Am I the only one who lives in a constant state of having way too much to do and never having enough time? Or get’s overwhelmed more frequently that they’d like to? No? Didn’t think so.
This issue is very very personal for me. It’s been an ongoing battle since I started university and maybe this is a millennial challenge since we have way more distractions with social media and the internet in general than people did a few years ago but I also feel like the information age brought about new and different challenges and possibilities and we generally do have more on our plates.
I’ve only recently sort of found my groove with managing the feeling of being overwhelmed so feel free to chime in with your own tips and tricks on staying afloat when life gets too hectic.
(I do have to say, the change in weather might be a reason why it’s getting easier for to deal with being overwhelmed. It’s sunny outside and getting warmer and warmer which generally puts most people in a better mood and that might have a little something to do with it but I guess we’ll put this theory to the test next winter 🙂 ).
Before we go into the tips themselves though, I will say something about lists. I have a complicated relationship with lists. I have to admit I am a bit of an organization/planing junkie. I love calendars and scheduling things and making endless lists and learning about how to make my lists as effective as possible. I’ve tried many organizational methods and I still do, still on the search for the “perfect” list-making method or at least perfect for me and my lifestyle.
What happens with me though is that sometimes, specially when I’m extremely overwhelmed I make a list, usually a very long list of everything I have to do but then I sort of feel like writing it down is just as good as actually having done the things on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I love lists and if nothing else I feel like writing down what you need to do is a great way to just unload your burdens and reduce stress in general but for some reason I feel so “at peace” with everything that I feel less motivated to actually do them.
Does that make sense? I know this might not be very relatable but it’s a struggle nonetheless. If lists work for you then definitely make a list of what you have to do, prioritize and try not to over-schedule your day. Always be realistic with yourself about how much time each task needs and how much you can actually do in a day. Now on to the tips:
1. Manage your stress response. Each of us has a different way of dealing with stress and you might not be aware of it but take some time and pay attention to the things you tend to do when you’re stressed or overwhelmed or under a lot of pressure. Your stress response is probably not something helpful, it’s just something that brings you temporary comfort. I’ve said this a few times before here on the blog that my main stress response is eating. I say main because different types of stress might trigger different types of stress responses.
When I’m stressed about school I procrastinate. When I have a deadline and feel very hopeless I avoid sleep (because I feel like tomorrow will take longer to come if I don’t actually go to bed. It’s not logical but it’s another way I know I’m stressing). Things like wanting a drink or wanting a smoke are more than often stress responses and when you resort to them often they evolve into addictions and then the diseases and discomforts that come with them. I’m not saying I’m against drinking or smoking. What I’m saying is it’s good to be aware of why we do what we do.
The first step towards managing your stress response is identifying what it is. Try to be more aware of what you do when you’re overwhelmed, from the moment you identify what your stress response is, the next time it happens you’ll automatically know that you might not really want a cigarette (if that is your stress response), it might mean that you’re stressed about something and you’ll be immediately aware and in a position to do something about it.
If your stress response is something that’s not necessarily healthy or helpful you now have the power of choosing to substitute it with something else. Like we’ve discussed previously here, you never really eliminate a bad habit, but you can substitute it for something better or less destructive.
2. Keep a routine. I cannot stress enough the importance of having and keeping a routine. In the midst of chaos, having things that are consistent are the best way to keep yourself from too far off the deep end, specially when it comes to dealing with being overwhelmed. Having a routine and sticking to it will usually make sure you take care of your “permanent” responsibilities, the ones you have to do daily or often and then the remaining time can be allocated to whatever else you have to do.
If you start off with no routine at all you have the extra job of trying to figure out when to do some things that reoccur so often they should have a fixed position on your schedule. If some things are in order in your life, others are more likely to fall into place. Think about it, how many people clean the house or organize their space when their thoughts are all over the place? The saying goes that an organized home means an organized mind. Same goes for when you’re overwhelmed. If you have a routine, something that’s constant and “in place”, all other things will fall in line too and you’ll be less likely to feel overwhelmed.
3. Prioritize. Whether you make lists or not, identifying the 3 things you MUST get done that day will help you keep your head above water while still maintaining some level of productivity. If you start to feel like there is too much to do, drop everything else and focus only on the top 3 things you need to get done for the day. When the day is over and you’re looking at your to-do list or thinking about all the things you had planned do do that day, don’t feel bad for all the things that didn’t get done, focus on those 3 important tasks that you accomplished and congratulate yourself because in the midst of all the madness you still managed to get those 3 things done!
4. Outsource. Sometimes, we can’t do it all ourselves and that’s OK. Batman had Robbin for a reason so don’t feel bad if you need to ask for help. Now I do know that while this makes sense in the business/professional world, it might not be the most viable option while you’re in school and that’s OK. If outsourcing is not an option for you just make sure you learn to prioritize and know the difference between a task that’s important, one that’s urgent and one that’s both important and urgent.
5. (Last case scenario) Take a break. Sometimes, you are genuinely extremely overwhelmed, even when you’ve done your best to manage your stress, have a routine set in place, prioritize AND outsource. Sometimes, you truly do have more than you can handle on your plate and that can get to you. If all else fails, by all means take a break. It might be a day, it might even be a week. Take the time you need to reset, regroup and then get back on the horse. Now, a few notes on taking a break:
Never let it last longer than it needs to. There is a point when taking a break turns into procrastination/avoiding responsibilities. Make sure you rest but only as much as you absolutely need to. As soon as you can, get back on that horse and handle your business. The point is to rest, not take a vacation.
A break is your LAST resort. Not to sound repetitive but if you resort to taking a break at the first sign of stress or just as you start feeling overwhelmed, “taking a break” becomes your stress response. This is the point where taking a break becomes procrastination and we’re right back to where we started. I say “break” as in a day (or week if you need to) where you completely shut off from the world, turn off your phone, stay away from social media and sleep or go for a walk or go get a massage, something that’ll really really reduce your stress but not be a means of avoiding responsibilities.
And those are my tips on dealing with stress/feeling overwhelmed! This is what’s been working for me right now specially with school and assignments and exams and side projects and work and it does get to me sometimes but we live and we learn and we get better as we go. Hope this was helpful!
How do you deal with stress? Have any additional tips on not feeling overwhelmed? Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Leave them in the comments bellow!