We’ve all experienced times in our life when it feels like the responsibilities are piled so high on top of us, we barely have room to breathe. Or when the deadlines keep backing up so that just when you’ve got one important task ticked off the last, there’s another one right there to take its place. It can feel like being dumped by a wave over and over again. It might make you feel anxious and it can be difficult to concentrate on anything, which doesn’t help when you have a lot of things that need to be done!
Ideally, those times are infrequent and short-lived, but when you’re stuck in overwhelm it can help to have some strategies to manage your stress and get back in control more quickly. Try these tips for clearing your mind and relieving the pressure.
1. Write everything down
Sometimes the best way to clear your head is to dump all those swirling thoughts onto paper. Feeling overwhelmed sends your body into fight or flight mode and when that happens, it’s difficult to access rational thinking and problem solving. When you write things down, you take that all that feeling of angst and turn it into something quantifiable. Everything from personal appointments, bills to be paid, work deadlines or nagging worries kicking around in the back of your mind. Once they’re out on paper where you can see them, you have a much better chance of making sense of them, prioritising them, delegating or even deleting some of them.
2. Get started
Overwhelm can have the effect of keeping you stuck in a kind of paralysis, not knowing where to start (again, that’s the fight or flight response limiting your access to logical thinking!) The longer you stay in that stuck place, the more anxious you become. Once you’ve got everything out of your head and onto paper, choose some small things you can get done or delegate immediately, so you feel like you’re making progress. Then make a plan to tackle some of the bigger stuff. The best way to reduce the anxiety of a deadline is to take action.
3. Do one thing at a time
The temptation to multitask can be all too inviting when you have a lot going on but ultimately that is an unhelpful strategy. Switching your attention back and forth between tasks reduces your productivity by as much as 40% and only serves to keep your mind feeling stretched and scattered as you try to divide your attention. You might choose to allocate a period of time to work on one thing before making a start on something else if you have multiple projects going on at the same time but avoid the temptation to flick back and forth during the same block of time.
4. Take breaks
Again, it seems counterintuitive. When you’re overwhelmed, it feels like you need to keep pushing through and get things done. But the longer you try to stay focused on mentally engaging tasks, the more likely you are to become distracted, zone out, make mistakes and reduce your overall effectiveness. (Besides multi-tasking, pushing through without a break is the biggest time waster there is!) Change the mental channel every 90 minutes or so to ensure you continue being focused and productive. Those brief recharge breaks will also help you manage your stress levels so you don’t crash and burn.
It’s the oldest and most effective trick in the book when it comes to managing anxiety. Long, slow breaths all the way into your diaphragm will help to switch off the fight or flight response in your brain. As soon as you notice your stress levels rising and your brain feeling foggy and crowded with too many things, come back to your breathing and spend a few moments getting centred again. Remember your priorities and get started again.