Overwhelm: 5 ways to manage stress

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Overwhelm” seems like it’s becoming a bit of a new buzzword for the wellbeing / mindfulness vocabulary. For me, it most often manifests as procrastination: I simply can’t get started because it seems like there’s so much to do, I don’t know where best to focus first. Or, just as often, it’s when I realise I’m doing something desperately searching for ‘fun’ because I feel like I have so much to do I spend all my time on ‘serious’ things.

So Sophie Cliff’s latest blog resonated with me, and I’ve been thinking about some of the strategies I have used successfully. Whatever it is that you’re doing, there are some strategies that can offer immediate relief.

  1. Use a to-do list

Or better yet, an Eisenhower box that divides tasks into “urgent/not urgent” and “important/not important.” I tend


to use “urgent” as “things that must be done this week”.

Sadly, the box example (left) suggests delegate which simply isn’t possible for everything – so if there’s “urgent/not important” I set myself a time limit to work through these things – say, my first free of the week – and get as much done as I can in that time then spend some time on the urgent/important.

If it’s “not urgent” – put it firmly in the ‘not now’ category. That takes some discipline, but in reality I’ve often found if it either becomes urgent it’ll shift into another quadrant when I revisit the list. Or, if it’s on someone else’s urgent list – they’ll ask again, and you can review. It’s crazy the amount of time I’ve saved by not doing something the first time of asking and literally never been asked again. It obviously wasn’t necessary in the first place!

2. Set a time limit

Sometimes you’ll only manage ten minutes. Sometimes that ten minutes will be enough to kickstart you further. Either way, be kind – at least you’ve done something and made a start.

3. Use a reward system

Have a cup of tea. A biscuit. A play with the dog or stomp in the rain (seriously). Focus on what you need to do, either a task or time limit, to earn the reward – but again, be kind. Set one task. Set a fifteen minute timer. And then, the really important part give yourself the reward. Don’t fool your brain into doing something and then not pay up – it’ll only make you more resistant next time. Try to avoid rewards that require the internet or your mobile, use something tangible instead.

4. Know how long things take 

I struggle with this all the time!  Overestimating how much I can do and underestimating the time things take is a killer. Go back to your to-do list or Eisenhower box and add a quick estimate next to each task. At the end of the day, review and add in another colour how things actually took. Over a couple of weeks you’ll get a much clearer idea of how long things really take you and whether you can genuinely fit in that ‘quick task’ or whether you’re just setting yourself up for failure.

5. Go back to your purpose

Why are you doing something? You’re naturally more inclined to do something if you feel it’s genuinely useful. Spend some quiet time thinking about what your reasons are – for all aspects of your life. If you’re working, you could include things like having enough money to take a holiday this summer, or being able to bring the joy of literature to young people. If you’re studying, then think about what your next steps are and how this hour of revision will bring that closer. By focusing on the underlying purpose and importance to you, getting started feels like it has more meaning.

What do you think?

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