My 5 Tips on Managing Overwhelm

1. Monitor your feelings of overwhelm. With practice you will be able to recognize smaller and smaller amounts of an overwhelmed feeling. Practice noticing how intense your feeling of overwhelm can get. How quickly do you escalate to this maximum intensity? Notice at what level of intensity the feelings of overwhelm start to become particularly difficult or toxic. Notice if there is any amount of the feeling of overwhelm that acts as a motivating or action inducing force.

2. As soon you notice a feeling of overwhelm that is edging close to or already in the excessive range, exit the activity at hand and take a brief break. During this mini-break do something physical – take deep breaths, stretch, or actively engage one of your senses – and get out of your head. Focus on the physical act rather than going through the motions of the act while you are still thinking. In other words, take a break from the thinking that is going along with the feelings of overwhelm.

3. Following this break, rewind and locate the issue that ignited the feelings of overwhelm. Take some time to truly identify the trigger – it is not always the obvious one. For example, you may become overwhelmed as you tackle a presentation for work. It may be tempting to link your feelings of overwhelm with the workload of the presentation but it may be that your feelings of overwhelm are linked to the act of giving the presentation, or with the fact that you are working alone.

4. Once you have a sense of the trigger, break the trigger down into manageable chunks. Create a timeline for completing the chunks, leaving enough wiggle room so that you accommodate unexpected developments. If your feelings of overwhelm creep back in, refocus your attention on the trigger break-down and on the timeline – in other words let the planning you did help calm and reign in your feelings of overwhelm.

5. If the overwhelm arises at a time when you cannot take a break or the trigger is one that cannot be broken down into smaller amounts, then practice calming your overwhelm by focusing your thoughts and attention on the big picture of your life or of life in general. Odds are that whatever is triggering your overwhelm pales when you focus on the big picture of what truly matters and holds meaning.


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