How to Deal with Feeling Overwhelmed

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It is Sunday and I felt overwhelmed since the morning. And not just because it is Monday tomorrow and I have to return to work and face another series of *work crises* that happen on daily basis with no way to prepare for them. The problem was that there were about 100 things on my mind on various topics and related to a number of different spheres of life. However, I found a way to organize my thoughts and transition from the total panic state to feeling in control. Here is how you can do it too:

  1. Brain dump – take a paper notebook and a pen (or open Google Docs or Word…) but not the phone because you want to be able organize your thoughts later this way and I do not want to suggest something that will result in even more anxiety then before we began. Okay, so open your notebook or take a piece of paper or open Google docs and write a list of everything that’s on your mind. I called my brain dump “a list of things that I am worried about right now” and just went on listing them. They do not have to be in order of importance, emergency or even theme now. Just keeping writing everything that’s on your mind, everything that bothers you or everything that concerns you without thinking how significant it is. Do not stop until you completely get out everything from your head on the paper. This is the first step to get your thoughts organized – lay down everything that’s keeps your brain busy. You should end up with a list of things that can vary from being something you heard on the news that may concern you (inflation? another wave of covid? climate change? you name it…) to things that personally impact you right now or may impact you in the next week (“hello, work crisis, old friend…).
  2. Now that you got it all out of your system, create a table and populate it using the list you just created. That’s why in the way, Word or Google Docs may be a way to go. I used my paper notebook but it took me several pages. This is the table you are going to create (see below). You are going to create 3 colums: 1. Issue 2. Theme 3. Action Plan
    1. Under Issue – rewrite one of the problems/concerns you listed few minutes ago. You can go in order or pick the one that bothers you the most.
    2. Theme – try to categorize this problem. What is it about? Is it about work, relationships, health, finances? Once you identified main category, think about how you would describe it. For example, if the problem has to do with situation at work that involves a conflict with another person you can add ‘relationship management’, ‘conflict resolution’ or something else. This gives you an idea of how to potentially solve it. For example, you can browse ‘conflict resolution’ articles on google or on your favourite blogs, find videos on this topic, or even take a mini course about it and tactics to address it on LinkedIn, Apolitical, CareerContessa or other sources you follow.
    3. Now, think about ways to address/solve this problem, mitigate it so it does not impact you or deciding if it is even a problem that’s within your control. Some of the key questions to ask yourself are:
      1. Is it a real problem? Is it confirmed that it is a problem or is it something that your worried mind has created? *Reality check*
      2. Is it a problem within my control? For example, inflation. There is literally nothing I can do about it, just like I can’t do anything about some other things that may worry me. So the best way is to decide to let it go and move on to solving some real problems that I can actually control.
      3. Is it the problem I want to solve? Again, I may not want to solve the problem but it still worries me. Then I have a choice to either pursue solving the problem or decide to let it go. For example, I may worry that some people may not like me. However, do I care enough to try to be liked? Or do I want to invest my energy into something else that might be more useful and productive? In this case again, I decide that I no longer care about their opinions.
      4. So let’s say my ‘issue/problem’ passed all the first 3 filters and I still want to solve it. Now, let’s think how it can be solved. Most problems can definitely if not solved then reduced by me doing something about it. For example, if I identified that one of the things that worries me is getting older and how it impacts the way I look, I can do the following: 1. invest into collagen 2. learn to do some facial and neck massages 3. alter my diet 4. take additional vitamins depending on my needs or add special powder to my smoothies 5. do specific exercises 6. invest into some specific skin care items. Now, I feel more hopeful than before 🙂
    4. Now do this exercise for most items you have listed that worry you. You will see right away how some items that were on your original list you simply do not even want to address or even bother to create a table about. This is great, it means they definitely should not occupy your mental space!
    5. Now that you have the action plan for each of the issues, go ahead and implement the things you have listed – it will not just make you feel better and in control but will actually help you to transition from a worrier to a problem solver. Now, that’s the attitude for Monday!

IssueThemeAction Plan
e.g., item #3 from my list – Stacey from Accounting hates mework; relationships; relationship management1. Find common ground 2. Find someone else from accounting to work with 3. What’s the source of disagreement? Can we come to a compromise? 4. Is it even a real problem?

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