The Paralysis of Being Overwhelmed


Does this blog title and picture seem all too familiar? “I’m so overwhelmed!” is a phrase I use more often than I’d like to admit. And when I’m in that state of being overwhelmed, I have a long list of things to get accomplished, but nothing is getting done. I am paralyzed into inactivity, which only makes things worse. The list gets longer, I get more frustrated and hopeless, and my mood deteriorates quickly. If you can relate, read on. I am hoping I can share something that can help both of us!

First of all, obviously things would be much better if we could avoid being overwhelmed in the first place, right? So how can we prevent this from happening in the future? I believe there are multiple factors that contribute to being overwhelmed. For me, 98.37594% ย of the time (give or take), the reason is that I am simply overcommitted. I am a high energy person who thrives on a busy schedule and loves to get involved in multiple activities. I love everything I do, and I hate turning down something that I might enjoy. The problem is, everyone has limits to their time and energy, and when we take on too much, even if each thing is enjoyable, we exhaust our reserves!

My husband Eric bought me a refrigerator magnet with the quote, “Stop me before I volunteer again”. Even right now as I glance over to my refrigerator, it occupies a prominent place, and I see it every day. But too often, I don’t take it to heart. Another image that comes to mind is a sculpture I saw many years ago at an art exhibit in Seattle. The sculpture depicted a woman spinning a collection of plates using both hands, both feet, and her head. There were more plates than anyone could be expected to keep spinning, so understandably, she looked a little out of control. I remember thinking that that was how I felt a lot of times, and it can be, well, overwhelming! If this describes you, please join me in raising your right hand and repeating after me: “I pledge to be more aware of my limits. I will learn to say, ‘No’. I will enlist the help of my friends and family in setting boundaries. My worth is not defined by the number of my activities. I will get the rest I need.” I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the point. Let’s really commit to this, all of us! Overachievers unite!

Perhaps you have another reason for being overwhelmed. You may be in a season of life that is just difficult, whether that involves caring for young children or aging parents, working multiple jobs, or many other circumstances. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and you just have to do the best you can given the situation. Whatever your reason for being overwhelmed, it’s not a fun place to be, and the best thing to do now is figure out a way out of it (or perhaps just a way to cope until your situation changes).

Here are a few strategies that have helped me when I’m overwhelmed. I hope they will benefit you as well:

  • Make a list and prioritize it. I have started dividing my task lists into High, Medium, and Low Priority. I try to focus first on the high priority items, even though the others are often the ones I would rather do. Your list may be really long, but at least you will have some direction.
  • Just do something! Occasionally all it takes for me to break out of that paralysis is to take some kind of action. Once I get going, I quickly build up some momentum, and then “success breeds success.”
  • Don’t obsess over being perfect. Remember the mantra, “Done is better than perfect.” I’m not suggesting you do shoddy work, but don’t let your fears of doing a task perfectly prevent you from getting started. The quicker you get going on it, the quicker you will finish.
  • Delegate if you can. Hand over one of those many plates you are trying to spin. Overachievers often get in a mess because we want things to be perfect, and we are convinced that only we can do the task perfectly. Sometimes we just have to let other people lighten our load. And even if the work they do isn’t perfect, repeat the mantra above. ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Reward yourself for small accomplishments. After you’ve knocked one of those High Priority items off your list, take a short break. Pat yourself on the back. Pace yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself. Prioritize getting the rest you need above marking items off the list. This is a tough one for me (just ask my family and close friends). If we don’t take care of ourselves, we are not going to do our best work anyway! We will likely take out our frustrations on those we love (again, just ask my family and close friends). And we may end up with any number of stress-related illnesses.

I hope at least one other person besides me needed to read this one.

Next week, I will expound on this topic by giving more practical advice about how to prevent being overwhelmed. Specifically, I will discuss how to say ‘No’ and how to prioritize. Boy do I need more of that!

Now, excuse me while I work on my prioritized list and reward myself for getting this blog written. ๐Ÿ™‚




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