I wrote this back in early 2021 and completely forgot about it. I’m currently in the process of writing a short story, and my writing process always begins with everything that has nothing to do with writing – like spring cleaning my laptop. So I’m blowing the dust off this article and sharing this with you because, hopefully, some of the things I wrote here may still have value.
It’s a Monday. The other days of the week are staring back at me from the bright screen of my phone – a fitting substitute for a fog light. Everything is becoming a blur in my head, and I’m beginning to feel it – it that I have no proper name for.
The blur in my head is like a tenant who flagrantly refuses to pay rent but stays anyway. I’m trying everything in my power to rationalize the source of my discomfort because when you can’t even give a name to what you’re feeling, what are you supposed to do anyway? I’m in a labyrinth of thoughts that just goes on and on and on.
I look at my laptop screen, and it feels like I’m racing against something, and losing the game. I can’t win the staring contest I put myself up against. There are thousands of words of things that I need to do and read and review. If I could pull these words out of the screen, they would pile up on my desk – layer after layer of print on paper, and I’d be buried under them – still asking myself where I’m supposed to begin and where to end.
Work. Work is the only thing that could possibly cause tension between my temples, and an unbidden temporary paralysis. More than 20 years in this industry and – no double job in the past, no excitement from the newsroom, no overtime that lasted until dawn, no www abyss – could overwhelm me.
There it is. The word is overwhelm.
Once upon a time, ‘overwhelm’ was not even a word I would use to describe my job/tasks/everything else in life. I would look at a kilometric list of things to do, and at the end of the day, I’d be dusting off my hands and putting my feet up and… actually end my day. However, things changed, and these past three weeks, I’ve felt like the days would never end. My checklist kept on growing, and I never seemed to get to the bottom of it, no matter how many hours I worked every day.
Here’s a glimpse of what I do: I manage people and do project and website management. I also write scripts, marketing funnel material, non-fiction, and once again, attempt to write fiction. Not a lot these days, but I write even just inside my head.
On the side, I also manage our bed and breakfast together with my husband. So you see, I’m not treading an unfamiliar path, nor am I new to this. Becoming overwhelmed is an unwelcome novelty in my life.
I read up on a few pieces of advice that experts have given on being overwhelmed with work, life, love. While these prescriptions were designed by people with years of professional experience in psychology and other fields related to human behavior, I could not find anything on their list that could help me. For instance, creating a task list is a given; getting a good night’s sleep is kind of like a chicken-and-egg situation because it’s difficult to fall asleep when you have 50 things going on in your head; taking a break – an advice I like, but if you’ve dealt with anxiety then you know that taking a break sometimes leads to an even heightened anxiety; setting a deadline for yourself – consider it done, then you find yourself hitting the wall of anxiety again; taking a moment to be aware of your surroundings (one of the suggestions that work according to science) – I like this, but it’s another given because I’m a homeschooling mom and new grandmother to my kids’ pups, and so yes, I am very aware of what may be being chewed, where weird smells may be coming from, looking at the lovely sight of soul twins – a teacup Pomeranian and golden retriever, both three months old – playing with each other.
Having said all that, I’m not refusing to try what has already been tested. I realized, though, that we all have different life experiences that led us to this space where the feeling of being overwhelmed is now ruling over us.
Sick and tired of being overwhelmed, I sat my husband down to talk. That’s when everything started to get better.
I’m sharing a few things I’ve done to slowly take me out of the big O in case you’ve also been looking around and feel like none of the other things will help you.
5 Things to Help You If You’re Overwhelmed
1. Talk. Find someone you really trust and can pour your heart out to. It has to be someone who will listen to the nitty-gritty details of the mundane, yet gargantuan, workload you have without them running away from you halfway through your story. Don’t just tell this person that you’re overwhelmed, why you are overwhelmed. Walk this person through your entire thought process: what happens as soon as you wake up, what it is about the kilometric list that bothers you, how you start sweating when you think about things that you need to do for the day.
Speaking out your worries will help you analyze things that you might have been overthinking without realizing it. Sometimes, we tend to magnify little worries, especially if we fail to verbalize them.
2. Measure. Look your tasks in the eye no matter how much bigger they are than you. I realized that my sense of panic stemmed from feelings of being unsure about all the tasks ahead of me and everything that’s already on my plate. For a time, I had to deal with a nagging feeling that there’s something I needed to do, but wasn’t sure what – which led to me being more paranoid because I might be forgetting something important.
Knowing that I needed to deal with it badly if I wanted to get restful sleep back, I sat down with a pen and paper. I’m a firm believer in the hand-and-brain connection, thus, I still have a handy notebook on my desk. I listed down all tasks that needed to be started and completed. I didn’t hurry into it just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I created a major list with sub-tasks under it and a note on how I planned to accomplish each task.
As soon as I filled up a few good pages of those tasks, I looked at everything, and I realized that the list may be long but very doable as long as I created a plan of how to tackle the items on that list. Just knowing that nothing was beyond my control was more than enough. Creating a visual aid for your tasks will help you design a measurable way to finish them.
3. Control. We like the idea of being in control of things in our lives, but even the most successful people have failed in this area. I used to like to think that as long as I could plan my working days well, everything would always go right. Wrong. There are more than 10 reasons why your day won’t go well the way you planned it because you’re not living inside a box impenetrable by outside forces. Let go of the obsession of being in control and the less overwhelmed you will be.
Being overwhelmed is sometimes not about all the tasks you can’t seem to finish, but the feeling that you are not in control of everything.
4. Goals. You always hear people telling you to have goals and being realistic with them. But what does that really mean? It’s not like you enjoy setting up goals you know you can’t achieve. I would define realistic goals as ones that are actionable, and doable. I used to write a minimum of 15 things to finish in a day. I would always feel in control when I was writing them, not to mention very sure that those were doable on a Monday because there’s another list waiting for Tuesday. But reality has it that there are tasks that are not only humps on the road you bump into and get over. Some actually stop you in your tracks and lets you say goodbye to the rest of the things on your list. I used to like to think that I should only give a 700-word article 20 minutes of my time to review, but when I get to the first article, I’d realize that the article needs an overhaul, not to mention that the writer completely missed the entire gist of the assignment, and also contained some wrong information. Providing feedback to the writer already takes a lot of time because you want to make sure nothing is amiss in the next submission.
You look at your list, and that article is only #3.
5. Gratitude. I know this looks out of place among the other four things that I mentioned, but this is the one thing that fueled me to move away from overwhelm or the feeling of being overwhelmed. Although once derided by peers as a workaholic (which I honestly doubt I ever was), the way I feel about tasks changed when I got older. It’s not only about finishing a list of things to do – I wanted to start work more efficiently; walk through taskland and know that things will get done with each given a proper amount of time.
What’s making you feel overwhelmed, and what are you doing about it? Would love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to share them in the comments section.