Do you ever feel like you are in the grips of a sinking feeling where you are bogged down with too many unmanageable responsibilities and time just seems to slip away? You are probably feeling ‘overwhelmed’. The Oxford Dictionary describes “Overwhelm” as bury or drown beneath a huge mass of something, especially water. In the world of human emotions, this is a word that euphemizes stress. It’s a feeling where you might feel like there is too little time, too many tasks and despite your best efforts, nothing gets done.
‘Stuck’ is the feeling that many can relate to, especially after the pandemic. Some of us are still working from home while the others are juggling hybrid shifts. Whenever we get some breather, we catch up with friends who are mostly complaining about being overwhelmed by the workload in their organization and at home. There is no end to tasks and a world connected by gadgets does not make it easier for people to pause and switch off, making them feel flustered about endless deadlines, family chores and other essential engagements. Whether it is about working mothers, sales professionals, business leaders or individuals struggling to strike a balance between multiple jobs – overwhelmed has been a constant feeling.
Earlier, Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s book Immunity to Change discussed how modern society’s complexities have made most of us feel stuck “in over our heads.” The book elaborated on how the challenges of the modern world have gotten the better of the “complexity of our mind”. The pandemic just added to the chaos. The question to ask then is why do some people feel overwhelmed and yet some don’t? Is it because there is the burden of social expectations or are we failing to prioritize and honour our time boundaries?
Sometimes when things life throws a curveball, it can be tough to hold fort but for most ordinary days, there might be a semblance of structure. Here are a few things that you might wish to try before the sense of overwhelm turns into burnout:
Become aware of your limitations, set realistic expectations:
In many cultures, guesstimation often leads to being overoptimistic about the time it will take for a person to finish a task. Guesstimation is when people make estimates about certain things without adequate information or realistic evidence. This phenomenon often makes people assume that they will be able to finish 5 tasks within a stipulated time when they can finish only 3 given their level of focus, other commitments and resources required. In certain parts of Asia, they say “this will be done” without gathering accurate information on the time required for the entire process. People who guesstimate often tend to end up with work that spills over, leading to delays in other lined up work. Ultimately it leads to disappointment and feelings of inadequacy.
If you can relate, it might be better to become a little self-aware of your limitations and blindspots, plan a task list accordingly and then commit to others realistically. This way, there won’t be any unrealistic expectations regarding any professional task and domestic chore.
Aligning a purpose with every activity: We are often demotivated to start on certain tasks because procrastination seems easier than completing them. The question then is are you agreeing to too many tasks that don’t align with your purpose? Realistically, in a day you might not like every task that comes your way, but it’s important to attach a purpose with it. For instance, you might have to work on a difficult presentation for a client who is hard to please. It might be better to remind yourself that you aren’t doing it just for the client, but for your and your team’s future growth. It aligns with your purpose of becoming an accomplished leader with a portfolio of interesting projects and team managements like these to show.
If it is a domestic chore that you dislike doing, it might help to remember that it is teaching you to be more skilled at managing your time and will help ease your burden in the future. When the task list is really long and prioritization is imperative, it is necessary to ask yourself WHY you are doing what you are doing and how urgent it is. In most cases, not everything has to be finished right now.
Dealing with social expectations and external influences:
Every now and then it might be effective to check sources of energy drain in your life. Do you really need to attend that invitation? Do you need to help everyone who asks for assistance? Are you really being kind to yourself in the process or are you more concerned about how people will perceive you if you say ‘No’? When we grew up, we were often taught to do the right thing and extend ourselves for others. But in today’s fast-paced world, it is alright to be honest about your limitations and say ‘No’ to others if your plate is full. Prioritizing ruthlessly and realistically is non-negotiable.
My manager said the other day, “We can’t have it all, we can only ask ourselves if we tried our best in the process.” One of the necessary things we can do in a day is to be kind to ourselves and let it go if we can’t accomplish everything we set out to. It’s okay to not chase perfection and end up in a guilt trap in case one or two tasks spill over to the next day. As women, we are often conditioned to feel guilty if we cannot balance home and work. This also prevents many of us from voicing our needs, refusing tasks, and asking for help when we need assistance. It’s fine to ask for help and delegate if there is too much to be handled, it is also perfectly fine to ask for more time and say “No” when it gets too much.
One of the great ways of silencing all the ambient noise and focusing better is by pausing and practising mindfulness. People will advise and share their opinion on how you should be doing something based on their experience, but you must find your own way. Once you can confidently hold fort without feeling inadequate about whether you are meeting others’ standards, it might become much easier to deal with the feeling of overwhelm.
Are you getting your daily dose of rest?
In a journal on Integrative Review of Feeling Overwhelmed, the author discusses an experiment from 2003, where the researcher Parse R.R. talks about feeling exhausted after “too many activities,” “overdoing it,” and “busy days,” comparing it to feeling overwhelmed. In her study on the participants, she experimented with the unique living rhythm of ‘repose-revive’ which led them to feeling more energized. The process of repose-revive focused on adequate resting, relaxing, or sleeping which helped people manage their lives better.
Resting can also include different forms of reflection and recreation which can help mind the mind relax. An hour of rest every single day can make a big difference to the way people approach their life and work. Sometimes, it is necessary to stop the constant chatter in the head and listen to the wisdom of the soul. This can be done by pausing, observing something in our surroundings, immersing ourselves in something we like, and practising mindfulness for 5 mins after every hour.
It is also necessary to keep our biology in mind and understand whether we are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. This can help us in feeling energetic and stabilized to do more in less time without losing our health. As famous nutritionist Sheeba Majmudar says, “Leaders should realize the importance of vitamins and minerals. B3 can help in providing glucose to maintain the energy levels, B12 helps with memory, Magnesium reduces anxiety.” Getting a blood test done can help to understand one’s body to equip themselves with the appropriate mineral and vitamin supplements. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, maintaining a balanced diet are essential to beat stress and have a healthier approach towards life.
As humans, we cannot escape the reality of John Lennon’s words when he said, ““Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” How much ever may we plan, there will be unpredictability and exigencies. The best we can do is try and be flexible to the changes, adapt and then make realistic adjustments to our daily and long-term goals. This might mean “befriending stress” and going along with it. As psychologist Kelly McGonigal states in her TED Talk, researchers found that over a period of 8 years, 1,82,000 Americans, who died from stress apparently, succumbed because they considered stress as harmful and lived in the belief that stress is bad for them. This shows that our perception of stress also plays a huge role in developing psychosomatic disorders and physical ailments.
Managing and addressing overwhelm is important but it is important to address it across multiple levels — body, heart, mind and spirit will help us cope with it better. There is no single solution to an evergreen problem. However, if it gets too much, speaking to a professional can often help you manage your work and life better. If you want to do more in less time and establish your own brand while accomplishing most of the things you want, get in touch with us.