What if “stress” or feeling overwhelmed wasn’t a problem at all? What if overwhelm was merely an intrinsic message—your inner wisdom suggesting a change?
Though feeling overwhelmed often feels like quicksand (the more we try to escape, the more we sink in) it may be more akin to the “check engine” light on your car’s dashboard. It’s purely a signal to make a change, and the change may be simpler than you believe.
We can approach overwhelm two ways: as something that “happens to you” that can be “fixed” or as a feeling. In the latter, your state of mind intrinsically facilitates a shift towards (or away from) a state of wellbeing. To fully explore both of these views, this article is divided into two parts. This week we explore taking action, and next week, we dive into the effects of your state of mind. It will be interesting to see how you relate with each view!
In the “check engine”-light metaphor, imagine a very busy day: your plate is full; you’ve got several errands to run; you’re wondering if it’s possible to get it all done. As you jump in your car and speed to your next stop, your dash goes off like a fireworks show: buzzers ringing, lights flashing. This isn’t just a “change the oil” suggestion. This is something serious. What do you do? What might happen if you ignored the alarms and kept the pedal to the metal? Chances are you could blow the engine and put your car permanently out of commission.
So what are you going to do? Most people, despite their hurry, would realize the risk of continuing on. They would realize those lights and buzzers signal problems, and would pull over to investigate or call for help before larger problems arise.
Compare this to the feeling of overwhelm: if you are the car, stress and overwhelm are the lights and buzzers on the dashboard. They are communicating the need to make a change immediately, or you could blow your engine. No matter your workload or schedule, something must change or you’ll be going nowhere soon.
Amid the frustration of overwhelm, it can seem difficult to pull over and check under the hood. Stop and consider what could happen in your life if you don’t.
For those wanting to calm overwhelm, the questions I would ask are: What is important to you? What do you want to create in the world? How might you organize your day around the triad of what you find important, what makes you happy, and what is effective?
As counterintuitive as it may seem, in the midst of feeling overwhelmed you must stop, re-evaluate, and make a change. Instead of trying to “manage time,” identify your priorities.
First, be upfront with yourself: there is no magic spreadsheet that will instantly change your life. One person’s way of prioritizing may not fit everyone, but ideas on getting started and getting organized can help you find your ideal approach. Here’s a simple method that’s a great way to begin your journey:
Clear your mind!
One of the easiest and most productive ways to “reset” is to make a list of EVERYTHING on your plate. List absolutely everything you have to do personally, professionally, with your family, in your career, your volunteer activities, etc. Get it all out of your head and onto paper.
Imagine walking around with a massive swarm of flies buzzing around your head, flies so thick they form a black cloud. They are buzzing in your ears, your hair, and your eyes. You swat at them, but it makes no difference. This is often what overwhelm feels like. By writing (or typing) everything on a list, you get those flying, buzzing thoughts out of your head and onto paper. Consider keeping this a “living” list: continue adding to it whenever you think of things you need or want to do. Often this one act alone can calm the feeling of overwhelm. Don’t be surprised if your initial list is well over a hundred items. Once you have your list, consider grouping the tasks in categories as well.
What do you deeply care about? What do you want to create in the world? When you hone in on that, life gets a lot easier. With these ideas in mind, choose one thing on your list that, if completed, would make things easier, or -better yet- make other things on the list melt away. Then go do that one thing. Complete the task. Re-evaluate and choose the next thing. If choosing one thing is too daunting, try selecting two or three things at most.
The Master List
Many find it best to put the master list aside. Complete those 1, 2 or 3 important tasks and re-evaluate. Day by day progress will be made. Constantly seeing the master list may not be helpful. Consider glancing at it once a week, max. I make a monthly, weekly, and daily list of what I want to create and it has worked well for me. Start simple and notice what works for you.
A few more things to consider in reference to your master list:
- What can you delegate?
- Which of your tasks are out of line with what you want to create in the world?
- What can you stop doing?
- Can you hire people to take care of some tasks?
- Are you allowing for self-care (sleep, exercise, quiet time to recharge, etc)?
- Consider time-blocking.
- Consider setting time limits. Ex: I’ll do this for 30 minutes.
The key idea to remember is: Overwhelm is not a state of being, it is a feeling. It is a signal to make a change: List, Prioritize and Re-commit.
…until the next revolution
Check out Part 2! Here we explore the effect your state of mind has on the feeling of overwhelm and your wellbeing.
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