How to Move Forward When You Feel Overwhelmed

I don’t know about you, but in the past I’ve had a tendency to become easily overwhelmed. I start thinking of all the things I need to improve on, everything that needs to get done, everything I’m doing wrong, etc. The overwhelm sets in and I become paralyzed into inaction. That’s it. I do the one worst thing possible – I do nothing. Has this ever happened to you? I hope for your sake that it hasn’t. But just in case you’re anything like me, let’s talk about some ways to move forward when you feel overwhelmed.

Make a List

The first thing I know to do when I begin to feel overwhelmed, is to just put pen to paper. I make a list of all the things on my mind that need to get done. This way it frees up space in my mind. I’m not trying to hold it all in my already crowded brain! Writing it all down also frees me from the fear of forgetting something important.

The temptation, once it’s all written down on paper, is to look at that looming list and feel the panic rise up inside. Take a deep breath. It doesn’t all have to happen today. Break it down into small, manageable steps you can tackle one at a time.

Prioritize

Now you can take a bird’s eye view of it all and prioritize. What absolutely has to get done? Which things are just things I would really like to get done? Put the “has to get done” at the top of the list. Also make room for at least one thing that you just want to accomplish. It will make you feel good to do something you like doing. For example, exercise is one of those things that’s just for me. It isn’t necessary for the blog, my business or my family (at least not directly). But when I’m able to accomplish that one thing, it makes me feel so good about myself. It releases endorphins that help to boost my mood, reduce stress and overall just makes me healthier!

There’s also a difference between what’s important and what’s urgent. Urgent things are the ones that demand your attention right now, but they may not be absolutely necessary to your progress that day. Important things are the ones that make a long term difference in your life. Dishes to do, laundry piling up, messes to clean up, those may all be urgent. But if you allow those urgent things to take priority over what’s important, you’ll never get anywhere. The urgent things will always be there to distract and detract from your ultimate vision. Stay focused on what’s important. It doesn’t mean the urgent things don’t get taken care of – it just means they take a lesser place on the priority list.

Start Somewhere

Just do something. This is the simplest but sometimes the hardest thing. Simply begin. I know, there are a million things to do. When you start one thing, you may be tempted to interrupt yourself and start one of the other tasks weighing on your mind. But don’t! Stay focused and finish that one thing. Use the timer technique I’ve mentioned for cleaning and set a timer if you must. Give yourself a time frame to work on that one thing and don’t divert your attention until the time is up. It may seem like doing one thing on your list of 20 is just too small. You may get to the end of the day and have completed only a handful of items on your list. But how do you eat an elephant? One small bite at a time.

Once you’ve begun, you’ll gain momentum. You’ll begin to see your to do list get smaller and smaller and the feelings of overwhelm will dissipate. As you do these small tasks, you’ll develop a discipline that will help you to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed in the future. Small actions, compounded over time, lead to big results.

Celebrate Your Progress

Be your own best cheerleader. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to look at all the things I’ve left undone. The gap between where I am and perfection is a wide chasm. Although I can grow and change, perfection is always out of reach. So rather than punish myself mentally for my faults and my failings, I can choose to focus on how far I’ve come. The same is true for you. Think back! Sometimes we forget what we used to be like. The odds are that although you aren’t where you want to be yet, you are much closer now than you used to be.

Push yourself, even just a little, to do something you find difficult. When we recognize that we can do hard things, we feel better about ourselves as well as the thing we just conquered. Most of the time, we build something up in our own minds to be much scarier or more difficult than it actually is. When we simply move out of our own way, we can achieve greater things than we ever imagined possible.

Ask For Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone – a friend, a spouse, a parent. Let them know the frame of mind you’re in. Tell them what you need or let them listen to all the overwhelming thoughts that threaten to consume you. When you have a trusted person in your life that you can reach out to in a time of need, they can pull you up out of your misery and quiet your fears. They can remind you of who you are and what you’re capable of in times when it’s easier for you to forget. Surround yourself with people like that.

If you’re anything like me, there may be times when you aren’t looking for a solution. You can so bogged down with negative thinking that any solution someone else can come up, you can find a reason why it won’t work for you. That’s such a dangerous and damaging mental place to be. Make sure you can recognize that as a temporary stopping place for your thoughts. Don’t stay there. Staying in that place is what keeps you stuck in life for a very long time. No one can force you to change. You hold all the power. But take the first chance you get to break free of that mindset. Speak the truths that you don’t yet feel, and gradually you’ll replace those negative thoughts.

Be Kind to Yourself

This is so important. Be patient with yourself. Don’t hold unrealistic expectations over your own head that you would never expect of anyone else. I once saw an excellent video about self – image. Women were interviewed about all the things they hated about themselves and their bodies. Then they were shown a photo of themselves as young girls. The interviewer told them, all those mean things you just said about yourself, say them to her. Every single woman broke down in tears. They were then asked to tell that little girl what they wanted her to know. That she was beautiful, important, valued.

You hear your own words more than those of anyone else and you also believe them more. Make sure the words you say to yourself are encouraging and build you up. When you feel like throwing in the towel, take a break. Do something that you enjoy, that helps you to decompress. Rest, don’t quit. You’ve totally got this. You are capable of more than you think.

How do you manage feeling overwhelmed? Do you already do anything on my list? I’d love to hear the ways you’ve discovered to keep moving forward.

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