Have you ever experienced overwhelm? It’s when fear or anxiety run high, your problems or obligations seem too numerous, your deadlines approach at impossible speed, and your confusion or ambivalence paralyze you. You may be feeling hopeless, victimized, unsupported, angry, embarrassed, and frustrated or some similar combination of negative and disempowering emotions. Decisive action would be helpful, but you just can’t figure out what to do first partly because you have not prioritized all the issues or tasks that you believe are your responsibility to handle at the time. This has happened to most people at least once in their lives. Here are some tips on how to think, nurture and manage your way out of being overwhelmed.
Step 1: Calm down
Stop what you’re doing and take 3 deep breaths. Close your eyes if you can safely do so and imagine yourself in a happier time and place where you felt safe, supported, relaxed, and capable. Tell yourself that everything is going to be all right. Remember that not everything is as big a deal as we sometimes make it. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to have all the answers, and you don’t have to do everything alone. Repeat this step moving forward as many times as you need to.
Step 2: Take inventory
Make a list of all the tasks, decisions, and concerns swimming around in your head and robbing you of your peace of mind. If it comes to mind, write it down. You can organize the list later, but initially just get everything on the list for safekeeping so that you can reestablish mental and emotional order without fear of “forgetting” something important.
Step 3a: Identify high priority or critical items
Mark all the time sensitive, critically important items with a highlighter or an asterisk. Eventually you will create a plan of action for each and every item on your list, but for now, just give your attention to the high priority matters.
Step 3b: Choose an action for high priority items
One by one, look them over and quickly decide how to best proceed with each one. Quickly choose one option for each item:
- complete it
- postpone action or completion
- delegate it to someone else
- decide that it won’t get done
- break it into smaller parts and pick one of the options mentioned above for each new, smaller part
If you have an item on your list that requires more information, quickly jot down one to three questions that must be answered before you can decide on or resolve the item. You can address the questions later.
Step 4: Complete the high priority tasks
One by one, accomplish each of the top priority tasks that you identified in the previous step. As you finish each item on the list, cross it off with a flourish and move on to the next one. Take short breaks to help you sustain your energy and keep working in a deliberate and systematic fashion. If possible, minimize interruptions. Post a “do not disturb” sign outside your workspace, shut down your email and social networking applications, turn off the ringer and alerts on your phone, and cancel your meetings and appointments. Inform those closest to you that you need a few hours of undisturbed work time to meet some important deadlines. Give each task your focused, undivided attention. Resist the urge to “multi-task” so as to avoid having another episode of overwhelm. The intention is that you will maintain a calm and focused mental state that is conducive to problem solving and productivity.
Step 5: Reassess, reprioritize, and repeat
At the end of your initial work session, perform another inventory of all your outstanding tasks, issues, concerns and commitments that you didn’t already accomplish. Rank the items according to their priority and list them from highest to lowest. Starting at the top and working your way all the way down to the end of the list, write an option for how each item on your list will be handled, as in step three above. Remember to also rank or prioritize any questions that must be addressed from step three.
Hopefully by the time you have settled into step four, you will be feeling calmer, more capable, and back on track to reaching your goals. Notice how you are feeling as you work through your list. If you find that your list is loaded up with tasks that you find distasteful or boring, consider how you can begin making changes to your commitments for the future so that you can fill your days with tasks and projects that are more enjoyable or rewarding for you. If you need help making those adjustments to the work you do, I’m always happy to help anyone who wants to experience more freedom, more power and more satisfaction in their life.
Filed Under: Empowerment
About the Author: Charmell Slaughter is a certified life coach, a professional speaker, an author and a spiritual seeker.