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The Extremely Simple Guide to Handling the Overwhelm in 3 Quick Steps

Overwhelmed
Image by Evil Erin (license).

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Life is often filled to the brim. There are many things to do and if you’re like me I’m sure you feel overwhelmed and stressed out sometimes.

What to do then? Here’s what I do and the three simple steps I follow to go from a stressed and overwhelmed headspace to one with clarity, calmness and a sense of direction within minutes.

1. I reconnect with the present moment.

When you feel overwhelmed you are stuck in your mind, you are stuck on all the things you have done and all the things you have to do today and perhaps even this week and month.

No wonder you feel overwhelmed and stressed out. So when I feel this way I reconnect with the present moment. I just focus on my breathing for two minutes. Just the in- and outbreath and nothing else.

Or I spend two minutes just taking in what is right here right now. The computer in front of me. The sunlight through the window that warms me. The buses and traffic going by outside and the clear blue sky. I use all my senses to just focus on what is happening around me right now and nothing else.

By doing so I align myself fully with what is happening right now instead of being somewhere in the past or future or both of them inside my mind.

Yes, I still have the same things to do. But the overwhelm that was is in my mind because I was looking at things from a perspective that hurt me loses it’s power.

2. I ask myself: what is the most important thing I can do right now?

Usually the answer is that I need to work on things that aren’t urgent but very important such as a new digital product or looking at and starting to explore new opportunities.

3. I stop thinking and take action in a single-tasking manner.

Then, when I have come up with the answer – usually by consulting my to-do list on teuxdeux.com – I get to work. I do not think about it for a few minutes since that only makes it harder to get started and I often wind up procrastinating away much more than those few minutes.

Instead I focus on just this one task I need to do. I take breaks every hour but keep working on it by single-tasking until it is done. Then I start working on the next task that is now the most important one.

By doing so I use my work hours in the best way I can and I feel good about myself and the work I have done at the end of the day.

This little ritual of three habits can take some time to getting used to and you’ll probably stumble. But after a while I noticed that it became more and more automatic and I felt less inner resistance and could change gears from overwhelmed to focused faster.

So keep practicing even if you stumble. It usually takes at least a month to establish a chain of habits/ritual like this and probably more than a month if all three habits are brand new for you. Be patient with yourself.

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  • Sean March 29, 2011, 10:52 pm

    Reconnecting to the present moment is what helps me too! Great advice Henrik. It can be so easy for our minds to just go off all over the place and overwhelm us. Sometimes your mind is a mind of its own!

    But doing what you said with just breathing and focusing on the present, like a mini form of meditation, will greatly calm all that mind chatter and help bring back focus and clarification. :)

  • Jonas March 29, 2011, 11:58 pm

    Super, thank you so much.

    I get stuck all the time, feel overwhelmed, procrastinate, feel guilty, get depressed. I’ll definitely try these out and see which ones help best.

    What has also helped me in the past was:
    - Take deep belly breaths to connect with the now
    - Put the problem into context. The world isn’t going to end. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
    - I let go of the ultimate goal, find a subgoal to concentrate on and start
    - Sometimes feeling overwhelmed is just a sign that a project is too ambitious. In these cases it pays off to reflect for a minute and then maybe start full throttle with a modified goal

    Cheers,

    Jonas

  • Leah Art Designer March 30, 2011, 12:53 am

    Fantastic Eric, your article came right at the perfect moment this afternoon while I have been feeling overwhelmed for a couple of days. I did as you suggested, took a few minutes to reconnect with myself, breath concentrating on only that – and voila!

    I am more centered, and will surely be doing my best to use this trick when I get stuck when the brain is on rapid fire. Along with the other tips about taking breaks ever hour which I had been doing, just not the breathing!

  • Justin March 30, 2011, 2:51 pm

    I take some time during the day to clear mind of thoughts and just be. This allows me to reset myself so I do not experience overwhelm.

  • Naveen | Winning Ideas March 30, 2011, 4:23 pm

    Well explained article.
    In my opinion also, its really important to calm down when we are stressed or overwhelmed. Easy. How do calm down then?
    We need to deliberately divert our mind to think about beautiful things like greenery or even recall a happy moment. Stress in mind can affect one’s health as well if one doesnot achieve control over mind.

  • Dominic Knower March 30, 2011, 8:47 pm

    Hi Henrik, I am most definitely going through a stage of total overwhelm. I do pick out single tasks to do, to get the ball rolling again, but everything else is always still on the mind, guess i’ll work on my ‘right here right now’ mentality!

    Thanks

    Dom

  • Jay Costan March 30, 2011, 9:02 pm

    I totally agree. Keeping a good connection with reality is one of the healthiest ways to divert yourself from the stressful tasks you may have. It keeps you on your toes.

  • Sandy Garfield March 31, 2011, 6:10 pm

    Hi Henrick. Great post and you hit the nail on the head many times. The biggest thing for me is remembering not to panic, get ahold of myself, and then take it step by step. It always works.

  • Henrik Edberg April 1, 2011, 10:50 am

    Thank you for adding all your insights and tips for handling the overwhelm!

  • Summer April 5, 2011, 3:16 am

    Great post!
    Reconnect to the present moment is a good advice. Sometimes I think too much under pressure while the real situation isn’t that worse. And once I make a list and priorize things accroding to the importance, life is much easier then.

  • Lyn April 5, 2011, 7:27 am

    I write up a ‘creating my NOW’ list. It entails writing down what is worrying/stressing/overwhelming me and follow that with simple steps I can take. Writing things down gets it out of my head – that’s where all the overwhelm is created in the first place!
    And, of course I take a breath, a deep one and then remind myself that it’s all perfect.

  • LJ April 16, 2011, 4:55 am

    Great tips, and very good for getting right past the panicky moment.