I occasionally have a dream of being in Rome, Italy, where I grew up, and not being able to find my car. I don’t know why anyone would want to drive in Rome. I mean, Rome is known for its traffic and the Italians for their crazy driving. But I have the dream nonetheless. In the dream, I run in circles all over town feeling a sense of panic at the idea that I will never find my car and get moving again.
It’s not one my more cryptic dreams; the metaphor is obvious. The city is overwhelm, the car a sense of direction and ability to move forward. The dream is a clear indicator that I’m not living in alignment with my goals and values.
Fortunately, over the years, I’ve picked up some strategies to not only cope with the overwhelm, but to get back into alignment with my best self. Here are my top 7 strategies.
1. Stop and Breathe
“There is peace in just letting your body breathe,
without having to do anything about it.” — Leo Babauta
During a bout of overwhelm, we often mistakenly believe that the faster we move, the sooner we will experience relief. But when those tires are spinning, the most effective solution is to stop. Then breathe.
A few minutes of sitting and consciously breathing works wonders for calming the monkey mind.
2. Clear the Chaos
Clutter in your space leads to clutter in your mind. You know this, but as soon as you think about cleaning, you’re reminded of all of the cleaning that needs to happen. Just the thought of tackling that to-clean list is overwhelming. Clean or binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy? It’s not even a contest.
If your apartment is a mess but you also want to indulge in some Grey's Anatomy, use the Three Minute Rooms Strategy to forgo your perfectionist tendency to do all or nothing and still achieve some order. Simply set the timer on your phone (or your oven) for three minutes and go ballistic in one room for those three minutes.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Clear the most visible clutter first, no digging in drawers or closets! Pick up the magazines, the dirty dishes, the laundry, the trash and quickly throw them where they belong. Straighten pillows and cushions. Place the books in a neat pile or on a bookshelf. You get the idea. When the timer rings, move to the next room and repeat the process.
One of my readers said that she cleans for hours every day and her husband has never — ever — mentioned the cleanliness of the house. After she used the Three Minute Room Strategy for the first time, her husband walked in from work, looked around, and asked, “Wow! Did you clean?”
3. Claim a Space of Your Own
Once you’ve achieved a basic sense of order in your surroundings, take a look around you. Does your living space reflect who you want to be?
Winston Churchill wrote, “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” How is your environment shaping you? Is it helping you feel relaxed and in control, or is it contributing to your overwhelm? If your space is not in alignment with your highest aims, it’s time to start claiming it, piece by piece.
You don’t have to hire a decorator or a personal organizer to make your place more congruent with your goals and personality. This isn’t about pleasing your neighbors or your mom. It’s about alignment. If you love to paint, claim a space, a corner of a room even, to set up an easel and a chest for art supplies. Mason jar on the chest with some cute paintbrushes, and voilà: alignment.
Simply choose a priority — yours, not someone else’s — and align a space with it. If you’re prioritizing career advancement right now, set up a killer organization system at your desk for when you bring work home. If relaxation is your focus, claim a space for that.
It’s amazing how a supportive environment can put your mind at ease.
4. Create Rituals
Like with your space, it’s important to start claiming blocks of your day that are for you as your best self. Rituals are an excellent way to do just that.
What do Benjamin Franklin, Twyla Tharpe, and Tim Ferriss have in common? Two things actually: being wildly successful at their respective callings and consistently engaging in morning rituals. In fact, many of the most productive and influential people in history have sworn by the practice.
Rituals are so effective because they take away decision paralysis. You know exactly what you’re going to do, so you start. You don’t have to decide to work out; you just put on your yoga pants and move to the next step in the ritual. Same with writing, meditation, or planning-the-day rituals. There’s no stress because you know exactly what to do next, and you know that it’s in line with your goals and values because you designed it that way.
With early work hours and long commutes, morning hours are sacred. Every extra moment spent in bed is another happy moment, so the ritual needs to be more attractive than the snooze button.
One of the ways to achieve this is by positively engaging as many of the senses as possible. Plan ahead for the taste, the smell, the feel of the ritual. How will it look? How will it sound? The more visceral the experience, the more your body and mind will learn to not only expect it but to crave it.
5. Make a Reset List
You can think of the reset list as the when-in-doubt ritual. When you feel like you’re chasing your own tail, you simply look at the list and perform one task at a time in order until the list is done — or until you stop feeling overwhelmed.
So, you ask, what goes on this magical list? Well, basically anything that brings you back to the launch pad. Nothing is too small, too simple or too mundane to go on the list. The only set-in-stone rule is that you don’t write what should work; write things that actually make you feel more composed and are realistic in your current context.
For example, don’t write “go on a three mile run” unless you will do that next Tuesday at 4:00 pm when you’re feeling overwhelmed and you will actually feel more with-it as a result.
Try having one list for home and one for work. Here’s my home list:
1) take a shower
2) clean off desk
3) do a brain dump by writing a comprehensive list of everything that's running through your head, the to-do's, projects, worries, and obligations
4) set the timer for 10–30 minutes (depending on the time available)
5) work on current top priority until the timer rings
By the time I complete the items on the list, I’ve nipped overwhelm in the bud, and I’m ready to take on the rest of the day.
6. Trust Your Intuition
One of the most prevalent causes of overwhelm is valuing other people’s opinions over your own intuition. You know this is the case when the word should takes over your mind.
“You should do the project later and come out with us!”
“You should apply for that job, you know.”
“You should try the gluten-free diet I’m on!”
“You should dump that guy….”
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a friend’s advice. But when your head is filled with someone else’s shoulds, you’re not going to be able to hear that quiet little voice inside that knows what’s best for you.
Take the suggestion into consideration, make a decision that feels right and let it be over. Don’t let someone else’s expectations clutter your mind.
7. Go on a Word Fast
According to a study at the University of California, the average American consumes roughly 100,000 words per day. Clearly, our society is addicted to input. One way to counteract the overwhelm that comes with the resultant information overload is to engage in a word fast.
A word fast can last for any amount of time, but an hour is perfect to start. For the allotted amount of time, do not interact with words in written or spoken form. No speaking. No reading. No writing. No Facebook. No listening to music (other than instrumental). No words in, no words out.
What can you do? You can paint, dance, meditate, go on a walk in a park, or even just sit silently. Anything that does not involve words. At all.
I know what you’re thinking…. Is sex allowed? Of course. But not every time, because then we’ll have to rename this strategy to something hotter than word fast.
The beauty of word fasting is that it allows your subconscious self, the root of your best self, to have the run of the roost for a while. As much as I love words in all of their many expressions, when I do my weekly word fast consistently, I find that my thinking is much more clear and my creativity soars. I get more ideas and inspiration right after that 1–3 hours of no words than I do for the rest of the week combined.
Having A Plan
By applying some or all of these strategies, you may find that you don’t run into overwhelm nearly as often. And if that dreaded feeling does rear its ugly head again, you’ll have a plan in place to stop it at the outset.
By the way, I haven’t had the lost-car-in-the-city dream in a while, but I’ll keep you posted. Next time, I’m hoping for Paris.
About the Author
Nancy Bolling helps women reveal their best selves by finding and manifesting their deepest desires. You can follow her blog and apply for a free coaching session at www.NancyBolling.com.