Enjoying a swim from the boat in the Ionian

I’ve just got back from 3 weeks sailing in the Ionian.  And frankly, I’m more relaxed than I have been for a long time.  And the perspective has helped me to realise that over the years I’ve developed some damn fine strategies for dealing with overwhelm.  Odd I know.  But let me explain…

One of the biggest problems most of us face from time to time is that moment when we look up to the heavens and cry “I am overwhelmed!” We  have too much to get done in too short a time period.  You’ve been there right?

Of course the problem is that the more overwhelmed you get, the more ineffective you get at dealing with it.  What a conundrum?!  Overwhelm is kryptonite to your executive functioning, so the worse it gets, the worse you get, and the vicious cycle repeats.

Oddly, I haven’t been at problematic overwhelm levels for quite some time.  And believe me, if I let you in on the behind the scenes of what’s been happening in my life since March of this year, I’d have every reason to be!  Sometimes one area of your life doesn’t go according to planned and you can get a bit overwhelmed…and then there’s those really special periods in life when almost all areas become challenging at the same time.

I’ve recently had one of those times.  Lets just say- I needed the holiday!  But it was in this wildly chaotic time, that I realised just what was important in my life.  We survived the madness, and while on holiday, reflecting back on it all- I was forced to see that I have some great strategies in place for dealing with overwhelm.  Honestly, I should have been in a mental institution with everything that was going on- but somehow I found a grace through it all.  I’m not saying I was perfect, but I was far better than the old version of me would have been.  So what saw me through?

Are you overwhelmed?

10 Simple Steps to Overcome Overwhelm

Here’s 10 simple steps I hope you can apply if you’re currently feeling overwhelmed and a bit battered around by life

1. Stop

This is first and foremost.  Without creating time to breathe, step back and look at the big picture you’ll get into wheel spinning detail, and then progress to panic very quickly.

Get up from what you’re doing, break state- go to a café for a cuppa, go for a walk, take an exercise class, punch a cushion (not your spouse).  What you do doesn’t matter, that you change what you’re doing does.

2. Recognise its OK

Its important then to have a quiet little conversation with yourself to give yourself some support.  Tell your inner perfectionist to take a hike, and let your inner child know its perfectly normal to be overwhelmed and stressed when you have ALL THIS *$#! going on.

Sometimes reassurance that stress is a reasonable response is a good place to start.  Accept you’re not at your best, recognise its fine that you’re not, and for the love of God don’t start feeling like a failure.  Every normal functioning human being has cycles: times when they are great, and times when they are not so great at dealing with life’s adventures.  So this time is not so great. So what? That’s life!

3. Dump it out

Having given your inner child a little pep talk you’re now ready for what I call the dump.  Grab a fresh piece of paper and a pen (and a cup of tea- all this is to be done with much drinking of tea ;-).  Now, write down every little thing you have to do, that’s causing you stress, that’s eating at your attention.  Right down to the looming deadlines, the babysitting for Sis, the work to review and the dripping tap in the ensuite.  All these things are competing for attention right now.  Write them all down.

4. Best Friend Deleting

This doesn’t mean you delete best friends.  Though if they are the cause of the problem- well- perhaps!

Instead, this is a very specific approach to your list.  The first pass through the list is with your “Best Friend” Hat on.  Imagine you were your own best friend.  You are the best friend of the wonderful, talented, but currently overwhelmed person.  As your own best friend go through the list and cross off or delay anything at all that you can.

One of the secrets to overwhelm is that it is never interminable. Your current state of depleted functioning is just that- your current state. Tomorrow, or in three days, or next week you’ll be back to your normal self and be able to get 18 times more done than you can do today simple because you are feeling rubbish.  So delaying is often a fine strategy.

So with your best friend hat on, if you wanted to save this poor creature from unnecessary heart ache, what would you delay or delete altogether for them.

5. Best friend Delegating

Of what’s on your list now, what could you possibly give to someone else?  A staff member, a neighbour, a friend, your Dad?   Of course, we all know they wont do it as well as you, but lets face it, you’re not doing ANYTHING just now in this state, so anyone is a step up from you! Ask for help.

6. Refocus on the big picture

Sometimes we cause ourselves overwhelm when we are trying to fit a ridiculous number of teeny tiny tasks into an even teenier schedule.  But when you look at what your intention is behind the task, the task itself becomes defunct.

For example- I remember a time a couple of years ago when I really wanted to spoil my sister because she was feeling overwhelmed.  (Isnt that the way? We always overwhelm ourselves when trying to save others from overwhelm!)  So I thought I’ll cook her a meal and take it over to her, and be a listening ear for everything that was going on.  Great idea right?

Well, first I had to go and buy all the ingredients, and it was so busy in the supermarket, I left fuming.  Then I slaved away making this fancy boeuf bourgignon thing which took hours.  All the while I was getting more and more stressed because I hadn’t done what I needed to do at work.  The meal wasn’t turning out right.  I was getting stressed.  I had told Kath I’d be at her place at 7.  It was already 8 and BAM!- overwhelm struck.  After a moment of tears and tantrums, I took a step back from what was going on.

I realised my INTENTION was to be a listening ear for my Sis.  But instead here I was on the opposite side of the city, cooking something I had no idea how to cook- when it would have been far easier to drive over three hours earlier, buy a bottle of wine and pizza en route and chat.  Which fulfilled on the intention far better anyway!

So remember- what’s the big picture?  And is this task getting you closer or further away?  Ditch, delay or change the task accordingly.

7. Prioritise

By the end of this process you should now have a smaller list that is actually an adequate reflection of the intentions that are competing for your attention at present.  Now go through and prioritise.  Give each task a grade.

A= Absolutely has to happen today (challenge yourself on this- is anyone going to die?  Remember, you’re not at your best just now, you’ll get 18 x more done tomorrow!)

B= Brilliant if you could get it done today, but not essential to life.

C= We’ll “C” if we get to it today!

Then, for each A, assign a number from 1,2 3 and onwards in the order of how you’ll do them. Do the same for the Bs and the Cs

By the end of this process you know what you need to do.  It’s time to get back in action…

8. Make tea

(Self explanatory- you need lots of tea)

9. Eat the elephant one mouthful at a time.

You’ve heard the joke right?  How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time.  So its time to start with A1. Do it.  Then A2.  Do it. Then A3.  Do it. And after each one TICK IT OFF AND CELEBRATE.  Give yourself acknowledgment and accolades and continue for as long as you can maintain your state.

10. Rest and reward

Its crucial that after an emotionally challenging day like this that you take some time to unwind.  A bath, a movie, a massage.  Whatever it takes to get you to a place where you’ll sleep well.  Remember – it’s not about time management; its about energy management.  So a small investment at the end of a big day pays massive dividends for the rest of the week.

If this has been useful, you might like my “Time and Energy Secrets Course” – check it out and let me know what you think.

So there you have it.  My 10 Simple Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm.  What do you think?  Do you have any secrets that you use to add into the mix?  Let me know below- and feel free to share this with your friends!