Probably the best way to address overwhelm is to have a talk with a friendly and supportive person in your life. Ideally, there is no judgment, no criticism and no attitude from that person – just supportive listening and, if you’re lucky, some useful feedback.
It’s amazing what enormous value there is in talking things through. I firmly believe that we humans think better together. Speaking aloud under the right circumstances allows the emotions to usefully come to the surface – and the fears and concerns can be exposed to light and air where, sometimes, some of those worries evaporate.
Explore worst case and best case with that person. Discuss how you can diminish the chances of worst case and expand the chances of best case. Can you think of a recent example of your being supported by discussing something that felt overwhelming, and then someone graciously allowed you to think aloud with them? Were you willing to release some of your overwhelm after that conversation? Who can you talk to in this productive way?
A wonderfully accomplished client and I today discussed a useful strategy for dealing with overwhelm at work. Do what’s in front of you, and put the the rest on hold for now.
This approach is called compartmentalization in psychological terms: to create a way of thinking that effectively walls off some areas from others. In moderation, this can be a useful strategy.
Here’s how to compartmentalize in a very practical way: Write down the top three things you want to accomplish each day – and then stick to them. At the end of a week, you’ll have accomplished somewhere close to 15 of the most important things.
Fundamental to the approach is to put the other items on hold while you work on your top three priorities. That doesn’t mean to avoid doing the others, but simply to work on what’s in front of you that you have decided is the most important. Working on what’s most important and minimizing the distraction of worry about other things is a process that almost always enhances productivity and reduces overwhelm.
Give this strategy a try for a few days. It’s not perfect, but it definitely helps.