Understanding Overwhelm + How to Deal
4 years I’ve lived in this house.
4 years of white walls. Worse than white, because they were only primed so every scuff or speck of dirt stuck and stayed on forever.
4 years of family asking me when we were going to paint the house.
4 years of feeling paralyzed with overwhelm about painting them.
What colour? What kind of paint? How would I find the time? How will I reach that tricky spot above the stairs? How do I buy paint in French? (my French is good, but is it good enough to talk about paint?) I don’t know how to paint! What room do I start with? And on and on and on.
I would sit on my living room couch and just stare at the walls, stewing.
Until one day, enough was enough. And I finally got one room (partly) painted.
Sounds ridiculous in retrospect, doesn’t it?
I know how this plays out in business, too. I’ve put off starting an email list for almost a year for the same reasons.
Take a second and think of what is overwhelming you right now. Big or small.
A client you need to break up with. The upcoming holiday season. Getting your books in order. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to just get out of bed for the day.
When we’re overwhelmed, we can respond in a few different ways. Read through these and see what resonates:
- Overworking and trying to get things perfect — the solution to your overwhelm must be to work harder, longer hours, late into the night, and be in control
- Overgiving and putting everyone else before yourself — the solution to your overwhelm must be in keeping everyone happy, pushing down your own needs, and seeking approval and belonging
- Overthinking and waiting for things to fall into place — the solution to your overwhelm must be in researching until you find the exact right solution, but flooding yourself with so many options leaves you confused
- Becoming overcome by your overwhelm and giving up — the solution to your overwhelm is to throw in the towel, not even try, and let everyone else take the lead
You likely experience a few of these. Sometimes all at once!
So what do we do about it?
- Acknowledge what’s going on. Notice how you’re responding. Notice your feelings and emotions. Sometimes this alone is enough to break the cycle.
- Know that your experience of overwhelm might not be because you just have too much on your plate. The feeling of overwhelm is your subconscious way of staying safe. There’s a risk at play and your brain is trying to keep you from experiencing that risk, as silly as it may seem to your logical brain.
- Channel your healthy self. This is something that’s more easily done with coaching, but here are a few tips:
- If you’re overworking and trying to get things perfect, it’s time to play with imperfection. What would it look like if you did something imperfectly, on purpose? Test it with something fun that has few consequences. You can also practice self-compassion by noticing your self-criticism and judgement and speaking to yourself more kindly.
- If you’re overgiving, try prioritizing your own needs. Heck, try identifying what those needs are in the first place! People who overgive have often lost some of themselves in the process, so you can work on reclaiming your own preferences and needs.
- If you’re overthinking, try taking the smallest possible actions. It’s really important to anticipate setbacks and places where you might feel confused. Play around with the assumption that you have to wait and collect more information. Make a practice of quickly deciding or being spontaneous.
- If you’re overcome and about to give up, try sticking with something and seeing it through. Like the previous one, small steps and anticipating setbacks are key. Taking action is the best way to feel empowered and gain momentum.
So can you see how I managed to finally get the room painted?
- I decided to break the cycle. I got sick of feeling overwhelmed.
- I noticed I was really worried about failing, or messing it up. I didn’t want criticism or judgement for my choices. So it was better to do nothing.
- I broke the job down into tiny steps. I had a friend help me pick the colour. I went to the store and got paint chips. I organized my in-laws to look after my daughter for a weekend. I got my father-in-law to help me pick out the type of paint and the supplies. I went to a store where I knew they spoke English.
Now I have a room with a really crappy paint job. We didn’t finish all the coats so there are blotches. We haven’t done the ceiling yet. We accidentally got the wall paint on the ceiling…like…a lot. And I now want to change the colour.
And I couldn’t be happier.
I noticed the same pattern of overwhelm with getting my email list up. This is something every entrepreneur does, and I’ve coached hundreds of people through it. And yet, I was stuck.
So here it is, my declaration that it’s finally up. Imperfectly up.
I’m calling my emails “field notes”.
They’ll be my observations about business and life, notes on books I’m reading, highlights of stuff I’ve published, and other nuggets to help you get through your journey.
If you want to be the first to get on the list, pop your email address in here. Thanks for trusting me with your attention and time. I will use it wisely.