What To Do When Feeling Overwhelmed

After my posts on coping with Christmas busyness (here and here), I had a number of emails from readers that while the circumstance were different, they were essentially looking for a solution to the same problem – feeling overwhelmed:

“I have menu planned, but I have so many other small things to do before the baby arrives, I am almost frozen and don’t get anything done. – Kerry”

“We are going away for Christmas for the first time with the kids and I don’t even know where to start with the packing. – Siobhan”

Feeling overwhelmed is quite awful and I know that from experience! At times when I take too much on, I do manage to overwhelm myself. And the worst thing about it, is it often becomes one of those catch 22 situations. You feel overwhelmed so become unproductive, the to do list gets bigger and you feel even more overwhelmed.

While unfortunately I haven’t mastered the art of not getting to this point in the first place yet – I am trying 🙂 , I have developed a strategy to get myself out of this situation.

1. I can do this

  • “I have no idea how I am going to do this all.”
  • “I can’t do this.”
  • “I will never get it all done.”
  • “Why did I think I could do this?”

These are just some of the thoughts that enter my head when I get overwhelmed. Once I have realised I have hit the point of being overwhelmed and the self talk has started to creep in, I have to consciously change my self talk from the negative to the positive and tell myself “I can get through this!”

Negative self talk adds to feeling overwhelmed. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, take a big deep breath and tell yourself “I can do this.”

2. Write it all down

Write every single thing down that is cluttering up your head space and adding to your stress. Write down the phone calls you need to return, the key emails which need responding too, every single errand that you know needs to happen over the next week or so. Don’t over think it, just get it all down as quickly as you can and make sure it is comprehensive.

The simple act of pouring it all out onto paper does wonders for me. While I do have apps that I use on a regular basis to help me manage my work load, when things get to this point, I need the clarity of seeing it on paper.

3. Organise the list

Your list is most likely enormous and you might be feeling even worse by seeing it all listed, but we can work on that! Group all like tasks eg errands, phone calls, work commitments, family commitments, etc.

I have created the above template for this very purpose for me. Click here or on the image to download a word document version, which you can modify to suit your needs.

Then once you have them ordered work out how can you simplify this list:

  • Delete – are there any that you can delete from your list, eg can choose not to go to an event?
  • Modify – were you going to make fruit cake for Christmas? Make an ice cream cake instead. Were you going to make your own Christmas tags? Buy them or try this cheats option instead.
  • Extend – did you set any of the due dates? Do they really need to be done by then or is it just a nice to have?
  • Seek a change – if you are feeling overwhelmed at this time of year, you are most likely not on your own! If it is a catch up with friends etc, think about calling and moving the date back. Others do understand and quite possibly like me, they might even be happy like I was earlier this week, when I had few spare hours after a friend cancelled our lunch date.

4. Prioritise

Now that you have the list of every task this is adding up to make you feel overwhelmed, number them in order of priority and write an estimate of how long you think it will take you to complete.

5. Go do something

Since we have just prioritised our list, the natural thing is to start with the number one task. But if you are feeling overwhelmed the most important task might just seem too much right at this minute.

I find I get a mental boost from having small successes. Set a timer for 15 minutes and work through as many small tasks on you list as you can. At the end of the 15 minutes, grab a pen and enjoy the feeling of crossing them off the list.

Now go back to your priorities and choose one of the top 3 to do tomorrow. It may not be possible to do your number one task, eg you may need to drive a distance to pick something up and it just won’t fit in between drop offs and pick ups, but make sure you don’t just keep putting it off either.

6. Review and plan

From this point on, each night before you go to bed review your list. You will have most likely added to it through out the day. Go back to point three (Organise the list) and do this again if needed.

Once the list is up to date, choose the one big item from the top of your priorities you will complete the next day. Plan your day so you can achieve this task. Having one single focus for the day gives you a much better chance of success, as your focus is not split. You can always go back to your list once that task is completed and take on more tasks.

Then take some more deep breaths and remember what Christmas is really about for you and your family. Your expectations of yourself are most likely much higher than what others have of you, so be kind to yourself!

What strategies do you use when feeling over whelmed?