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illustration of overwhelmed man with head in copy machine

What does your brand of Overwhelm look like for you?

This time of year, overwhelm runs rampant. The pressure of holiday gifting, parties, family, friends, spending, and work can spiral out of control.

Perhaps you worry over Covid, flu and RSV, or needing to prod your kids to finish school work and college applications. If you also have a big project due, and still need to hang the Christmas lights, you might already feel stressed. Add in year-end tax preparation, household chores, family squabbles, appointments and grocery shopping on a tight budget, etc., etc., etc.. Pressure, pressure, pressure – with no relief in sight. We call that overwhelm.

You are not alone! With so many demands, many people develop stress reactions. You may feel frazzled, angry, depressed, and/or exhausted.

Ready to fix that?

Let’s take a moment to notice your own brand of Overwhelm. That’s right. Notice all the pieces in your mind vying to be front and center – those that push and shove and cry, “Me first,” and “No, me!”

Then, as your head swirls with your Overwhelm experience, notice what is going on in your body. Does your stomach ache? Are your shoulders and jaw tense? Do you feel tired and even exhausted?

As you notice that, think about what you want instead? Perhaps you can picture the image of you feeling relaxed and accomplished – without the pressure. Take a moment to sense that. What would you look like, sound like, and feel like without the pressure. Hold onto that image for a few moments and breathe.

Wondering how get there? That’s the focus of this article.

Illustration of overwhelmed woman at desk

What’s the solution?

Of course, you can go on vacation, get a massage, or even learn to meditate, but those are temporary stress relievers – and diversions from the tasks left behind. Lasting solutions for overwhelm require inner change and practice.

Perhaps you know people who breeze through life without the stress reactions. How do those individuals handle overwhelm and stress? What do they do differently, inside and out?

In our Extraordinary Self® Re-invention Program, we label those individuals “Extraordinary Selves.” Our e-Course Extraordinary Self role models use specific strategies and methods to tame overwhelm.

Seven ways to lessen overwhelm:

  1. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of living in the moment without attachments to past and future worries or disruptive negative thoughts. Staying present allows us to “detach” from the angst of troubling situations and calm our mind. Mindfulness practices lead us to simply observe the flow of thoughts and events without reacting. As a result, we can act with more clarity and objectivity. Almost any course on mindfulness will help – especially if you practice regularly.

  2. Practice calming breaths to relax and detach. Breathing exercises can help you “detach” from stress and negativity. When you learn how, you will be better able to examine your thoughts, feelings and strategies for reaching your goals with less overwhelm.

    (All Extraordinary Self e-Courses, teach a breathing practice for detaching. Our Mastering Stress in 7 Steps course provides many practice opportunities as well as lessons for changing thoughts, feelings, mindset and behaviors influencing stress reactions. Each of our courses immerse learners in transformation methods for inner change and outer success. )

  3. Transform Limiting to Liberating Beliefs. Examine your thoughts and beliefs to facilitate change! Where are your thoughts and feelings of overwhelm coming from? Are you struggling with fear of consequences? Are you believing judging yourself? Or, believing it’s bad to not get everything done. Perhaps you believe that you must do everything by yourself – like it or not. You may believe you are stuck on the hamster wheel and powerless to change it. Such Limiting Beliefs rob you of comfort and only create more stress.

    Instead of staying stuck in beliefs that don’t support what you really want, remember that you can learn what’s needed to change those beliefs – and to lessen stress and overwhelm! Tell yourself that you can learn to challenge those beliefs, then do so. Ask yourself for the evidence? And figure out what belief would serve you better. (For guidance check out the Extraordinary Self e-book, Become Your Own Inner Superhero.) As you learn and practice new ways of being, you will liberate your mind to find the solutions you need. You will rest easier, too. These methods will help – with practice.

  4. Be Kind to Yourself. Truth is there are only 24 hours in a day and you can only do so much. Remember that you also must rest. Tell yourself you are doing what you can. Remind yourself that you are “okay” even if you can’t get everything done at once. Even the words, “I’m okay” can reduce feelings of overwhelm. Self-compassion goes a long way. Make yourself a priority and set aside time for you to enjoy being you. That may just give you the added energy you need to tackle and finish your task list.

