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Managing Overwhelm

Overwhelm can knock our confidence so work on managing your time, time block, create a strategy and stick to it. Worrying and stressing about the future will not get things done. If you notice this panic mindset setting in pull it back, stay positive and take control to get you back into the present moment.

A really good exercise to help ground yourself in the present is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique.

This is one of my favourite mindfulness techniques. It doesn’t require any special spaces or tools—all you need is your five senses. Here’s how to walk your way through them for instant grounding:

5 – Look around and name five things you can see, right now, from where you are.

4 – Listen and name four things you can hear.

3 – Notice three things you can touch, like the pages of a nearby book or the feeling of your feet on the carpet.

2 – Next come two smells: Breathe in the pages of a book or the citrus smell of the candle you lit, or open the window and breath in the fresh air

1 – Finally, name something you can taste: a sip of cold water will do, or even just the taste of your own mouth.

This does not one, but two things to interrupt the overwhelm.

First, it grounds you in your senses and, more importantly, the present moment. Second, keeping track of the counting and working your way through your sense’s interrupts spinning thoughts. It’s a mini moment of mindfulness to pull you out of the overwhelm.

Clean up your immediate surroundings.

The phrase “outer order, inner calm” is popular for a reason. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, tidying the area around you restores order to a little corner of your universe and allows you to move forward.

I’m not telling you to throw everything out. You can restrict yourself to things within arm’s reach. Stack loose papers, put caps on rogue pens, wipe away dust or grime. The resulting order will help you feel like you’ve accomplished something and allow you to focus on the task at hand, not the clutter.

Ruthlessly prioritize.

Cut everything that should be done and stick to things that need to get done now.

Stop multitasking

We know multitasking isn’t really a thing and that it doesn’t work: Our brains aren’t designed to do two or three tasks at once. Instead, we end up moving back and forth among our various tasks, leaving us with the mental equivalent of whiplash, and getting little done in reality.

Unintentional multitasking counts, too. Trying to work from home and simultaneously keep an eye on the kids, holding a conversation while the TV is on, eating lunch at your desk, leaving your email open while you work, or simply keeping your phone at hand 24/7 are examples of things that force you to transition your attention  (and then transition it back) hundreds of times a day.

Multitasking works about as well as texting while driving—which is to say, it doesn’t. So, if your nerves are frayed, mend them by doing a singular thing at a time. When you’re feeling less frantic, you can go back to scrolling Facebook while making a sandwich. But until then, single-task, single-task, single-task.

Take the next tiny step.

When you feel frozen and can’t see the wood for the trees think only of the next tiny step. The next step can be ridiculously small—only you have to know that you’re inching forward by thinking “Okay, now click on the folder. Now open the document. Now start reading.”

Follow your impulses (sort of).

When you’re working on something less-than-fun, it’s easy to get distracted by every little thing. You have a song stuck in your head and have the urge to pull it up on Spotify. You remember you promised you’d make pizza tonight and find yourself scrolling through recipes hours before a major work deadline.

But instead of following every little impulse, which can pull you into a vortex of procrastination, keep a sticky note next to you and jot down your impulses as you have them:

Just unloading the thought, even if you don’t follow through on the impulse to find the answer, can be enough to squash it. Feeling extra confident? Rather than writing it down, just think it. Sometimes just acknowledging the impulse is enough to make it go away.

Rethink your to-do list.

Keeping a to-do list (and a I don’t mean a drawer full of crumpled sticky notes) is important. But if you’re overwhelmed, looking at a long list of tasks can be daunting. So do a a to-do list makeover!

There are a thousand ways to bring more order to your long string of tasks. For one, put like with like: put all your phone calls together, or all your writing tasks together. This helps makes a long list more cohesive, more efficient, and by extension, less overwhelming.

Another method: Write out your list in accordance with your schedule. Plan big projects for the morning when you have the most energy and focus. Schedule brainless tasks for the 3 p.m. slump.

Accept what you cannot do or control.

You can strategize and organize, all you want, but at some point, you will run into something you can’t do or control. When you do, the only thing to do is to accept this.