Stories: they accompany us each day. Whether we realize it or not, our life is defined by the stories we tell ourselves: who we are, what we can do, what we like and what we don’t. These tales can help us live a life that’s full of joy, nurture, and accomplishment. But they can also sabotage us.
If you’re like most of us, there’s a good chance the latter happens more often than you’d like to admit. The unfortunate truth is that often these negative narratives become daily habits. Some of them have apparent repercussions such as poor health if we continuously talk ourselves out of exercising.
In other cases, the habits are buried so deep that we don’t even realize our actions are reinforcing negative stories. A forest fire starts from a single spark. Similarly, it doesn’t take much to get us stuck in a cycle that results in overwhelm.
When you were a kid did you ever wish a stomach ache into existence the morning of a difficult test? (No? Just me?) Similarly, I bet you’ve convinced yourself that the unease you’ve been feeling is nothing to worry about. Or the fact you haven’t been able to get enough sleep for a month is just a coincidence. We’re masters of deceit, switching between reality and fantasy when it serves us. That is until we can’t ignore the signs anymore.
Cues that seemed insignificant at first snowball. You find that it’s hard to focus. Falling asleep at night has become a stressful battle of wills. It’s hard to breathe, and even simple things seem impossible. Thinking about your to-do list causes hyperventilation. Crawling into a fortress made out of blankets and ignoring reality sounds pretty good right about now.
Say hello to Overwhelm. It’s a nasty bugger, let me tell you. But it’s not undefeatable. This is a call to arms, and you’re enlisted. You got this. First and foremost be kind to yourself through this process. Take a few deep breaths and notice how you’re feeling and how you’re treating yourself. Log out of your inbox and all messaging platforms. Turn your phone on silent. You owe yourself time to get focused to get back on track
If you don’t carve out the time to get your head right, you won’t go far anyway. You’re in metaphorical quicksand. Frantically exerting yourself will only sink you deeper.
First and foremost be kind to yourself through this process.
Change your surroundings. Go for a walk if you can. If this isn’t possible, change from sitting to standing. Go to a coffee shop or change your physical space in some other way. When you change something tangible in your surroundings, even just in your posture, it’ll help detach you from your toxic mental state. Once you’re settled in again, take a pen and a paper and write down everything that you’re feeling. No filters. Be completely raw and honest. Next, go through what you wrote. List everything that frustrates you and that you’d like to change on a separate paper.
Don’t worry about doing it all right now, you’ve got time. Also, accept the things you can’t change and let them go.
In this list, highlight things you can do something about. Read through and, focusing on one highlighted item at a time, write down how you can improve. Don’t worry about doing it all right now, you’ve got time. Also, accept the things you can’t change and let them go. You should already be seeing a little more clearly. Now, let’s tackle that to-do list. List your most pressing responsibilities and to-dos. Out of these, find what you can delegate, reschedule or drop altogether. Prioritize the remaining items. Now, pick three things from the top and leave the rest for now. You’ll want to break down each of your selected to-dos into small steps. And I’m talking minuscule, tiny, simple, microscopic steps. Seriously, get as granular as you can. Now, look at your calendar and schedule these tasks. If you haven’t already, now is the time to try calendar blocking. You’ll have to estimate how much time each of these things will take so you’re less likely to pile on too many expectations for yourself. You’ll want to start off with small wins, so be realistic and give yourself plenty of time to get everything done. Don’t forget to schedule some breaks, too. A rested brain is an effective one.
When starting off with your tasks, make sure you do one small thing at a time. No multitasking allowed. Then, bask in the feeling of gratification when checking off each small step from your list. Enjoy it, then move on to the next thing. Once you’ve accomplished the first three goals, pick out the next batch from your list. Rinse, repeat. And just like that, you’re on your way. Part of the reason we get overwhelmed is there are unanswered questions and undefined obstacles in our way. Or, we simply haven’t taken time to grasp what exactly goes into achieving what we need to accomplish. We may not realize it consciously, but our subconscious picks up on it and starts causing mayhem. Problems are magnified. We’ll get laser-focused on impossibilities before we even understand what’s happening. The whole thing seems hopeless and overwhelming. Breaking each to-do item into mindless steps helps your brain see that there’s nothing to fear.
Part of the reason we get overwhelmed is there are unanswered questions and undefined obstacles in our way. Or, we simply haven’t taken time to grasp what exactly goes into achieving what we need to accomplish.
Finally, and this may very well be the hardest step of all, do some introspection. A healthy life is a balanced one. What was it that led you to this place? Start noticing how things you do make you feel – why not keep a running list. So often we’re on autopilot and don’t even realize that some habits of ours that feel good at the moment can leave us drained or unsatisfied in the long run. Find the things that keep you grounded and supported. Be intentional about making time for them each day. Schedule it. You’ll be so glad you did.