  5. Chunk Down Tasks. Most people experiencing overwhelm feel like they are attempting to stuff a whole pie in their mouth at once. Our Extraordinary Self role models first cut that pie into tiny pieces they can easily swallow. Imagine you are slicing a pizza into small pieces – each of which represents a task you want to accomplish. (You can even draw a circle, with slices and write a task to be done in each slice; then “eat” each task one small bite at a time.) Below in the Action Plan section, we provide instructions for breaking Action Items into smaller Action Steps. Keep reading!

  6. Make a Action Plan. First, think about your goal. What do you want the result of your efforts to look like? Is your goal to reduce your feelings of overwhelm? To lessen stress? To finish a project by a certain date? To learn something new? Or all of the above?

    Be aware that the tasks (Action Items) you add to your plan need to align with the Goal(s) you set. Also think about how you can chunk them down. We show you how below.

  7. Stay Accountable. For each goal you set, decide in advance how you will demonstrate accountability (e.g. I will allocate at least 30 minutes a day. I will practice mindfulness. I will practice slow breathing 3 x a day to stay calm and centered. I will record my progress each week. I will check in with my mentor each week.)

    Remember to acknowledge and/or reward yourself for staying accountable. Before you know it, the weight of your task list and your sense of overwhelm will lessen – thanks to your efforts.

Making your “Action Plan

Lists help. Take a moment to think about the many demands contributing to your sense of Overwhelm. What are they? Which are important and why? Next take a piece of paper and write each item down. List all the items disturbing your peace. Be as specific as possible.

For example, instead of simply writing social media” on your To Do list, first break that task into smaller, component parts: Write message(s). Prepare art. Approve content. Upload text and images to HootSuite or Buffer. Schedule calendar, etc. (You will feel good later, when you see yourself ticking off those items on your list!)

Action ItemImportanceDue DateAction StepsDue DateStatus
Follow the steps outlined below to fill in your own Action Plan.
  • Outline Your Action Plan. On paper or computer, create a table with six columns: Label the column headings, left to right: (1) Action Item; (2) Importance; (3) Due Date; (4) Action Step(s); (5) Due Date for each step; (6) Status.
  • In the Action Item column, list each individual item you intend to tackle.
  • In Column 2, indicate the urgency and importance of each Action Item, as follows:
    – UI  (urgent and important)
    – UNI (urgent but not important)
    – NUI (not urgent and important)
    – NUNI (not urgent and not important).
    This step will help you prioritize your tasks.
  • In Column 3, add Due Dates for each Action Item.  If you find a task is not so important, you might want to postpone it by changing the Due Date.
  • Use Column 4 to chunk down tasks into smaller and smaller “Action Steps” you can more easily accomplish. Shoot for small steps that you can check off as you go. For example: If you are cleaning out your closet, you might break that task into cleaning Rack #1, then Rack #2, each with a due date. In this way, you will get into the habit of working step by step. Then you can work through each step until you have completed the big Action Item. (Then be sure to celebrate!)
  • In Column 5, add Due Dates for each small Action Step.
  • Use Column 6 to update Action Item status. Is is done? Are there any dependencies or red flags in the way? If so, you may need to add a few other steps (such as completing earlier items, finding resources, learning how, or checking with people who can help).
  • Once you’ve filled in your chart, you will have an action-oriented plan to follow. You will be able to see when each item is due, how important it is, and how you plan to get it done.
  • Next, breathe! Review your plan and decide if there are any items you need to change, move or eliminate. Items to delegate? Something you need to complete in parts?
  • Adjust your Action Plan to reflect needed changes.
  • Decide how you will stay accountable to your plan!
  • Decide how you will yourself along the way. Even simple rewards, like self-praise or a cup of coffee can bolster motivation.
  • Go into action! Do the steps you outlined and work your plan.

Good luck! Please email coaches@extraordinaryself.com to let us know how well these methods for dealing with overwhelm are working for you.

Need more help?

Need more help? Sign up for our Extraordinary Self e-Course, Mastering Stress in 7 Steps, Overcome Self-Defeating Patterns, or consider private coaching, if needed. Please explore our website, www.extraordinaryself.com for more insight, e-Course information, and resources to help you reinvent as your Extraordinary Self!

We also offer weekly Public Office Hours (group format) to provide added insight and answer questions at no charge. To access Public Office Hours, sign up for our News and Blog. Your sign-up Thank You message will include the Zoom link to attend our recurring meetings. See you there!

Dr. Diane Kramer is Co-Founder of Extraordinary Self Learning Programs, LLC, which offers interactive online e-Courses for Self-Development, Career Enhancement and Relationship Success.