Here’s how to get those overwhelmed feelings out of your head—or keep them there, if you like.
Ever feel like you can’t accomplish anything because you have way too much to do?
I’m here to bust some myths about overwhelm, so you can learn what it really is and how to combat it.
Overwhelm is an emotion. That means something you feel in your body.
Every person feels their emotions differently, so tune into which parts of your body you notice when you’re overwhelmed.
Here’s the first myth:
You feel overwhelmed because there’s too much to do.
The truth is that we only feel a certain way because of what we’re thinking.
If you’re thinking, “I have way too much to do and I do not know how in the world I’m going to accomplish it all,” you might feel overwhelmed.
You’re NOT feeling overwhelmed because of the mere fact that you have a to do list, rather from the way you’re thinking about your to do list.
Imagine you have a lot going on at work. You’re in the middle of a few projects, waiting to hear back from a couple of companies that you pitched to, and in the process of hiring someone to do your bookkeeping.
You walk into the office after your lunch break, and you’re super stressed and overwhelmed. You don’t know where to start. You’re thinking, “I have so much that needs to get done today. I don’t know how in the world I’m going to manage to get through half of it. It’s all time-sensitive, so I need to make sure not to forget anything important.”
You think you’re overwhelmed because of all the things you have to do, but what’s actually causing you to stress is how you’re thinking about everything.
Imagine you had a clear plan for every minute of your day. My guess is you would be thinking something along the lines of “Ok, now I need to do this, and then I’ll take care of that…”
I can just imagine that you’ll feel more driven, determined or empowered rather than overwhelmed…about the same list of to-dos.
Do you hear the difference?
We think we don’t want to feel overwhelmed.
That might not be the full truth.
Overwhelm is what we call an indulgent emotion. That means we tend to indulge in it, because it prevents us from taking action, as in, doing something instead of stressing about it.
We think we don’t want to feel that way, but we’re sometimes choosing to stay overwhelmed instead of trying to work out a plan of action, because it’s easier. Of course, the choosing is happening so subconsciously that we don’t even realize we’re making a choice.
Here’s an example of that:
Let’s say it’s Friday afternoon and your baby has been teething the last few nights. You still need to make 1 last dish for Shabbos, wash the dishes, bathe the kids and set the table. Your three year old has an accident that minute. Your reaction is “Omg I can’t do this now. I have way too much on my head, there’s no way I’m making it on time for Shabbos.” You think that, you scream that, you tell your husband and your mother, and you’re a complete wreck.
Right now, you’re indulging in feeling overwhelmed.
What you’re not doing is breathing and making a plan to get to Shabbos.
In some way, it’s easier stressing about the situation than taking steps to fix it, right?
I want to point out that this is very typical human behavior. If you can relate to this line of thinking, then you are just like a large percentage of us humans. You’re not doing anything wrong. This is how many of us tend to think.
You don’t necessarily avoid certain tasks because you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Actually, when you feel so overwhelmed by something, you’re more likely to avoid taking any action, since it seems so overwhelming.
A good example of this is someone who comes home from a weeklong vacation with suitcases loaded with dirty laundry, new purchases and a lot of random household items, thinking, “I can’t be bothered to start unpacking all my stuff now and figuring out where it all goes.”
What she’s thinking is that by mentally reviewing all the various items in her bag, she’s helping herself unpack. In reality what’s happening is that with each item she remembers in her bag, she’s getting less and less eager to unpack. How much procrastination do you think she’ll do before those bags get packed away?
Did getting overwhelmed about unpacking help her?
What she could have done was simply start unpacking and think, “In 20 minutes everything will be packed away.”
Now that you learned these myths, overcoming overwhelm is a challenge that you might surprisingly find yourself willing to work through.
You go straight to the source of the problem: your thoughts.
If you can recognize which thoughts are causing you to feel overwhelmed, then you can simply change that thought to think something else.
You can decide how you want to view that situation differently, in a way that feels better and helps you get through it.
Want to learn more about time management from Brocha? See her post on Carving Out Me Time.