3 Things To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed By Life

3 things to do when you feel overwhelmed by life

“Help please. I feel like I’m a total failure. With working and trying to keep on top of things at home, I feel like I am dropping the ball all the time. Does anyone else feel this way? What is wrong with me? How do you mummies manage it all?”

So read the plea from a fellow mum. I could relate. Three years ago, I could’ve been the one posting this in the local mum’s Facebook group. I was giving it my all to be a good employee and a great mum, but I didn’t feel like I had a decent grip on either role. Life was a blur of one narrowly adverted minor disaster after another. I was a crap friend and a bitch of a wife. As for anything else, there wasn’t room, that would all have to wait for “someday”.

I was totally overwhelmed by my life. I had never worked so hard to fail so miserably. And not just miserably, spectacularly. Sobbing-loudly-at-my-desk-a-colleague-bundling-me-into-her-car-to-take-me-home type spectacularly.

What advice could I offer this fellow mum to helpprevent her becoming a burnt-out mess? Over the last three years, I’ve learnt a lot about how to live a full and meaningful life and push your limits without pushing yourself over the edge.

1. Do a brain dump

Time required: 15 – 20 mins, repeat as often as necessary

Write it all down. All those things whirling around in your head – all the tasks, ideas, and worries. Get them out of your head and onto the page.

Creating a whole page of stuff you need to deal with might sound counter-intuitive, but it is important to remember that a brain dump is not a massive to-do list.

A regular brain dump helps to prevent and manage overwhelm in two ways:

  • It claws back some mental bandwidth – remembering and ruminating on all that stuff in your head uses a lot of energy. Just writing it all down can relieve some of the mental load.
  • It gives you some distance and perspective – when you see it all laid out, either it may not actually be as overwhelming as you thought or you can quickly identify some things that aren’t as important or urgent as you first thought.

A brain dump can have both curative and preventative application. Get into the habit of doing a brain dump when you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed. It might be daily. A weekly brain dump is a good strategy to prevent overwhelm from sneaking up on you.

2. Schedule your time

Time required: 30 mins, once a week

Scheduling is an effective tool to keep a lid on overwhelm as it:

  • provides a reality check – you only have so many hours in a week, so you can only do so much
  • gives your peace of mind – knowing there is time for everything and that everything has its time
  • relieves your mental burden -you don’t have to decide what you are going to do everyday, you’ve already decided and can save that mental energy for other things.

Scheduling works like this, you make an appointment with yourself for everything that you want to do during the week. Make a list of your priorities and find space for them in your week. Not enough space? Time to make a trade-off, something has to go.

The key to effective scheduling is to ensure your schedule has some buffer in it for when life happens. Be realistic, rather than idealistic. It’s not about cramming in as much as possible, rather, ensuring you make time for the things that matter most.

To give you an idea of how I make scheduling work for me, I don’t schedule down to the minute. Rather, I schedule in blocks of time, for example, Tuesday morning = housework (I hate housework, I hate it less when I know I only need to do it on Tuesday morning). When that block of time comes around, I might make a mini-schedule e.g. 9.30 –10.30am clean bathroom, 10.30am – 12.00pm vacuuming and dusting. My house is small, but with a 4-year-old “helper” these tasks take twice along – he is very cute though.

I have a standing weekly schedule for my evenings (the precious childfree time to get stuff done).

At the moment it looks like this:

3 things to do when you feel overwhelmed by life
My current weekly schedule

I know I have space for everything. I also know exactly how much time I have available, so can set my expectations (and those of others) accordingly. If I want to pick up something new (book club), I have to decide where it is going to fit and what I am going to have to give up (one evening of blogging every six weeks for book club).

3. Adopt a slow mindset

Overwhelm isn’t driven solely by how much you’ve got on. How you approach it makes a difference too. Knowing this is your secret weapon against overwhelm when life happens.

You have a huge presentation to give, a family member comes down sick, you discover a mystery leak in the bathroom and your mother-in-law is coming to stay? Yeah, that sucks. Sometimes you can’t control your circumstances, stuff just happens. Or maybe you’re in so deep from past decisions that, in the moment, you don’t have any other option. You’re committed.

No matter the situation, you can make it easier to survive by adopting a slow mindset.

  • Pause and breathe – rushing adds to the sense of overwhelm, but slowing down your breathing and movements creates calm. Take micro-pauses often. The busier you are, the more therapeutic it will be. A short walk can do wonders.
  • Single task – multi-tasking is tempting, but it’s exhausting and counter-productive. When you feel overwhelmed, pick one thing to do slowly. It could be brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, or having a cup of tea. Rather than one more thing to whizz through, give yourself the opportunity to relax.

For more inspiration on how to put the brakes on a frantic lifestyle in exchange for a slower pace, see how to slow down when you’re busy and taking your first steps to slow living in the real world.

When you are drowning in overwhelm, give yourself some perspective and g peace of mind – brain dump and schedule time for what matters most. And remember, even when you can’t control your circumstances, you can always control the mindset with which you approach them.

What are you go-to tips for managing overwhelm?

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4 thoughts on “3 Things To Do When You Feel Overwhelmed By Life”

  1. Great post Amy! Thanks for the tips – and the timely reminder! I think as Mums we feel pressure to enrol our kids in a million different after school activities. We’re sometimes made to feel that they’ll ‘miss out’ if they don’t do dance/gym/swimming/music/sport and whatever else the latest ‘opportunity’ is. Not only do all these activities cost a small fortune, they create scheduling nightmares and speed up our lives to the point where we’re constantly rushing from one thing to the next. We’re actually teaching our kids that being overwhelmingly busy is good! A few years ago when I felt overwhelmed (and ended up burning out and having to leave my job) I reduced our after school commitments and went back to arranging good old fashioned play dates instead. Overnight we became a far more relaxed household. And while my kids might not be piano virtuosos or have a future with NZ ballet, they are building some pretty awesome social skills.

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    1. Thanks Polly. My son is just about to start school, and I am mindful of this. I’m a bit worried that the other kids will be so scheduled there won’t be anyone for him to have playdates with! There does seem to be a bit of an obsession with getting kids into activities at a young age, or they won’t have a chance of being “successful”. In my own experience, it doesn’t have to be that way. My brother made a living as a musician and music teacher all through his 20s and most of his 30s – he didn’t pick up an instrument until he was about 10 or 11. Another thing I’ve notice with friends and acquaintances that have their kids heavily involved in activities, is a strategy of starting them in heaps in the hope that one sticks and keeps them out of trouble in their teens. The problem is, all these activities start getting so competitive in the early teens that the majority of kids drop out. In my mind, these things would be more valuable if the emphasis was at least as much on socialisation as it is on competition.

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  2. I love this – and appreciate that it’s a list of three things, not ten! 😉 The brain-dump idea is new to me. I think it will be very cathartic. Thank you!

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    1. Hi Heather, thanks so much for your comment. I agree, lists of 50 ways to simplify your life always make me roll my eyes and have chuckle. Regular brain-dumps work really well for me. I have a couple of part-time jobs, as well as a couple of other significant roles in my life – I often have quite a variety of things flying around in my head. Getting it all down on paper has a great calming effect and let’s me concentrate on the thing I have chosen to focus on in that moment.
      I have another post about how you can go from doing a brain-dump to formulating an effective to-do list, you might find it useful also – https://moretimethanmoney.co.nz/2017/02/01/5-easy-steps-to-master-your-to-do-list/#more-591

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