“I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be… whelmed?” Ahhhh, classic ’90s teen movie quote (points to anyone who can name that flick).
Although I don’t even know the answer to that though-provoking piece of pop culture history, I do know that the feeling of being overwhelmed is very real. The past couple of months since I got back from our trip to Australia have been a continuous up and down roller coaster for me – planning a wedding, travelling for work, doing my taxes, applying for Damien’s permanent residency…. all whilst keeping my brand afloat, managing a business and planning my next big project, That Renegade Girl. It was just SO MUCH all at once. And instead of tackling it head on, I just got more and more overwhelmed by the constant running thoughts of everything I needed to get done… and I just avoided it. That tactic didn’t last long, and soon enough, the weight of it all came crashing down. I got irritated and snappy with the people closest to me, I couldn’t sleep at night and I lost the joy in what I do for a living.
What I’ve learned after a few tearful breakdowns, is that I actually have control over most of these overwhelming feelings – that although there are many factors in our lives that aren’t so easy to deal with (the pain of losing a loved one, the exhaustion of having a new baby, etc.), there are plenty that I’m able to change just by stepping back, taking a breather and looking at things from an outside perspective.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve been focusing on how to manage these feelings of being completely overwhelmed, and what I can do to keep them from resurfacing every time life gets busy or throws a curveball my way. Here are five habits I’ve formed that have made a huge difference in both my mental state and physical state (stress ain’t good for the skin, boo boo).
1) Give your calendar some room to breathe.
One of the main reasons we start to feel overwhelmed with life is because we try to be everything to everyone. We pack our schedules to the brim, squeezing in meetings, coffee dates, events and projects until our days are back-to-back from dusk ’til dawn. I found this was something I struggled with the most because of the nature of my job – a huge part of it is to network and be visible. But because of this, I wasn’t getting anything done – my to-do list just kept growing each time I said ‘yes’ to something. So, I started practicing the art of saying ‘no’ – saying ‘no’ to events, saying ‘no’ to coffee meet-ups, saying ‘no’ to new projects. And by making that simple change, by taking control of my time, I suddenly found myself with a much more flexible schedule and even days that were completely void of promises to other people.
Related: 9 Times It’s Okay to say ‘No’
2) Stop spending your week in meetings.
If there’s one thing I haaaaated when I worked in an office, it was having my days filled up by meetings. Such a massive time-suck that keeps you from getting any ACTUAL work done. And as I’ve ventured off onto my own, I’ve found that not much has changed. Although the meetings are much more interesting, they’re usually filled with chatting and relationship building and can drag out to two or three hours (that’s not including the time it takes to get there). To avoid this happening, I’ve started doing the following:
- Limiting each meeting to 30 minutes (an hour if more time is needed).
- Stacking all of my external meetings in one day so the rest of the week can be spent in the zone, working.
- If someone is requesting the meeting with me, I ask them to meet me at a location close by so I’m not commuting across the city.
- On really busy weeks, I suggest a Skype chat (hey, you can still enjoy a coffee or glass of wine together virtually).
3) Make a shorter ‘to-do’ list.
If your daily to-do list looks like Beyonce’s assistant’s, perhaps it’s time to cut back. Making lists is a great way to stay on top of things, but it can also lead to feeling overwhelmed simply just by looking at all the things you need to do. Try making two lists – a big one that has everything you need to accomplish (whether that’s this week or this month), and a daily one, where you only have 3-5 tasks written down…. and THAT’S IT. Sounds daunting? Try it. With only a few imperative tasks a day, you’re more likely to look at your list with positivity and smash through it. Then, if you have extra time in the day, go back to your big list and see if there’s another task you can tackle.
4) Take a break.
Like, an actual one. This is so important for our mental health, and one I usually find the hardest one to do. Because whenever I have a list of stuff to get done, I feel guilty for not working on it, and that in itself is a sign that you need to pull on the reins, my friend. Taking a break is actually better for you than trying to work with the weight of the world on your shoulders – you’re able to refocus and re-energize instead of burning out and working in circles. Try stepping away from your task and going for a walk with a friend, or a run to clear your head. Damien and I even did a little day trip last weekend and I made a point to stay off e-mail and social media so I could truly disconnect and let my anxiety subside. Even just taking an hour each day to read or do something non-related to your stress can have a positive impact on your mental state.
5) Talk it out.
It’s so easy to get inside your own head when you’re overwhelmed, and those feelings quickly start attracting other negative emotions – anxiety, self-doubt, depression. I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do is talk it out. When you’re so caught up in your own bullshit, it’s hard to see that there’s an end to most of it – you just keep talking in circles inside your own head and make excuses instead of action points. Venting to a friend or your partner or a medical professional about your feelings and just putting it all out there can be therapeutic, but it also give you a chance to get an outsider’s perspective. We often try to do it all, be everything to everyone, but it’s important that we ask for help, too.
What actions do you take when you’re overwhelmed?
Share your habits in the comments below!