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From chaos to calm – dealing with overwhelm

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

Feeling overwhelmed is a common theme in coaching, and I’ve noticed an increase in the number of references to it in social and mainstream media. Whether this is because I am so aware of it as an issue or it really is on the rise I’m not sure, but I do know how debilitating this feeling can be.

The use of the made-up noun ‘overwhelm’ irritates me but I’ll let that go. Overwhelm manifests in many different ways – anxiety, exhaustion, burn-out, sleeplessness, spaghetti brain, brain fog, busy head, procrastination, fear of forgetting something, dropping spinning plates, being pulled in all directions, drowning in things to do. These all describe the stress of dealing with a demanding situation or a chronic build-up of pressure.

The effect on sleep, confidence and the ability to do simple, everyday tasks can be huge. Tempers become frayed, relationships suffer, blame and guilt loom large. Comparisons with others who appear to have got life properly sorted often compound the feelings of inadequacy.

There are those who thrive on an adrenaline rush of deadline-driven work pressure; others react in an entirely different way. While stress is a natural, instinctive response that is there to protect us, when it’s constant, it can seriously affect mental and physical wellbeing and the ability to think clearly.

So what can we do about it?

When someone says their mind is spinning, I often ask what they can do to take control of it. The starting point is often to write it all down (it’s never rocket science, folks).

  • Take five minutes. Get a scrap of paper, an A3 sheet, it doesn’t matter. The aim is to write down everything that’s bothering you and sort as you go. Organise your thoughts into two columns.

  • In the first column, write down all the things that are essential to your wellbeing and happiness, and that of your family. Be firm. If they aren’t vital, they go in the second column.

  • In column two, write down all the things that you feel you should, could or would do – things you feel obliged or under pressure to do, and the nice-to-haves.

  • You’re not going to focus on column two right now. If you need to let someone know you’re not able to do them, make your excuses and put that list in a drawer.

  • Now turn back to column one and rank everything in order of importance and work your way down the list, item by item. Sometime these items need breaking down even more. If you need support for something, ask for it. If someone can take something off your list, delegate. If you’re not confident to do that, a coach can help you address what’s behind that.

For most, the act of getting everything onto the page will begin to release some of the pressure. Using this approach regularly, before things have built up, can be a helpful part of your week. There may be more work to do and other issues to unpick but with a simple step like this, you can start to reclaim some time to focus on what’s important.

To start a conversation that will help calm your chaos, get in touch:

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