How to overcome overwhelm in life and work

Overcoming overwhelm and burnout

Learning to overcome overwhelm is one of the most important life skills to have in your personal growth arsenal. Here are 7 tips to keep your head above water and avoid burnout.

You may have noticed that stress and anxiety is a global epidemic. Millions of people are in a constant state of overwhelm as they face the many ups and downs associated with living in modern society. 

If you are one of many who struggle to feel cool, calm and collected with the way life ebbs and flows, then this 7-step guide on how to manage overwhelm is for you.

What is overwhelm?

Overwhelm is a perpetual feeling of pressure that stems from negative thoughts and expectations about some aspect of your life. This typically happens when you are inundated with too much physical or mental clutter

Overwhelm is the aftermath of thinking you have to have or do everything, all at once.

This do more and do better attitude is a form of perfectionism that can immobilize you if you don’t create space and give yourself a break. It often leads to you feeling stuck, giving up and, in some cases, succumbing to apathy.

Perfectionism is really just fear rooted in unrealistic expectations about yourself. In the midst of worrying about achieving overly idealistic goals, you may forget to leave room for joy. A life absent of joy is not a rewarding life and this void can eventually lead to depression.  

If you are emotionally flooded because of challenges in your life or work, first consider what not to do when you are feeling overwhelmed. Then follow these seven tips to get your head above water. 

1. Breathe Better

Learning how to breathe properly is the first step in overcoming feelings of overwhelm. People often constrict their breathing when in a state of fear, frustration or anxiety. This often exasperates the emotional pressure and can lead to physical health conditions as well. 

Using simple techniques to increase the flow of oxygen throughout the body can instantly work wonders for your emotional state.

First it will relax your body then it will relax your mind, making it easy for you to get a handle on the challenges you are experiencing and chart a path forward.

2. Be Mindful

Just like you can only take one breath at a time, it’s important to focus on one thing at a time especially when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Mindfulness is the practice of training yourself to be present and alert to what is going on right now

One contributor to overwhelm is having too many thoughts, ideas, decisions and actions going on at the same time that overload your mental processing.

Creating a simple self-care routine that is centered around mindfulness is key to the awareness, clarity and focus you need to stay stable during tough times. 

Overcoming overwhelm and burnout is a skill that everyone needs

3. Make Checklists

Writing your thoughts down in a journal or planner, or whatever tool you find suitable, is a great way to reduce overwhelm. As mentioned, too many thoughts and ideas are the culprit and getting them our of your head is a great way to detangle yourself 

Start a practice of writing checklists of things that are on your mind and use a framework, such as the Eisenhower box, to prioritize what’s important and urgent versus what isn’t. 

This easy productivity technique not only organizes your thoughts but helps you focus on what actually matters and eliminate the rest. 

4. Lighten Up

Taking yourself too seriously (which stems from perfectionism) significantly contributes to feelings of overwhelm.  Sometimes stopping to ask yourself “How can I make this more fun?” is a wonderful way to reduce the pressure around decisions and activities. 

A well-lived life incorporates laughter and playfulness.

These are not only mood-boosters they help train your brain to reframe situations in a more positive light and build up tenacity so you can weather the storms with a smile on your face. 

5. Start Small

One effective way to manage overwhelm is to learn how to take small steps that lead to continuous improvement. A powerful Japanese philosophy to consider is Kaizen which teaches you the art of asking small questions, solving small problems and celebrating small wins. 

In addition to having too many things to focus on, overwhelm is often induced when things seem too big to tackle.

However, adopting a Kaizen approach means breaking things down small enough to become easy to handle. And, of course, over time a lot of small steps yield significant results. 

6. Be Empathetic

In the midst of overwhelm, it’s easy to listen to an inner narrative about your shortcomings. However, it is most important during times of emotional challenge that you practice self-empathy and self-kindness. 

First, be aware of any negative self-talk and gently shift your thoughts to positive self-inquiry where you focus the mind on useful questions that inspire you to find a way through. 

7. Lower Expectations

For the most part, overwhelm typically comes down to thinking you have to do everything perfectly or to such an incredibly high standard that it’s often just not feasible. 

Instead of feeling good enough you constantly feel less than and put a lot of pressure on yourself when you don’t reach your unrealistic goals. 

Lowering your expectations doesn’t mean you need to have low standards or set petty goals for yourself. It simply means that adopt the Stoic philosophy of understanding what is actually within your control and focusing your energy on that.

When you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck in a rut, it’s important to have a process you can employ to work your way through your challenges. Using any of these seven steps, or different strategies of your choosing, will empower you to confront your obstacles instead of being swamped by them. 

This guide to managing overwhelm was written by Katja Hunter, a Denmark-based Kaizen-Muse creative coach whose services help overwhelmed creatives and entrepreneurs find clarity and structure in their life and work. Images by Hadis Safari.

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