It’s just too much!

I can’t do any more. I’m overwhelmed. 

When thoughts of being overwhelmed surface, where does your imagination take you?

A. To a parade where your colleagues, family, and friends shower you with confetti and line your path with rose petals in awe of your dedication, hard work, and sacrifices.

B. To a time machine where you revisit the past and erase the parts where you picked up your current burdensome commitments. 

C. To the finish line where all your commitments are fulfilled and awaiting you is a new-found determination to never become that overcommitted again.

D. Somewhere completely different that you want to keep between you and your imagination!

Whether you’re feeling unappreciated, frustrated, resentful, or overloaded with too much of a good thing, you’ve likely experienced the energy-zapping power of overwhelm.

Varied Experiences of Feeling Overwhelmed

That suffocating feeling of being buried, submerged or overloaded. 

For you overwhelm may feel as though you have succumbed to an outside power. 

Or as though something is draining your life energy. 

Or perhaps you experience overwhelm as frenzied, anxious energy that erodes your focused attention.

Overwhelm is debilitating. The pressure mounts. Through the lens of overwhelm, it all feels impossible. 

You want relief from the pressure. That desire for relief leads commonly to procrastination!

Consequently, feeling overwhelmed becomes an obstacle that compounds a different problem, being overcommitted. 

Overwhelmed is NOT the same as Overcommitted

Experiencing overwhelm is frequently associated with being overcommitted. 

Yet, overwhelm is not the same as overcommitment. While the two are often correlated, you can experience overwhelm regardless of your workload and some people who are overcommitted, aren’t overwhelmed. 

[Want to know their secret? They’ve mastered feeling at ease with unfinished commitments. Great skill to develop! But an even greater skill is living within your capacity.]

Some simple math can verify if you’re overcommitted. 

Formula: “Do your commitments exceed your available time and energy?”

I know—available time and energy is subjective and can change depending on how you manage them. But hang on. Overwhelm really is different from overcommitment. 

Overwhelm is how you interpret your overcommitment. You might view overwhelm as an add-on that enhances the negative experience of being overcommitted. Who needs that?

Overwhelm is also how you interpret confusion or even a manageable schedule you’re challenged to manage. No need to be overcommitted to experience these.

You’re overwhelmed when the interpretation of your excessive commitments, your confusion, or your task management challenges generate feelings of dread, hopelessness, being trapped, or angry with yourself or others. 

The good news? Interpretations can change. 

Overwhelm is optional. Really! You’ve likely experienced it.

Two Contrasting Approaches to a Very Full Day

1. You can have 17 things to do today. You can do them one at a time as they come. Give your full attention to each as it comes.  End the day feeling successful and productive. 17 things done 

2. You can spend the same amount of time and energy on the 17 tasks with a healthy dose of overwhelm. Inevitably you’ll spend some portion of your limited time that day: 

– dreading the upcoming tasks

– lamenting your earlier decisions that created some of those tasks

– wasting time feeling frustrated that you can’t get them done faster 

– seeking relief from the dread, lament, and frustration!

End the day feeling frustrated, further behind, and resentful of the impossibility of it all. 10 things done frown

Let go of the self-criticism and interpretations of your current circumstances that create overwhelm.

You’ll get more done without it! Really!

But you’re human. Overwhelm will happen. Instead of seeking relief in your practiced counterproductive ways, give this strategy a try.

Alternative to Procrastination

When overwhelm strikes, connect your mind to your body for relief:

  • Take a few deep breaths.
  • Bring your awareness/focus to the present moment.
  • Notice the room temperature, sounds, and your visual field.
  • Try a quick body scan, noticing signs of tension, tightness, and discomfort. Don’t focus on changing anything but rather observing what is.

When you begin to regain control: 

  • Take 1-3 minutes to list everything that’s grabbing your attention. 
  • Look at the list and do one thing. Then keep doing one thing at a time!
  • As you take a series of single-actions, your control and focus returns. 
  • You may still be overcommitted, but you’re no longer overwhelmed!

Remember, overwhelm is completely optional. Why not OPT OUT!

If you experience overwhelm, share in the comments your recovery or coping strategy.

If you don’t experience overwhelm, congratulations!! Consider sharing with someone you know who does. They’ll appreciate you!

Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash