A big trip is fast approaching, requiring significant preparation – training to build strength and cardio fitness, preparing lessons and resources for teaching in classrooms which have almost nothing already there, visiting a doctor for essential travel medicines and vaccinations, shopping for extra equipment; all the while, carrying on with normal life. I’m worried resource orders placed online won’t arrive in time. I’ve embarked on a related project which has me feeling out of my depth. I have resigned myself to the fact I can only do so much in way of preparation and that will simply have to be enough. Whilst it can be exciting to work towards a big goal, it can also be very, very scary. Three weeks out, I feel underprepared and overwhelmed.
In the past, I have juggled multiple roles without ever feeling this way. I do less and feel more overwhelmed. Is this just part of getting older or is it something more serious? What is the solution?
A hurried internet search revealed much I had read or heard before which I needed reminding of. I have mixed and matched suggestions from several sources to make my own action plan for overcoming overwhelm:
- Accept limitations such as hours in a day, energy levels, personal abilities and work around them to take advantage of what you can do. In the past, I have struggled with this, equating it with lowering my standards. Now I realise it’s essential for maintaining balance and mental health. Sometimes scheduled training sessions can’t happen due to fatigue and other circumstances. I have to accept that and train when I can without beating myself up about what I’m not doing; making the most of the time I have. Driving around with a weighted pack and hiking boots in the back of my car means I’m ready for a short impromptu training walk if I find myself with a few spare minutes. This is exactly what happened yesterday. I mixed up my gym times and arrived twenty minutes early, so I donned my pack and went for a brisk walk in adjoining bushland. Every bit counts.
2. Make time you DO have count
Giving my all when I train and spending short periods of quality evening time knocking over my work demands are good examples of this. Non-essential tasks can wait or be outsourced. Even if I don’t have enough time to finish a task, I can schedule a time to start it. How many times have you put off doing something because you can’t finish it? Once started, any task is easier to finish and the progress will help reduce that dreaded feeling of overwhelm. Just start.
3. Plan your whens
We know our whats all too well and often they make us feel overwhelmed. Connecting each task with available time slots and recording them on a calendar or checklist is the first step to feeling like it’s manageable. Plan to tick off just a few important tasks daily.
4. Ditch and delegate
John Phillips suggests ditching non-essentials. For now, I can ditch cleaning – it’ll wait for me and our home doesn’t get very dirty with only two adults and a small dog living here. I can ditch meaningless TV viewing – whilst I enjoy a few shows, these can be scheduled and others ditched. I’ve accepted my time and energy limitations and have already delegated some food preparation, buying ready meals and takeaways far more than I used to, saving significant time and energy.
5. Focus on your goal
It’s easier to keep going when you have a goal firmly in mind. “Overwhelm can be a symptom of losing your orientation. Pick your head up, find that shining beacon on the next hilltop and take the next step towards it. Re-centering yourself to the task at hand and the reason you’re doing it can be enough to get through the moment with grace.” (Todd Herman quoted by John Phillips) Chris Popp takes this a step further, suggesting you picture exactly what you want to achieve and how you will feel achieving it. A single aspirational picture or more complex vision board can help keep this at the forefront of your mind. My laptop and phone home screens now have the perfect photo to keep me motivated. This is not about me; I remind myself any discomfort experienced hiking is simply a means to an end and the only way to access my ultimate goal.
6. Connect to your source
Julie Lisabeth Gray suggests connecting to God or whatever you believe in can be a strengthening and grounding influence. This should probably have been number one and is something I have recently let slip. It can seem difficult when
time pressures abound, but connecting with God and letting him help with the burden should be top priority. The Bible tells us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. ” (1 Peter 5:7) and reassures those who follow God “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to the Lord.” (Philippians 4:6) I know I can request assistance with time management and strength on the track, as I give thanks for the ability to help others by participating in this trip.
7. Get things done
All the other steps only work if you actually get something done; small steps eventually lead to ultimate goals.
Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it appears, but this is a great starting point. I have my plan, now to implement it, moving towards my goal.
What strategies do you find helpful in overcoming overwhelm in your life?
Bright Spark Media, 2013, 7 Steps to beating Overwhelm and Getting Stuff Done.
Gray, Julie Lisabeth, in Profound Coaching and Training, 2011, 5 Simple tricks to Beating Overwhelm.
Phillips, John, in Huffington Post, 2017, The Subtle Art of Beating “Overwhelm” Syndrome.
Popp, Chris, in Resilience Works, 2016, 5 Tips to Beat Overwhelm (and Build Resilience).
All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version (NIV)