October 25, 2015

5 Ways to Overcome Being Overwhelmed.


“Close some doors today. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because they lead you nowhere.”

~ Paulo Coelho

I couldn’t take it anymore.

My inner voice was screaming as my outer self was holding it back. It was like a dam waiting to burst. I went into my office, locked my door and took a few deep breaths. I tried to meditate but just couldn’t.

I completely broke down and started crying.

I knew I had reached my limit; my cup was full, and there was nothing I could do about this sense of overwhelm I was feeling.

None of my habit strategies could work, as I had used up every ounce of discipline that was in me.

It had been a hectic few months as I was juggling so many things in my life.

From fighting grief after the loss of my mother, trying to save a foundation that I had set up a few years ago, and watching my company struggle in the worst macroeconomic conditions I’ve ever experienced. And if that wasn’t enough, I took on several other challenges such as preparing to run a marathon, hosting a large speaking event and attempting to write a book.

I had fallen back into my old ways, where I would do one million things rather than face the pain. I would take on many projects so that I wouldn’t have time to reflect and think about my difficulties.

Fortunately, I’m much more aware than I used to be, and I now listen very carefully to my body.

The first signs came when I pulled my calf muscle and couldn’t train anymore and had to sit out running for a month and as such missed the marathon date. The final sign was my breakdown at the office. I left work and drove to a nearby spot that overlooked the sea and stared at the greenish blue waters for what seemed like an eternity.

We all go through times when we get overwhelmed. As in my case where I wanted to close off my heart for fear of getting hurt, I put on a shield and took on task after task.

Other times, we are afraid of missing out and say yes to everything that comes our way, forgetting that a day consists of only 24 hours.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

~ E.E. Cummings

Overwhelm leads to frustration, and that leads to stress, which in turn leads to health problems (headaches, muscle aches, high blood pressure, heart disease). It also starts us towards destructive behavior (overeating, drugs, etc.), which can cause full-blown depression.

These are five ways that you can overcome overwhelm and stop it from manifesting into something much worse than mere frustration.

1. Awareness.

The first step is to be aware that we are in “overwhelm” mode, and this is usually easier said than done particularly when we are in the thick of things.

However, everyone develops certain signs when they know they are heading into an overwhelming high alert mode. I feel them as soon as my breathing becomes wayward and when my frustrated thoughts won’t go away during my meditation practice.

2. Step back.

After awareness, we need to take a step back, take a break and rejuvenate ourselves while we re-evaluate where we are in the grand scheme of things.

I usually take an afternoon off work and go to the beach (I’m lucky as it’s only 20 minutes away) or just listen to music/watch a movie for an afternoon.

3. Ask ourselves if what we’re doing is in line with our vision.

Look at the projects, or tasks that we’ve taken on and ask why are we doing them. Do they move us toward our vision? Why should I spend time and energy on projects like writing a book, or running a marathon when it’s not part of my personal vision?

We need to be careful not to do things for the sake of filling our bucket lists.

Ernest Hemingway said:

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

He meant that there was no need to add many flowery words to your sentence. And don’t be afraid of removing a sentence that you love if it doesn’t add real value to your final piece.

4. Think small and slow things down.

Life is a marathon and not a race so whatever you have in your hand, think of it as a long-term project rather than something you have to finish within a week. This way of thinking has helped me so much as I’ve slowed things down where I now think of five to seven years per goal and plan my goals as if I’ll live until I’m a hundred years old.

I’ve also set a maximum of doing three major tasks/activities a day, and I’ll start with task one until I finish it before I move on to the next one and so on. I’ve found this number to be my right balance.

5. Detachment from the results.

We often place a heavy burden on ourselves by setting high expectations on projects/goals we take on.

I do believe that measurable goals are important to track our progress, but we must let go of the need for results. As we let go of that need and just focus on the process, then the results will work themselves out and surprise us.

I’ve started using time sessions per task instead of tracking results.

For example, I will write for an hour every other day, rather than saying I’ll write three articles a week. I will exercise 45 minutes for four days a week, rather than stressing on how many miles I will run, or what muscles I’ll work today.

“By letting it go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try the world is beyond the winning.”

~ Lao-Tzu

We need to treat this feeling of overwhelm as if it’s our emotional indicator that tells us to take a step back, slow down and ask ourselves again what matters most to us.

It’s a gift from the universe like an internal thermostat, and all we have to do is remove all the fear surrounding us and adhere to it.

And the best thing is that no matter how bad yesterday was, every morning is a new beginning and an opportunity to live without overwhelm and stress.



Attention, Awareness & How to Meditate Successfully.

Author: Mohammed Issa

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Porsche Brosseau/Flickr

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