9 Tips for Managing Overwhelm

by | May 14, 2007

While it may be tempting to think that we can order our lives and work once and for all, shift happens. For me, it often happens with at least some symptoms of overwhelm. Here are some things I’ve learned (and am currently revisiting) about managing overwhelm.
1. Everything is perfect, and there is room for improvement. Learning to accept the way things are (which is not the same as giving your stamp of approval) gives you a platform for action.
2. Putter. Puttering orients you in time and space while making mental room for you to notice what really wants to be top priority. Tip: Set a time limit on puttering if you are worried that you will lose the entire day to it.
3. Take the attitude that you will, of course, do what is most important, even if you do not yet know what it is or how you will do it. Be curious about what you don’t know how to do rather than worrying about it.
4. Clean house. When your insides are churning with anxiety over multiple commitments, create order outside. Tip: This seems to work best if you clean with a light heart, though I have worked through some pretty gnarly problems while fiercely scrubbing the kitchen floor!
5. Use every means available. Make plans and act spontaneously. Make lists and do what needs to be done whether or not it is on the list. Managing overwhelm means mingling both direct and indirect ways of moving forward.
6. Be real. However linear or spontaneous you are, ground your choices in your real experience. It doesn’t make sense to simply ignore a deadline or to pretend that a complex task can be done in 10 minutes.
7. Promptly revise commitments that you cannot or will not keep.
8. First things first. Take time for exercise, prayer, meditation, and simply “defragging” no matter how busy you are. Honoring these priorities gives you the resilience and resourcefulness to do your best.
9. Breathe. First, last, and always, let a rising bubble of anxiety be your reminder to breathe.