How to Deal with Overwhelm
Do you ever feel like you're drowning in a sea of tasks and responsibilities? Do you struggle to manage your time and prioritize self-care?
If so, you're not alone. I recently had an opportunity to welcome Stephanie G. to the Sleep Like a Boss podcast to discuss the topic of overwhelm and how to deal with it.
Stephanie is currently Senior Director at a global Bay Area-based tech company. Over her 14+ years in Tech, Stephanie has held a number of leadership roles. Before, she was a Management Consultant with McKinsey & Company, advising clients across various industries.
Stephanie is an experienced workshop and program developer and facilitator who’s passionate about health and wellness. She holds an Executive Coaching Certification from the Hudson Institute, a Holistic Health Counseling Certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher Training from the School of Positive Transformation.
She is a regular contributor and retreat facilitator for Mindfulness Incubator, a platform dedicated to helping busy professionals live with more ease, purpose and intention.
Stephanie is a mom to twin elementary-aged kids, a lover of the outdoors, and an avid reader and lifelong learner.
Her experience with acute stress and emotional turmoil environments led her to focus on physical and mental health and wellness, and overall well-being.
Her journey of learning and personal development in that space began when her father was diagnosed with a rare cancer about 15 years ago. Her mother was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, and they lost her about a year ago. Her mother's legacy helped clarify and crystallize for her the importance of living in the present moment with intention and purpose. Stephanie does this work is to encourage other women to bring their gifts into the world live a life that brings them joy, and brings joy to the communities they live in.
Practical Ways to Deal with Overwhelm
During our conversation, Stephanie and I discussed practical ways to deal with overwhelm.
She explained that there are two different categories of practices that can help us navigate difficult situations.
The first category is resilience-boosting practices, habits we can develop to help us endure and withstand challenging situations. These include mindfulness, meditation, physical exercise, nutrition, social support, and the ability to adapt our mindset. By building these small habits into our daily routine, we can strengthen our ability to handle stress when it arises.
The second category of practices is what Stephanie calls "overwhelm 9-1-1."
These are interventions that we can use when we're overwhelmed and need to regain our composure quickly. She recommends a framework which includes several steps to help us recognize and respond to overwhelm.
The first step is to realize that we're in overwhelm, which can be challenging because when we're in a stressful situation. Our brains are flooded with emotion, and we may not be able to think clearly. However, she points out that there are often physical signs that we're experiencing overwhelm, such as increased heart rate, sweating, tense muscles, or a knot in our stomach. By becoming more attuned to these physical signals, we can recognize when we're slipping into overwhelm and take action to calm ourselves down.
Once we've recognized that we're in overwhelm, the next step is to calm our nervous system down. This is important because when we're in a state of fight or flight, we're not able to access our full range of resources and problem-solving abilities.
Stephanie suggests using a self-rescue step to help calm our nervous system, such as deep breathing or going for a walk. These interventions don't have to be long, but they can be powerful in helping us regain our composure and move out of fight or flight mode.
By taking these steps, we can help ourselves navigate overwhelm more effectively and build resilience over time.
This then puts you in a position where you could tackle the issue at hand; so if it's something that you can solve in the moment - you solve it; if it's something that you need to address systematically - address it.
Oftentimes, you just have to endure the situation, but the great part about executing an “overwhelm self-rescue” is that even if you can't change the situation, you can choose who you want to be in this situation.
Are You “Busy”?
Stephanie also addressed the societal expectation that effectiveness and value are derived from being busy and having a full schedule.
In our society, there exists an expectation that being busy equates to being effective and valuable. We measure our productivity by the number of meetings we attend, the amount of emails we receive, and the after-school activities we participate in. It has become a strange status symbol to say, "I'm so busy," and not saying so may even be perceived as odd.
However, the amount of time we spend occupied by things does not necessarily equate to doing meaningful work or living a fulfilling life. It is possible to complete the same amount of work in a shorter amount of time and still be considered "busy."
Thus, we need to shift our mindset regarding how we use our time. We must begin to view interventions aimed at improving our well-being not as a time expense but rather as a time investment. By doing so, we can create positive effects that help us live the remainder of our time more intentionally and thoughtfully, from a more resourceful place.
Living life in a constant state of urgency, feeling like we always need to rush, is not conducive to doing our best work. Being in a frantic mindset does not allow for creativity or thoughtful consideration. Therefore, it is essential to reframe how we view our time and make deliberate choices about how we spend it.
By doing so, we can create a space for ourselves to be more creative and productive, and ultimately live a more fulfilling life.
So Stephanie encourages a mindset shift towards prioritizing and investing time in activities that create a positive impact, rather than just filling up the schedule with less important tasks.
It’s Okay to Take Your Time
In today's fast-paced world, where we are constantly bombarded with a multitude of tasks and responsibilities, prioritization has become more important than ever.
Stephanie explains how prioritization is crucial in life, especially when there are too many things to do. In her words, you can either build your life from the bottom up or the top down, meaning that you can do all the things that are being asked of you and then rest, have fun or do philanthropic work with what's left. Alternatively, you can build it from the top down, that is, start with what you want to do and the places where your energy and effort will make a difference, and then see what you can do with what's left.
Also, a lot of us (particularly women) tend to over-justify and ask for permission in places where they could just act. Stephanie explains that this is where small interventions and changes can make a significant impact.
The first step is to realize that you do not need permission to take care of yourself. You can take small breaks like going to the bathroom or taking a short walk to rejuvenate yourself. Of course, in regulated work environments with prescribed breaks, it can be more challenging to take such breaks.
Next, developing simple habits and practices can also help manage workload efficiently. For example, when asked to deliver a presentation or analysis, there are two clarifying questions that people often fail to ask: when is the deadline, and what is the required level of effort? Understanding these two questions will help you determine the appropriate amount of effort and the minimum requirement to meet the deadline.
According to Stephanie, oftentimes individuals assume that if someone has asked them to do something, it must be important, and they should provide the best possible version. However, it turns out that the minimum requirement would have sufficed. Therefore, it is essential to have the trade-off conversation to decide what to push out, what not to do, or which meetings to skip.
It is also important to be aware of the impact of your actions. Taking time to reflect and respond thoughtfully is better than impulsively agreeing to everything. If you are overwhelmed, step away from the situation for a while, take a break, and come back to it later. It is okay to take time to recenter yourself and think about the right response.
Lastly, Stephanie shares that developing awareness is a crucial skill that requires conscious effort. Our daily lives are filled with distractions, such as multitasking and constant stimuli, making it challenging to focus on the present moment. Thus, practicing awareness has numerous benefits, especially when facing challenging situations like overwhelming responsibilities, personal struggles, or caring for others.
However, developing these skills requires ongoing practice and effort, and it's normal to experience challenges along the way. But just because it's difficult doesn't mean it's not worth doing. The ebbs and flows of life will make it easier or harder at times, but the benefits of developing awareness and mindfulness practices will be worth it in the long run.
If you want to learn more, make sure you visit the Mindfulness Incubator, a platform that aims to support individuals in living with greater ease, intention, peace, and purpose. The platform offers a range of resources to achieve these goals, including a regularly updated blog with practical insights and tips on managing busyness and overwhelm, and bringing more joy and intention into life. If you want to learn more about how to live your life with purpose, check out the Time Boundary Blueprint.
Stephanie has also put together a free self-care resource and worksheet to help you manage self care when you're in the heat of overwhelm.