When you have too much to do and too little time to do it, it feels impossible to do it all. We get tense, stressed and feel overwhelmed by the pressure and expectation. But there is something we do have control over that helps us to deal with the overwhelm.
In this episode we look at:
Pressing Pause Podcast episode 60 I’m so overwhelmed I don’t know where to start
Welcome to Pressing Pause. I’m Gabrielle Treanor, a coach and writer, and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to overcome your overwhelm so you can feel calm, confident and in control.
Hello and welcome to episode 60. I have some news to share with you at the end of this episode so keep listening for that, but right now I want to crack on with a question I’ve been sent.
So, Theresa says: ‘When I have so much to do and no time to do it it feels overwhelming. I find it really hard to know what to do and end up going round in circles and not getting anywhere! I feel like I’m spinning on the spot. I get so cross at myself, how can I stop this and get a handle on it all?’
Oh I hear you, Theresa! How you feel is more common than you may think, and you’ve described one of three main ways that we react when we feel overwhelmed.
When you believe that you have too much to do and too little time to do it, it feels impossible to do it all. And these feelings are stressful, they don’t make us feel good, we tense up, feel queasy perhaps, breathing becomes shallow and speeds up, which adds to the stressed out feelings. Cortisol courses through our bodies, sending out the alert that we’re in danger, we need to fight, fly or freeze.
Now, a fight response could look like being cross and short-tempered. You snap at your partner, you’ve no patience with the kids, you sigh and tut at the size of the supermarket checkout queue and a car not letting you out in traffic makes you see red.
If your reaction is to fly that can look like trying to avoid and numb the overwhelm by binge watching a Netflix series, opening another bottle of wine, going on a shopping spree or busying yourself with other less urgent stuff that feels more doable.
And the freeze reaction is where you don’t know what to do first so you don’t do any of it, you think about everything you have to do, what everyone needs and expects of you, the thoughts go round and round and you stay stuck in the overwhelm feeling unable to move forward.
We may react one way more than the others or our reaction may be a mixture of them and it sounds to me like your main overwhelm reaction here, Theresa, is to freeze.
Now, the added bonuses to all of these reactions is guilt that you snapped, or bought stuff you don’t need, or did nothing at all, and shame as you tell yourself you’re a bad person for feeling overwhelmed and not being able to handle what’s on your plate.
So the feeling of overwhelm, the feeling of it all being too much, is just getting compounded!
I want to make it clear that if you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s not your fault. There is a lot that goes into creating these feelings – society tells women especially that we need to be helpful and accommodating and nice (in inverted commas), the examples we see as we grow up of women doing it all, taking on more responsibility, juggling multiple roles, putting everyone else first – so we aren’t failing at life because we feel overwhelmed, you’re not to blame. But, it is your and my responsibility to recognise what’s causing us to feel overwhelmed and to do something about it, which is good news because it means we’re putting ourselves back in control.
Now, overwhelm isn’t just about what there is for us to do, it isn’t just a list of tasks although that’s absolutely a part of it. It’s also how we feel about what there is to do, and what we tell ourselves about it. Our thinking plays a huge part in how we feel.
Let’s take an example of having something that we have to do soon and other people are relying on us, that’s a pretty good recipe for overwhelm right? So it could be that you have your children’s costumes to make for the school show or presents to buy for Christmas or to finish decorating your spare room before your friends come to stay or whatever is the task that others are expecting you to complete by a deadline.
We’ll take another example of having to complete a report for work in three days’ time. It may require you to spend several hours researching, collecting information and collaborating with colleagues so the task alone is going to take your time, energy and brain power. Plus of course there’s the rest of life that you’re juggling too and having this task to do is pushing you over the overwhelm edge.
Now, as well as the actual task there’s also your thinking and how you’re feeling about the task. So, you might not want to bother your colleagues in case they’re annoyed at you interrupting them when they’re busy so you feel nervous about talking to them. Perhaps the last time you wrote a report like this you found it challenging so you’re worried you’re going to find it difficult it again. You’re wondering what your boss is expecting and are you going to be able to deliver what she wants? What if you don’t? What will she think of you? What could that mean for your position?
