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How to Reduce Overwhelm

It can be easy to get swept up in the rush of everyday life. But when things are busy, interestingly enough there’s no more important time for great self-care. Guard your immune system, keep your calm, and get your work done with joy.

Because it’s not just about getting out of the overwhelm, it’s about making space for what truly matters. It’s about being present for what is most precious to you. It’s about slowing down enough to experience your own life.

It’s possible. Here’s how:

Schedule “nothing”

I’ll be honest: I am a lucky and well-supported person in terms of getting enough downtime. It comes somewhat easily to me now to take that time to simply rest (or, if we’re being honest, mess around on the Internet). The point is:

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I recommend scheduling a bit of “nothing.”

Put it in your actual schedule if you have to. No expectations, nothing you “should” be doing during that time. This is a hall pass. Maybe you’ll get a bit of yoga practice in. Maybe you’ll just curl up in your favorite chair and browse your favorite blogs.

Obviously, take good care. If you’re overwhelmed, a nice long meditation or yoga practice can be a wonderful palate cleanser. But the point is not to further burden yourself with guilt or shame. Schedule a little bit of “nothing” and see what happens.

Look at the bigger picture

Feeling like there’s too much on your plate? That could be true. Have a look at your schedule — and not just for this week. Have a peek at the bigger picture. Zoom out for a minute.

Step back and look at your schedule for the next two weeks or the next month. Maybe there’s a break coming your way, or maybe you do need to take something off your schedule. Especially if you’re an introvert, be clear about how many parties or gatherings you can withstand before you need a break.

Getting the big picture can help to frame whether the overwhelm is temporary or whether you need to make bigger changes.

(If you need to take that break, see above.) Overwhelm might feel never-ending. Getting the big picture puts it in perspective.

Or you might feel in a permanent state of “as soon as this is over, then…” without the overwhelm actually ending. Get yourself the bird’s eye view to see what’s up. Then adjust accordingly.

Take some things off your to-do list

While some commitments (like paying bills or feeding yourself) may not actually  be optional, there is plenty that is. Have a look at your to do list. If what’s on your calendar is too much, you may need to beg off. Notice where you could outsource, delay, collaborate, simplify, streamline, or straight up cancel.

You have the option of taking things off your to-do list, period. No apologies.

It may be more kind to simply be present – for yourself, for your loved ones – than to arrive feeling worn out and overextended (albeit with your to do list complete). Give yourself a break. No one deserves one more than you.

Make errands social

Build in social time with what might otherwise feel like a set of daunting tasks. If you simply can’t avoid it, invite a friend along and make use of the time. Catch up while you’re getting your “have-tos” done.

Then go for lunch or tea. You accomplished what you needed to, but didn’t have to do it alone. Overwhelm, begone!

The tasks will seem more easeful, and you’ll get some quality time. It can be challenging to see everyone during this time of year. This makes space to catch up with people you may be missing.

Get some exercise, some fresh air — or some brain exercise

I experience more overwhelm if it’s coupled with being sedentary. A little yoga practice, a brisk hike — or whatever your movement of choice is — can clear the mind. The endorphin rush may also help put the overwhelm in perspective. Even just getting a little fresh air can help. Sitting on the stoop with a cup of tea instead of sipping that same cup in front of my laptop – yes.

If going outside at this time of year, or engaging in movement right now, isn’t what your body is calling for, give yourself a little brain exercise. Do a little craft project or a crossword puzzle or just read a book. I’m reading this one.

Give yourself a deadline

When I was a kid, my mom had a deadline that she set for herself. On Christmas Eve, my family and I would go to see the Nutcracker ballet. We walked out of the house  All of the Christmas prep — presents wrapped, food ready for the next day — was totally done!

Set a time when you’re going to call it. No last-minute rush, no midnight sessions, no express shipping. When you’re ready to be done, just set it down. Let it be enough.

If you are tired of overwhelm, remember that done (and sleep) are better than perfect sometimes.

P.S. Saying No is a high form of self-care and How to reframe difficulty with gratitude

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