The Formula for Building Immunity to Overwhelm

Today I want to talk to you about those times when you get so overwhelmed with your to-do lists, your responsibilities, your desires, and your fears that you completely freeze up and become paralyzed.

Know the feeling?

I used to know it all too well.

I was the girl who infamously attempted to do it all. I had a lot on my plate at any one time: high level responsibilities at work, a calendar packed with social dates I would usually always say yes to, a relationship I was trying to be present in, a blog I was writing and trying to grow on the side, trying to cook healthy, budget-friendly meals at home, and elements of my self care (gym, medical appointments, haircuts, hair removal, mani/pedis, shopping, etc) that I would try to fit in as well. You know, just trying to live the life of a normal, ambitious metropolitan woman.

And, because I was constantly trying to do all-the-things at any one time, the overwhelm and paralysis gremlins moved in and made permanent residents in my head.

The result was an attempt to numb out of my experience with food, booze, overspending, and flaking out on those I loved most.

Not cool.

Over time, I’ve made some very conscious shifts in my daily habits and choices to keep overwhelm at bay. And while I can’t say it’s completely out of my life, I can say that it has way less power over me than it used to. I’m feeling more productive and more intentional in my life than ever before.

Here are some the strategies I’ve used to overcome overwhelm and paralysis:

1. Get it Out

I prefer to do this with a physical pen and paper, but opening up a Word or Evernote document on your computer works as well.

When your mind is racing, just start writing freely. Don’t edit and don’t judge. The point of this exercise is to empty your mind of everything that’s racing through it in a place where you know it is being captured and won’t be lost. When I do these brain dumps, I jump around from shopping lists to emotional reactions to emails to ideas for dabbles in the future. But once my writing slows down and I feel complete in the emptying out process, I can feel the space I’ve opened up and I feel amazing.  It’s a deep breath and back to business.

2.  The Most Important Question

Each morning, after I wake up and meditate, I break out my desire map journal and ask myself “What are the most important things I need get done today?”.

Your MITs (or Most Important Things) are needle-moving projects or tasks. In other words, they are the things that will get you closer to what you truly desire. Often times when we overwhelmed, we avoid the important or hard tasks in favor of the easier ones that don’t have as much of an impact (or worse, we procrastinate on Facebook or Pinterest).

I have found that there are just 3 or 4 MITs on any given day that I write down in priority order. If there are any more than 4, I make note of them but know that it’s likely they’ll be completed on the following day so I’m not setting up unrealistic expectations of myself.

By asking yourself what’s most important, you are streamlining your focus for the day. And this way you are experiencing the feeling of completion, when your task is finished and you can officially cross it off the list. This powerful feeling will contribute to more ease and calm at the end of your day, effectively making you immune to being overwhelmed.

3.  Make a Pleasure List

This may seem counterintuitive, but adding more pleasurable experiences (ie. things that make you feel happy and content) into your daily life helps build immunity to overwhelm while also increasing productivity. Countless studies have been coming out in the past few years linking taking breaks and stimulating pleasure sensors in your brain, to productivity and high levels of happiness in humans. And I can vouch for that, because the more I infuse pleasure into my day, the more resourced I am to complete my MITs and feel amazing at the end of the day.

Not sure where to start? I recommend making a pleasure list (borrowed from my friend Melissa Cassera). A pleasure list is comprised of things you know make you feel amazing when you do them. Only you can make your own list, but here are a few of mine to get the juices flowing:

– Watch upcoming movie trailers
– Take an online class
– Buy a beautiful card and stamps, then write a letter to a friend
– Buy a beautiful, glossy mag at the bookstore and read it cover to cover
– Browse travel websites and create fantasy itineraries for future adventure
– Schedule an hour to gab and catch up with a girlfriend
– Catching an afternoon matinee movie
– Go outside and walk barefoot in the grass and hug a tree
– Make a playlist of your favorite bands and singers as a teenager

4.  Delete or Delegate

If you’ve got a long list of to-dos that is haunting you in your sleep, then take a seriously look at it. With a red and blue sharpie, go through each of your items and put a red dot next to the tasks that you can delete and a blue dot next to the items you can delegate.

Now, I know this exercise can be tough at first but it gets easier (and more empowering) over time.

When looking at an item, you know you can delete or delegate the things you keep putting off, have no consequence if they don’t get done, or you really truly do not want to do them. Your intuition will be a good guide when doing this.

If you aren’t sure how to delegate, take a look at this post here. We live in a world where you can outsource so many items on your to-do list, and often for much less money than you think. Plus the peace of mind and time you get back is usually way more valuable than the amount you spent to delegate it in the first place.

5.  Move Your Body

Endorphins are no joke.

When I am in a place of indecision or overwhelm, one of my tried-and-true tactics is to put my pink tennis shoes on and get moving. Sometimes, it’s a walk around my neighborhood. Other times, it’s a yoga or cross-fit class. The point is, when I get my blood pumping and glowy sweat on, I’m clearing the cobwebs in my brain and movement of ideas starts flowing again.

And I knowwwww it’s so hard to get out of the dang chair and get moving, but it gets easier every time you do it.

6.  Say No

No is the single most powerful phrase in your life. And, if you are a recovering people pleasing perfectionist like me, it can be a hard one to say.

But believe me when I tell you that saying no is a courageous, empowering act that has powerful ripple effects every time you do it. It is saying you love and value yourself. And, although you the invitation is flattering/sounds amazing/would be fun to participate in, you must say decline so you can stay fresh, focused, and healthy.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of this kind of “No”, I can tell you it is both inspiring and refreshing.

7.  Create Space for Dabbling

Dabbling is especially important for those of you who spend most of your days tap tapping away on a computer or smartphone.

Creating space in your calendar to follow your curiosities and play with your hands is a powerful way to drop back into your body and feel in control of your life, further building immunity to overwhelm and paralysis.

A dabble can be anything from buying fresh flowers and arranging them in bud vases around your home to busting out a mason jar and air plants to attempt at making a terrarium.

And because you can tell a lot about a person by their calendar (and you are likely the kind of person who fills up her calendar to the point of overflow), I want you to create space once a week/month/day for dabbling and play. The results will make you a happier, more productive human being. The overwhelm and paralysis gremlins will pack up and leave.

What about you? How do you deal with feelings of overwhelm and paralysis? Have you tried any of these strategies yourself? Let me know in the comments below.

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