11.14.14
breaking out of overwhelm holiday tips

The holidays are right around the corner. In many ways, it feels like the they’ve already begun. The lamp posts around town are decked out in white lights and snowflakes, the grocery stores are stuffed up with stuffing, and our to-do lists are getting just a little bit…longer. I currently type this article with Christmas carols playing in the background: my version of pregaming. They get me pumped up for the season I love so much – and remind me that I better prepare myself to find some calm in the storm ahead.

This is my favorite time of year, largely because of the traditions associated with the season. I love the cozy predictability of it all, how I can count on certain things to be exactly the same annually when the rest of my year (and my life) is so varied and unpredictable. But I can also count on certain stressors to arise: workflow shifting in preparation for the holidays, last-minute plans being made, events popping up out of nowhere, requests to tend to, obligations to oblige, calls and texts and emails to answer. Couple this with my introverted, highly sensitive DNA and I’m just about ready to cop out and hibernate with visions of sugarplums and all that jazz dancing around in my head, ’till the first blooms of spring peek their way through the faux snow of the LA holidays.

Sometimes it can seem as if the world is out to get us; that when it rains it pours and when it’s sunny it’s blinding. Overwhelm is not specific to the last quarter of the year in the least – but somehow, every year without fail, this is when it all seems to hit a pinnacle. No wonder the business of New Year’s Resolutions is so booming: we’re hit right when we’re up to our flyaway-hairs in overwhelm. We’re overworked, overstressed, overcommitted, overly guilt-ridden.

Therein lies the main problem with overwhelm – being over it. Our tendency is to complain, and worse, commiserate over complaints. Complaints are what keep us tethered to our problems, instead of propelled toward our solutions. They’re the tar that makes everything too sticky, they’re the quicksand beneath our feet making each attempted step and arduous and labored process. They turn us into the worst versions of ourselves, breeding jealousy and a fear of failure.

So often we treat complaints like actual action steps, and end up fooling ourselves into thinking we’re actually doing something to help the thing we’re complaining about. But in reality, complaints are a band-aid, a way to temporarily relieve ourselves of the burdens of the moment by acknowledging the space they take up in our brain. Whenever I catch myself in a circle of complaints about my overwhelm – my apparent busyness or my overload of question-marked tasks, I ask myself one question: So what are you going to do about it? Whether I am faced with looming assignments, I can’t quite seem to get on the same page with someone in my life, or my overwhelm is leading me to doubt myself personally and professionally, posing this one simple question to myself makes me take accountability and start to set a plan of action into motion.

Crushing the complaints is the first step in creating a sense of cool, collected control. Since you might already be feeling, um, overwhelmed, with long paragraphs and flowery prose (ain’t nobody got time for that right now!) – here are four simple strategies, outlined in order for your convenience, to help you proactively persevere through whatever whirlwind you’re facing:

Get Perspective.

Before you go and tackle that to-do list, take a step away from the pen. You’ve been through this before. You will go through it again. How will you make this go-around more worthwhile? Will this matter in two months’ time? Maybe some things will, maybe some things won’t. What will matter is that sense of accomplishment you’ll feel – those memories you’ll make because you’ll be all the more present to make them, and you’ll actually enjoy them. We tend to let kindness fall to the wayside when we’re overwhelmed. How many golden moments are we missing out on simply because we forget to be kind? Take a step back from the hubbub and recognize this feeling of overwhelm only needs to occupy a sliver of time in your life – it’s up to you how you react and what you make of it.

Prioritize.

After you’ve got a clear head and long term perspective, get to prioritizing. Often times when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we’ll make decisions based on short-term relief instead of long-term success. Look at your day and compile a list of top to-dos. What is most important? What is most urgent? The things that are both important and urgent go at the top – they’re the things that matter most. What’s purely urgent (and not important) is usually reactionary and stress-inducing – skip them for now. We usually place so much importance on urgency we forget what is truly top-of-the-list material. Depending on your day, choose 3-5 top priority items, then draw a line and list the rest of your to-dos below that. Resist the urge to cross the line yourself (see below) until all the both-important-and-urgent items are taken care of. Most importantly, do not be afraid to say no to as much as you need to. When we’re overwhelmed and can’t see straight, we forget that the ability to say “no” and move forward or just let certain things happen  – not being a walking “yes” or people pleaser 24/7 – is the true sign of a leader who has things under control.

Pick Your Partners.

If you’ve ever read any sort of self-helpy article about busy-ness or overwhelm, you’ve probably learned by now to ask for help when you’ve got a lot to do. And it’s been repeated over and over again because it’s true: you simply cannot tackle every single thing in your life alone. Delegating tasks to others works. Loosening the reins of control over those things you don’t need to have a firm grasp upon (but need to get done) helps save your sanity and also forms a sense of camaraderie. A few suggestions: enlist those closest to you, hire an assistant looking to make a few extra bucks over the holidays, visit TaskRabbit.com, and delegate at work so that you’re not leaving the office screaming every day.

Power Through.

All the positivity, planning, perspective, prioritizing, and partnering are nothing if there are not proactive steps made in a forward direction. Like the Nike ads say, just do it. When we’re overwhelmed, it can sometimes seem like the world is pitted against us, preventing us from accomplishing anything or feeling like we’re being the person we know we want to be. But you’ll find that once you start to show the world you’ve got things handled, once you start going, doors start to open up and sunshine will start to pour through. Your adventure is underway


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