arguing with me. You really don’t have to do it all. If you’re still mentally arguing with me, please stop and say this out loud to yourself: “Coach Jane is right. I don’t have to do it all.” Wash, rinse, repeat.Delegatephoto

5. Call your coach. If you don’t have a coach, call a mentor. This is not a job for a “good friend” call. The “good friend” is completely well-intentioned, however, most likely does not have the vantage point to offer impartial advice that would be most productive for your purposes. If you don’t have a mentor or a coach, you probably would be well served by engaging a coach.

6. Write stuff down. Somehow, things magically become more manageable when they are written down. Did you ever bring home a stray animal and have your mom instruct you “Don’t name it because we’re not keeping it.” Use that wisdom, but in reverse. NAME your truths, make them real, and in ink. Then you can take a step back, analyze them and watch the levels of priority become evident to you.

7. Say no. Embrace reality. There are 24 hours in a day, and seven days in the week. You have a limited inventory of time. You cannot do it all, and that’s okay! Say no. It’ll feel really weird at first but just do it. By the third time, you’ll feel empowered.

8. Procrastinate! No, I’m not crazy. While not always the right choice, there is a positive and productive place in your universe for procrastination.

There are always several solutions, and none are as complicated as you think.

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