“I just can’t handle one more thing!” I thought to myself. Recently, I was reminded how easy it can be to feel overwhelmed. I know this thought process in my mind well.
Here’s what it looks like in my life:
I say “yes” to lots of things I’m passionate about. I schedule myself a mixture of fun activities and work meetings. I have a stack of papers to grade, and it begins to pile up. Some unexpected things occur (as they always do) that throw my well-planned schedule off, and the next thing I know I’m stressing out.
“Why did I over-book myself again??”
“What if I can’t get it all done?” “I’m so so tired.” “Why did I over-book myself again??” I know this style of thinking, it’s a well-worn path in my brain.
But here’s the thing:
I actually know what to do when this happens. And I know how to turn my mind and feelings around to shift back to pleasure and productivity. I am a life and leadership coach for changemakers and leaders. I support multi-passionate people who, like myself, sometimes find themselves in a space of overcommitment and overwhelm.
What if I can’t get it all done?
I share the story above to make sure you know that you’re not alone if these stressful thoughts show up in your mind, too. Many of us have full lives, and I bet you’ve experienced something similar.
So let’s talk about some practical tools for what you can do to realign your focus and return to appreciating your life and all you get to do.
1. Allow yourself self-compassion. ( Dr. Kristin Neff has researched and written about this concept if you want to learn more.) Self-compassion is about forgiving and being kind to ourselves when we fall behind in our schedule, for example. You can actively practice this by saying to yourself, “ I notice I’m feeling stressed right now. I’m not alone in feeling stressed. There are many people who also feel stressed. I’m going to offer myself some compassion right now for that feeling.” If you actually pause and say this to yourself, notice how a part of you softens – just with this self-talk.
2. Practice emotional agility. Dr. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, suggests that we should not ignore or repress our uncomfortable emotions. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, David would invite you to show up to that emotion and feel your discomfort. Let yourself feel what’s happening, and then recognize that your feelings are information. Ask yourself if there’s a way for you to step out of the emotion to try to understand what it’s telling you. David says that emotions are “data not directives.”
3. Connect with your body. If you’re following Live Breathe Alaska, then you know this one well. Pause. See if you can find a place to sit quietly and take at least three deep breaths. See if you can listen to what your body needs. Does it need sleep, water, a walk around the block in the crisp air, a snack? When you listen to your body, you’ll get information about how to care for yourself and to relax a little bit. Calming your nervous system may be key to thinking clearly and figuring out solutions to address your situation.
4. Redirect your thoughts. Once you’ve offered yourself compassion, honored your feelings, and connected with your body, it’s time to see if you can manage your mind. How could you think thoughts that help you to feel better? If our thoughts impact our feelings, then could you choose a better thought that would help you feel better? Perhaps instead of telling yourself, “I’m so overwhelmed,” you might say, “I am passionate and intentional with how I use my time.” How can you be in a place of looking for solutions in your mind?
5. Finally, see what you can reschedule. On a very practical level, there are probably some people with whom you can rain check. Do that. Don’t cancel plans regularly, of course, but if there are some meetings you can push back to when you’re feeling more open and energetic – do that.
As we move through our lives, we get choices all the time about how we show up and care for ourselves, our emotions, our bodies, our thoughts (and our schedules).
These are the exact steps that I follow, and that I suggest to my coaching clients, when we start to feel that sense of stress creeping in.
Remember, you are capable. You’ve got this!
I invite you to own your personal power, recognize that you have the tools and the ability to feel happier, more fulfilled, and less stressed in your life.