I was inspired to write and record this particular blog post because I was neck deep in overwhelm just two weeks ago. One week later, I was no longer overwhelmed. And it’s not because I checked off all the items on my to-do list. I consistently felt vibrant, grounded, and back to normal from 4 specific practices I do when overwhelm sets in.
Now I’m sharing these practices with you. I call them practices instead of tips, because when you adopt a practice as a way of life, when you do a practice consistently, your life changes. Tips, however, they come and go. You might use them once or twice. Maybe they help and maybe they don’t. But a practice, now that sets you up for lasting change.
Without further ado let’s dive in.
Overwhelm feels like clenching ass cheeks real tight
I used to be a frustrated employee. Several years ago. Working in stale office (and retail) environments for years. Wanting out. Feeling stressed. I gotta leave this place. I have to stop doing this kind of work. I should be somewhere else by now.
But I didn’t feel ready to leave. Not yet. So I still had to show up to the job. Meanwhile, I’ve got personal concerns and a bunch of errands I need to take care of and things I would much rather be doing instead. I tell myself that I don’t have time for all of this.
Now I’m overwhelmed.
Stop Overwhelm Practice #1 - STOP
One of the first things I learned about masterfully handling overwhelm was to watch my language and STOP saying, or thinking, phrases like:
Did you catch the words I used in the paragraphs above? I gotta leave this place. I have to stop doing this kind of work. I should be somewhere else by now.
How do I FEEL when I constantly declare these utterances?
I feel stressed, tense, anxious, and worried.
What do I DO when I feel stressed, tense, anxious, and worried?
I stress out some more and find other things to feel tense, anxious, and worried about. I basically prolong my experience of overwhelm.
I bet the same happens for you. But don’t take my word for it; test it yourself.
Then I experimented with other phrases, like:
Examples: I get to leave this place when the time is right. I choose to show up to my job until I’m ready to leave.
How do I FEEL when I think and speak like this?
I feel empowered, encouraged, inspired.
What do I DO when I feel empowered, encouraged, and inspired?
I look for productive means to improve my situation. I imagine possibilities for my future.
Overwhelm doesn’t just happen. There’s a string of messy thoughts that, left unchecked, butt heads at the same time then ‘all of a sudden’ you feel overwhelmed.
In those instances remind yourself: It’s OK. No problem. This is what humans do.
Now with awareness, pay attention to how you feel when you say and think all kinds of things. Watch what you do when you feel the way you feel. Emotions are powerful allies and guideposts to navigating your day.
Overwhelm looks like hiding in plain sight: hiding from others and especially yourself.
“Damn, I’m swamped. There’s too much to do and too much on my mind!”
I used to think that overwhelm 'just happened' and that it would only go away if I crossed off all the items on my to-do list. I’ve come to realize that’s all bullshit.
Feeling overwhelmed is a choice.
And there are more productive and efficient ways to deal with this emotion.
The dictionary defines overwhelmed as “completely overcome in mind or feeling” and “overpowered or crushed, as by superior forces.”
Two weeks ago I felt overwhelmed. The change in sunlight threw off my energy levels. I had a ton of stuff to do for business and for my job. An exchange with a family member two weeks ago still left a bad taste in my mouth. I still had to find a new doctor. And then some. And more.
Which brings me to...
Stop Overwhelm Practice #2 – SIMPLIFY
Instead of plunging into tackle-obstacles mode, I PAUSED. I breathed deeply. I asked myself: Of all these things on my massive action list, what is the most important thing to do TODAY?
This question trims the excess fabric and forces you to put your attention on what actually matters. This question begs you to be efficient.
The truth was, I did not actually need to do all the things I set out to do. And I definitely didn’t need to do them all in one day. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I’m willing to bet that some of those actions are not as urgent as you’re making them out to be.
Simplifying invites you to clear the fluff, to clear the unnecessary busywork. Humans have a tendency of prioritizing fluff. Because getting down to business is scary and uncomfortable as all hell.
So we say we need to run this errand immediately and send that extra email now and work on the website instead of calling your cousin to clear the air and discuss the gnarly exchange that happened last month.
Or we say we have to proofread a co-worker’s dissertation instead of calling that life coach and taking the first step to get out of your current sucky job and find out what you actually want to do instead.
WHAT IS THE MOST POWERFUL AND RELEVANT ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY?
Do that and forget everything else. This is how we simplify. This is how we take back control of our day.
Overwhelm sounds like “Can’t stop. Can’t rest. Gotta handle this mess…now!”
Two weeks ago SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) hit me hard. No sunlight upon awakening hit me hard. A messy conversation with a family member kept catching me off guard. And I still have to show up for work. Still have a list of to-dos. OVERWHELM.
