It might be safe to say that more of us are feeling overwhelmed than ever. Between a year of living through a pandemic and seemingly constant political upheaval — not to mention the domestic and emotional labor involved in this — it’s not all that surprising that many of us are struggling. The cumulative stress of being expected to live normal lives and carry heavy workloads through extraordinary times is intense. It can feel like we don’t have enough hours in the day or that we’re running in circles trying to get it all done.
That feeling is overwhelm. Over time, that constant feeling of overwhelm can lead to full on burnout.
But while we can’t control the pandemic or political uprisings, it’s possible to regain a semblance of control of our interior landscape.
1. Ask For Help.
Sometimes, our overwhelm comes from trying to do it all by ourselves.
You already know that you can’t be everything to everyone all by yourself. But if your tendency is to try to be a hero anyway, this strategy is for you. In this situation, you might be feeling not just overwhelmed but resentful of others.
Getting out of overwhelm often starts with asking for help. Especially if you’re feeling isolated or alone, you might not be able to get the kind of help you need right now. But it can still be powerful to ask for support from people around you in other ways.
Maybe that looks like delegating tasks, asking others to step up, or outsourcing some of what you do. It might also look like asking for a safe space to vent or let it all out. It’s not always easy to say out loud, “I need help,” but it’s a simple way to break the cycle of overwhelm we feel.
2. Do Less.
At times, our overwhelm comes from trying to simply do too many things.
If you grew up with overworking and overachieving as part of your family’s values, you might not be able to see your pattern for what it is. You might feel overwhelmed, but you might also assume that the overwhelm of trying to do too many things is a normal experience.
If this sounds like you, your first step in getting out of overwhelm is paring down that to-do list. If you’re feeling bold, feel free to take a big ol’ Sharpie and start crossing things off the list. Some of those things might have to stay there for now, but there may be places where you could put things off for a bit or simply decide to opt-out.
If you’re looking for a gentler approach than the Sharpie, brainstorm ways that you could streamline your routines, take some shortcuts, or simplify that project that may have become overly complicated. Society might send us the message that we need to “do it all,” but doing less has its advantages.
3. Act Imperfectly.
Sometimes, overwhelm comes from the pressure, whether internal or external, to make everything just right.
In this case, the path to dissolving that feeling of overwhelm is paved with imperfection. When you decide to opt for “good enough,” you’ll find you’re in good company, because newsflash: no one else is perfect either. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
And in your case, that might mean lowering your standards. Notice where you start stressing yourself out unnecessarily with expectations that are maybe just a little too high. It’s easy to internalize the idea that everyone else is living an Instagram-perfect life with tidy homes and adorable lunches for their kids. But that’s not reality.
If you want to experience less overwhelm, you’ve got to cut yourself some slack. Decide to move forward, even if your first try is messy or imperfect. Maybe that looks like getting that shitty first draft written, replying to the email even if you don’t have all the answers yet, or making a dinner that is only 80% magazine-ready.
4. Take (Small) Action.
Other times, overwhelm comes from trying to do it all at the same time.
Your pattern of overwhelm might look like never getting started due to the sheer volume of things you have to do. Or maybe you’re staring at that huge project, wondering how to even get started. And every day that you don’t get started, the mythology of those projects builds. After a while, it seems impossible to begin.
It doesn’t matter how small that first step is (really). The trick is to take action, no matter how small, in order to get some momentum going. Instead of letting those tasks or projects hang over your head day after day, week after week, just start chipping away at them.
The good news is that you don’t have to accomplish big things to start dissolving that overwhelm. Sometimes, all it takes to get out of overwhelm is to get started by taking tiny actions. (I think we’ve all had that thing we procrastinated for months that took us 15 minutes once we actually decided to do it.)
Will these small strategies get rid of those feelings of overwhelm for good? Maybe not. But you can reuse them and come up with combinations of these that work for you that you can use again and again. No matter what makes you feel overwhelmed, there are small ways to start tunneling your way out.