Overwhelm is certainly a common symptom of the stresses of modern day life. Whether you work in an office, are in charge of your own hours or are just feeling the full weight of life resting on your shoulders, it is easy to feel like there is too much to do in too little time. This list will help you to navigate that feeling and to avoid being overwhelmed at work and when life itself starts to produce a bit of a storm.
Pursue a hobby
In the pursuit of our goals in life, it is quite common to neglect the things that we really enjoy and that make our weird and wonderful lives fun in the first place.
The more that your hobby is different from what you do most hours of most days, the better as it will allow you to completely disconnect from the very thing that is getting you overwhelmed in the first place.
Whether your hobby is playing a sport, you like to go train spotting on the weekends or you get your biggest kicks from doing a bit of extreme ironing from time to time, make sure you have at least something that you find fun planned to help avoid being overwhelmed by whatever you have going on.
Schedule regular social activities
Maybe you spend the majority of your days with the same people doing the same things. While this can be unavoidable due to things like work commitments, it is often this sort of repetitive cycle that can eventually lead to some degree of overwhelm.
Scheduling regular social activities is a great way to break free from this. That may be going out and doing something different with those people that you usually see every day, or it might be reconnecting with friends or family that aren’t a part of your typical day.
You could go bowling, go to the cinema or pursue any hobbies that you have in common (two birds with one stone!). Not only are social activities fun, but they break the overwhelm cycle, leaving you refreshed when you return to face whatever the task is.
Re-learn the art of doing nothing
And before you ask, yes, this is definitely an art.
If you are prone to overwhelm at work or in your general life like I often am, chances are that you are switched on at all hours of every day.
Your days are characterised by not wasting a second. Filling in 20 minutes here with a podcast episode or half an hour there deliberating over the next task.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with these things.
It is when they are compounded day after day that the feeling of overwhelm starts to creep into your system. You never give your brain the chance to cool off a little bit, and it starts to show.
Every so often, schedule a morning where you aren’t going to do anything. Or a full day where you are going to abandon all pursuits and enjoy each passing moment. Just give yourself a chance to slow down a little bit.
It’s much easier said than done, trust me, but it is definitely worthwhile.
Create a morning ritual
Overwhelm can occur when your brain is fumbling around trying to organise both itself and the day ahead.
Not only do I believe the morning to set the tone for the rest of the day, but it is usually also the quietest time of day. The ideal period for a bit of ‘you time’ and to lay the foundations for a great day. I am such an advocate of good morning routines that I even made a mini eBook on it.
From the time you wake up, the day only gets more and more frantic until it is time to go to bed. Therefore it is important to avoid any sort of overwhelm in the morning, such as getting up late, downing a coffee and shooting out the door.
Set your alarm a bit earlier, establish a morning ritual and your mind and body will be ready to face whatever the day throws at it.
Make a list of ‘reset activities’
The feeling of overwhelm in both work and life can build up really slowly over time or it can crop up out of nowhere. A series of bad habits or an encroaching deadline can certainly put all of your stressors on red alert.
Even if you are absolutely killing it, there will be times when you feel like you haven’t got much more left in the tank.
This is the ideal time to refer back to your list of ‘reset activities’ and use one or a couple of them to break up your day.
Very common and simple ones include having a quick shower or making a cup of coffee. Other ones include taking a brisk walk outside, doing a bit of journaling or interacting with some other social creature away from your place of overwhelm, whether that be your mother, your dog or your hedgehog.
Make a list of ‘reset activities’, have them on you at all times or engrained in your brain, and then act on one or two whenever you start to feel a bit overwhelmed.
Be clear about your priorities
Quite often, the feeling of being overwhelmed comes from having too many tasks on your mind and trying to either do everything at once or cram everything into one day.
Not only does not being clear about your priorities lead to piles of work and overwhelm, but it can also swing in the other direction, where you procrastinate on everything because you aren’t sure where to begin.
An ideal time to set your priorities is during your morning ritual or even the night before. Decide first on what absolutely needs to get done ASAP. Then decide on what absolutely needs to get done but maybe not for a little while. Then move on to either longer-timeline stuff or stuff that falls into the ‘would be nice but not important’ category.
Note that things like making time for hobbies and social activities actually fall into the ‘very important’ category. It is easy to not see these things as priorities through the haze of unread emails and oversized to-do lists.
Consider scrapping your to-do list every now and then
On the subject of to-do lists, while I do feel they certainly have their place for productivity purposes, don’t fall into the trap of living by them as I have done many times.
To-do lists should feature only things that absolutely need to get done, not what would be good to get done. Hence the term ‘to-do lists’, rather than ‘should-do lists’ or ‘kind-of-would-like-to-do-if-I-get-time lists’. Problems especially occur when you don’t get everything ticked off and start to make the crazy assumption that it was a bad day and you suck. I’ve been there a lot.
If you struggle to re-imagine this relationship with your to-list, then it might be worth scrapping it from time to time.
They can often be our biggest source of overwhelm when we see a dauntingly-long list staring back, with only one thing checked off by mid-morning.
Give yourself a little break every so often, to move through the day flexibly and freely without the nagging voice at the back of your mind.
If you are quite clear on your priorities already, it might be worth considering scrapping the to-do list altogether.