Amidst the angst I realized that I hadn’t scheduled enough time to complete some of the stuff I chose to do, like find a new doctor. I operated under the assumption that I would just fit this in sometime in some nebulous somewhere.
Stop Overwhelm Practice #3 -
Slowing down means giving yourself more time than you think you’ll need to complete what’s important. Yes indeed. Slowing down also means it’s OK to do less today.
After a period of self-reflection and coaching, I realized that NOT allowing myself double or triple the time I thought it would take to look for that new doc, was, unknowingly, contributing to my feeling overwhelmed.
Not giving yourself enough time à Procrastination à Feeling guilty and obligated. Guess what that means? More overwhelm!
Slowing down means allowing yourself to move in a more manageable rhythm. It means finding your flow and traveling with it. It means designing your schedule to take deep breaths.Often.
When I literally breathe deeply, I expand my diaphragm and create space in my body. Adding more time to complete actions + decreasing how much I’m doing in a day is the equivalent of taking deep breaths in my schedule.
When you slow down your actual breathing, your cortisol levels drop. When you slow down your schedule, your overwhelm dissipates.
I choose to give myself the gift of breathing. Deeply. And often. How about you?
Overwhelm tastes like hot cheetos, salmon, cherry lemonade, escargot, chocolate chunk ice cream, and Heineken all together now, all at once.
When my overwhelm was no longer a thing last week, I felt calm, centered, focused. I’ve been waking up before my alarm energized and ready for the day. Creativity has been flowing. Feeling steady within myself. Scheduling and doing the most important actions and discarding the fluff.
Stop Overwhelm Practice #4 – SOCIALIZE
Of all the practices, I think this one made the biggest impact. I isolate when I’m in my head. Overthinking and overwhelming. It’s easy to make social time a non-priority.
I’ve been through this several times before and each instance I’m in an emotionally heavy place, QUALITY CONNECTION eases it. Pretty much. Every. Single. Time.
So a week and a half ago, I kept my happy hour appointment with colleagues, even though flashes of “maybe I should cancel” crossed my mind. Because at that time I was still pretty f*cking overwhelmed. We spent hours laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying each other.
Quality connection eases tension and creates space for ascension.
I didn’t have plans two weekends ago, so I reached out to multiple friends until one of them said yes. We spent a glorious afternoon in meaningful conversation. Then we explored a mind-bending immersive art installation.
Quality connection eases tension and creates space for ascension.
That family member I had issue with? I called my mom and told her what was bothering me. She shared my burden. I felt lighter.
Quality connection eases tension and creates space for ascension.
When you feel overwhelmed, it may seem counterintuitive to go have fun and connect with your beloved humans. Instead, lots of folx effort harder to get things done. Bringing in some levity is work/life blend or work/life harmony in practice. Tending to my social life positively influenced my work life.
You might say to yourself, “But I can’t afford to take a break and go be with people.”
Umm, you can’t afford not to. To keep pushing ahead without rest and joy leads to burnout. Then you’ll be incapacitated a whole lot longer than the 3 hours it took to spend time with people you care about.
My quality social and family connections contribute to my increased energy. My joie de vivre returns.
Overwhelm can sneak up on you.
When you realize you’re in it, you get to stop it.
When you develop mastery over your mental and emotional experience, you have the energy and focus to do the most important things, not only on your massive action list, but the most important things in your heart.
As a life coach, I help people like you take control of overwhelm so they can focus on, and actually accomplish, the things they say they want most.
I support folx in finding their flow. I help them design the career of their dreams while taking excellent care of their health and relationships. I help them conduct their life based on their natural rhythm…and not anybody else’s.
I’d love to help you do that too.
If these things don’t come naturally to you, but you want it to, let’s talk it through. Just REACH OUT TO ME and let’s create something new.
May you feel good on the regular and kick ass on the daily.
Yesterday I posted about work life/harmony vs. work/life balance. I’ve got another term for you today.
I regularly get together with professionals on Clubhouse where we discuss leadership, personal growth, mindset, and the evolving nature of work in Western society.
During a recent conversation, an executive coach dropped the phrase WORK/LIFE BLEND. My mind did a backflip before landing in Savasana.
I had never heard the expression ‘work/life blend’ before and I love it.
For me, blend is synonymous with harmony. When you blend, you mix and combine certain things together in different proportions, volumes, tastes, flavors…figuratively as well as literally. When you harmonize, you produce a satisfying combination of factors.
Practically, this looks like not checking work emails during my designated personal/me/sacred self-care time.
It looks like knowing when my peak mental-output hours are during the workday and declining social calls during that time.
It looks like making sure I do my physical workout every morning before I engage in deep conversation with anyone.
It looks like playing with my furbaby and going on walks during my breaks when I work from home.
Last week, it looked like going on a new adventure by taking a half day off to go to the horse racing track with friends.
