7 ways to get through life overwhelm
They say you should write what you know. And right now, the thing I know the most about is feeling overwhelmed by life.
Not enough to have a total emotional breakdown, but definitely enough to feel like I am drowning in my to-do list and cursing the day I took on quite so much in just one year.
Let’s just say that moving country, wedding planning, visa applications, house hunting AND changing jobs every six months is not going down so well with me.
Add on some financial pressure and a long-haul trip on the horizon and you have a whole lot of life admin for this one-thing-at-a-time girl. And where others might thrive in the excitement of it all, I tend to lean towards total burnout.
I am really really not good at having a lot on. We all respond differently to stress, and my first response to a groaning to-do list and a full plate is to go into total ‘shutdown’ mode. I want to crawl in a hole on my own and hibernate and not deal with anything and come out when winter’s over.
But that’s really not an option, and normally never is.
Some people are naturally gifted at dealing with a packed calendar and having to multitask on the daily. And I salute you guys. But that’s just not me. I can only cope if I have some strategies in place; unless I find some order to the chaos I tend feel like I’m thrashing around in the dark.
In previous years I’ve not dealt so well with busy seasons (although I’ve not yet had one quite so packed as this).
I’ve ignored the to-do list, procrastinated to my heart’s content and bottled it all up to the point that I find myself either sobbing on the phone to my sister (sorry) or breaking out in some serious stress acne. Neither of which is really conducive to getting sh*t done while also protecting my mental health.
But this time I’ve tried really hard not to let that happen and I feel like I’ve finally found some ways to cope with having too many irons in the fire. So here they are..I really hope you find them useful!
1) Get out of your head (and into your body)
I have a tendency for introspection in times of stress, and I think I’m not the only one. I become a bit too preoccupied with what’s going on inside and fail to recognise what’s happening both in my body and in the world around me.
And I find one of the best ways to get out of my head is to get into my body.
My favourite activity for this is yoga as it’s as it brings your awareness back to the body and demands your full concentration; it’s really a moving meditation practice. When my focus is back on the sensations within my body, my breath and the movement of the postures, my mind is far less likely to wander (and if it does I almost always lose my balance!).
Whatever activity you do, just make sure it’s challenging and new enough that you don’t go on ‘autopilot’ and keeps your mind looking outwards (as opposed to dwelling on what’s going on inside).
2) Tell somebody you’re struggling (and accept offers of help)
It’s often really difficult to share that you’re feeling overwhelmed, especially if you’re the sort of person that powers through or is hesitant to show how you really feel. But they say ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and I couldn’t agree more. It always makes me feel like a weight has been lifted when I share my true feelings with somebody else.
And don’t be afraid to accept offers of help. We often wave off offers of help because we don’t want to burden others, pride ourselves on being ‘self-sufficient’ or are such perfectionists we can’t let go. We are afraid we will look less strong or ‘together’. But nobody can succeed alone. We all need each other. So say yes to that offer of help, and look forward to the day when you can repay the favour.
3) Get it all down on paper
One thing that never fails to calm down my busy mind is writing everything down. I am a very visual (and forgetful) person so having a to-do list where I can see everything that needs my attention in an orderly way helps me to feel like calmer and like everything is much more achievable. At the moment things are so crazy I have a few to-do lists within my to-do list: a wedding planning spreadsheet, a budgeting spreadsheet, a visa checklist, a blogging schedule and a ‘general life’ to-do list (yep, really) which I know might seem excessive but is MUCH needed at the moment.
If I’m really stressed I also do a huge brain dump in my journal; I write down every small niggling worry one after the other until I can’t put anything more down on paper. It really helps calms a busy mind and I often do this if I can’t get to sleep. Once my thoughts are down in black and white they often don’t hold the same power and enable me to have look at my (normally irrational) worries with a bit of perspective.
4) Don’t neglect the thing that will help the most
There very nearly almost wasn’t a blog post this week. All I kept thinking over and over was: I just don’t have enough mental capacity to think about anything more. My to-do list is going off the page. My brain is full to the brim. I don’t have time. My attention is in a million different directions. I can’t take attention away from the ‘important’ stuff to write a blog post just for the fun of it.
It’s funny how we tend to gravitate away from healthy behaviours in times of crisis. Like when we’re busy or stressed the first thing that goes out the window is exercising, despite that being the thing that could help us the most.
But that’s precisely why I need to write. Because writing for me isn’t adding another thing to the list. It’s helping me cross all the other things off the list. And make sense of my swirling, whirling brain of ideas, worries and thoughts.
So don’t ignore the healthy habits that help you cope better with stress. Whether it’s writing, exercising, socialising or cooking, don’t push it to the bottom of the pile for more ‘important’ things to take its place.
Prioritise that one thing that helps you deal better with all the other stuff.
5) Take time off from being ‘productive’
This might seem counterintuitive to smashing through your to-do list but hear me out.
To be productive we also need rest. Especially if the busy season is lasting for an extended period of time. A busy week or two can be powered through, but we can’t just keep going and going without time to pause and recuperate some of our energy.
We need to weave periods of rest into our weeks and our months. Because I don’t know about you but I can’t keep up the momentum to be productive 365 days a year, and I would argue nobody can without burning out.
Create some white space in your schedule. Say no to things. Purposefully mark in your diary when your rest days will be so you can plan for them.
It’s not easy to turn our brains off though. I find it really difficult to ignore that niggle of guilt every time I take my foot off the pedal when I know we have things that need to get done. The only way I know how to get through it is to be strict with myself. Every time I think ‘I should be doing such and such’ I CRUSH that thought. And get back to taking the day off thinking about my to-do list.
Just taking some intentional mental time off from being in ‘productive’ mode always means I return to normal life with renewed energy and a bit more enthusiasm to accomplish my goals!
6) Just do the thing in front of you
I can’t remember when I first heard this nugget of wisdom, but it’s come to my aide more times than I can count.
I used to get seriously overwhelmed at University. It would be a few weeks before semester was up and suddenly I’d have ten assignments all due at exactly the same time (time management has never been my strong point). I’d just see this mountain of work to do and want to turn the other way and run. It was hard to even get started because the stress was almost paralysing and the temptation to procrastinate was overwhelming. But then I started just doing the next thing in front of me.
Just read that one chapter. Just started that first essay introduction. And that dissertation was taken just one paragraph at a time. In the end it all got done.
When we are overstretched and overwhelmed we tend to look at the whole. The huge mountain we have to climb that looms up in front of us. But instead of seeing the whole, look at the individual pieces. And just do the thing in front of you. And when you’re done with that, do the next thing. One piece at a time. Each individual task in and of itself is often not so scary.
7) Let the little things go
I don’t know about you but when I’m under stress I tend to veer either towards perfectionism. But when you’re in a life overwhelm situation this approach really doesn’t help matters.
So one of my mantras is don’t sweat the small stuff.
A good (and timely example) of having to let the little things go is wedding planning. Especially when you have a lot of the other things on at the same time. And especially if half of your guest list lives on the side of the world.
It’s easy to focus on the small things; are the flowers going to be perfect, will my bridesmaids be able to make it, will my wedding dress fit just right. But then I remind myself that all you really need for a wedding is a bride, a groom and an officiant. All the rest are just added bonuses.
Pick the most important things and then forget worrying about the rest.