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How to Reduce Overwhelm

If you’ve experienced overwhelm, you know how urgent it feels to learn how to reduce overwhelm! I’ve been there, living in my share of commitments, priorities, and endless tasks. And I know firsthand that it isn’t a great place to be. In today’s podcast episode, join me for some quick tips to work through that feeling of overwhelm and bring things back into focus.

This is episode number 128. Welcome to the Mindset for life Podcast; this podcast is for you, if you love, serve, teach and lead others, you want things to keep getting better, you want encouragement. And just one little idea today to get stronger in your life, your relationships or your work. I’m Bethanie Hansen, and I help people everywhere take control of their current situations, and have power to do what they need to do in the future as well.

I’m here with you today to talk about how to reduce overwhelm.

Overwhelm is a feeling where we don’t know how to get started, like there’s so much going on, it’s just very difficult to get a handle on it and feel like things could ever be better in the future. In fact, when we’re experiencing overwhelm, our thoughts are usually muddled a little bit, and it’s hard to even gain clarity.

We don’t know what the first step out of overwhelm is. Well, in my experience, overwhelm is a chronic condition that could just keep coming back again, and again. And again. Part of the reason overwhelm is such an unwelcome but regular visitor is that overwhelm is a space of “status quo.”

Overwhelm is actually a somewhat of an indulgent mindset where, because there’s so much going on in our brain, we can feel like, well, it makes sense that I can’t take any action, because there’s just so much to do, there’s just so much going on in my brain, I can’t do anything about it.

That might be true. I don’t really know what your experience is right now. But I know that when I have experienced overwhelm, it’s usually come from not taking a little bit of time to slow down, and really work through what all of my thoughts are.

Write it all down.

The first step I usually recommend to my coaching clients, when I’m working with them on a state of overwhelm, is to just do a dump. Write all those thoughts down on a piece of paper. We’re going to put down every little thing that is going on in that brain.

Some of it is a list of things to do. And that’s usually the easiest part to get out of the brain. So we’re going to write down things like maybe you have a trip coming up. And some of the overwhelm is all the things you need to prepare and pack and have ready for the trip. Or maybe it has to do with what you need to do in the house so that the house is ready for your absence. Maybe you have locks you want to purchase or automatic light timers, or maybe you have someone coming over to your house to watch the house or watch the pets. Maybe have a pet to take to the kennel, there’s a lot you can do to prepare your house for a trip.

If you’re preparing for a trip, and that’s part of your overwhelm, probably there’s a whole list of things going on in your brain about just getting ready for that trip, as well as packing for that trip. And planning what you’re going to do while you’re on the trip. Then outside of that if you have children at home, you might be thinking, if you’re leaving the children with someone else, maybe a family member, how are you going to prepare the children for your absence?

How are you going to prepare the family member to watch your kids, then there’s work, right? If you work and you’re going on a trip, you’ve also got all the work commitments you need to close out, wrap up and finish before the trip. See how easily that overwhelm can just pile up to thing after thing after thing?

Pretty soon the overwhelm starts to feel like anxiety, and anxiety is all about the future. So we’re experiencing in the current moment, all of these things that we just need to get done. We need to take action on them but we can’t, because our brain is already jumping ahead to the future. So the brain is bringing all this anxiety and worry about the future that we can’t control and don’t know yet what will happen.

Ask yourself questions.

That’s really complicating it. So when you make your list of all the stuff going on in your brain, after you’ve listed all the things that need to be done, the to do list. The next part of that list would be: What are you thinking?

What is all that stuff going on in your brain? Are you thinking, I can’t handle it? I can’t do it? It’s too much? It’s too hard? Or are you thinking, I need to get a handle on this?

I need to figure it out. I need to move faster, get it all done.

Whatever kinds of thoughts you’re having that introduce doubt or reduce your capacity to accomplish all the stuff you need to do, those are actually making your to do list much harder. They’re making it longer. And they’re going to create sort of a paralyzing effect where you can’t really get the stuff done because a as now your thoughts are fighting you, they’re actually preventing you from doing anything.

So step one of reducing overwhelm, and handling overwhelm, is to simply write everything down.

I’d like to suggest doing this without any judgment, just write it all down, write it on a piece of paper, do it physically, don’t just put it in your phone.

Then write down the thoughts you’re thinking as well. Anything you need to take care of timelines you’re on, people who expect something from you, whatever it is, write it all down, get it out of your mind.

Shift from stress to calm control.

And then the second thing, when you’re battling overwhelm, is to take a moment and get yourself out of a mental and emotional space of stress, worry and anxiety, and into a state of being in control and feeling calm.

One way to do that, is to put on some really happy, fresh, refreshing, and enjoyable music that will energize you. For each of us, that’s going to be different. I can choose a lot of different songs, I could play on my headphones, turn on the noise cancellation feature of my headphones, and just get absorbed in the music for a few minutes, it’s going to break me from the mental state of stress and mental chatter that’s happening. And it’s going to give me a clean slate for just a few minutes. After you do the thing that clears your mind, whether it’s listening to music, taking a nap, going for a run, find something that doesn’t increase your stress, but gives you a little mental space.

Now we can look back at that list and figure out what should be on it. And what you want to get rid of. The things that you should keep on your list are those things that are absolutely critical. They’re mission critical, as we say. So the very basic things that if you could not get anything else on that list done, you would definitely want to do those three or four things.

I’d like to suggest that your basic list be no more than six things total. So as you’re looking over that sheet of paper, don’t be too attached to all of these ideas just reduce the emergency to six or fewer top priorities.

In my experience, part of the overwhelm is thinking about this whole page of things all at once. And that’s why it’s so debilitating, so paralyzing and so hard to get started.

