Four Ways To Reduce Overwhelm

There are what feels like 500 things to do. There is a list…somewhere, maybe on the kitchen counter. I could get totally focused on finding the list. That is the wrong path. A better idea  is to start cleaning something. If I do that, at least something  will at least get  done and I will  feel better,  assuming  I don’t get  interrupted . Unfortunately, the more important tasks remain to be completed so my stress level goes up. This has been the challenge. For me, if it isn’t the list it is finding my keys or my schedule book. When I lose track of these important items, I know I have hit overwhelm.

Once overwhelmed, your mind spins.  Even if you are doing something productive your inner chatter can continue raising your anxiety level or even escalate to panic mode. When your mind is anxious, your decision-making suffers. It is easy to get side tracked and feel as though you have been very busy accomplishing nothing or even worse, to  dissolve into inertia watching television or cruising the internet or even staring off into space. The reasons for overwhelm are individual. That being said, I hear the following reasons repeatedly.

There is just too much information. It gets impossible to make decisions with so much input.

Increased pressures at work: More is expected in less time due to all the wonderful time-saving tools we now have available, most of which are a double-edged sword.

Economic pressure. Its been a long time since there was a raise. While people are glad to have a job, refer back to reason number two. This gets even more gruesome when productivity standards are raised, and the ability to be creative seems to be reduced.

So what do you do to manage these pressures which seem unlikely to go away any time soon? It is time to reset.

1. Breathe. Stop a minute the next time you catch yourself worrying. Notice your breathing. Chances are it is shallow and high in your chest.  Deepen it. Notice the coolness of the air filling up your lungs. Notice the warmer temperature of the air when you exhale.  Just focus on how this feels. By the time you have accomplished 10 slow deep breaths you will feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed. Research has documented that breathing  at a rate of 8 full breaths a minute or less induces alpha waves in the brain, producing a more relaxed state.  Decisions made in this state are almost always better decisions. It starts a positive spiral.

 2.Take  breaks. Do not work through the breaks you are allowed in your workplace. It might feel virtuous or even necessary but you probably are not doing anyone a favor.  Research has also documented that people are actually more productive if they take breaks every two to three hours than if they work straight through.   If you spend most of your work day sitting, get up and move. If you spend most of your time standing or moving, take a seat. Get outdoors if you can. If you cannot, at least move to a window, or somehow find a change in scenery.  Look out to the horizon and change the focus of your thoughts to something pleasant that you are looking forward to. If you have not ever developed a mental vacation spot, design one. Take one of those mental vacations during break time. If you are a social being who wants to chat with someone, talk about something positive and non work related.

 3.  Get enough sleep. That means go to bed on time versus getting caught up reading or working or playing on the internet. For me it means to lie down in my actual bed, deepen my breathing and forget the day-which is easy on a good day. At the end of a not so good day, it means refocusing and letting the day go, since there is nothing that can reasonably be done but take care of myself by getting enough sleep.  Additionally it is a good practice to  deliberately turn your thoughts  towards gratitude. When I practice this, it alters my mood in a positive direction and that is what I want to go to sleep thinking about.  I am thankful for whatever I can be thankful for from the day just past. I am thankful that I can “redo“whatever happened, imagining a better choice and know that next time, I can make that choice.

 4.Reduce exposure to media. There is nothing quite so wonderful for adding to overwhelm as overexposure to media, especially “the news”. While it is true that to be a responsible citizen one would do well to stay informed of the happenings in the local community and  government, most of “the news”: is not really. Since the advent of 24 hour news channels we get a lot of opinion pieces and even whole shows that are largely opinion presented as “news” and a lot of repetition of negativity that people have no way of affecting in any immediate fashion. Chances are your internet browser also entices you to follow links to “must know” information that are lessons in marketing. Before you know it, way too much time has passed. Did you get the task accomplished that sent you to the internet to begin with? I changed my browser to the original Google search page to help me out with that one. Otherwise I may end up looking at a list of ten best and worst celebrity dress choices or what some pundit thinks of my football teams’ performance this year. Do I need to know that? Really?

 What if you practiced at least one of these four strategies to reduce overwhelm today? Chances are you will find your day running smoother and your outlook a little brighter.

On a good day, the list is where I usually keep it, the keys are on the hook, and the schedule book is in my computer bag where it belongs. On a good day, I manage to stay focused. On a good day, I have probably practiced  at least one of these four strategies that definitely reduce overwhelm, and so can you.