How to Overcome Feeling Overwhelmed and Start Moving

by Manal Ghosain on March 16, 2010

overwhelmed Feeling overwhelmed is like drowning in a sea of things to do and expectations to meet. We can’t keep our head above water.

The natural impulse most of us have in response to feeling overwhelmed is to freeze.

We stop in our tracks. We can’t seem to do anything. It is the exact opposite of rushing. When we allow ourselves to get overwhelmed by all of life’s demands, we turn to procrastination.

More days go by and more things pile up. The overwhelming cycle never ends and we continue to struggle.

Why do we feel overwhelmed?

In order to move forward, we need to understand how we got there in the first place.  The feeling doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual process where things creep up on you until you feel you can’t handle it any more.

In my view, reaching this stage is the result of two factors.

1. Indecision. When you can’t decide what is important to you, you don’t know what you want to do and what you want to ignore. Everything is in your face all the time. This is where it all begins.

2. Resistance to what needs to be done. Postponing or ignoring something because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s going away. The nagging adds more to your resistance and struggle.

How feeling overwhelmed affects us

Feeling overwhelmed is a sign of feeling that things are out of your control. You may experience the following:

  • Feeling like a victim and not taking responsibility. If things are out of your control, then you must be a victim of something more powerful than you.  Once you are in victim mode, you strip yourself of any desire to create what you want in life.
  • Inner struggle. The continued nagging and negativity eat away at you. You can’t feel peaceful when you struggle with a lot of stuff.
  • Avoidance. This is a big one. When you don’t deal with your stressful feelings you tend to avoid the situations that cause the emotion. Avoidance usually spreads like wild fire and before you know it, you start avoiding life.
  • Negative self image. When you don’t achieve results, you reinforce limiting beliefs of lack of self worth and not deserving success. You dig yourself deeper into self loathing and despair.
  • Physical manifestations as a result of stress and frustration. Negativity generates more negativity that affects your mind and body. You feel worn out even without doing anything.

How can you move past the paralyzing situation?

If you recognize that you feel overwhelmed and are not moving forward you can start with the following:

Awareness. This is the first step towards any positive change in your life.

  • Go with the feeling. What does your body tell you when you feel overwhelmed?
  • Pick one thing that you want to do and say it out loud (e.g. I need to do my taxes). Are you feeling that you can’t do it?  Where do you feel it in your body?
  • Close your eyes and let the feeling take you over for a moment. Allow the feeling to move through you. It will subside if you don’t resist it.
  • Say it again: I need to do my taxes. Smile and tell yourself that it will get done just like you have done it every other year or that you will make a fresh start this year. Don’t think about the how you’re going to do it now.
  • Repeat this step with all the things that come to mind.

Don’t worry about how long it will take. You were not doing anything anyway. You might as well spend time to neutralize the negative emotions. This is a HUGE step forward.

Prioritization. With awareness comes the recognition that you can’t do everything at the same time.  You have to start with ONE thing and one thing only.  When we can’t decide what to do it means we don’t know what is important to us at this moment.  Start with what is REALLY important to you.

Break it down. This is where you break down what you chose as your priority into small manageable portions. Write down all the steps you have to do. If your priority was to file your income taxes, your first step is: buying the software and installing it. The second step would be: gathering the receipts. Now you are rolling. Continue doing one thing at a time.

Commit to completion. Nothing is more painful than having something half done or unfinished. If you have to stop because you are waiting for something or someone, make sure that this shows up daily on your list until you complete it. Otherwise it will stay in your mind and nag at you.

Do not take on any new tasks or projects. Complete one thing before adding a new one so your list doesn’t grow. Even better: commit to getting two things done before allowing a new item to come in. This will gradually reduce the size of your list.

You always have a choice. In the larger scheme of things recognize that you always have a choice. You can do something and take it off  your mental and physical list or you can choose to ignore it and live with the consequences.  Either way, you need to make peace with your decision, otherwise, you will struggle.

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