Recently, it looked like consciously choosing to put in 2 hours of arts education lesson planning (for my parallel career) on a Sunday so that I could have a non-existent workload on Monday.
I don’t balance my social life, romantic life, work life, physical well-being, etc. to the same degree. I do consciously choose and design everything I do though.
(This post might make more sense if you go back and read yesterday's post.)
Here's a cool article for your reading pleasure --> Why We Need Work Life Blend Not Work Life Balance.
Regarding work and life, the word BALANCE never did it for me. Still doesn’t.
Balance conjures images of tightrope walkers steadying long and heavy poles, working hard to manage the opposing forces at play so they don’t fall over. Balance requires an even distribution of weight to achieve the desired outcome.
Do you really want to think about your life in this way?
How does it feel when you think you’ll fall over if everything isn’t balanced correctly?
Do you want to believe that work and the rest of your life are in opposition to each other?
If you’re like me, and need another word to express your desired relationship between work and the rest of your life, then consider HARMONY instead.
I used to play alto sax in concert bands and one thing I learned is that you do not need to have balance in order to achieve satisfaction.
Harmony is produced through the combination of multiple factors in varying proportions to experience a desired effect.
You have many instruments playing completely different notes at different volumes and, at times, different tempos.
All doing their own thing, yet coming together to create auditory beauty. These instruments do not require equal airtime in order to achieve harmony.
I choose to view the work/life interplay in this way. You can get the different pieces of your life to play well together, even when some of those pieces don’t appear to be balanced with others. (Check out this Forbes article for more on this topic: Life 'Balance' is Really More About Harmony.)
If the desired effect of satisfaction is achieved, then who cares about balance?
You just have to figure out the right combination of work and other aspects of life that produces your desired satisfaction.
I can help you with that.
Drop me a message in the contact page of this website. And let's create your work/life harmony together.
I felt the life drain out of me when I worked 40-hr/week office jobs.
I lived on the other side of town so my commutes sucked. On top of that, no matter how much effort I put in to create expansive opportunities to thrive at the job, something was still very off.
The jobs, in and of themselves, were good jobs. But I wasn't the best fit for them.
My body was there, but my mind and heart were elsewhere. This dissonance affected my sleep. It contributed to my stinky morning moods. But I wasn't ready, nor in a position to, resign just yet.
I thought about this long and hard. I shared about it with trusted confidantes, including a colleague in another department.
I had a teary-eyed breakdown in front of her. I just didn't know what to do.
Then she asked me a powerful question: “Valerie, why don’t you propose a 30-hr per week schedule instead of 40?”
My mind was blown. The idea had never crossed my mind. I didn't even know I could do that.
I immediately felt relief at the suggestion. So I ran with it...in steps.
Step 1: Confirm the Financials
I had recently been granted a promotion so I was already earning more than I had been a few weeks prior. I calculated expenses and income to make sure that a 30-hr/week income wouldn't be shooting myself in the foot. My findings: I could afford to bump down to 30. And even if the numbers didn't pan out favorably, I knew how I could earn the difference doing work that was more in my wheelhouse.
Step 2: Collect Data
For 2-3 weeks straight, I kept a daily log of how much time I spent fulfilling my duties and responsibilities. From the time I sat at my desk to the time I left for the day, I accounted for every minute. If I was going to ask for a reduction in hours then I chose to provide undeniable justification for it. My findings: It took me 30 hours per week to do my job. Not 40.
Step 3: Make the Request
I showed my manager that I only needed 30 hours to fulfill my duties. I made the case that for me to be there longer was inefficient and an unnecessary expense on the department's financial resources. I didn't make the request about me. I did not say, "I really don't like these commutes. I'm not sleeping well. And I'm feeling depressed." I focused on the value my request would bring to my employer.
Step 4: Enjoy It
My 30-hr request was granted. I worked 6 hours a day instead of 8. My schedule rotated between 10am-4pm and 11am-5pm instead of 9-5 and 10-6. Yes! I felt mad gratitude to my colleague who made the suggestion. I appreciated my trusted confidantes in holding space for me to process my desire. I thanked myself for following through on this act of personal care and wellness. My mornings were no longer filled with stinky moods. They were glorious. I filled that time with edifying activities, including taking action to build my business.
This experience taught me that I didn't have to adhere to other society's expectations of what a work schedule should look like.
This experience taught me that I could be a great employee AND prioritize my well-being.
In fact, I am a great employee BECAUSE I prioritize my well-being.
This experience taught me that so much more is negotiable than I can imagine.
What do you need to negotiate in support of your well-being?
I help professionals experience vitality at work, and beyond, by prioritizing their personal wellness.
Contact me if you're ready to live like this.
My name's Valerie and I'm a life coach. I help frustrated office employees find and flourish their dream careers without sacrificing health and relationships.
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