How to Overcome OverwhelmYour brain doesn’t know the difference between a phone call from the school nurse that your kid needs to be picked up and a cheetah hiding in the brush waiting to pounce
As a working mom you are probably no stranger to feeling overwhelmed by your workload and doing your best to balance it with your social, family and personal life. It seems to be the norm no matter what profession you are in, but especially for female accountants who also happen to be moms.
Like most people you probably think overwhelm is caused by:
- Your workload
- Not enough time in the day
- Unrealistic expectations of your boss or manager
- Trying to be a good mom on top of a demanding job
- Trying to have a social life
- Family responsibilities
- Your health goals
- Your never ending to-do list
Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did because the feeling of overwhelm is unique and ever changing based on the many changing factors in your life.
If you are like me, overwhelm can become, well…overwhelming. It can feel like being on the proverbial hamster wheel with no relief in sight. Your feeling of anxiety seems to be playing tag with your feeling of overwhelm and you can’t make those feelings take a time out and watch TV instead.
This week I’m going to discuss what causes overwhelm and how to overcome it so it so you can get back to having the life you want.
The cause of overwhelm
Have you ever felt like you just wanted to go run away to a remote island somewhere and turn the world off? Me too! Overwhelm can take on a life of its own, especially when you are a working mom trying to do your best.
The most common thought you probably think when you feel overwhelmed is “I have too much to do”. You look at that to-do list and just think “There’s no way I can get that done today”.
Just when you clean your slate for the day or the week, a whole new to-do list pops up on your Google calendar. It feels like you never get a break.
The good news is that the true cause of overwhelm has nothing to do with the circumstances in your life and everything to do with the thoughts you have about those circumstances. Your workload, bosses expectations, kids soccer practice and having to pick up a birthday gift for a party are not the cause of your feeling of overwhelm.
When I felt the greatest weight of overwhelm, my daily thought was “I don’t have enough time”. My to-do list was just like yours:
- Get myself ready in the morning
- Get the kids to school
- Get to my job
- Do my best at work
- Pick the kids up from school
- Help them with homework
- Get them to sports
- Make dinner
- Spend time with spouse
- Get to bed at a reasonable time
- Rinse and repeat
If something needed to be added to that daily list, I felt the weight of overwhelm pushing down on me. I had thoughts like “Not another thing!” or “This is too much for me”.
Once I was hooked into the feeling of overwhelm, everything seemed like a burden. I would complain to anyone who would listen, I was short tempered with the kids and my husband, and I was often on the verge of tears. This is when running off to a remote island by myself sounded pretty good to me!
The feeling of anxiety makes sense because your primitive brain was developed to sense a threat and create a feeling of anxiety in order to keep you alive. Your brain has a flight or fright response to protect you.
You’ve most likely heard the expression “A deer caught in the headlights”. A deer doesn’t freeze when a car’s headlights are approaching because it’s stupid. It freezes so it has time to see the predator before the predator sees them.
Since many predators in the animal kingdom look for movement, freezing is a good way to instantly become invisible. The deer is actually preparing for action when it freezes. Even though it might seem to you that the deer is doing nothing, its body is actually bracing to fight or flee.
The same thing happens to you. You freeze momentarily when you are anxious and then decide whether to run around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to outrun the anxiety or become paralyzed and shut down.
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a phone call from the school nurse that your kid needs to be picked up and a cheetah hiding in the brush waiting to pounce. So how do you override your brain’s automatic programming to sense danger and feel anxiety?
How to overcome overwhelm
The difference between you and that deer is that as a human you have a higher part of the brain that the deer doesn’t have. That higher part of your brain can think about what you are thinking about. It can help you reason, make conscious decisions and help you create your feelings on purpose.
The key to overcoming overwhelm is to figure out what you are thinking when you are feeling overwhelmed. The thoughts you have about the workload, to-do list and everything else in your life are the reason you feel overwhelmed.
You may believe you are just stating facts; you have to get ready for work, get the kids to school, there’s an accounting deadline approaching, your mother wants to spend more time with you and your husband is feeling neglected. In the Manage Your Mind Model, those are all neutral circumstances. What matters is what you are making each circumstance mean.
The irony of thinking a thought like “I don’t have enough time” is that you then feel anxious, most likely shut down and avoid taking action and the result is that you don’t have enough time to do what you need to do. When you are in a state of anxiety, your brain will filter everything through that lens and give you all the proof that you don’t have enough time.
In order to overcome overwhelm you have to take charge of what you are thinking by using that higher brain. You have to choose alternate thoughts that create a better feeling. But the key is that the thoughts must be believable.
The secret to choosing believable, alternate thoughts is to know that your inclination may be try to replace your current thought with the complete opposite. If you have the thought “I don’t have enough time” you may want to think “I have plenty of time” but that’s often too big of a leap and not believable.
If you have been dealing with one particular repetitive issue of overwhelm, then I suggest you choose better feeling thoughts that have to do with a different issue.
For example, when I am feeling overwhelmed at work because of a deadline and I try to think a thought like “You will get it all done”, my brain often thinks “No you won’t!” In order to protect me it shows me how overwhelmed everyone else is around me and my past moments of extreme overwhelm.
But when I think about how great I am at planning vacations, getting organized and how much fun it is, I can see other areas of my life where overwhelm isn’t an issue. Then I can choose a thought like “I know how to make a plan for what to do” and apply that better feeling thought to my work deadline.
That new thought is believable because I DO know how to make a plan and do it successfully. That new thought makes me feel calmer and more empowered. Those feelings then lead to me taking 10 minutes at the beginning of each work day to create a plan for the day that helps me get my work done efficiently.
The interesting thing about making a plan is that it’s easier for the brain to make a plan than to execute one. This is why your English teacher taught you to make an outline before you started writing a paper. By breaking it down into two steps (making a plan then executing it), your brain doesn’t sense danger and gets on board more easily.
So in order to overcome overwhelm you just need to:
- Figure out what you are thinking that is creating the feeling of overwhelm
- Figure out a new believable thought that creates a feeling of calm and a sense of control
- Tell yourself to just come up with a plan
- Execute the plan
Doesn’t seem so overwhelming now does it? So let’s agree to make a plan to go to a remote island to get away but not because of a need to escape but instead for the time to enjoy a managed mind.
- The good news is that the true cause of overwhelm has nothing to do with the circumstances in your life and everything to do with the thoughts you have about those circumstances.
- The feeling of anxiety makes sense because your primitive brain was developed to sense a threat and create a feeling of anxiety in order to keep you alive.
- Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a phone call from the school nurse that your kid needs to be picked up and a cheetah hiding in the brush waiting to pounce.
- In order to overcome overwhelm you have to take charge of what you are thinking by using that higher brain.
- The interesting thing about making a plan is that it’s easier for the brain to make a plan than to execute one.
- By breaking it down into two steps (making a plan then executing it), your brain doesn’t sense danger and gets on board more easily.
If you’d like some help overcoming overwhelm, please feel free to schedule a free mini session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.