Here are three steps you can take when it happens
Earlier this week I was finishing up my day, and I had a bunch of emails left at the top of my different work and personal inboxes. These emails had subject headings like:
- New project idea
- Would you have time to support this project?
- The best opportunity of your year so far (nice try…)
As I took in all of these opportunities, my usual excitement was exchanged for something completely different. I felt that I should be happy that people wanted to do cool things with me, and grateful for the opportunities. But all I could feel was overwhelmed. I felt paralysed and incapable of prioritising or making a decision.
I know I’m not the only one who feels overwhelmed and anxious from time to time —especially in the current climate. Statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control in the US in March 2021 show that anxiety is continuing to rise, and that more than 42% of people surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety or depression (roughly a 17% jump over 6 months!).
I’ve been coaching and talking to people around me over the last few months. Many have expressed that they have been feeling overwhelmed and anxious about coming out of over a year of restrictions and lockdowns, and slowly starting to transition back to a normal life. Some of my friends and colleagues around the world are seeing their communities go through the worst situations. Some feel remorseful, plagued by the thought that they should have done more with their time at home in lockdown. While others feel overwhelmed by the prospect of everything opening up again, and the calendas filling up with social events.
Taking the typical-tech-savvy-millennial route to solving a problem
During my time during lockdown, I didn’t write a book, start a business, learn how to make sourdough bread, banana bread or macarons. But I’m definitely of the opinion that it’s okay to have simply made it through the year. After the initial analysis paralysis I felt earlier this week, I decided to take control of my emotions and take one step towards feeling less overwhelmed.
At first I decided to take the typical-tech-savvy-millennial-route to solving any problem. In other words, I opened my headspace app and typed “Overwhelmed” into the search bar and found the 3 minute long meditation “Feeling Overwhelmed”. Easy. Problem solved!
Well, not quite.
While the 3 minute meditation did help calm down my breathing for a while, it did not exactly solve my problem. So I typed “what to do when you feel overwhelmed?” into the search bar on YouTube. This time I found good and inspirational advice from Tim Ferriss, Mel Robbins, Elizabeth Gilbert and many other wise people scattered around the world. When this didn’t exactly help either, I decided to go back to the basics of life coaching and research on the topic.
Understand the reason(s) you’re feeling overwhelmed and what to do about it
In their book, Immunity to change, Robert Keagan and Lisa Laskow Lahey describe how the sense of feeling overwhelmed is often rooted in the fact that you put energy toward different competing and hidden commitments in life. The complexity of our world makes it challenging for us to make sense of it all. Understanding where these feelings come from is the first step forward towards a better state of mind.
Below you find the three steps I’ve outlined for myself to take when I feel overwhelmed, and use from time to time during coaching:
- Remember it’s okay to freak out. Being overwhelmed has nothing to do with how capable or smart you are. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to make sense of the world, and it can be triggered also by small things in life.
- Understand the root cause. What is making you feel overwhelmed? Are there hidden competing commitments that are pulling you in different directions? What assumptions do you have?
- Take back control. Dare to challenge your assumptions and find your approach to prioritisation.
- Challenge your assumptions. Is something really important and for whom? What is within your control and not? What is the worst that can happen if you choose to not do something?
- Find a way of prioritising that works for you. One option is the 4D-model; Do, Delay, Delete or Delegate. Every day I go through the things I have in front of me and ask myself what I should do, delay, delegate or delete:
- Do: What should I do right now that takes less than a few minutes?
- Delay: Can I delay and block out time for later on?
- Delegate: What can I delegate to someone else?
- Delete: What can I delete and not do at all?
With that all that being said, Headspace is still a great app for meditation! 😛
Best of luck with your journey towards taking control of your sense of feeling more cool, calm and collected! You may also want to check out Laura DeBenedetto’s thoughts on wellness routines.
Anna Ekelund is a certified Life, Executive and Leadership coach. Her mission is to contribute to a positive future by helping the people and organisations around me to meet their full potential through creativity, leadership and a new perspective. Anna works at Google in Ireland, and is passionate about surfing and nature. All thoughts shared by Anna on CQP Blog are her own.