I sat here for longer than I’d like to admit staring at a blank document- The cursor flashing like a four-way stop light, words ready to be typed once I figured out which ones to use and in what order to do so. The irony was not lost on me.
I’m writing about overwhelm and I couldn’t seem to step back long enough to just let it happen. Therein lies my first point.
1. Write down whatever five words show up first.
It doesn’t matter what they’re about. They could be about the morning or about something stressful in the office. They could be about dinner last night. From there, write 5 more that have even a slight relevance to them.
In one step, I’ve gone from objects of every day life to concepts of things I enjoy. Let’s take it a step further.
This strategy can be applied to anything your brain reacts to as an attack. We are wired to immediately deflect these in the form of doubt. We doubt this will work. We doubt we have the ability to overcome whatever is creating our stress.
2. Visualize everything you can.
Five apples into one bowl. Five people into one car. Five concepts on one hand. It can be daunting to come up with FIVE things to write. But visualizing the fact that you can count them on ONE hand will ignite a different part of your brain that involves that familiar fight or flight response to pressure. Visualizing putting five big things onto one surface lets you know it’s manageable and definitely not as chaotic as you want to think it is.
3. Count your steps.
This can be taken literally or figuratively. There is a technique in anxiety and stress management called “grounding” that I’ve found to be highly valuable in dealing with those moments of overwhelming blankness. You know the ones- A crippling sense of absolutely everything and nothing going on in your head at once causing a massive short-circuit and a blown fuse.. Maybe that’s just me.
Literally, the act of stepping away to walk and regroup is highly effective. As you walk, count. As you count, just keep doing that. You’re clearing your head to make way for something simple and naturally restorative.
Figuratively, you’re already over half way through the five key steps to overcoming your situation.
4. Think of two things you look forward to having settled.
Being an extremely visual person, I consider myself lucky to see this as literally switching off as many lights as possible to focus on just one or two spotlights. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s relatively easy for us to just shut them all off and walk away from a dark room. We don’t have to look at it then and will somehow deal with the mess later. The problem with this is in the build up. That room is still there full of the mess that has yet to be sorted. This is where the idea of pulling any two things out will help.
Consider it this way: Organizing your tasks into a list by order of importance and deadline is the first thing to cross off of it!
5. Give yourself a break.
This can be the toughest step to take. We are wired to be our own worst enemy. It’s a primal nod to how we evolve as people. If we didn’t challenge ourselves, we wouldn’t get past merely existing. In a world full of constant static and distractions, it’s easy to let that natural self-challenge to become self-doubt instead. There are two common and valid hangups with this step.
The concept of giving ourselves a break can seem counterproductive.
The question I get most often:
“How are we supposed to make progress if we are off taking a break?”
My question back:
“How are we supposed to make progress if we’re too exhausted from not taking one?”
Here’s what I mean: We have to recharge. We deserve to do it and trust that it is part of a strategy in reaching a goal. We cannot reach them if we’re on empty. Taking a break for even ten minutes of mindless Solitaire is more beneficial than we may realize. It isn’t all or nothing. It’s ten minutes of putting cards in order.
The biggest key I try to convey to any one of my peers struggling with stress and exhaustion is this: You deserve to trust yourself and trust the fact that it will get figured out. You deserve to slow down and let it.