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  • Writer's pictureNat McDonald

Feeling overwhelmed? Asking yourself these questions can help.

"So much to do, so little time... how will I ever get through it all?"

When was the last time you felt overwhelmed? There's a fair chance that it wasn't that long ago. It happens to almost all of us, it can hit at any point and it can manifest in many ways - feeling exhausted is a common one, feeling angry, bursting into tears over seemingly minor things, or procrastinating over things we know need to be done are all associated with overwhelm.

We feel overwhelmed when the situation we find our self in demands more of our resources than we have available. It could be that we're facing one large, significant challenge - a major change in our life like adjusting to a new baby, relocating to a new area, or we're up to our necks in really big project at work with tight deadlines and a lot of pressure to deliver. Or, it can be that many smaller things we constantly juggle are piling up and in totality they become "too much".

My experience in coaching women around overwhelm is that it almost always includes the latter - the never ending juggle - often with something big and unexpected lumped on top just to make things even more challenging. Asides from "having a LOT going on" and "trying to do too much" I've also seen overwhelm be triggered when...

  • we're constantly comparing ourselves to others and come to believe we should be doing more than we are

  • we're neglecting our own physical & mental well-being, not giving ourselves a chance to recharge, resulting in having less "in the tank" to deal with all the things on our plate

  • we feel isolated - a big one, the impacts of isolation have really come to the fore during the pandemic - supports are so critical in helping to alleviate the stresses in our lives

  • we're absorbing a lot of negativity & anxiety from our surroundings - people, the media etc

Questions to help you reflect on what's going on when you feel overwhelmed

Here's a few questions I might pose if we were working together and your goal was to better manage feelings of overwhelm. The questions are designed to get you thinking broadly about your situation, and help you identify what you're in a position to change for the better.

🤷 1. What one or two things, if taken off your plate, would have most impact on how you’re feeling?

This one helps you pinpoint the main sources of overwhelm. Catch yourself if you immediately start thinking “well I CAN’T take XYZ off my plate”. There’s always things to explore, I promise. It could be something that's been lingering for sometime that you just need to get on and finish. Or a task/project/challenge that feels too big and needs to be broken down into more manageable pieces. Or something where you are going need to ask for - or accept - help. Its amazing how many women find it difficult to ask for help! A whole other topic for a blog another day...

🤷 2. What’s the best, most valuable use of your time?

This one gets you thinking about priorities, and what you can delegate, outsource or eliminate. Its frequently possible to identify things that we have "always done" that could just as or more effectively be done by others, not done so often, or not done at all.

Most women I work with end up with a kind of rolling "prioritised" to-do list, distinguishing between things that need to be done immediately or at set times each day, those that can be done anytime during the week, and those that are long-term or ongoing projects. The one thing that is critical with this kind of approach is that the basic self-care activities - movement, sleep, eating well, spending time outdoors each day - these things have to make it onto the regular scheduled list. Time and time again women sacrifice these in order to get other things done which they view as more important. Yes, of course there are days when emergencies trump everything, but that can't be every day. I think in our hearts we all know this, so the question becomes what does it take to make that commitment?

🤷 3. Are you making things bigger or more complicated than they need to be?

A really good one to consider for the perfectionists amongst us. When does “good” become “good enough”? The saying "Done is better than perfect" is really worth reflecting on if things tend to take you a lot longer than you know they should. Part of this is recognising that we just can't do everything perfectly. Even if we had all the time in the world this wouldn't be the case! Challenge your perfectionism.

🤷 4. What do you think will happen if you drop the ball or miss something or are not here for others?

Another area to challenge yourself - beliefs and assumptions - they may well be the root of what’s keeping you stuck in overwhelm. I've heard thing like "I need to be in all the meetings because if something falls through the cracks, I'd fail and wouldn't be able to recover" or "I can't delegate as I'll lose control, others will mess up, and it will take me longer to fix it than do it myself" or "If I'm not there for others I won't be needed anymore and then what?". These assumptions can feel very real, but in fact they are beliefs that we've built up over time. Maybe shaped by past experiences, but more often driven from fears than facts. It definitely takes time to start to change our beliefs, but often this is exactly what is needed to reduce the sense of pressure and overwhelm that we put on ourselves.

These questions can also be used as self-coaching questions. They can be great ones to journal on, if that's something you enjoy doing. Bear in mind that though that change requires you to commit to action too. So - the final question should always be “What’s the one (small) step I will take now based on these insights?”.

We all feel overwhelmed from time to time - our lives are demanding. Coaching can be a very effective way of regaining a focus and commitment to improving your situation by taking time out to look at the bigger picture, challenge your thinking and focus on building healthy habits. However, if you're experiencing symptoms of persistent sadness, anxiety, panic attacks, spending a lot of time thinking and over thinking things and its constantly affecting your daily life then don't hesitate to reach out to your GP, a mental health professional or therapist.

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