How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Start Taking Action
Ever have one of those days where you don’t know where to start?
You look at your to-do list, and there’s so many different and competing priorities that you start to feel anxious about how you’ll get it all done.
And in the throes of anxiety, you give up. You relinquish your stress to your couch and start binge-watching Netflix instead of hustling for your goals.
Trust me. I know this story all too well.
Overwhelm kicks in when we struggle with too many choices, options or responsibilities. The dictionary definition is just too poignant not to share: “to bury or drown beneath a huge mass; to defeat completely.” Dang, y’all!
I get it – we give ourselves way too many options these days. We are buried beneath to-do lists, commitments, activities, career paths, what to eat, what to wear. It’s no wonder we’re completely defeated when it comes time to make a decision.
But the truth is, we are overwhelmed because we don’t have clarity on what we really want! We don’t truly understand our passions, purpose, goals, hopes, dreams. We don’t have a clear action plan or roadmap. And the ironic thing here is that clarity only comes from execution! We can only have clarity in our path when we try something, fail, try something else, and fail again. And yet we’re afraid of failure.
See where I’m going with this? We commit ourselves to these awful cycles of fear, overwhelm, doing nothing and never trying. We fail anyway because we do nothing.
Here’s the even harder truth: Overwhelm is a choice.
We choose to continue this cycle when we don’t give ourselves time to prioritize and think about what’s most important or what needs to get done first. We choose to do nothing when our anxiety peaks. And we choose to give up our dreams because it feels like too much work.
What is overwhelm?
Overwhelm is a type of emotional paralysis where we feel as though we’re unable to cope with or handle our circumstances. You might feel as though you’re lacking control, which leads to indecision. Remember, overwhelm can result from simply having too many choices or options on hand.
When you’re caught in overwhelm you might catch yourself saying things like “I’ll never get this done,” “I can’t handle this,” “This is just too much,” “I can’t do this myself.” But these thoughts are not helpful and will often trigger the feelings of worry and anxiety. You might even feel a little disempowered and helpless and even rushed to make quick decisions.
All this is a result of a lack of clarity on your part. When you’re overwhelmed, you can’t see things clearly, which creates confusion while putting you into a vulnerable state where you feel like things are out of your direct control or influence. As a result, your problems seem closer and bigger then they should be, and so you indulge in negativity, procrastination, complaining, and blaming others or your circumstances for your predicament. In the end, you end up stressed and fatigued.
And we’re so comfortable in this state, aren’t we? We would much rather blame someone or something else for our missteps or inaction than wake ourselves up to the fact that we’re 100% responsible for and in control of our lives. Remember, overwhelm is a choice. And we love choosing what’s comfortable, known and safe.
5 reasons why we’re overwhelmed
There are many reasons why we feel overwhelmed, and many of them are within our own control and influence. The truth is that we can effectively eliminate our feelings of overwhelm by making a different set of choices and decisions that will help us to better manage these areas of our lives. Here are 5 common reasons we feel overwhelm:
Too many options
I’ve said this a few times already, but it warrants repeating. This is probably the top cause of overwhelm. As women, we often feel the need to do more than we can physically or emotionally or reasonably handle. I notice this a lot in the workplace, and it stems from women feeling like we constantly have to prove ourselves to our bosses and colleagues. We feel we’re not worthy of a raise or promotion until we’ve completed every project, written every report, and are practically crawling to work under the weight of our commitments. And this feeling of unworthiness carries into other areas of our lives, leading to overwhelm.
High standards & expectations
And speaking of too many options, by piling on commitment after commitment or task after task, we’re saying to the world, “look how busy I am!” Busy has become a badge of honor in our hyperdrive world and it can lead to perfectionism. Perfectionism involves putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards which then powerfully influences the way we think about ourselves. This excessive drive to excel is self-defeating because it leaves us with little chance of meeting our goals and feeling good about ourselves. In some cases, the drive to do well can actually impair performance because we increase our anxiety and stress, which leads to – you guessed it – overwhelm.
