In today’s post I’m talking about overwhelm, and I’m going to share with you one simple strategy to help you stop feeling stressed right now.
But first I want to assure you that if you’re feeling overwhelmed you’re not alone. In fact, according to a 2016 survey from the American Psychological Association, over 40% of Americans feel stressed on a regular basis.
And lately I’ve been one of them. (Well, I’m an honorary American I guess…)
Here’s a little glimpse into my life over the past 20 months. Here I am, a 20-something Australian woman with a degree in journalism, working in the health and fitness industry, husbanded-up, and driving a little red Mazda across the USs from North Carolina to Los Angeles.
A little interesting perhaps, but not too out of the ordinary. That is, until you take into account the following:
- We had never visited L.A. before deciding to move
- We didn’t know anyone there
- Neither of us had jobs in California — Nate would continue to fly back to the East Coast (poor chap) and I would… figure it out.
Fast forward to 2016 and we’re happily settled in, loving life in our beautiful home and making great new friends. This is also when I decide to expand my business online — hello jenniferdenewellness.com!
And that’s where overwhelm kicked in.
In addition to my work in the health and fitness industry I had suddenly become… a web developer, a graphic designer, a marketing and sales director, a bookkeeper, and so much more. I’m also still trying to become somewhat fluent in social media speak >>> #progressnotperfection >>> #whydowehavetousehashtags
It would be an understatement to say that there’s been a lot to learn, and some days the stress levels have gotten kind of high. Like, 1960s flower-child-at-a-music-festival high.
But stress is just stress, and overwhelm is just overwhelm, and it happens to us all. The key is getting a handle on it before it spirals out of control, which is why I love today’s stress management exercise.
So grab some paper and a pencil and let’s do this thing.
How To Stop Feeling Stressed NOW
This exercise works so well because it gets the mess out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Having all those thoughts bumping about in our brains, like dodgem cars at a carnival, can often make situations feel more overwhelming than they actually are. Seeing things written out allows you to logically categorize and start dealing with each individual item.
I definitely recommend that you do this exercise on an actual sheet of paper; the physical act of writing engages different parts of our brain and helps us better process the information that we’re working on. Plus, taking a break from your computer is a quick stress-buster in-and-of-itself.
So let’s do it!
Step One – The Brain Dump
Write down everything you can think of that is making you feel stressed or overwhelmed. This might include actual tasks that you need to complete, goals that you’re working towards, and even less tangible thoughts and worries, such as feeling stressed about what the weather will do tomorrow. Spend no more than 3 minutes on this step.
Step Two – Make Four Categories
Take four different colored pens and circle your items according to the categories below:
- Must fix now
- Future self will deal with that
- Someone else can deal with that
- Not within my power
Be really clear about what items absolutely have to be done now, those that can wait for another time, and those that you don’t personally have to do. Items that are “not within my power” include worrying about the weather, worrying about the plane being delayed, or worrying about something else just for the sake of worrying. Spend no more than 5 minutes on this step.
Step Three – Consolidate Your Lists
Take a new piece of paper and write out only those items that you circled “must fix now”. This list should not be very long and only contain your highest priority tasks. Wondering what goes here? Ask yourself which tasks will make the biggest positive difference to how you feel about yourself and your life.
Then, take another piece of paper and write out only those items that you circled “future self will deal with that” — this is where all those non-urgent tasks go. You’ll probably notice that a lot of the items on this list are not really important… so why are you stressing about them? It’s likely that these are your procrastination-tasks, the ones that make you feel busy and productive but actually prevent you from completing items that really matter.
Spending too much time each day focusing on your “future self” list is draining your energy and limiting your potential for success. Focus on today, spend time completing the tasks that matter, and use that feeling of accomplishment to override overwhelm.
Step Four – Delegate:
Ask yourself which items from these two lists can be done by someone else. For example, if cleaning the house is a regular source of frustration then have a cleaner come in and help you, it’s cheaper than paying for a therapist! Make moves to outsource those tasks immediately.
Step Five – Trash Your Stress
Quickly scan the very first list that you made, the brain dump, and read the items that you circled “not within my power”. Place your hand over your heart and say out loud: “I have no control over these situations and worrying about them isn’t benefiting anyone”. Then burn that piece of paper and let those concerns go up in flames with it.
Step Six – Moving Forward (Calmly & Gracefully)
You’re now left with two lists, your high priority list, and your future self list. Read the latter and make a note of when you would realistically need to revisit the items here. Are they going to become important at a future date, or will they remain to be non-urgent tasks that you can complete at a later stage? You can make a note on your calendar to review this list in a few weeks, or just return to it if you find yourself with some extra time to kill. Now put it out of sight (and out of mind).
Finally, return to your high priority list. These tasks are the only items that have even the smallest claim on your stress levels, but we’re fabulous and feminine women, and a little to-do list is not going to get the best of us.
Here’s what you can do:
- Choose the task that is the fastest to complete and make a mark next to it.
- Choose the task that is most important to complete and make a mark next to it.
- Acknowledge that these are the only two tasks that you need to focus on (not worry about) right now, and take action to complete them in the most timely manner possible.
- Once both of these items have been checked off you can return to your priority list and choose another two.
- Continue in this way until you’ve crossed off each item on that list.
Of course there are many other stress-management strategies that you can benefit from. Things like meditation, self-care exercises, coaching, physical activity, eating well, and spending time unplugged from technology should be a regular part of your routine.
But there is a method to this list-making madness. Doing this exercise has hopefully helped you realize how many things you’ve been worrying about that you either can’t control, or you don’t need to worry about right now. It should also have cleaned up your mental clutter and shown you that even those things that might seem a little overwhelming at the moment can be tackled simply and methodically.
As you continue with your week I would encourage you to let go of stress for the sake of stress, and channel that same energy into being focused, productive and content.
See you next week!
P.S. I recorded this video on Facebook live, which is why it’s a little less clear (and why I said “hi Nate” as he popped into the live video recording!) Join me on Facebook here.