What To Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

 When you put your head down and start to work on your goals, you can get overwhelmed and unfocused at some point. It happens even to the most productive people.

One of my students recently said the following when we were talking about goals:

“My main goal this month is just one: Finding a new job…This goal has been shadowing me for the last four months with no results, not even interviews despite trying. Now I fear it because I have been failing so far…”

She explained that she previously applied productivity methods like daily journaling, Pomodoro, time-blocking, and so forth, to achieve her goal.

“[But] it seems I am overwhelmed with so many frameworks instead of really applying,” she concluded.

We can feel overwhelmed or unfocused when we face a lot of tasks. It applies to both large and small goals; changing careers, starting a new business, running errands, doing your taxes, and so forth.

You can get low on energy and give up on all your positive habits. It’s great to get some rest, but you also don’t want to make that your default state.

The goal of healthy and productive human beings is to be energized, enjoy life, and not be a burden to themselves and other people.

So how do you cope if you don’t feel that way? Here are a few tips.

Rebuild your good habits one by one

This is actually the answer that I gave our community member above: Take things one by one. We all want to get a lot of things done. And we want to get them done now.

But you’re more effective if you focus on one thing at a time. How do you practice that?

Pick one technique that works best for you. This could be meditating, journaling daily, using Pomodoro, etc. The important thing is that it works for you — not for someone who wrote about it on Medium or LinkedIn.

Apply that technique consistently until it becomes a natural part of your routine. I recommend doing it for at least a week.

Make it a comfortable habit. Then you can add another technique later.

We give ourselves unnecessary pressure when we try to do everything at once. Worse, this could lead to burnout. So keep it simple. If you need a reset, then reset! Don’t try to force things. Just start over.

This is a part of life. When you’re injured, you also don’t start with a 20K run. You take some time to rest, and then you begin running again in small increments.

Give up on your goals

Epictetus once said the following about desire:

“Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.”

It’s easy to feel unfocused when you have too many goals. It’s natural to desire many things. Who wouldn’t want to earn more money, learn to play an instrument, travel to 50 countries, buy a new car, and spend more time with their family? And do all these within a few years?

Look, these goals aren’t bad. And often, we can get what we want when we do them one by one, as I mentioned above. But when our desire is out of control, we keep chasing one thing after another. And it never ends.

It’s all about prioritization: What is really important to you? And then concentrate on getting just that. You’ll be surprised at how many goals you can actually afford to give up. Some goals can clutter our minds and keep us from going after what we really want.

Many of us suffer from overthinking. And I’ve been there too. When we’re too focused on our desires, we’re forced to live in the future. We miss the things that matter to us. And nobody wants that.

Find joy in what you have

When you’re overwhelmed, the last thing you need is “more.” It’s a compulsive reaction: We always want more money, more friends, more popularity, and so forth.

We see these influencers flaunting their luxurious lifestyle. Or traders making a fortune in their investments or artists selling NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) worth millions. And we want those too.

It’s easy to develop tunnel vision when we’re chasing superficial things. That’s why I don’t recommend consuming too much news or social media.

Instead, enjoy what you already have. You can practice that with one or both of the following:

Think of all the good things you have — You’re healthy enough to do what you want, you have people who love you, you can afford to eat and survive, etc.

Think of all the terrible things that haven’t happened to you — You’re not comatose in a hospital, you’re not fighting for your life in a war zone, etc.

Talk to positive friends

When your car breaks down, you can take it to an expert who can fix it. But our minds and emotions don’t work that way. You can’t fix your focus with a wrench. And you can’t bring your overwhelmed feelings to a repair shop.

Tools like mindfulness can help. But sometimes, we just need someone to talk to.

“But talking it out doesn’t get me solutions!” You might say. Sure, your friend/s might not give you actionable advice. Maybe the best they can do is listen. That’s all. Some good company.

When we try to handle many things at once (like, dealing with a breakup while getting fired during a pandemic), we could lose control of our emotions. The psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of the classic book Emotional Intelligence, called this “amygdala hijacking.”

Have you ever taken a situation out of proportion? Or seriously overreacted to something or someone? That’s a typical case of amygdala hijacking. Immediate and intense emotional reactions can get us in trouble or hurt people we care about. And you don’t want that.

So talk it out with a positive-minded friend. This can help you process your thoughts and emotions better.

Slow down, get a bit of rest, and pay attention

Evaluate yourself and your health; are you eating well? Are you getting enough sleep or exercise? When we’re too caught up in our career and life, these can be easy to forget. They’re small but important things.

We often spend too much time thinking about other people’s problems. Whether they’re clients, bosses, friends, kids, and so forth, they all occupy our time and energy.

When was the last time you did something on your own, for yourself? When we feel unfocused or overwhelmed, it’s usually a sign: We’re not paying attention to some important details in our lives.

So slow down, get a bit of rest, pay attention, and keep going forward.

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