16 Tips for When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed
By Ladies Get Paid Founder & Author Claire Wasserman. Follow Claire for more career tips, or purchase The Ladies Get Paid book.
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16 tips for when you’re feeling overwhelmed
You’re feeling overwhelmed. Your heart starts pounding, your face gets hot, your armpits are sweaty. When I get overwhelmed, I usually feel it first in my body. But then my mind starts racing. All of the things I need to get done that I’ll never find the time for. And so instead of doing anything, I do nothing.
My default when I’m feeling overwhelmed has often been to shut down (usually in the form of a nap or watching Bravo); however, I realized that in my attempt to avoid my to-do’s, I was still spending energy thinking about them, and so figured I’d just try to power through it. But trying to power through didn’t always work. So I took a deeper look into where, when, and why I was feeling overwhelmed, and what I could do, both proactively and in the moment, to find a way of handling feeling overwhelmed that would honor my need to rest but also keep me moving.
Here’s 16 tips to help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed:
1. Explore if (and why!) you might be taking on too much
Track your time and energy for the next two weeks when, where, why, and how you start feeling overwhelmed. Note if you’re overworking or overcommitting and if so, is it because of something internal, like imposter syndrome or perfectionism? Or is it because you have a boss or colleagues whose expectations are unreasonable? This is an indicator of deeper emotional work to do plus boundaries you may need to enforce. Speaking of which…
2. Set and enforce boundaries
Look back at your time tracker to identify when you may be giving too much of yourself away and where you can set some boundaries both with yourself and others. Whether it’s putting up an away message, blocking off your calendar, or having a heart-to-heart, remind yourself that protecting your energy isn’t selfish but instead, being of service. Gotta put that oxygen mask on first.
3. Work with your body and schedule’s natural rhythms
Schedule your days and tasks according to your energy. For example, work in sprints, do certain work at certain times, and batch similar tasks together.
4. Don’t multi-task
Bet you weren’t expecting this one. Did you know there’s actually no such thing as multi-tasking? It’s just switching back and forth between activities, burning up extra energy you don’t have. It’s better to go deep on one thing all the way through till completion. Not only will you produce better work, but it will also give you a sense of completion that will energize you for the rest of your tasks.
5. Put your to-dos in one place
I realized that a big part of my overwhelm came from the fact that I was keeping all my to-do’s in my head. No wonder my brain got overheated, it was trying to remember everything! Putting everything down in one place (I like Todoist), will not only help keep things organized, it’ll free up some precious space in that brain so you can focus on other important things.
6. Delegate and delete
When you examine your workload, identify what you can let go of. One way to do that is by asking yourself if it’s going to impact others, what that impact will be, the consequences of not doing it, how much closer it will get you to your goals, and if you’re the only one to do it. I know this can be difficult for some folks, especially those who subscribe to the maxim “if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself!” (I used to be one of those) but remember if you suffer, your work will inevitably suffer. Doing less now will help you do more in the future.
7. Be realistic
When we’re pressed for time or have a lot to do, it’s natural to just jump in and start doing it. Wait! Better to give yourself some space to reflect on what needs to be done and the steps you’ll take to get there. Chances are, you’ve underestimated how much time things will actually take as well as the support you might need.
8. Break things into chunks
Not just the workload but how you work. I find that doing 25 and 50-minute sprints of deep focused work, with breaks in between, not only gets me to actually get the work done, but it makes time fly.
9. Learn to focus
The average attention span is 8.25 seconds. Yikes! Set up your space to keep it free of your distractions. That includes putting your phone in another room, clearing your desk, installing a Chrome plug-in on your email, listening to lofi beats, and minimizing how many tabs are open on your computer. One thing that can help you focus more is to …
10. Practice Mindfulness
Our mind wanders almost 50% of our waking hours, and can contribute to you feeling overwhelmed. Identify those moments of mind wander, and then bring yourself back to the moment. Don’t wait till you’re feeling overwhelmed, but rather set up consistent times a day that you check in with yourself and practice mindfulness. You can also use apps like Headspace to learn how to practice mindfulness. Meditating was shown to improve focus and reduce mind-wandering by 22%.
11. Prep a list of 2-minute tasks
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I tend to get paralyzed which can lead to procrastination. I’ve found it helpful to prepare a list of tasks that will take me two minutes or less (something you can actually tag and filter by on Todoist), so that when I’m hitting a wall, I can restart with some easy and quick wins. The satisfaction of crossing things off gives me a hit of adrenaline and helps me build back up momentum.
12. Create systems
Life is hard enough, no need to make it any harder! See where in your life you can make things easier by creating a system. For example, having templates of responses to questions I frequently receive, and bags of veggies I can pop into the blender when I’m hungry for a smoothie. Try an app like Notion to organize and create systems for your life.
13. Rub your fingers together
Keita Williams, my accountability coach, often starts sessions by having me rub my thumb and middle finger together, as a way of grounding, centering, and relaxing me. It’s based on the Five-Finger Relaxation technique which I know may feel a little funny at first, but I think you’ll find it does wonders for calming yourself.
14. Watch your words
How often do you find yourself saying, “But I just don’t have time!!!!” when you’re overwhelmed, which causes you to then feel more overwhelmed? Replace the word “have” with “make” (“I didn’t make time”) and you may find yourself feeling a lot less overwhelmed. How we perceive time is surprisingly subjective; this quote is a helpful reminder that you’re in command: “Time flies, you’re the pilot.”
15. Refuel better
I often vacillate between periods of extreme hustle (and then burnout), and tons of self-care (and then…burnout?!) What I found often happens is that something I do that at first is restful, like watching TV or taking a nap, becomes a source of demotivation. Turns out, what’s happening is hedonic adaptation, which basically means the more we do something, the more we get used to it, and the less effective it becomes. Things like walking outside, connecting with friends, doing things that bring you joy, and tap into a playfulness are the “healthy” snacks to binge in order to cope with overwhelm or better yet, help you avoid it entirely.
16. Stop procrastinating
Procrastination is a sure-fire way to make you feel overwhelmed. If you let tasks build up, they’ll overwhelm you, and you’ll having a hard time digging out. Being consistent is a huge key to avoiding feeling overwhelmed. Check out our 11 tips on how to stop procrastinating.