Having a long to-do list and putting extreme pressure on ourselves to accomplish all the things are compounded when we don’t set priorities. Without priorities, we feel scattered — jumping from one thing to the next, without any sense of direction or control over our desired outcomes. Priorities help us sort through things we can delegate, save for another time, skip or delete. It’s hard to manage our day when we don’t set priorities or think about what’s most important.
Have you ever wondered why your to-do list feels never-ending? Perhaps it has something to do with your compulsion to say yes to everyone and everything. When you don’t set personal boundaries around your time and energy, you allow people to encroach into your precious time resources. Because we set high expectations for ourselves, we feel like we can say yes to a dinner out with the girls, even though we have work to catch up on, laundry piling up, kids to chauffeur to sports practices and, oh yeah, I haven’t exercised in weeks… As a result, we’re unable to keep up with what needs to get done, which ultimately leads to the feelings of overwhelm.
Yes, the conditions of our physical surroundings can have a tremendous impact on our mental state. Clutter has the power of playing upon our minds and distracting us from getting the most important things done. Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli causing our senses to work overtime on things that aren't necessary or important. It constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done. And perhaps the worst part? Clutter inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm, and problem solve.
Now that we know the causes of overwhelm and can start to identify them in our own lives, we can start to think of ways to combat this epidemic.
The Cure for Overwhelm
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath and remove yourself from the situation. If you have to, take a walk, go to a coffee shop, put on some mindless TV. Sometimes our brains need a break before we can tackle efforts like prioritizing our to-do lists and setting goals. Once you’re in a better mental state, here are four things you can do to beat overwhelm:
Set an intention
The reason we’re overwhelmed is because we’re mindlessly going through our to-do list with no purpose, and likely, little passion. Instead, prevent overwhelm by setting a daily intention. Determine, either the night before or first thing in the morning, what you would like to accomplish for the day. It helps to answer the question, “at the end of the day, what do I want to have that I don’t have right now.” Then, plan the rest of your day around that end result. When you begin with the end in mind, it’s easier to assess whether tasks will lead you to the goal or distract you from it. Remember, overwhelm is a choice. So choose productivity over chaos.
Sort through the clutter
I’m talking physical and mental clutter here. If you have a pile of dishes that you keep seeing out of the corner of your eye, wash them. Or move to another room where they’re not a distraction. Better yet, set a designated work area for yourself that you keep pristine and clutter-free. Make sure you share this information with your kids, spouse or roommates so they don’t unintentionally add clutter to your work space. As for mental clutter, don’t forget to take breaks throughout the day. Stand up from your desk at work and do a few stretches. Walk to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee or tea. Talk to a friend or coworker. These small acts give our brains a break from working full steam ahead on various tasks. When you return to the task, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to dive back in.
Identify your priorities
Remember, too many options is the number one thing that leads to overwhelm and confusion. Think about the things you can remove from your plate. What can you delegate? What can wait for another time? What can you remove altogether? This process is easier once you build up your self-awareness. If you haven’t already, read this article and use the free self-awareness workbook to write down your strengths, values and personal mission statement. Your values help guide your decision-making, so they’ll help you decide what can stay and what’s gotta go from your long list of stuff. We need to change get shit done to get strategy done. What are the mission critical steps that will lead you to your big goals? Once you’ve determined your priorities, it’s ready, aim, fire!
Take powerful action
Y’all know this by now, but I can’t stress it enough. Clarity comes from execution and confidence comes from taking action. If all else fails and you’re still overwhelmed, do something. Don’t give up because it’s too hard or you feel confused or don’t know where to start. Start somewhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s the “right” step or the most logical step. Try it anyway. If it doesn’t work out, at least you have the clarity from taking a step forward. That clarity can help you get creative and find another way. Or, maybe it does work out, and you wouldn’t know this unless you took that step! Clarity comes from execution. We have to keep trying, keep moving forward and keep going to understand what works for us and what’s a giant waste of time.
Maya Angelou wrote: “When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment.”
Getting involved, taking powerful action fuels more forward action. It gives you the momentum you need to push through the feelings overwhelm and on to bigger and better things. The journey is the reward; don’t fill yours with stress, inaction and overwhelm. Power through it with clarity and confidence.
Want to learn more about overwhelm and confidence? Enroll in my FREE BE Powerful Mini Course on Confidence!