Overwhelm Series: Do this when you hit a wall
Updated: Jun 9
This post is overwhelm 101: save this page! Any time you hit a wall, reach for these instructions to get moving again.
Ok, so it happens to the best of us. We’ve taken too much on, and then there are a few extra curve balls in the mix, we miss a good night’s sleep, someone gets ill, and suddenly we’re in the shits and can’t think straight.
We all know this feeling. But did you realise it actually has two components?
Overwhelm is practical: it's caused by the sheer volume and nature of what you have on your plate.
But it is also physiological. Overwhelm changes your biochemistry, how you are functioning at a body level..
Stress releases adrenaline and cortisol, priming you for action. This is great for dealing with short term, short bursts of activity (like staying alive in the face of danger)
BUT it's not so good long term. Not only is it hard on your body, but this Fight/Flight state also scrambles your ability to tackle complexity. And often the problems we face are intensely complex and require a good level of sophistication to deal with them.
Adrenaline is designed for the simple actions of run and fight.
Unless you already have a crystal clear gameplan, once adrenaline is activated, you won't be able to work out WHAT you should be doing once you’re in a state of stress.
It's a horrible “rabbit in the headlights” feeling and of course it makes the situation worse, because the whole reason you’re stressed in the first place is because you’ve got so much to do!
This strategy will get you moving again so you have somewhere to direct all that adrenaline.
Use this when you’ve got a disaster to clear up in the kitchen; a project that’s late; or a big goal that feels too enormous to start.
I use this technique when I’m physically exhausted and can’t think straight, or in a state of panic because I’ve been going for too long and can’t switch off. It doesn’t happen so much these days, but we’re all human, and we’re all prone to this every once in a while.
Tick things off as you work through the list. You get a wonderful little dopamine hit (your brain's primary reward chemical) which will lift your mood a little and encourage you to keep going.
Here’s what to do when you are so stressed you can’t think or act:
Stop what you’re doing and take a break.
You have probably been ignoring your body: take a walk, a bath, a nap. Eat, drink water, call your best friend for a cry or laugh.
Then, and only then:
Get a PIECE OF PAPER and a PEN. Don’t do this on your computer. You need to get back into your body and writing by hand will help you do this.
What am I trying to achieve RIGHT NOW?
List all the steps involved in achieving this.
Get very specific and detailed.
Break it down into more (smaller) steps
Put the steps in the right order:
What comes first? What’s next?
For step one on your list:
List all the steps needed to achieve that step.
Be specific and detailed
More, smaller steps is better.
Put the steps in order.
Complete the first step on your list
Now complete the second
Now do the third thing
Keep going till you find yourself getting into flow. Keep going!
So it might go: “I am trying to get xx amount of money in before the end of the year”.
The steps might be:
Call in that loan to Terry
Follow up warm client leads
Get facebook ads happening
Chase that funding
Then you might re-order them:
Follow up leads (because it will have the most immediate rewards)
Funding (because it has a deadline)
Then you take the first thing on your list, and you break that down into all the smaller tasks involved.
Step 1: Follow up leads
Write a list of all the people I’ve talked to who might be interested
Make sure I’ve got everyone’s email address or phone number
Email everyone individually.
Tick each person off when I’ve emailed them
Block out the first hour of the day to do this
Pro Tip 1: The more stressed, overwhelmed or resistant you are to doing a job, the more it will help to break it down into micro steps. I have literally done this before now, including steps like “open journal” and “pour glass of water”.
Pro Tip 2: Do the hardest tasks first thing. Hard is subjective - you might have a particular block around it, even though its not intellectually taxing, that means you’re going to need a lot of willpower to get it done. You’ve got more of that first thing, so use it!