Imagine finding yourself in the ocean in the middle of a storm. One wave hits you, then another. You try to get back on your feet, but no sooner do you find your footing than a towering wave of water comes crashing down on you.
Feeling overwhelmed is similar to the rolling waves that overcome you in a storm. It has many faces; it might come as anxiety, but it can also present as helplessness. Sometimes, the toll remains emotional, but it can also become physical and manifest itself in your behavior. A maladaptive thought process, lashing out at the nearest person to you, or feeling the world close in on you during a panic attack are all ways that a person can feel overwhelmed.
Why do we feel overwhelmed? Psychologists say there are many reasons. It might stem from an emotional event, an underlying anxiety disorder, or high levels of stress caused by a job or another relationship. Most of us will feel overwhelmed at some point during our lives, but you don’t need to live that way for the rest of your days. Treating overwhelm is possible by adopting strategies that help. We put together seven easy tricks to help you feel less overwhelmed. One of these might work for you.
Stop Fighting Your Feelings
Anxiety and other related feelings and emotional states are healthy responses to the world around you. Feeling overwhelmed is also normal, and it’s important to accept that you have those feelings. Denying or fighting the feeling will not make those feelings go away. Trying to run might only make it worse by adding to the load you carry.
Accepting your feelings doesn’t mean you give up. Psychologists say it’s the first step to working on your emotions so that you can find your footing and stand up again.
Grant Yourself The Same Compassion You Gift Others
Are you forgiving of others but hard on yourself? It can lead to even greater feelings of overwhelm. Being kind to yourself is more than good practice. Research shows there are vast benefits of self-compassion for your overall well-being.
Learning to grant yourself compassion may not feel natural. For many, it runs opposite to our traditional worldview. However, compassion is the greatest give you can give yourself, and it’s possible to learn how to do it.
According to Dr. Kristen Neff, learning self-compassion means learning three parts:
Self-kindness means being kind to yourself. Sometimes, it requires you to silence your inner critic and forgive yourself for what you do wrong and acknowledge what you do well. Deferring to a sense of common humanity means remembering that we all — including you — are human beings. Humans are fallible. Everyone makes mistakes, but everyone is also worthy of the same baseline of respect and dignity.
Mindfulness reminds you to look carefully and introspectively. It centers you and allows you to take full stock of your state of being at present. These three skills equip people who practice them with a calmer perspective grounded in security. People who have healthier attitudes and expectations of themselves maintain better control when things go wrong — and they will.
We can’t stress the benefits of self-compassion enough. According to Dr. Neff, again, it provides us with:
Start By Working On Only One Thing
When an overwhelming feeling sets in, it leads us to overcomplicate things. We feel that we should multi-task to take care of all the things that make us feel this way. Multi-tasking requires you to do too many things at once, and it doesn’t help you feel less overwhelmed. Chasing too many moving parts often makes it worse.
Why could something based in direct action only cause more harm? Generally, the brain can do one thing at a time. Research suggests that only two percent of people can multitask without doing more damage. The reality is that for almost everyone, multitasking lessens our productivity, leaving it all undone. With your feelings acknowledged, move forward by changing your expectation that you need to resolve everything now to prevent it from getting worse. Work on one small thing and complete it. Then enjoy the feeling of finishing something and appreciate that you can get through it.
Are you a serial multi-tasker? Consider using productivity coach Mark Forster’s five-item to-do list. The five-item to-do list limits the list to five items at all times. To add a new element to the list, you must first complete one task before striking it from the list. It helps multi-taskers improve by shortening the list. When you have a dangerously long list of things to do, adding just one more item is easy. At the same time, new items overcommit you to things you can’t fathom yet.
Breathing exercises may sound New Age or passe, but they are neither of those things. Focusing on your breath, or using deep breathing, triggers your body’s natural relaxation response. It releases tension in your body and allows your muscles and organs to work normally. Breathing techniques don’t need to be meditative. Even a deep breath serves as an excellent starting point.
If you struggle with stress and anxiety or you have an anxiety disorder, then you may benefit from a long-term practice. Yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation teach you to use your breath to relax and clear your mind while also offering other benefits for your body. Use these even when you aren’t feeling overwhelmed to prevent tension from building up over time.
Prepare to Accept Challenges
Part of what makes overwhelm feel so scary is its appearance as a threat. “If I don’t accomplish x, then a bad thing will happen.”
Actions have consequences. However, treating every problem as a threat to our happiness and security grows the relative importance of that problem and drags the solution further out of reach. Rather than treating each item on the list of things bothering you as a threat, consider seeing it as a challenge. Changing your perception of the problem puts the ball back in your court—it gives you back control of your own life.
When you acknowledge that you have control, you also recognize that the power to take action lies with you. Accepting challenges builds an essential coping response called resilience. Resilience allows us to not only tackle the problems life throws our way, but it is also a predictor of our satisfaction with life.
Get In Touch With Your Unique Rhythm
What routine helps you manage your life best? Is it the one in use right now? If you feel overwhelmed, then you expect more output than you can give yourself. Humans are not machines. You can’t run them for longer to achieve a higher output. We need to focus and feel refreshed to get things done. Your goal is to focus on one thing at a time, but you can also set up a rhythm of work that rewards and enables your productivity. Find the method that allows you to re-focus and replenish yourself.
Remember that dedicating ten hours to something isn’t better than six hours if four of those hours didn’t feature your best work.
Don’t Equate Busyness With Productivity
Busy-bragging is a boast and a complaint wrapped up in one, and it leads to feelings of overwhelm. We believe what we tell ourselves. Reminding ourselves that our schedule is merciless and we don’t have a moment to spare or else it will all come crashing down is the simplest way to make your thoughts a reality.
When we tell ourselves that we are far too busy, we feel anxiety. It makes the people around us anxious as well, the medical term is “empathetic stress.” Being busy doesn’t mean your productive. It doesn’t even say that you are working. Productivity—getting things done, one at a time—quells overwhelm and builds other skills. Focus on what you need to do now and not the list of things to do later.
Manage Your Life And Feelings With Resilience
Overwhelming thoughts and feelings happen to almost everyone. While life gets difficult and we can genuinely become too busy, there are ways to manage it without letting it take over. Learning to acknowledge and manage your feelings helps us not only stave off the feeling of drowning when a new wave hits us. It also enables us to become more resilient, which leads to improved psychological and physical health.
Anxiety is a normal response, but our behaviors play a role in how we manage it including when we let it spiral out of control. Share the tricks to help you feel less overwhelmed in the comments below.