Shefali, a housewife and mother of 2 children under the age of 5, looked like a deer in headlights. Her mind was racing, she couldn’t catch her breath and she wanted to cry but felt she had no time to do so. She knew she had a hundred things to do that day but as she tried to list each one out, her mind went into ten other directions at the same time. Her eyes darted about as she jumped from one task to another, never fully completing any of them.
Sanjay, a junior in high school, was upset. He saw how the piles of books, notebooks and papers had taken over his desk. Everyone told him this was the hardest year of high school but he never fully realized how much there was for him to do. Studying for SATs and final exams, doing group projects, writing papers and staying on top of three extracurricular activities – it was all becoming too difficult to manage. He sat at his desk and just stared at his day planner for a few minutes before moving to his bed and checking out Facebook for two hours. That night, he stayed up until 2am trying to finish his tasks for the night.
Abhik was an engineer who had just recently been promoted. While he was excited that his supervisor saw his talents and skills, he was not prepared for the increased workload and the large number of people he had to manage. He remembered his father always teaching him that real men take challenges head on and don’t shy away from them. However, he struggled to keep up while he transitioned into his new role. He was always in a bad mood when he returned home from work, having a short temper that resulted in picking fights with his wife over unrelated matters. Anytime she asked him to do something around the house, he would become agitated, asking her why she couldn’t do things on her own for a change.
Shefali, Sanjay and Abhik are all exhibiting signs of being overwhelmed, a feeling that arises when you take on more than you can reasonably manage. People react very differently to feeling overwhelmed, with some trying to complete tasks inefficiently, others avoiding the source of anxiety and procrastinating and yet others taking their frustration and stress out on the people in their lives. Feeling overwhelmed can significantly affect your sleeping patterns, what you eat and also your mood.
Feeling overwhelmed can begin at a very early age. Infants who enter a room where all of the adults stare at them and want to hold them can be overwhelmed by the attention. Children who begin school can feel overwhelmed by the sudden change in their daily routine. As we get older, our tasks and responsibilities all increase which can cause us to feel overwhelmed as well.
Feelings of overwhelm, if not addressed properly, can become factors in developing an anxiety disorder, especially if anxiety runs in your family. Here are some tips for any age to help reduce the feelings of overwhelm:
1. Break tasks into smaller, achievable steps. If your infant feels overwhelmed by large groups, start by introducing a small number of people to your child. Similarly, for older kids, teens, and adults, make a list of your to-dos and break them up into smaller steps. For example, if you have to study for a history exam, on your to-do list, list all of the steps involved in studying: read chapter 13, answer 5 questions, write down key terms, etc. By doing this, you are able to focus on steps that you have confidence in doing.
2. Schedule procrastinating time. When we are overwhelmed and stressed, our brains become overloaded and we cannot function at our optimal performance. Allow yourself 10 minutes each day to procrastinate as a way to manage your anxiety. After the time is up, choose one task you wish to complete and focus your energy entirely on that one item. This will also allow you to take a break from your responsibilities without feeling guilty because you know there is a finite amount of time you are allowing yourself to deviate from the tasks.
3. Prioritize. Make a list of everything you have to do for the day. Then classify the tasks into the following categories: Crucial to finish today, Important to finish today, Can be finished tomorrow. Then focus on the tasks in that order. This can help you realize there is some flexibility in your to-do list which is helpful in reducing the feelings of overwhelm.
4. Use your senses. Taking a deep breath, going outside to breathe fresh air, or splashing water on your face are all ways to help reduce anxiety. When we are overwhelmed we can allow our thoughts to run away from us and we lose some touch with reality. Using your senses can help ground you back into reality and help you gain some perspective.
5. Laugh. Laughter has shown to be one of the best antidotes to stress as it has significant positive effects on our mind and our body. Watch a funny video or talk to a friend who makes you laugh. Some people believe that if you force yourself to laugh you will begin to genuinely laugh automatically. In fact, there is a laughing club in India based on this exact premise.
5. Know your limits. We tend to mistakenly believe that saying yes to everything that is asked of us makes us better. However, many situations where we feel overwhelmed are actually self-inflicted. Know how much you can realistically handle – not how much you wish you could handle – and then learn to say no to requests. Also ask for help when you need it. No one is superhuman and everyone can benefit from someone else’s aid.
How do you manage being overwhelmed? Please leave your comments below.