Photo: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr
Having suffered from life-threatening bouts of depression for four years which led to alcoholism, drug abuse, medicine-induced psychosis, near-suicide attempts and multiple hospitalisations before my eventual recovery at the start of 2012, feeling overwhelmed is something I'm very familiar with. Part of my recovery involved learning how to reduce my overwhelm, and thanks to a lot of therapy and personal development study, it's now a burden I no longer carry.
So in no particular order, below is a list of 10 things I practise to help me feel less overwhelmed. They're relevant to everyone, regardless of whether you suffer from depression or not.
1. Accept that you will never be able to do everything
There are only 24 hours in a day, which for most of us, unfortunately, isn't enough time to do everything that we want to do. So work out what really matters to you, and focus your efforts on that. Yes, that does mean you will have less time for other things, but give yourself permission to be OK with that. For example, the most important things in my life are writing books, helping people through my charity work, and spending time with loved ones, so I prioritise those things - but that means I don't have a whole lot of time to work on my business. As a result, it doesn't make nearly as much money as it probably could. But I've grown to be OK with that - because I've accepted that I don't have time to do everything, and I understand that working more on my business would give me less time to write, do charity work or spend time with my loved ones - i.e. the things that really make me happy.
2. Give yourself permission to say "no"
If you say "yes" to everything, you're going to have so many things to do that you'll likely find yourself feeling overwhelmed very, very quickly. So once again, prioritise what really matters to you, and give yourself permission to say "no" to some things. It's not being rude - it's basic self-preservation. And when you protect yourself in this way, you'll find you have more energy to give to the things that really matter to you - and that's when you're the happiest version of yourself you can be.
3. Don't be afraid to ask for help
I mean this on a few different levels:
a) If you're feeling overwhelmed, outsource whatever you can, whether that be in your personal life (for example, by hiring a gardener or a cleaner), or your professional life (for example, by hiring a part-time assistant).
b) Don't be afraid to ask for help from your friends and family. You'd be there for them if they needed you, right? So odds are that they'd be there for you, too.
c) If you're feeling so overwhelmed that you feel you may be slipping into anxiety, depression or another mental illness, then have the courage to seek professional help. Start by seeing your local GP and take it from there.
4. Prioritise getting a good night's sleep
Have you noticed that everything just seems more difficult when you have a rough night's rest? So make getting a good seven or eight hours of sleep a goal for your day. If you know you have to be up at seven, then start getting ready for bed at around 10:30. Stop doing whatever you're doing, and start winding down by doing something relaxing - like reading a book, meditating or listening to classical music.
Research suggests that regular exercise - even a brisk walk - can increase the level of brain serotonin and brain endorphins, both of which have "mood-lifting" properties - and this can definitely help reduce your overwhelm.
6. Make time for your friends and loved ones
I've always found that spending time with the people I'm close with provides me with a much needed break from all the other things in my life that can cause me to feel overwhelmed.
7. Make a point of doing things that relax you
Reducing your overwhelm involves peppering your life with things that relax you. For me, this includes reading, playing basketball, watching sport and listening to music - and I make sure I spend at least 1-2 hours doing these things each day.
8. Be an organised planner
If you leave tasks that need to get done to the last minute, you're almost guaranteed to burden yourself with overwhelm. When this happens, one of three things usually occur: you either don't get what you need to do done; you get it done poorly; or, you do get it done, but you sacrifice sleep to do so. Regardless of what happens, you're creating a lot of stress and anxiety for yourself.
On the other hand, if you take the time to be organised and plan ahead, you can eliminate a lot of this pressure you're putting on yourself (just ask any high school student who blitzed their A levels).
9. Break huge, seemingly insurmountable tasks down into a number of much smaller ones
As an author, there were times I used to find myself freaking out about how I was going to produce a 100,000 word book out of thin air that people were going to love. But over the years, I've learned to break down gargantuan tasks such as these into a thousand much, much smaller ones. For example, each day I aim to write 1,000 words - a task that feels far less overwhelming that writing 100,000 words. But if I write 1,000 words a day every day for 100 days, then I'm going to hit my target (obviously there's a hell of a lot of editing needed to be done after that, but you get my point). You can apply this sort of thinking to many other large tasks that seem impossible to accomplish as well, such as losing 50 pounds (perhaps break it down to a pound a week), or running a marathon (maybe aim to run an extra kilometre a week).
10. Ask yourself, "is what I'm feeling overwhelmed about going to matter in five years' time"?
I think doing this exercise really helps you put things in perspective, and not sweat the small stuff. I suspect you'll be surprised at how many times your answer is "no".
So those are the 10 main practices that I employ to reduce my overwhelm. How about you? What do you do to feel less overwhelmed?
If you enjoyed this post, then download a FREE copy of my memoir, which tells the story of my struggle and eventual triumph over depression.