Feeling Overwhelmed? Start Here.

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Have you ever felt overwhelmed? You know the feeling:

Slightly frantic.
Unable to make decisions.
Burnt out.

For me, these are the tell-tale signs that I'm feeling overwhelmed. Why does this happen? How do we get overwhelmed in the first place? Here are six common reasons. Do any of these resonate with you?

When I start to feel overwhelmed, I try to stop and ask myself these questions:

- Am I saying “yes” to too many things? 
- Am I unable or unwilling to relinquish control of something or ask for help? 
- Am I chasing the thrill of achievement and productivity? 
- Can I live up to my own expectations?

These are hard questions to ask. But understanding how we got here, to this place of overwhelm, is important to learning how to overcome it, now and in the future. 

I’m learning that sometimes, it’s not about being more efficient or productive; it’s about doing less.

In her book, Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman talks about the six-foot assignment. She describes observing lifeguards at a large indoor swimming pool, each one tasked with managing a six-foot section of the pool. They paced back and forth, always keeping an eye on the water and the swimmers that crossed into their section. No one took on responsibility for more than six feet; no one worried about whether the lifeguard next to them was doing their job. Each person covered their area, working together to take responsibility for the whole pool. Everyone had a part to play.

What is your six-foot assignment?

Here’s the thing: It’s easy to tell ourselves we can do it all, be it all, have it all. Society tells us that. Our friends tell us that. But, doing it all, being it all, and having it all comes with a lot of responsibility (and a lot of stress). Why do we feel the need to take all that on? And what are we taking away from others in the process? Going back to that six foot assignment analogy, whose job are we taking away by trying to cover 12 feet or 18 feet of the pool?

It's about doing less, knowing our limits, and keeping things in perspective:

"There is a daily-ness to my work, a small-moment perspective that whispers for me to connect with the work in my right-now hands, not because it's going to become something Big and Important, but because Someone who is Big and Important is here, with me, in me, today.” - Emily P. Freeman, Simply Tuesday

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are five things you can do to work on overcoming it.

1. Prioritize.

Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed because we don’t know where to start. Think about the things on your to-do list and ask yourself: What really needs to get done? What is most important today? Number them and put your list in rank order. Start at the top and work your way down. If something remains on your list for more than 4-5 days, reevaluate whether or not it needs to be done now or if you could move it to a more long-term list.

2. Delegate.

What do you really care about? What are you most passionate about? Are there things on your plate that could (and/or should) be done by someone else? If so, equip and empower those people to be leaders, to take responsibility for their six-foot assignments. Delegate, share responsibility, or collaborate instead of taking on the full weight of responsibility yourself.

3. Take a walk.

Take a few minutes out of your day to go for a walk. This is my solution for many of life's problems. Have a big decision looming over your head? Go for a walk. Feeling frustrated about a situation at work? Go for a walk. Feeling distracted or dull? Go for a walk. 

Take a few moments to clear your head, get some exercise, step away from your desk/computer/smartphone, and get some perspective. I recommend not taking your phone with you. Don’t use this time to listen to music or catch up on your favorite podcast; simply be present. Practice taking deep breaths. Smell the freshness of the air, feel the warmth of the sun on your face, feel the air as it brushes by. Smile at passers-by. Pray. Listen. Be refreshed.

4. Close tabs.

How many tabs do you have open in your Internet browser right now? (Truthfully? Six.) Having multiple tabs open at once is likely a sign that you’re trying to work on multiple projects at once. (Guilty.) No one is good at multitasking, so at best, you’re constantly being reminded of all the projects you have in the works right now and at worst, you’re spinning yourself around and around in a circle trying to touch each project and take a step forward. 

Instead, try to structure your day so that you have designated blocks of time to work on different projects and be diligent about closing out of tabs that aren’t relevant or don’t need to be open right now. This goes for mental “tabs,” too. Jot down any notes, reminders, or ideas, and put it away for awhile.

5. Zoom in.

So often, I feel, we’re given the advice to zoom out, look at the big picture. However, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, zooming out is likely to exacerbate the problem. Instead, try zooming in - focusing on the task in front of you right now, observing details. Practice the slow art of noticing things.

How do you overcome feeling overwhelmed? What are your best tips?

Read more:
How to Beat Overwhelm and Take Back Control of Your Day
17 Things to Do When You're Feeling Totally Overwhelmed
Getting Back to the Basics of Running a Creative Business