So already this one task has become more overwhelming, it’s become a bigger, weightier, scarier, more pressured task because of all the thoughts you’re having about it. The task itself hasn’t changed but how you feel about it has. So now you feel like it’s too much, it’s more than you can cope with, it’s more than you’re capable of, there’s too much riding on it. You feel like there’s too much to do and you don’t have enough time. But, how much time you actually have hasn’t changed, only how you feel about it.
Our thoughts create our feelings which create a physical reaction which is very real and uncomfortable.
Now, staying with this example of having a report to finish in three days’ time, and remember it could be anything that you feel you have to do in a space of time and other people’s expectations are involved, what if you could think differently about it? What if you could catch yourself disappearing down the thought spiral, which is making you feel daunted and overwhelmed by what you have to do, and consciously choose to change how you think about it?
Let’s take the challenging thoughts for this example and see what we can do about them. So you’re worried about your work colleagues being annoyed at you for interrupting them to collaborate on the report. What can you do about this? Perhaps you can send them an email letting them know their input is needed for the report and suggesting a couple of different times to meet to discuss it? You’ve asked politely, given them notice and options to choose from and you can’t be sure what their reaction will be so you’ll gain nothing by continuing to focus on it.
Last time you found it difficult to write a report but you did it, you have the evidence that you can do this. If you’re unsure what your boss’ expectations are you can ask her to clarify them so that you know rather than guessing. Look at this task in the context of your role and at the bigger picture to see if you’re adding pressure to this report and yourself unnecessarily. Are there any other resources you can tap into to support you as you work on this task?
Look at ways you can help yourself to complete this report on time in a way that feels good and supportive to you. Perhaps chunking it down into smaller tasks will help it feel more manageable. Quitting all applications on your computer and only checking email after you’ve finished a section could help you focus. Taking regular breaks to stretch your legs, make a cuppa and a walk outside at lunchtime could help refresh you and boost your energy levels.
The fact of the situation – that you have a task to complete in a specific timeframe and it involves other people – doesn’t change. But how you think about it can and that’s what will help you feel less overwhelmed by what you have to do. You can take control here by recognising when your thoughts are unhelpful and changing them. You’re taking control by taking action, by not fighting or flying or freezing which create feelings of overwhelm and then more feelings of guilt and shame.
By taking the step to decide what you’re going to do and what will help you to do it, you take control and you overcome your overwhelm. And that feels great! Because you’re taking back the power, you aren’t a passive bystander while life piles on top of you. It doesn’t mean that what you have to do disappears, it doesn’t change how other people behave or think or feel which you have no control over. But it does mean that you are in control of what you can control, which is how you think and feel and deal with the situation. And that is powerful. That is you taking control and overcoming your overwhelm.
Changing how you think and feel isn’t something you can flick a switch and instantly do because you’re used to reacting in your usual way of getting stuck in your worries about it all, or of being snappy and irritated, or of trying to numb your feelings. It starts with being aware of when you feel overwhelmed and how it shows up so that you can start to do something about it to help yourself.
It takes time to change our thinking around how overwhelmed we feel and the good news is that this is something we can do, it’s within our power.
If you’ve had enough of feeling overwhelmed, of worrying how to live up to everyone’s expectations, of feeling like you have to do it all and keep everyone happy, of feeling like it’s all just a bit too much, and you want help to feel calmer, be able to relax and let things go, to feel more in control, I’m here to support you.
Through coaching I help my clients to feel free from feeling they have to do all the things, from the weight of others’ expectations and the worry of what other people think. To feel able to say no kindly and confidently. To feel free from feeling like they have to be the perfect person needing to please everyone and make them happy. To feel more comfortable in their own skin, more confident and capable that they can handle whatever happens next. To feel less stressed by life’s demands and more in control of their own lives.
At the moment I have a special offer, working one to one with me, to help you quickly get a handle on your overdoing, overthinking, overwhelm so if you’re interested in finishing this year or starting 2020 feeling calmer, more in control and less overwhelmed, get in touch.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to gabrielletreanor.com/coaching and book a free call with me so we can talk things over on the phone. I’m @gabrielletreanor on Instagram if you want to message me there.
You don’t have to stay stuck feeling overwhelmed.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.
If you have, or think you may have, a mental health problem that requires professional diagnosis or treatment, please consult a mental health care professional and your GP.
You can also talk to the people at Mind on 0300 123 3393 or SANE on 0300 304 7000 or Samaritans on 116 123.
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