Few of us have lived through the past months without feeling overwhelmed at some point. It may have come from the uncertainty we feel. It may be the cumulative and persistent pressures we feel to protect ourselves and others while also teaching, leading, counseling, and engaging in all the other tasks and responsibilities in our lives.
Of course, feeling overwhelmed sometimes comes and then passes quickly as projects are complete, events come and go, and we move on to other things. However, for many of us, feeling overwhelmed has become more frequent and persistent. Waiting until the feeling passes is not always a healthy option.
When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed with no short-term probability that circumstances alone will bring resolution, we need ways navigate our feelings and find solutions within our reach. Here are six practical options that collectively can help us to counter our feelings and move us forward in productive ways.
First, we can step back and gain perspective. Sometimes stepping back can even be physically creating distance. Taking a walk, getting away for the weekend, or engaging in a hobby are good places to start. We can also gain perspective by asking ourselves. “What is at stake?” “What are potential implications?” “Who might help me see the situation better or at least differently?” When we find ourselves too close to the issue or situation, it can be difficult to accurately analyze and assess what is really happening and whether it is as big a deal as we are making it.
Second, we can focus on what is most important: We often become caught up in busyness that does not move us forward. We can take some time to sort through the situation to find what really matters. Often, asking “why” questions can help us to sort what is most important. For example, we might ask ourselves, “Why is this situation bothering me so much?” Or, “Why am I finding this task so hard?” Practicing the patience to reflect can lead us to answers about what is really going on and what really matters. Once we know what is most important, we can focus our energies in that direction.
Third, we can challenge our assumptions. We might think that one wrong word or step, or an overlooked implication will spell disaster. Consequently, we may be reluctant to take any action. Yet, on close examination, we are likely to find that rarely will a single action or chosen approach lead to complete failure. In fact, often taking action that is not correct will lead to discovery of what can work. We may also find that what we assume about how others think and what they feel is not correct. Assumptions by nature are unverified and untested. Until we question and test our assumptions, we risk being held captive by perceptions with no basis.
Fourth, we can take one or two steps to move the situation forward. We do not always have to solve or act on the entire situation at once. We can search for one or two actions to take that might be low risk but still move the situation forward. Interestingly, when we act on one aspect of a problem, we can begin to see new options and alternatives we can consider and act on. Before long, we see progress and build the momentum necessary to keep moving forward.
Fifth, we can choose to give up some control. Of course, this step means that we must trust others. When we feel overwhelmed and stressed, it can be even more difficult to let go. We may fear that others will not fully understand the nature or importance of the task, or they may not do it well enough. Yet, our unwillingness to let go may be the primary source of our stress. Letting go can be the key to having our stress subside and our being able to do what we do best in the situation.
Sixth, we can reflect and practice gratitude. Gratitude can be a potent counterbalance to feeling overwhelmed. We can focus on what we are thankful for in our lives and the privilege to do the work we do. Gratitude can help us to appreciate the present and lessen our worries about the future. Connecting with people and sharing our gratitude can be uplifting and energizing and give us the nudge we need to keep moving forward.
The fact is that we have faced difficult times in the past and our success in meeting those challenges have brought us to where we are. By practicing these and similar strategies and with the confidence of knowing we will measure up, we can assure ourselves with, “I’ve got this.”