Hello everybody, welcome to episode 107 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. We’re going to be taking another look at a question I answered before that came in through gregaudino.com. The listener who sent this in is wondering about what to do when we’re overwhelmed, and I’ll be bringing you all the answer in bullet point fashion, which is a rarity around here since I tend to have no structure whatsoever. Shall we? Here’s the question…
QUESTION: “Could you create a to-do list for when you’re feeling overwhelmed?“
When You're Feeling Overwhelmed
I most certainly can. As a matter of fact I can think of 10 things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed so take notes. Also bear in mind that the idea of “being overwhelmed” encompasses a very large area of feelings and situations so you might find some of the items on this list to be more suitable for other variations of overwhelm than it is for yours, but sometimes going back to basics is more useful than we might think so pay attention anyway.
So without further ado:
Number 1: Gauge the importance of what’s making you overwhelmed.
Everyone listening to this can probably attest to the fact that after our periods of panic are over, the things that we got so overwhelmed about weren’t that important after all. Before you start pulling your hair out, really consider how important that which is overwhelming you is and whether or not you might be overreacting.
A great way of doing that is by…
Number 2: Reflect on how aligned with your values that which is overwhelming you is.
This is probably the most important item on the list, so might as well turn it off after this. Action that we take towards a situation that conflicts with our values is stressful enough, let alone when the situation itself gets out of control. We should always be doing our best to make certain that all of our actions are reflective of our values, and there’s no better time to do so than when you might be getting overwhelmed by something that you’re engaged in for the wrong reasons anyway.
Number 3: Consider who’s being affected by the task at hand.
Not that we want to live solely for others and not do anything for ourselves and our own self-care, but deciphering how many others are affected by the situation that’s overwhelming us can have a big effect on just how long the stress sticks around. Are others at risk in any way?
If not, and this matter is purely personal, you might find yourself with more time and less pressure than you thought.
Number 4: Acknowledge the fact that you’re overwhelmed.
Yes. You’re overwhelmed. And guess what? That’s fine. You’ve been overwhelmed before, it’s passed and come back again. The same thing is happening right now. Being overwhelmed is a perfectly normal part of life. You’ve handled it before and you’ll handle it again. Try to step away from yourself and consider this as an observer as opposed to getting sucked into it and attaching yourself to it.
Speaking of being an observer…
Number 5: Ask yourself what you’d tell someone else in this exact same situation?
Imagine someone else is facing the same exact task and is reacting the same exact way – both inside and outside – as you are right now. How much sense does it all make? Does looking at it from an outside perspective reveal any of your thoughts or behavior to be irrational, unreasonable, or unhelpful? It’s easy to be more compassionate to others than we are to ourselves. And looking at your situation in this way can remind us of that, therefore allowing to us to cultivate more self-compassion.
Number 6: Break your tasks into small chunks.
Even impossibly small chunks. A common byproduct of being overwhelmed is the inability to break things down and instead focus only on the big picture – and not in a good way. Consider your end goal, where you’re at and all the steps in between. What are the tiniest beginning steps you can take right now, and can you shift your focus to pay attention to them one at a time? This logic can apply to even the most medial of tasks.
Overwhelmed about going to the gym? Start from the beginning with exercise. It starts with walking to your closet. You can do that. Then you have to put on gym clothes. You can do that too. Then you have to walk to the car. You get the picture.
Focusing on each minuscule detail one at a time can be quite helpful.
Number 7. Seek out your resources.
Being overwhelmed by a unique problem can be an isolating feeling. It’s easy to feel left to our own devices in these types of situations, but that’s often not the truth. Take some time to scout out your resources that can help you get through this period of overwhelm. You can find a variety of helpers anywhere from friends to online searches.
Number 8. Express it.
Tell people what’s going on. Talk to people. Not only may you find a valuable resource out of it as I just mentioned, but communication is always of value. When it comes to consuming thoughts of any kind, communication is particularly useful as they’re being manifested outside of you. When they’re exposed to the world, the truth of their insignificance is often revealed, as all of a sudden someone else is aware of what’s going on, and in most cases, nothing changes.
Number 9: Change your physical state.
I almost didn’t want to include this as it’s a bit mainstream and you could find it anywhere, but the simple truth is that activities such as deep breathing and exercise do reduce levels of cortisol (your stress hormone) and increase levels of serotonin (your pleasure chemical). These are more quick fixes than anything, but doing them with consistency can absolutely help fight feelings of overwhelm in the long term.
Finally, Number 10: This bystander encourages you to LIMIT your distractions.
A lot of people in my position disagree with this. Of course there’s some logic in finding distractions to occupy your brain, but my opinion is that not only are these extremely temporary patches, but also forms of resistance against your overwhelm which we don’t want to do.
The more you embrace any sort of overwhelm, lean into it, explore it and be at peace with it – sort of like I mentioned in number 5 – the less power it will have and the more apt you are to making new, healthy discoveries about it and how to handle it.
And there you have it. My friends, the good news is that I’m sure there are many others we could add to this list, so if none of these are working for you or if you come up with new ideas for the list, let me know and we can chat.
You can always email us with ideas like this at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
And, of course, we encourage you to send questions there about your own personal struggles that you’d like us to help you out with on the show. The door’s open. Thanks for being here everyone for this little throwback and I hope you’ll pop in next time. Until then.