But if I can reduce it to just five or six top priorities, or even fewer, two or three, that’s even better for me, then you can target something that’s doable, and achievable.

If it’s a really big something, you can break it down into just a few steps. And you can just take one step and make some action happen.

So we want to whittle your list down into the very smallest most important list, the rest of those things probably do matter. And they’ll come back in the future. But just for right now, we want to look at your top priorities. And now, those priorities, you can put in an order that makes sense to you. That is achievable and possible.

Then create an action plan to get started on the first one and keep doing the thing until it’s done.

And cross it off the list, celebrate the wins, celebrate the completion of something, and then move on to the next one. And every time your brain goes back into overwhelm mode, you want to notice that and remind yourself, this is a type of comfort zone, it is a place that the brain will go again and again, especially if I’ve experienced it before.

Notice red flags of your stress cycle.

It’s a lot like the freeze in fight flight or freeze. This is the brain and the body responding to stress. When we get into the freeze mode, we are absolutely paralyzed. We can’t do anything. We can’t take action. We can’t get things done. And overwhelm is an invitation or maybe even a pressure to be in fight flight or freeze.

Overwhelm is a barrier to your success. Whatever it is you’re trying to do. Give yourself a tiny list. Keep the other list handy, consult it when you need to. If there’s a deadline, put it on your calendar. But allow yourself to think of only the shortlist and just start moving, celebrate the wins. And tomorrow, you can start over on that list of six things and either add one more thing to it or reprioritize it or maybe by then you’ll decide something on that list does not need to be done at all.

You could just chalk it off.

Now in my coaching, I have often coached people who are going on a trip and leaving children at home with a relative or something like that. And many times, working parents are trying to prescribe what they want their children to do the whole time they’re gone. And so, one of my questions is usually: How much of that is really in your control?

Ultimately, people will say something like, you know what, if everybody’s still in the home, when I get there, and they haven’t burned the house down, it’s going to be a win. That’s actually kind of an extreme example.

But we can’t really expect or demand that other people do things our way the whole time are gone. So if you can figure out what your bottom line is, like, what’s the absolute basic, acceptable thing, I’d suggest just going with that, instead of over planning, over prepping for other people. Chances are, they’re going to work it out and figure out what they need to do.

So if you were to make a chart with four quadrants on it, and plan some of the things for an absence or for the future, you could make two columns, things that have to be done before a certain time and things that could wait till later. And things that have to be done by you. And things that could be done by other people.

Let go of some things.

Anything that can be done by someone else, it would be great to let them do those things, or hire them to do those things, or delegate those things, or ask and invite them to do those things. Whatever it takes, the more you can make your own lists a little smaller and manage it better by including other people. And looking at a timeline of immediate needs versus later needs. That’s also going to help you de stress and organize your to do list in a way that reduces the probability of overwhelm in the future as well.

I’m a list maker myself, I make a lot of lists. And those lists just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And sometimes I noticed, there’s something on my list that’s been there for a couple of weeks. And if that’s the case, maybe it shouldn’t be on the list at all, maybe it should be on the list of not going to happen, not going to happen.

And once we make that list and let it go, there’s a whole load of stress that we don’t have to feel. Because we’re just not going to be able to do that thing. I would like to refer you to some of my earlier podcast episodes on saying no, setting boundaries, letting go of things.

A very famous entrepreneur had said in an article I read some time back, that we want to make our lists of what we’re going to do, and our list of what we’re not going to do.

And on that list of things we’re not going to do, we need to be willing to say we’re not going to achieve certain things. And maybe we’ve wanted to achieve those things. But we want to achieve a lot of things. And that list is so big, we couldn’t possibly get to it all.

So in the end, we can be as proud of what we’re willing to not achieve and willing to not accomplish, and willing to let go of, as we are about those things we did do and achieve and accomplish. If we can have those two lists and feel good about those choices, we will be a lot more successful, reducing overwhelm, focusing our efforts and getting some real things done.

And in life, I’ll just give an example of this. Like, let’s just talk about buying groceries, I cannot buy all the food in the store, right? I might want to buy all those things. But if I buy every kind of fruit and vegetable that is in the fresh produce section, I can’t eat all those things in a certain length of time, there are certain things I’m going to have to say no to and be willing to not purchase.

And maybe I’ll consider them next time. And the things I do buy and bring home, those things need to be consumed, they have to be eaten, or they’re going to go rotten, and I’ll have to throw them away and I will have wasted that money. So my to do list should be a lot like my grocery list.

Let yourself choose only a few things.

That is there are things I’m going to choose because I can make a certain number of meals or have a certain number of food items that I eat every day. And there have to be things I’m willing to not choose and not buy. So that I have a positive experience in my kitchen and in my eating life. So that’s a great metaphor for the work list or the list of home projects you might be thinking about.

I hope you’ve had a great thought today of a way that you can personally reduce your overwhelm, either in life or work or both. And if this has benefited you, please share this podcast with a friend.

Subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And please, stop by and leave a review whether it’s on Apple iTunes, or Google podcasts. I appreciate you being a listener today. Come back next week, we’ll talk some more. Here’s to being the best version of you and reducing overwhelm in the coming week!

This season’s theme song is “Training Day,” by Infraction. Used with Permission.

Like what you read here? In this podcast, I’m sharing some core principles I’ve learned in coaching that have completely changed my life. These ideas restore personal power and bring the confidence to grow in our unique traits, strengths, and attributes, and go forward to create good in the world. Right here, you have the gems to take one small step. And with a personal coach, you can make it a lasting part of your life. You can change how you see things and feel your true purpose every day.