Enough with the Overwhelm and Anxiety

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As a working mom showing up to your job, managing a household, and caring for kids who need all your attention, feelings of overwhelm are bound to show up in any given day. 

We hear that how we respond to the overwhelm is what matters. That we shouldn't let it get to us.

But what if I told you that you create, and therefore you can stop feelings of overwhelm? WHAT? Stay with me...

Enough Is Enough

I maintain 3 different to-do lists: one for work, one for personal/family, and one for my coaching practice. These are lists where I jot down any and all items or ideas that I don't want to forget and need to get done, whether that's tonight, this week, this month or sometime (who knows when) in the future. Because if I don't write it down now, it will be gone in a matter of minutes. 

I'm an ambitious and creative person - sometimes a dangerous combination. This means that I am always brainstorming new ideas and thinking about new projects that I want to tackle. And because I get a lot done, my goals tend to be big and my brain sometimes over commits me to more tasks in a given day than I can realistically handle. 

I was getting to a point where my lists were giving me anxiety. Every time I would open my planner, or grab a pen to map out what I needed to get done on the weekend, I would feel so overwhelmed.

How in the world would I ever get this stuff done?

When will I ever get ahead of my lists?

Can I please stop writing the same item on my daily to-do list every. single. day?

Sound Familiar?

I would start out each morning energized, motivated and confident that today would be the day I would make a dent. Today would be the day I would work faster, make better decisions, and kick ass!

But then some time around noon or so, when I would do a quick check-in with my list, I would see that my tasks had taken me about the same amount of time as usual. That I was progressing at a similar pace to most days, and that my list was far from being crossed off.

I would start to feel overwhelmed. And then, I would start to do things like check social media, read a blog article, clean out and file the "easy" emails. Things that make me feel like I'm doing something, but aren't really "doing" anything.

Or if I was at home, I would putz around the kitchen "tidying up", or throw my arms up in defeat and watch TV (if the kids were asleep).

I got so tired of the same thing everyday. Of not really making progress. Of constantly feeling overwhelmed.

So I decided that I could either limit my lists, prioritizing only a few things each day (which I've tried before), or I could manage my mind and change my thinking.

I chose the latter.

What does managing your mind mean?

Well, for me, it's understanding and believing that however I am feeling, that that feeling is caused by a thought I am thinking.

So in the case of the overwhelm and anxiety I was feeling, those were caused by thoughts like:

"I will never get all of these things done."

"My life is one big to-do list."

"When will I ever feel 'caught up?'"

When I say those things, even right now, I get a knot in my stomach and I start feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Yuck! I hate feeling like that.

A New Thought. A New Feeling.

The reality is, the ongoing list of tasks that I need to accomplish now and in the future is probably not going to shrink anytime soon. But rather than experiencing the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety every single time I looked at what I needed to do, I wanted to feel something different.

I brainstormed what I might want to feel instead, and came up with a few ideas:

  • Confident
  • Calm
  • Decisive

Calm seemed like a bit of a stretch, especially coming from a current feeling of anxiety. I actually liked the way decisive felt the best. Feeling decisive when I look at a laundry list of things I need to get done, to me means being able to take action, prioritize, and table things that need or can wait.

But I can't look at my to-do list, think "I will never get to all of these things done" and feel decisive. So I needed a new thought.

After a recent coaching session (of my own), my coach and I came up with:

"I am becoming a person who makes strong decisions."

That feels good. That elicits confidence and action.

I'll be honest, to say that I make good/strong decisions didn't feel true to me. I could repeat that til I'm blue in the face, but if I don't believe it, it will actually bring about the opposite of decisive feelings. But to say or think that I am becoming someone who makes strong decisions, that feels like a fact. Because I am. I'm working on making strong decisions and that feels good.

So I haven't stopped writing all the things down. I still need to get them out of my mind and onto paper. And while I have tweaked things a bit in terms of planning exactly when I will tackle certain tasks and limiting my priorities for the week, I haven't changed things that drastically when it comes to the tactics of my to-do list.

Most of the progress I have made has been with changing the way that I think. Which is crazy! But if the point of all of this, if the point of life is to feel good and be happier, then I want to manage my emotions, which means managing my mind.

Your Homework

So I want you to take a few minutes to think about a point in your day that makes you feel anxious or overwhelmed or some other less than desirable emotion.

  1. Write it down. Describe the scenario and name the feeling.
  2. Then try to get to the thought that is causing the feeling. You'll know when you've found it because you'll start to have the physical symptoms of that feeling.
  3. Now, how would you rather feel about this scenario? What feels realistic or true?
  4. Once you have a new feeling, the goal is to brainstorm a thought that elicits that feeling. The thought should be something that when you say it, it feels believable.

This is the part where we sometimes get stuck. If you need help here, reach out. I'd be happy to help you find a new way of thinking that will make you feel completely different.

No one enjoys feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Time to take control of your thoughts so you can stop feeling overwhelmed and start enjoying this crazy life as a working mom.