1. Focus and prioritize
In the book, The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan), we are encouraged to ask a simple question when we’re feeling overwhelmed — and even when we’re not:
‘What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary?’
You can apply this to your family life, work, health and other commitments. There is usually one specific thing which, if you do it right now (or you do it every day, or week), it will make other things easier, or eliminate them completely. It could be as simple as getting up half an hour earlier, or giving up a time-consuming but optional commitment. Or it could be committing to a weekly planning session that makes your whole week look more manageable. Spend some time thinking it through, because your “one thing” isn’t always the first or most obvious idea you have.
2. Limit your phone use
One of the reasons we’re sometimes so overwhelmed is because we’re always ‘on’ and constantly distracted — listening out for email and Facebook alerts, even when we’re having important real life conversations. That feeling that everything is happening all at once is sometimes caused because we never just put our devices down and focus on one thing at a time.
Putting all your devices away (especially in the hour or two before bed) can really help you wind down, de-stress and focus on the real issues right in front of you. It also takes away the temptation to multi-task, which is vital. According to an article in Psychology Today, multi-tasking is a myth anyway. You think you’re doing two things at once, but you’re actually still doing twice as much, which makes you feel overwhelmed.
3. Audit your commitments
If you feel overwhelmed most of the time, you could simply be doing too much. There’s a time for everything, but it’s not always right now. It’s admirable if you’re trying to raise a family, work a job, go to school, start a side hustle and volunteer for a cause you love. But it may mean you’re spread way too thin and not doing any of it to the best of your abilities. Take a really good look at all your commitments and see if any of them can be eliminated or postponed. Remember, time passes quickly. If you only have two more semesters to go at school, you can postpone the side hustle or the volunteering. The end of the academic year will be here before you know it, and you can re-evaluate then.
4. Get a quick blood test
Feeling overwhelmed and being physically exhausted are closely related. Ask your doctor to check for simple things like low iron levels, thyroid function and hormone imbalances. In my experience something like mild anemia can feel more like emotional overwhelm than physical exhaustion, maybe because we’re more tuned in to our emotions than our bodies.
5. Improve your sleep routine
As we’ve just established, being physically tired can make us feel emotionally overwhelmed, so improve or change your sleep habits to help yourself get a good night’s sleep. Keep your room dark and cool. Keep screens and devices out of the bedroom and develop a calm, soothing, bedtime routine.
6. Develop some really simple self-care strategies
Self-care doesn’t have to involve expense or a whole lot of time. If you can fit in a monthly massage or weekly yoga class, great. For many of us it’s easier to fit in a daily self-care ritual that can be done in around ten minutes. It can be as simple as a cup of herbal tea, a warm bath, a ten-minute evening stroll around the neighborhood or ten minutes reading something you enjoy quietly at the end of the day. Or practice this ten minute morning routine to start every day with a small dose of self-care.
7. Go with the flow
For women in particular, there are some times of the month that we simply don’t have as much energy as others. Plan your time around your energy levels, rather than trying to drum up energy that simply isn’t there. Use your high energy times to get the hard stuff done, and save the simple, low-energy, no-brainer tasks for when you’re feeling low.
Overwhelm is normal, but these few simple coping strategies can help minimize its impact.