You know those days when you just don’t think you can cram one more thing into your brain? You feel like you can’t think or process anything, and you can’t accomplish anything? Those days when your to-do list is a mile long, and you can’t even think clearly enough to get started on it because of all the other emotional and mental clutter in your brain?
Do you feel frozen, stuck, or trapped?
As the demands on our human attention have increased throughout the decades, our brains have begun to experience a state of overwhelm. In years past, our culture was one of scarcity. There wasn’t much going on! People didn’t travel very far from home, there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner, and the internet wasn’t even dreamed of yet!
We’re too busy, too social, too information-driven.
In short, your brain just isn’t wired to handle everything that comes at it without creating a sense of stress and overwhelm.
What causes overwhelm?
You try to make multitasking work
How many times have you found yourself having a conversation with someone while checking your Facebook or Instagram while also thinking about your afternoon errands and eating a doughnut? You’re a great multitasker, and you feel pretty proud that you’re getting it all done!
Wrong. Research shows that our brains aren’t actually capable of doing more than one thing at a time; we just switch tasks very quickly. This actually uses up more time than if we just do one task at a time!
You don’t process thoughts and events
You are faced with hundreds of thousands of situations, conversations, and thoughts every day, and if you don’t take the time to work through them and process them, they seem to get stuck in your brain to rot away your peace.
Things always seem bigger until we break them down into smaller chunks we can handle.
You have a demanding job
Jobs that are highly stressful are a big source of overwhelm. Perhaps you manage others who demand your time and energy. Or maybe you are responsible for many small tasks throughout the day, and you can’t seem to finish one before having to work on another. You might be a student who always seems to have a long list of books to read and tests to study for.
All of these situations can cause overwhelm if you don’t learn to organize your time well and take the breaks you need.
You are going through a life transition
According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, some of the most stressful events in life are death of a spouse (#1), divorce/separation from a spouse, major illness, marriage, and pregnancy. (You should check out the entire list; it’s pretty interesting!)
You don’t sleep or eat well
When you don’t get enough sleep, your stress levels are higher. You’re unable to deal with overwhelming situations, and, as a result, you fall into the pit of overwhelm easily.
Healthy eating helps you to combat stress, and there are certain foods to include and avoid if you’re trying to remove some stress from your life.
Related post: How to Break Free from Emotional Eating
You are too busy
I’m not sure when we, as a society, started glorifying “busy,” but it’s slowly killing us all.
You have information overload
When you don’t take the time to think and reflect, and you take in more and more information, things can get pretty overwhelming!
So, how does overwhelm affect your mind and body?
There are all kinds of effects to mention here: headaches, anxiety & depression, muscle soreness, irritability, and restless sleep are just a few. Overwhelm and stress can also cause you to make more mistakes and be unable to focus. In addition, you can become more prone to illness because your immunity is weak.
Here are some practical ways to avoid and deal with overwhelm
You can’t do it all; please stop trying. As you consider your lifestyle, think about the things that really make you happy or add value to your life and the life of those you love. Choose the things that really matter and focus on those. Doing less is good for your mind. Give yourself permission to do less.
Start mind-mapping and/or journaling
One of the BEST practices I ever started was mind-mapping. Basically, mind-mapping is a way to visually approach all that’s in your head and make some sense out of it. It allows you to make connections, pulls ideas from your head that you might not know you had, and makes it easier to find solutions to problems.
Journaling is also a very effective way to sort through your stress. You should write every day, even if you don’t think you have anything to say. When you give yourself time to write, you might be surprised at what comes out!
Related Post: 3 Reasons to Journal Every Day
Spend your lunch break outside! Take walks and just look at the trees, sky, and flowers. If you’re stuck at a desk all day, get up and walk around room as often as you can. Take a few moments to close your eyes and breathe. Listen to music if you can. Anything to get your mind to be present and uncluttered.
A to-do list that lives only in your head is daunting. It can make you feel like you’ll never get it all done. One of my favorite tools for getting organized is Asana. It’s totally free, and it allows you to organize your life into projects, tasks, and lists. It’s so easy to use, and it’s also so pretty! (And no, they aren’t paying me to say this.)
Talk it out
If you have someone in your life who will let you ramble on about anything and everything that’s on your mind, then you have found a good thing. Getting worries off your chest and getting feedback from someone else is very effective when dealing with overwhelm.
Delegate and learn to say no
Daily, I see people who are unwilling to give up control and delegate tasks that others can do. This can stem from a need to control, perfectionism, or a lack of trust in others, but the result is unnecessary stress. Take a step back and examine your daily tasks; are there some things that you can give to others?
Another aspect of this is learning to say no. You are not required to be a every social function or to take on every task you’re offered. Sort through everything, pick out the most important things (remember, they should add value to your life!), and do only those things. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person, employee, or friend. Saying no is a way of taking care of yourself so you can be more effective in the tasks you do carry out.
If you’re a chronic multi-tasker, try to change your routine. Set aside a certain amount of time for each task, and focus hard on that task until the time is up. Then move to the next task. Vow to be present in every situation, even if this means turning off your phone’s notifications for a little while.
Get something done
A surefire way to boost your mood and feel like things are a little more under control is to accomplish a task. Even if it’s a small one, getting something done reminds you that you can, in fact, handle things. Crossing things off a list is empowering!
Clean up and declutter
If your workspace is cluttered, your mind can feel cluttered and overwhelmed. Take a few quick minutes to organize paperwork or the kitchen counter. Maybe you need to clean up your computer’s file system or delete some photos. Anything that will help you to feel like things are manageable and not out of control.
Reframe your thinking
I preach reframing like McDonald’s preaches that happiness comes in a meal. Intentional thinking is a key to having a richer, more fulfilling life. Your thoughts will take over your life if you aren’t careful!
When a stressful situation presents itself, it’s easy to get caught up in the “woe-is-me” thinking. Stop yourself and look at reality. 9 times out of 10, things aren’t as bad as your emotions want you to believe.
Spend time cultivating gratitude, joy, and contentment. Find the good aspects in every situation. It will change your life, I promise.
Getting back to simple and mindful living is the key to avoiding overwhelm. Be intentional with your thoughts and choices. Be completely present wherever you are.