Feeling overwhelmed with life is something I’m sure you’re all too familiar with. It’s that feeling of pressure piling on you when there seems to be a million things to do and just never enough time. Urban Dictionary define overwhelm as “A mixture of depression and stress”.
Signs that we are feeling overwhelmed
You feel like you want to cry because you have so much that is on your mind”. Yup, that pretty much sums it up!
In a state of overwhelm we:
I have so much to do I don’t know where to start but first I really need to get that kitchen tidied and as soon as that’s done I can finally sit down and focus and get stuff done.
It’s so unfair there is so much pressure on me!! Why can’t they all just back off?!
Nothing I do is good enough. (which might actually be true because the more overwhelmed we are the less focused and ‘present’ we can really be to any task). Why can’t I just pull my finger out and actually get on with stuff!! What the hell is wrong with me?
OMG, if I can’t get this done then everything is going to turn to shit and I’m going to be a fat loser with no friends and probably unemployed for the rest of my life!
This is probably stating the obvious but feeling overwhelmed is bad for your state of mind and mental wellbeing, your health (stress manifesting itself physically), and your productivity (because you can panic yourself into actually doing very little).
But what’s really going on here? Overwhelm – feeling anxious – is the surface level problem, the manifestation of something that often runs a little deeper and even perhaps as deep as lack of self-love or self-respect, or fear of failure.
Getting to the nub of the issue is critical for managing anxiety.
So what can you do about it? Tackle it from both ends!
Tips for when you’re feeling overwhelmed
From a practical perspective, when you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s particularly hard to prioritise. So the first thing to do is find a quiet place with few distractions, take a few deep breaths and write a list.
List all the things in no particular order that you:
a) know you need to do
b) feel you should do….and
c) actually really want to do.
If you can’t manage yet to separate them into those three categories, that’s ok. I know in a state of overwhelm I find it really hard to sort the ‘musts’ from the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘want tos’.
Once you’ve got your list you need to have a good think about which of those routines/habits/tasks/pressures/wants actually serve you. And by serve I mean which ones, if you did them consistently and made time for them would make other things easier to deal with?
For me one of the priorities has to be exercise because when I make time for that other things fall into place more easily. My mood is better so socialising is more fun. I have better brain function so my studying and writing time is more effective.
I’m just generally sharper and more engaged so I don’t piss about and can actually get more done. Knowing and constantly reminding myself that regular exercise serves me in every area of my life helps me to keep it right near the top of that ever-expanding priority list.
At the metaphysical level, so much of that feeling of being overwhelmed comes back to the conversations we have with ourselves in our heads (and we all have them – nothing crazy about it), the language we choose to use, and how that language reflects ingrained beliefs we hold about the world and our place in it.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (there are lots of different stories about where the name came from that aren’t really relevant to our task here) is the idea of selective cognitive bias, or to put it more clearly, the idea that what you focus on is what you get.
So when we shift our attention in a certain direction, consciously or unconsciously, our fascinating little minds then seek out data to confirm what we already think we know.
The most classic example is if you decide you like a certain car – let’s say a Volkswagen Golf – and you’re thinking about how nice it might be to own one, then you soon start noticing that every second person in town drives a Volkswagen Golf!
What to Do When You Are Overwhelmed
So, to get back on point, the more you tell yourself ‘I am overwhelmed’, the more you’ll believe it. You may have also heard this expression: “Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right”. We create our own reality, every day.
Let’s take a practical example. Say you’re telling yourself you have to eat better because you’ve never had very good health, so eating better is added to your to- do list and becomes another thing for you to heap pressure on yourself about.
“I’ve never had very good health” is what you’ve chosen to believe, and then you unconsciously look for evidence – or it magically finds you – to support that belief. And, unsurprisingly, you seem to get sick a lot, your immune system is sluggish and you just never feel fully WELL.
So the consequences of not eating well seem all the more dire and the harder you try the harder it seems because you’re not feeling any better and it’s just so bloody hard! Add this to a bunch of other issues that are all similarly urgent and pressing and seemingly insolvable and what do you have? Overwhelm. It sounds circular because it basically is.
Belief = cognitive bias = supporting evidence ‘found’ = reinforced belief.
When you look at it like this, the behaviour – the eating well – doesn’t even feature because it’s actually not the most important part of what’s going on here. That’s what I mean about the overwhelm being a surface level problem and why you’ll make so much more progress on managing the anxiety if you’re willing to do some of the ‘head work’ as well as implement the practical strategies to try and deal with it.
The head work will reveal the deeper layers of meaning you apply to the things on your to-do list and most importantly help remind you that you are ALWAYS in control of how you feel about situations and the pressures in your life.
You’re not in control of events – shit will happen and to-do lists will build up – but feeling overwhelmed with life? That’s yours to own and yours to change 🙂
PS. Did you like what you read here? You may like to sign up with your email to get a copy of my free weight loss eBook – How I Did It: Losing Weight the GI Gen Way, as well as newsletters and other bits and pieces straight to your inbox.
PPS. All images sourced from Bigstock.com.