As we’re getting closer and closer to Christmas I really wanted to dive into the topic of overwhelm on the podcast. So, this week I’m talking about a recent experience I had, some steps you can use to cope and finally when to seek help because overwhelm can quickly spiral into burnout.
I hope the pointers in this week’s episode are helpful, I’d love to hear your thoughts over on Instagram, you can find me @katbluejay.
You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or listen here:
LINKS AND FURTHER READING:
- Coping with overwhelm and scheduling self-care days
- Jo’s video on the zooming technique
- Questions to ask yourself when you’re overwhelmed
- It’s OK to fall apart
- CBT for anxiety – what I learned
- What is CBT and how can it help me?
Okay, hands up – who’s feeling overwhelmed right now? You can’t see because this is a podcast but I promise you, my hand just went up too. Christmas is just around the corner and I know this is a time when overwhelm can hit us hardest so I really wanted to talk about some tools we can use to help cope with overwhelm and also when we can recognise when it’s potentially turning into something more serious.
So if this sounds like something you need right now, use this as your opportunity to put everything else down for 15 minutes, sit back, relax, and yeah, let’s get into it.
Hello everyone! Welcome back to the podcast. I hope you’re doing well and I hope you’re feeling suitably Christamssy. So I want to talk about overwhelm today because it’s something I’m sure pretty much all of us have dealt with at some point. It’s that feeling when you’re absolutely paralysed and feel like you’re frozen to the spot because you just have so much to do.
Now, I experienced this pretty severely earlier this year when a load of life admin just suddenly piled up around me. Around four or five different things went wrong in the flat that me and my partner rent, suddenly my car just needed all of the things. It needed me to pay it off, I needed to sort out my road tax, my insurance, parking permits. It was just that time of year where everything suddenly to do with my car came up. And just having all of that on top of my day job, on top of Blue Jay work, trying to have a social life, trying to have a relationship – understandably, I just crumbled under the pressure. And I got to the point where I needed to stay with my parents for a few days because I just needed to be held, I guess. I needed someone to cook for me, to help me with the things I was just struggling with day-to-day. And whilst I was doing that, I had to kind of run away and leave Dan to sort some of the flat stuff. I had helped with some of it, but it got to the point where I just had to ask him to step in and take over and, thankfully, he did.
And this is a thing: when we feel overwhelmed, we want to run away and we want to hide. And I like to think of it as being on a ride that you really want to get off. And it can be really scary when those thoughts come into your mind and it can really lead to obviously increased stress, but also anxiety, low mood, and even depression. So that’s why today I really want to share first some of the steps you can take to cope with these feelings of overwhelm, and then also talk about when overwhelm becomes more than just overwhelm.
So let’s start with some of the steps you can take if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Now, these really, really helped me but I understand they might not be right for everyone. So I’d encourage you to listen, to have a go, maybe try them, and then if they don’t feel right to you, just tweak and adjust and find something that feels good to you.
So the first thing I like to do when I’m feeling really overwhelmed, like I have too much to do, is to write a big-ass list. I write everything that’s on my mind, everything that’s pulling at my attention, and get it all down onto paper. And when I’ve got that list, I can look at it, and the first thing I do is cross off anything that is not essential. So, is there anything on there that I don’t absolutely have to do right this minute? And usually, there are quite a few of those things. And, for me, those things tend to revolve around the work I do at Blue Jay, because the Blue Jay work I do, I am my own boss, so I set my workload. I decipher how many podcasts to do a week, how many blogs, how many newsletters, so if there’s something on there that I can drop, then that’ll probably be the place I’ll cross something off the list.
And once you’ve taken those things off your list that don’t have to be done, have a look and see if there’s anything you can delegate. Now, for me, this really often shows up at work. Sometimes if at work, if myself or a colleague has too much on our plate, we can speak to each other and say, ‘look, I can’t do this thing that I needed to be asked to do. Do you have space in your schedule to do it for me?’ And that can be – that can feel quite tough to admit that you have too much to do and you can’t do something, but talking it out, either with your colleagues or your manager, if that’s who’s given you the work, then try and see if you can delegate and give that workload to someone else or see if you need to switch up your priorities.
So once you’ve crossed off everything on your list that’s not an essential, once you’ve delegated some things, think about if there’s anyone who can help you with some stuff on your list. So, is there anyone who can maybe take on a part of a task? Or if they can just support you! Is there someone you can go to who can just listen to your venting and give you a hug when you need to? Because that’s what our support network is there for: they’re there to kind of look after us and yeah, that’s definitely what I did when I ran away to my parents’. They were my support system, and just like cooking meals for me really made a massive difference.
So now you should be left with a list of things that you have to do and the things that you have to do without any help. So those things on your list, what I would suggest doing, is to make a plan for when you can realistically do these things. And chunk it down into really, really small steps because sometimes it can really help just to tackle a few of the smaller tasks and that can help you just feel in control again and feel like you are capable of doing this.
Another thing I would really recommend is finding a phrase or a mantra that can anchor you. So when you’re spinning, when you’re panicking, when you’re feeling like you just can’t do this, having some kind of phrase to repeat to yourself, to kind of self soothe and self calm yourself, can really make a difference. And, for me, my personal favourite is ‘one step at a time’. This is just something I repeat to myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed because I know I don’t have to do all of the things that are on my list right now. I just need to take it one step at a time. I need to do the one thing that’s on my list and then maybe take a break. Or even taking it one day at a time instead of becoming overwhelmed with the busy month ahead or a busy week ahead, focus on today. What do you need to get done today? When can you find some breaks or some calm moments today?
