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Knowing what you want to accomplish in the new year is a good thing, though sometimes our well-intended goals can leave us feeling overwhelmed and discouraged. But it doesn’t have to be that way!
These easy-to-implement ideas for 10 Ways to Combat Overwhelm can help you take a breath, get a grip, and gain perspective. Most take less than fifteen minutes. All of them can help you find a little more enjoyment in life’s busy journey.
1. Make time for Morning Prayer or Meditation
One of my favorite planning tools asks me the same question every day, “What is the ONE thing I can do today that will make everything else easier?”
For me, over and over again, the answer is to begin my day with prayer.
Taking a few minutes to quiet my mind, express gratitude to God, and seek guidance makes a huge difference in how I approach the day to come. It widens my perspective, helps align my priorities with the things that matter, and reminds me that I am not alone.
(My practice involves prayer. Others may find benefit in meditation or quiet reflection.)
On busy days, the temptation to skip my morning prayer time can be strong. However, I’ve learned that bypassing those ten or fifteen minutes is almost guaranteed to turn a busy day into an overwhelming day.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but history has shown that I’m too busy NOT to make time for prayer.
2. Take a Walk
I’m no quitter. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed, sometimes the smartest thing I can do is walk away –as long as I’m doing it outside.
Leaving your work or problems behind and taking a walk is one of the fastest, most effective ways to combat overwhelm. Scientific studies have proven that getting some fresh air and soaking in a little vitamin D has tangible health and psychological benefits.
It can also help us escape the cycles of rumination, which is a fancy way to describe the act of worrying.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the solution to a problem I’ve been wrestling with often pops into my brain unbidden when I go for a walk.
3. Take a Dance Break
Well, this one might sound a little silly. And yes, you might also feel a little silly doing it.
However, when I am feeling overwhelmed, I will sometimes ask Alexa to play a peppy, upbeat song and dance around the house. Three minutes of dancing to a song I like is a great way to release tension and stress and always leaves me smiling.
(Need a song suggestion? Try Blame It On The Bossa Nova. That’s one of my favorites.)
4. Take a Breath to Reduce Overwhelm
Combatting overwhelm can be as quick as taking a breath – really! Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold that breath for seven seconds. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight seconds. Repeat up to four times.
Studies have shown that this technique can help reduce anxiety and stress. If you’re suffering from insomnia, it might also help you get to sleep. And getting a good night’s rest will definitely help you feel less overwhelmed!
5. Take a Creativity Break
A life made up of nothing but work and obligations is a sure-fire formula for overwhelm.
Taking a break to do something creative is a great way to combat those feelings. Spending time doing something creative can lift your spirits and reduce stress. Like walking, I’ve found that a fifteen-minute creativity break can help me break cycles of worrying and rumination.
While it might not seem like a lot, you’d be surprised what you can get done creatively in fifteen minutes. For example, in fifteen minutes you can – sketch a picture, play three songs on the piano, knit a row in a sweater, cut out a quilt block, decorate a photo in a scrapbook, fold an origami dove, do some hand embroidery, write a haiku.
And if you do it on a daily basis, those fifteen-minute creativity breaks will really add up!
6. Prioritize Your To-Dos
Some of you might be scratching your heads at this one. After all, that endless to-do list might be the reason you’re feeling overwhelmed in the first place.
However, not all to-do lists are created equal. Nor are the tasks which appear upon them. Figuring that out and prioritizing your tasks will transform the to-do list from a source of overwhelm to the solution to it.
Start by assigning a letter to each of the tasks on your list.
- A’s are time sensitive tasks that must be done.
- B’s are tasks that should be done but not necessarily right away.
- C’s are things you’d like to do or would enjoy doing
- D’s are things others want from you which are not urgent.
Obviously, the A’s are your biggest priority. Tackle those first. (If your list is composed of nothing but A’s, I would suggest that the first thing on your list be learning to say No.)
If you get through the A’s, then you can take care of one or two of the B’s or one of the D’s. Some days, you might be able to do so; on others, you might not.
Accomplishing at least one of the C’s on your list is also a priority! Remember, a life composed of nothing but work and obligations is a formula for overwhelm. Making time at least a little time for things you enjoy is key.
Also, be realistic about how much you can accomplish in a given day. Thinking you we can check off 20 to-dos in a day is a fantasy. Keep your list short and focused.
Nobody can realistically accomplish more than 3 to 6 meaningful tasks in a day. Not even you.
7. Adjust Your Perspective Around Your Overwhelm
Often, our feeling of overwhelm stems from a distorted view about the impact that our actions or failure to act will have on the rest of the world or our personal future.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed about something you’ve done, or haven’t done, or haven’t done as well as you’d wish, ask yourself some questions. Will it matter in ten years? Five years? Two years? One year?
If the answer to all of those is no, then you should cut yourself some slack.
Just do the best you can in the time you have and leave it at that. Then try some of the other techniques listed above – like taking a walk or a creativity break – to help you move on from worrying about it.
8. Clean Out a Drawer
This particular way to combat feeling overwhelmed is personal to me; I doubt you’ll find it on any other similar lists. However, when I am feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff I have to do, I’ve found that spending ten to fifteen minutes cleaning out a drawer helps a lot.
It gives me a sense of control, at least on a small scale. Yes, my life might be a great big mess, but that drawer is in perfect order. And if I can get a drawer sorted out, perhaps there is hope for the rest of my life. Maybe not today, but eventually.
9. Read a Book
This is another one of those “taking a break” methods for combatting overwhelm. Sometimes, we just need to walk away from the problem for a bit and give our worried brains a rest.
“Who has time to read?” your overwhelmed brain may be asking itself. The answer is – you do.
Remember, you don’t have to read the whole book in a sitting! The great thing about books is that they are broken up into chapters. Most chapters can be read in less than thirty minutes. If you read a chapter every day, you’ll probably finish the book in a month or less.
Reading a book can help combat just about any type of overwhelm, but I think it is especially helpful when we’re feeling overwhelmed by current events, the state of the world, or the news. Now, I’m not saying you should be uninformed or uninvolved, but sometimes we do need to back away a bit.
That’s the perfect time to pick up a book – preferably one with likable characters and a happy ending, something that will remind you that there are nice people in the world and things generally do have a way of working out. (If you need a book that fits the bill, give The Restoration of Celia Fairchild a try.)
10. Cheer Yourself On to Reduce Overwhelm
When I say “Cheer yourself on,” I mean it out loud.
It may seem a little awkward at first, kind of like taking a dance break, but it works. Over the years, I’ve discovered that giving myself an audible verbal “Atta girl!” when I finish a task or do something well is an effective way of combatting the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Though I have always gotten a lot of satisfaction from crossing things off my to-do list, hearing an actual voice (even if it is mine) congratulating me for writing a chapter or getting the laundry done makes me feel better about myself and more capable.
Because even if I didn’t get everything done, at least I got some of the things done.
In the busy world, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed from time to time. But taking a few minutes to try some of these methods for combatting overwhelm can help.
Remember, you’re only human. All you can do is your best. Oh, and something else to remember?
Your best is pretty darn good.