How to Reduce Overwhelm

This time of year can easily make us feel overwhelmed. There’s so much shopping to do, get-togethers to attend, rushing around to do, not to mention the days are shorter, there is less sun and so don’t as much of that happiness chemical released in our brain, it’s cold outside, things can just seem a little dreary on the whole.

Did anyone else just read that and instantly feel a bit deflated too?

In truth, it doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or summer, if you’re an introvert or extrovert, if you’re at work or on holiday, overwhelm can kick in at any time, if you let it.

This is where I say poor you and that life is so unfair.

Yes, life is unfair at times but falling into victim mode is not helpful.

Unfortunately, there are times when no matter how much we kick and scream, no matter how much we bury our heads in the sand, sh*t needs to get done! you can prolong it as much as you like, but at some point you’re going to have to face the music.

When we feel overwhelmed it can help to either zoom out, zoom in or even both.

When I feel overwhelmed with parenting, I imagine myself floating up out of my body way up high into the sky and seeing myself down below in my current situation way down below. I zoom right out so that I can see my timeline stretched out and the stressful situation I am currently in is just a blip on the grand scheme of things.

It really help helps me to not be so consumed by the overwhelm that I feel in stressful situations so that I don’t make things seem bigger than they are.

When I feel overwhelmed by my schedule or my to-do list, it helps me to zoom in. Focusing on one task at a time rather than having 8 or 9 hanging over my head makes me feel a lot lighter and that I can breathe a little easier.

Sometimes you might even need to zoom in even more by breaking down one item on your to-do list into 5 or 6 micro to-dos. For example “organising my son’s birthday party” might look like:

  • Finding a date that would work
  • Ordering a food delivery from asda for the day before for all the party food
  • Emailing/texting/writing invitations
  • Planning, researching or booking entertainment
  • Buying decorations

Having so much to do is such a common cause of overwhelm and organisation and zooming in one just a small portion of your to-do list is really a useful way to reduce stress around this issue.

How do we do that though? Let me explain.

Ok, first things first, get a pen and paper. You knew that was coming, right?

I want to you write down everything that you have to do. Everything.

Sometimes just having it in front of you in black and white can make you realise you have been over dramatising things. If you really do have so much to do, cool. You’ve just taken the first step to get it all done.

Now it’s time to acknowledge that you’re only one person. You are not a superhuman and you can only do so much at any one time. So go easy on yourself please.

While looking at the list, I want you to pick out the three top tasks that you absolutely have to do today. Let’s call these your Most Important Tasks (MITs).

These three things have to get done before you attempt anything else on that list. If nothing else gets done today, these three things must be completed. Anything else is a bonus.

Before you attempt your MITs, have a quick scan to see if anything on your list can be delegated.

It could be collecting the kids from school, picking up your dry cleaning, picking up some dinner from the supermarket, following up on some RSVPs. These things don’t necessarily need you to physically be there, someone else could do them.

Take 3 minutes to reach out now and delegate these things.

Now is time to take action on your MITs. Complete your most important MIT in it’s entirety (or until you cannot physically do anymore without further instruction) before you start your next one.

Side note, studies show that after every hour of sitting at your desk, or focusing on any task, it improves productivity if you come away from the task in hand and break your focus. Go to the toilet, make a cup of tea, eat a banana or go for a 5 minute walk. Experts recommend a 10 minute break for every hour you focus on something. Physically coming away from your work station for a break allows you return with a clearer focus, a recharged brain and a better attitude.

Once you have crossed off all of your MITs (and actually cross them off it’s so satisfying), give yourself a pat on the back! Today has been a success! You can now attempt some of the other tasks that are on your list.

Again, focusing only on one task at a time, go through as many on your list as possible crossing each one off after completion.

When your work day is done, it’s important to reward yourself for all of your hard work. Be it a nice hot bath with candles and a good book, a mini facial at home with your favourite face mask, a de-stressing yoga practice, your favourite cake or whatever floats your boat.

When you reward yourself a chemical is released in your brain that encourages productivity in the future as your body will be looking to receive that chemical again, sort of like when you give a dog a treat to train a specific behaviour.

It’s also important to have time completely away from any work and have time dedicated to enjoyment. After all, life is more than just crossing things off of your to-do list. When you’ve come away from all your tasks (or torn yourself away, remember it’s ok to still have items on your list, you can just do them tomorrow or at a later date), give yourself the opportunity to have some down time. Allow your brain and your body the rest it deserves (this includes adequate sleep) not just to enjoy the sense of peace, but also to rest and recharge because tomorrow is a new day that will need clarity, focus and productivity too.

I hope this has helped to put things into perspective for you. Remember, you are only human. Don’t be so hard on yourself. There will always be things on your to-do list. A bit like no matter how much washing you do, the washing basket will always have more dirty clothes to wash.

What has been on your to-do list that you’ve been putting off but has been hanging over your head? Can you schedule in some time dedicated to this task so that it can be completed this week? Delegate some aspect of it? Make a phone call? What action step can you do right now that will get you a step or two closer to completing this task?

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