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Overcoming Overwhelm

Ride The WaveWhenever I think about the word overwhelm, I picture this wave coming at me.

The bad news is that I don’t surf, and am terrified of large expanses of water.

The good news is that it’s in my head, so I can slow it down, grab some sunglasses, funky board shorts, and ride the wave.

Overwhelm is often a precursor to procrastination and can be extremely stressful. Like stress, it can just creep up on you and you might not even know you are feeling overwhelmed.

Identifying Overwhelm

For me, the first sign that I’m probably either in, or very close to total overwhelm is indecision.

I dither.

I waffle.

I temporize.

I surf mindlessly.  Ok, I do that to decompress as well, so that’s not necessarily a sign of overwhelm, especially if it happens after the kids are in bed, and I’m kicking back with my Samsung tablet.

Another clear symptom of overwhelm for me is my language suddenly gets liberally peppered with sweeping generalizations.  Words like ‘never’, ‘always’, ‘everything’ , ‘everyone’ etc.

“Everything is a mess”

“This always happens”

“I’m never going to get this done”

Aside from the slightly ‘poor me’ nature of some of this language, it just re-inforces a sense of loss of control, chaos, and yes, overwhelm.

How do I deal with it?

Everyone knows that a problem recognized is a problem half-solved.  Oh dear – just used a sweeping generalization again.  Everyone, yup, 7 billion people, know that 🙂

A Two-Step Solution

Once I recognize I’m floundering through overwhelm, here are the steps I take to get back in control and in a good place:


Start small, and focus on something everyone can do: breathe, slowly and deliberately.  Just. Breathe.

I’m not suggesting that you stop your crazy running around, get into a lotus position and start meditating – although if you can, that would be awesome.

I just relax my shoulders and breathe.  I‘m doing it already anyway – breathing –  so I might as well focus on it for a minute or so.

There.  Feels better already.

The Next 15 Minutes

Next, I focus on making the next 15 minutes better than the last.  Just the next 15 minutes.  It’s such an easy commitment.

So I pick something, just one thing to do for the next 15 minutes, and do only that.

The sense of achievement of focusing on one thing gives me immediate positive feedback, which makes me feel that I can now control the next 15 minutes.

I applied this very formula this morning.  I woke up at 4:30 am in a slight panic, feeling overwhelmed by how much stuff I need to get through between now and when we leave Dubai for good in roughly three weeks.

Kids school transfers.  Selling, giving away and clearing out a gazillion years’ worth of a busy household.  Day job handover. Utilities termination.

And the most important activities: organizing the leaving parties 🙂

Jokes aside, it’s a lot to squeeze into a short time frame, and just as I felt that familiar wave of controlled panic rising, I sat down, and did some breathing.

Then picked this blog post as my next-15-minutes thing.

it took 3 sets of the next-15-minutes, left me feeling resourceful and ready for another exciting, change-filled day, full of marking things off on my list that takes me closer and closer to my goal of actually enjoying the leaving parties!

How do you overcome overwhelm?

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