As a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), I hear the word “overwhelmed” regularly, especially now. Sometimes people describe it as feeling as though they’re drowning. They have too much responsibility resting on their shoulders or too many thoughts racing through their heads.
Overwhelm can leave us feeling exhausted, unfocused, unproductive, and even sometimes out of control. It can get in the way of our sleep, cause us to lose our tempers, and wreak havoc on our memories.
Here are some things you can do to reduce the pressure of having ‘too much on your plate’ –
1) Write it all down. Writing down all that is swimming in your head is the first step to externalizing it, helping you realize that you don’t need to keep carrying all that “stuff” with you 24/7. You don’t have to keep it inside of you. Writing can give you a sense of power in naming the things that are troubling you. Doing so might help you realize that things aren’t as bad, numerous or insurmountable as you originally imagined.
2) Prioritize. Once you’ve written everything down, you can decide what you need to focus on right now. If there are too many things that require your attention simultaneously, you might want to consider some of the other actions that follow on this list.
3) Delegate. If there is just too much that you need to take care of in too little time, you might require some help. Who can serve as a resource to you? Are you comfortable asking for help? Where are your skills and talents best utilized, and can others with different strengths take over other tasks?
4) Make a plan. Look at your calendar and set aside reasonable blocks of time (take the amount of time you think it takes to complete something and add 30% more) for each of the tasks you intend to tackle. This helps you focus on what you need to put your attention toward NOW, knowing that you’ve allocated specific times in the near future to concentrate on those other things that also have to get done. This can be extremely helpful for those with multiple projects due in the short term.
5) Maintain healthy boundaries. This is especially important now with so many people working from home. It’s really easy for work to ‘bleed’ into what had been personal time. People might expect you to be available at all hours because you never leave “the office.” Be clear about when coworkers can expect to hear back from you, what hours you are able to work, and when you intend to be offline.
6) Take the next step. Don’t waste your time and energy recounting all that you have to do. Doing so just reinforces the feeling of overwhelm you’re trying to escape. Instead, focus on taking the single next step. As you begin to chip away at what needs to be done and make headway, you will develop feelings of efficacy and forward momentum.
7) Say NO sometimes. It makes sense that you’d experience overwhelm if you’re over committing yourself. Sometimes it’s necessary to say ‘no’ to things so that you can say ‘yes’ to your well-being and your family’s as well.
8) Breathe deeply. To be sure that your breathing isn’t shallow (remaining high in your chest), rest your hand on your belly and feel it expand as you inhale through your nose. Then as you exhale through your mouth, feel your belly recede and exhale longer (aim for 50% longer) than you inhaled. Imagine you are releasing all the tension in your body as you exhale, and when you inhale, you are breathing in clarity and focus.
9) Shift the way you think about things. When you tell yourself or others you feel like you’re “in the middle of a hurricane” or your workload is a “nightmare,” your body is responding to those words and images. Instead, give yourself the kind of messages that promote a feeling of efficiency and agency. For example, you might remind yourself you had a heavy workload before and you handled it successfully, or that, while you feel like you’re trudging up the highest mountain, each step gets you closer and closer to reaching the peak.
10) Be kind to yourself. Don’t punish yourself for feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself the kind of encouragement you might offer your child or your best friend if they were in a similar situation.
Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, Cl. Hyp of Three Steps Forward, LLC is a psychotherapist and integrative hypnotherapist. She has offices in Denville and Florham Park and is currently offering her services via telehealth.