Overwhelmed? Lots of tasks floating in your brain and freezing you in place. Stop and read this.
Sometimes, when there’s too much to do, and your brain is flooded with too much input, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Our brain is like a battery that needs to be charged every once in a while, and if we don’t give it a chance to rest, we get overloaded.
When we’re met with wave after wave of things that seem to need our attention all at once, we feel too bombarded to process it all. This can lead us to forget things, feel tired, stressed, or frozen in place. This is bound to happen to all of us at some point, so here are five practical tips to get yourself back into a frame of mind where you feel like the driver in your life.
- Take a Deep Breath
When we’re stressed out, we tend to breathe more shallowly, often without realizing it. Instead, we want to send lots of oxygen to our brain so that we can actually realize we’re overwhelmed, and think what to do about it. So simply fill up your lungs with air, then breath out slowly. Do that a few times to let your nervous system know that it’s okay to relax.
- Write Everything Down
Now that you’re a bit calmer, grab a pen and a piece of paper and start to write. Let your train of thought jump around as much as it wants to, and simply follow it. Let out everything from your mind—whether it’s important, unimportant, related to what you’re doing now, unrelated—all of it. It can be messy and scribbly. Throw all the grammar and penmanship rules out the window. Getting things down on paper gives our brain permission to let go of reviewing our to-do lists.
- Make a List
Now that you’ve unleashed all your thoughts onto the paper, take a look at what you wrote and make an organized list of things to do. The bullet journaling system that I showed you in this post is the best way I’ve found to keep track of multiple to-do lists. (A bullet journal is a planner that you customize as you go to fit and adapt to your life. Since it’s customizable, you can write lists on any and every topic. You can rewrite them as many times as you need to organize your mind.)
Once you’ve created a list, take an honest look at each item and cross off anything that’s not your priority right now. Just focus on the things that are important to do right away.
- Take Action
Once you have pared down the to-do list, choose your next actionable step. If you’re not sure what to do next, ask yourself:
- What is my top priority?
- What do I have time for?
- What do I have the energy for?
Once you pick your next action, just do that one thing. When you’re done, check it off and choose another item.
Aim for done, not perfect. Don’t concern yourself over whether or not you can do the best possible job. The main thing is to keep moving through your list and check things off. Once you feel a sense of progress, the feelings of overwhelm will start to fade. Soon, you’ll feel productive and accomplished, which will help you keep moving forward.
Quick tip: For some of you, it can help to do some of the small, easy things first—even if they’re not a priority. This will make your to-do list smaller and more manageable. You’re still moving forward in the right direction.
- Set a timer
Sometimes, feeling overwhelmed can make us freeze up. To get yourself to take action, try this: Choose an amount of time that feels really manageable to you. Maybe that’s 15 minutes, maybe it’s 5. Set a timer, and do whatever you can in that time. Once you get the ball rolling, it will be easier to move on and tackle your next task.
Going Forward: Sometimes the same kinds of scenarios can come up over and over and trigger our overwhelmed feelings. If you see that happening, take note and write things down. It can go a long way to managing stress, giving you a secure feeling. You don’t have to think. Just check your notebook. Keep your focus on taking action and getting things done!
Editor’s Note: We love Rena’s practical method for managing “to-do” overload. For more tips on dealing with the emotional feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed, see this post on Between Carpools that we’ve loved for a long time: 10 things to tell yourself when life gets stressful.