In the last week or two I have been feeling overwhelmed. This isn’t surprising to me: I have a part-time and a full-time job and do my best to contribute to a good relationship with my partner. I like to go for a walk each day to stay fit and do a weekly tai chi class most weeks. I also like to have some time off – to read a novel, take an indulgent long hot bath or whatever.

Usually I enjoy all this. However, when the demands of one part increase then I can get overwhelmed.

What do I mean by overwhelmed? For me it is stress and tension – feeling pushed and somewhat panicked, my shoulders tense, impatience and great focus/tunnel visioned, I feel the need to ‘push through’ the work I have.

Here are my thoughts on how to deal with feeling overwhelmed.

1. Am I really?
Sometimes I sit down and make a list of what I have to do – and it turns out to be not nearly as much as I felt. This is a huge relief, even if it can be a little embarrassing. This isn’t always the case, but making a list can be helpful – to give a sense of what needs to be done, and perhaps which things are most important.

2. Does it matter?
I’m quite a heady person and so find it easy to prioritise. There are several ways to establish priorities (or things to be taken into account when establishing what your priority is).
Firstly some things need to be done before other things can be done. If I’m to get dinner ready I need to have the necessary ingredients. (Shop first if I need to, then prepare – discovering half way through I don’t have what I need is a hassle and often wastes time and energy.)
Secondly, some things are urgent. (It may be important that I get across a busy road to buy the ingredients for dinner, but it won’t help to get run over. Paying attention to the traffic takes priority, however hungry I am.)
While the ‘tyranny of the urgent’ is important to keep in mind, the tyranny can be real. Some things just have to be dealt with immediately.
If you find yourself running from crisis to crisis then it could be important to get time out to think about other ways to organise what you do. Otherwise it is likely that you could end up with a health crisis.

Thirdly, my values mean that some things are more important to me than others. My relationship with my partner is more important than any job. My relationship being important means putting in the time (having fun together, talking through issues and arrangements we want to make and so on) and that means having the time. This means there are some kinds of work that I don’t even consider (the time demands are too great).

When I’m overwhelmed it can help me to remind myself of my values. Is finishing that eBook an hour or day earlier really as important as spending time with my partner? Usually not. If I feel my partner is being unreasonable demanding (which, thankfully, my partner isn’t) then this is something about our relationship to be talked through – and which, for me, would receive a high priority.

Says Who?
Fourthly and finally asking myself: “Who says I have to do all this?” can be very helpful.
A very successful British comedian Ronnie Barker talked about the showbiz adage: the show must go on. He asked: Why? Who says? Will anyone die if a stage show is cancelled? Hardly!
As Chris Edgar reminds us in his post: You Don’t “Have To” Do Anything
If I don’t get everything done in the time available, what will happen? If I’m a nurse in an emergency ward then the answer may be something quite serious. For most of us, most of the time, the answers will be a good deal less serious.
It may be that the fate of the world rides on my getting all this stuff done (if I’m a mad scientist with my finger on the button – but this has more to do with comic books than my usual life) but this is unlikely. It is worth considering the option of just forgetting it all and doing something enjoyable.

These are the ways I have of staying as healthy as possible and dealing with the overwhelm. If you have other ways and other ideas I’d love to hear them. Please let me know in the comments.

If you like this post, you might also be interested in:
Your Situation Matters
Anger is Good
The Creator and Destroyer


Would you like to feel less stressed?
Could you do with more joy in your life?

The answer is living authentically. Buy the book or sign up for the course now from my Living Authentically website.

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2 Comments to “How to Respond to Being Overwhelmed”

  1. Chris Edgar says:

    Hi Evan — that’s a good point, that remembering that we have alternatives to working — even if our work is what we ultimately decide to do — can help us let go of that sense of “an authority figure says I must work and I will resist.”

  2. Evan says:

    Thanks Chris.

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