Feeling overwhelmed can create a sense of panic and paralysis at the same time. When we have too much to process or deal with too quickly, it’s easy to lose our ability to think clearly and act efficiently. We become stressed, numb, aloof, irritable and/or powerless. As a result, we may create unnecessary churn or avoid dealing with the situation altogether.
We have all been there. The sooner we catch ourselves when that’s happening, the better and more efficiently we can weather the storm. Here are a few ways to curb anxiety when it hits you:
1. Get out of your head
As quickly as you can, get out of your head. Recognize that you’re in a state of overwhelm and stress. Then, step away mentally and physically. Give the topic a rest by going for a walk, exercising, writing, drawing or playing music. Find an activity that helps you create distance between you and the situation. Once you have recollected yourself, revisit the situation calmly.
2. Break it down
You know the saying: “take it one day at a time”. Similar to that idea, break down the situation into smaller, manageable chunks. Create attainable goals, make a schedule and keep your attention on your the “chunk” right in front of you. Set expectations and clearly communicate them.
3. Stop trying to control everything
A big reason for “overwhelm” is lack of control. Realize that you can’t control everything. The idea that you are 100% in control is an illusion. We’re never 100% in control. Instead, aim to be 100% in control of the factors that are within your control. The realization and the ability to efficiently refocus your mind on the factors that you can fully control is what sets apart an overwhelmed mind from a focused one. And in any situation, there’s always at least one thing you can (learn to) control: it’s you—your behavior.
4. Balance pressure with self care
Our society is obsessed with perfection. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to achieve more and fail less because of what we think society is expecting of us and what we’re expecting of ourselves. What is failure anyway? You’ve probably heard the famous story about Thomas Edison, whose teachers said that he was “too stupid to learn anything”. He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive”, and “made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb”. (1) And did you know that Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4, did not read until he was 7 and was expelled from school? (2)
High achievers, in particular, set the bar high and strive for perfection, no matter what. This tendency, however, may cause unnecessary extra pressure for little or no extra gains and a big load of anxiety. Do your best in any situation but recognize what that means in each situation. It will not always be your 110% you’re used to giving; it may be your 80%. Acknowledge it.
5. Ask for help
Whether it’s asking for a timeout, resource support or any other help, be vocal about your needs. The only real chance you will have at getting what you want is if you ask for it.
Having a regular mind-body self-care practice helps greatly reduce the negative effects of overwhelm and allow yourself to quickly through these 5 steps. The stronger you can get your mind to be when things are going well, the more effectively you can cope with overwhelming situations—just like an elite athlete who has trained so hard that now he or she can do that routine from muscle memory at any time. Think of your daily self-care practice as training so when you need your mind to efficiently work through overwhelming situations, it can—like muscle memory.
(1) Thomas Edison
(2) Albert Einstein, onlinecollege.org
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