And another thing you can use here is the zooming technique. Now, this is something I learned about from Jo Hooper, who is @madandsadclub on Instagram – highly recommend following her! And I will link to her IGTV video because that’s where she describes what the zooming technique is and she can describe it much better than I can. And I’ll pop the link to that in the shownotes.
So what it really is, essentially, is zooming in onto one task, breaking it down into its smallest parts, and doing it one step at a time. So a bit like I recommended earlier, breaking it down, doing just one small step and going from there. But then the other thing zooming can do is zooming out. So if you’re feeling really fixated on one small part of your plan, maybe one small task, you’re using up quite a lot of energy and stress around it, but it’s one small thing that might not really make that much of a difference. Zooming out and just looking at the bigger picture, maybe journaling about it, asking yourself why and what else you could be using the energy for, can really help you to gain some perspective and feel a lot calmer.
Now, of course, I couldn’t talk about overwhelm and not talk about having self care planned in. Because when we’re feeling really overwhelmed and when things get really busy, self care can be the first thing to come off the list. You might think self care is one of those things that you can cross off the list because it’s not essential. Well, I would disagree with you there and sway that in busy times, when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, self care is absolutely essential.
So what I would really, really recommend you do is hold your boundaries strong on this. And if you can’t, I don’t want to be unrealistic here. I know that there are some weeks where you can’t hold your boundaries strong, where you can’t do your self care routine. I’m actually in the middle of a week like that myself – I’m having quite a busy week so I know I can’t do the yoga I usually do, I can’t have the relaxing long bath one of the evenings that I normally do. So instead, what I’ve done is I’ve created pause moments in my day. So everyday I’m making sure I’m having at least one pause moment. That could be five minutes of meditation, it could be having one relaxing evening, it could be watching an episode of something on Netflix just to get a bit of escapism in my day. Anything that can help me calm down and recenter myself is a pause moment.
So what I do for that is, let’s say I’m doing a five minute meditation, if I’m really struggling because I have so many other things trying to pull at my attention and trying to get me to do things, I’ll focus on the phrase ‘nothing else matters’. Because that just reminds me that, right now, in this moment, nothing else does matter. The things on my to-do list, what I was thinking about yesterday or talking about yesterday, that doesn’t matter. Right now, in this moment, all that matters is me focusing on my breathing and being here. So that’s just another phrase that I guess you could add to your list of things to help calm you. Just saying ‘nothing else matters’ when you are having your quiet moments.
So, what I would say about these pause moments, is try and not to let that be your only form of self care. So, for me, I’m using it this week because I know it’s a busy week, but that’s unusual for me. I know next week it’s gonna go back to normal and I’m going to be able to reinstate my usual self care routine. So if you’re finding you are not being able to do that week on week on week, and you’re repeatedly just having ‘oh I’ve had a pause moment, it’s okay’ – if that keeps on going for weeks, then you need to reassess the situation because something isn’t right there.
And the last thing I want to say on this when it comes to coping with overwhelm is to be kind to yourself and recognise that it is absolutely okay to drop the ball sometimes. It’s perfectly natural, it’s perfectly human. We’re not robots – we can’t give 100% of ourselves to all areas of our lives at the same time. It’s just impossible so you need to have a look around, maybe, and see where you can pull some of your energy back and where you can maybe reduce yourself to 80%. That’s still doing a really amazing job! So try and keep some perspective and prioritise what’s really important for you.
So, now we’ve talked about how to kind of cope with the overwhelm, I really want to talk about when it becomes more than just overwhelm. So, it’s pretty normal I think to feel overwhelmed from time to time. Life gets busy, a lot of us are connected to the internet 24/7, maybe we’re connected to our work emails 24/7, but if you’re feeling this way most of the time, if you’re finding it really difficult to cope, then you may be heading towards burnout.
Burnout is now actually recognised as a condition by the World Health Organisation and is described as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. And when it talks about the condition, it describes four factors. So, number one is feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion. Number two is increased mental distance from one’s job. Number three is feelings of negativism – is that a word? Negativism? Negativism, apparently, or cynicism related to one’s job. And number four is reduced professional efficacy.
So if all of those are ringing some bells, this could lead to a really big chunk of time off of your work. You might end up needing to be signed off work to recover and it might lead to the development of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. So, for me, I know that feeling overwhelmed really triggers my anxiety symptoms. So I feel like I have to be really vigilant with it and make sure it doesn’t trigger a really bad dip in my mental health.
So if your overwhelm is going on for a really long time and if you feel like you’re not being able to cope with it alone anymore, I would definitely recommend seeking help. Go to your doctor, talk about what options are available to you. I know cognitive behavioural therapy can be really helpful here. It’s something I used when I was really struggling with my anxiety and it just helps you understand how your thinking affects your behaviour and vice versa. But yeah, I will definitely leave some information about cognitive behavioural therapy in the shownotes for this episode because I think it’s – it should be mandatory for everyone to learn it because it can make such a difference!
So I hope this was helpful. I would really love to hear if you have any other tips when it comes to coping with overwhelm. Definitely let me know over on Instagram, I’m @katbluejay and just a reminder again that we’re all different so it’s really important to find what works for you, but I really hope the pointers I shared today have given you a good starting point.
So I will be back next week, which is Christmas day, and I’m going to be sharing something a little bit different and I’m just going to leave that there! I’m going to be sharing something a bit different. But until then, I hope you have a really wonderful and festive week ahead.