What to do When You Feel Overwhelmed

Every client I’ve ever had for weight loss has complained of feeling overwhelmed sometimes. Some feel overwhelmed most of the time. For them, the stress and pain of being overwhelmed is one of the main reasons that losing weight is so hard. When they get overwhelmed, all of their good intentions fly out the window.

Developing the techniques and skills to avoid feeling overwhelmed and relieving it if it happens are key to solving the problem. Here are a few of the habits I’ve learned and teach that are a good start to getting a handle on it.

1) Once a day, every day, stop the world.

Being over committed and a multitasker is enough to drive anyone to drink (or overeat). Once a day, you must shut yourself away from everyone and everything, take three pads of paper and sort out everything that you’ve piled up to do. You will probably need to do this late at night or early in the morning, in a quiet place, with nothing to distract you, maybe when everyone else is asleep. On the first pad, write down everything that must be done, getting it all off your mind and down on paper. Then, on the next pad, write down only those things that must be done today. Don’t list anything that can be put off until later in the week. Then, on the third pad, list the things that must be done this week. Look at your first list of all the things you need to do, and on the third list, put only those things that cannot be put off until future weeks.

2) Be realistic. Stop thinking you can do the impossible.

You’ve heard that there are only 24 hours in a day? Not really. If you work and have kids, deduct eight hours for sleep, a half hour for personal hygiene, three hours for meals, nine hours for work and the commute, and three hours minimum for child care. That adds up to 23.5 hours.

Hmm. That leaves only 30 minutes of “free” time to do those things you think you’ll do today. So, go back to your list of things that must be done today and whittle it down. List only the most important things, the things that can be accomplished in 30 minutes, and put the rest on the list for the week. You may now realize that you’ve been starting each day thinking you should get six hours of work done in a half hour. No wonder you’ve felt overwhelmed! It’s hard enough to do what’s possible, never mind trying to do the impossible. Start focusing on a realistic list for the day, only the things that absolutely need to be done. Do as much as you can today and when you stop the world tonight (or in the morning) repeat the process with a new to-do list for tomorrow.

If you work part time or don’t have kids, you’ll have a larger block of time that you can spend on your to-dos. But don’t over-schedule. When I coach individual clients in this exercise, it’s not unusual for them to show me a list that will take at least 16 hours of non-stop work to complete when they will only have three hours to devote to them. Be realistic. If anything, schedule fewer tasks than the time you’ve allotted.

3) Outsource and Delegate

If you are like the first example, with only a half-hour of “free time,” realize that Murphy’s law will often eat that up. So, something in that schedule has to go. Don’t make it sleep. Making yourself sleep-deprived will not help. Maybe you can reduce the time taken for personal hygiene and meals, but they can’t be eliminated. Stop thinking these things don’t take time. They do.

Recruiting someone else to handle tasks is essential for everyone, and especially important for our first example of the mom with 30 minutes. In her case, the only possibility for making more time is getting someone to handle the childcare responsibilities. Perhaps several days a week, she can have a relative take them for the afternoon and evening. Maybe she can trade off with a friend in a similar situation and one can take all the kids for an afternoon and evening to give the other that free time, and then switch.

Delegating, being an executive rather than the do-it-all-yourself type, should be your first line of defense rather than the last resort. When you look at your lists, the first question you should ask yourself is “Can I get someone else to do this?” It’s really efficient when you can turn a two-hour task into a five-minute phone call. If you have family or friends who are not overwhelmed themselves, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you can turn all of your dropping-things-off and picking-things-up into phone calls, you’ll have more time for other things. Things like house cleaning and lawn mowing should be the first things you hand off.

4) Realize you don’t have to do it the way _________ did it.

I have so many clients who feel like they have to do it the way ____ did it. They are compelled to either “do it all,” or feel like a failure. Of course, they can’t do it all. There is no way they can live up to the perfect model their mind has created. This superhuman was created over time in their imagination.

One client thought she needed to clean the refrigerator once a week. She’d completely empty it out and wash the inside and then refill it. She dusted every day. She was overwhelmed even without a job and kids. She had been trying to duplicate what she imagined a good homemaker did, trapped like someone with obsessive compulsive disorder. She had to do everything that “mom” did, and just as perfectly, or she’d feel inadequate.

We had to look carefully at what she wanted and needed in life, and she decided to spend her time on what mattered to her, not “mom.” I told her, “The dust was here before we were and it will be here when we’re gone. We just push it around and it really doesn’t hurt to let it sit for a week before we push it around again.” She started making herself and her life what she wanted, rather than following an old voice telling her what she should be and do.

One of the modules in my training is goal setting, but it’s not in order to get a lot done. We do it to make sure we’re not doing a lot that’s not important. That’s why we have the list of to-dos for each day. If we didn’t, we’d still be busy but we would have spent it doing what others wanted. Our own needs would just pile up and overwhelm us. You don’t need to be doing someone else’s to-do list. You need to focus on your own.

5) At every free moment, focus on your to-do list, make yourself tackle things one at a time and block out every interference that comes your way.

A long time ago I was told I needed to develop a “Do It Now” attitude. That’s good in some cases, but I think it’s more important to develop a “Get Out Of My Way” attitude. I see so many people who want to be nice, and they let others steal their time and life. The phone rings and they answer it. A neighbor knocks on the door and they spend a half hour talking. They say “I couldn’t get rid of them.”

Don’t be a slave. You are not obligated to answer the phone or the door. The phone calls can go into voice mail. The person knocking at the door can do what they would have done if you weren’t home. If you only have an hour to get your to-dos done, every minute is precious and you can’t waste it. Focus on the first thing on the list and do it, and don’t let anything get in your way. “I can’t talk right now — I’m in the middle of something” should be your response to anyone trying to stop you.

The techniques I’ve described are some of the most important habits to develop to become a person who does not get overwhelmed. There are more, but for now, work on these.

William Anderson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in weight loss, eating disorders and addictions. He was an obese heavy smoker and workaholic until his early thirties, and burned out, but survived and changed direction. He changed in many ways, among them, losing 140 pounds permanently. Health, in a holistic way, is now his mission. He is the author of The Anderson Method.


Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com.

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