When I first decided I wanted to write this post I originally came up with the title ‘how to avoid overwhelm’. I quickly realised, however, how unrealistic that statement would be and how much unfair pressure it could create. Experiencing a feeling of overwhelm sometimes, when running your own business, is kind of ‘normal’ (dare I say it). That’s not to say it’s the general or everyday mindset of the self-employed but it is something we all, whether business owners or not, experience at some point and to some degree. Add being entirely responsible for your own job and income into the mix and suddenly the chances of feeling overwhelmed, from time to time, increase significantly.
I talk a lot about ‘being light’ and living a more creative and fulfilling life, but things haven’t always been that way for me. Up until a few years ago I found life quite difficult. Thankfully I had a great support network around me, and I built up a bank or resources to help me find my way through – which led me to be in the good place I am right now. Despite this, I still have days of feeling overwhelmed. I still find myself, on occasion, looking at my list of things to do and thinking there is no way to achieve everything in time. I still look at my work/life balance and wonder when it will feel ‘right’. I still have to implement techniques on a regular basis to keep myself okay.
I wanted to write this post to let you know that feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you weak, or abnormal – it’s totally normal. It also shouldn’t stop you pursuing your dreams or fulfilling your goals. Instead of just giving you my own account and expecting you to take my word for it, I asked a few fellow female business owners for their take on feeling overwhelmed and how they cope with the experience.
Lisa Norman of Presents for Premises said: “I often get overwhelmed.” – see it’s normal! She explained the overwhelm is worse if she feels unable to give her little boy her full attention, “accepting that things won’t be done and not even trying to do them until he’s in bed takes the pressure off”. She also said – “I find the more organised I can be the less overwhelmed I feel.”
Zoë (Zoë Dew Consulting) has worked out her own process to deal with overwhelm and explained that breaking things down is the best skill she has learnt to help. “I have the Big Thing at the top of a pyramid and start breaking down the steps to get there until I have something I can do right there and then to get me on my path… For example, I put off an email sequence forever, thinking it had to be finished. But when I decided to write just one email, then forget about it, I did the same the week after and now I have an evergreen newsletter that if I miss a week nothing catastrophic happens.”
Natalie Rose Morson, of The Elysian Styling Company, also finds breaking things down into small, more manageable tasks, helpful. “I even write them down and create a checklist – lists make me happy. Then I know that it will all get done and I’ll feel good about it while I’m doing it.”
Becca of Engage Weddings is another fan of writing things down: “…even if it’s pages of notes that make no sense…I then go and do something completely different to switch off and then come back to my notes and make them into a structured to do list with numbers and dates to do them by”.
Being organised, writing things down, and making lists are all things I find really useful myself, but sometimes, no matter how many lists you create or however organised you have tried to be, things still seem to quickly escalate to those states of overwhelm. In times like this I find I need to take time out, usually outside, and break my cycle of thought and emotion. I’m not alone…
Dawn (Beyond The Dawn) said: “When I feel overwhelmed I stop. I take five minutes to myself. I grab some water and go outside and do some breathing techniques.” She also explained how once she has then relaxed, she doesn’t worry about doing tasks in any particular order and instead just picks one task to achieve, followed by another, “refusing to look at the entire picture”. She only allows herself to concentrate on one thing at a time until it’s done. “I find once two or three things are completed the fog begins to clear”.
Aleksandra Olenska – The Style Whisperer said: “I sometimes feel overwhelmed at balancing everything, or start a mind spin about the far future, and what I have yet to achieve. I find the physical act of getting out of my workplace, to a nice cafe, to the flower shop, a little walk or into my body through a Pilates or dance class really helps to calm the mind.” Aleksander continued by making the point that “magical” solutions and ideas often become clear when your mind is more relaxed.
All these women are just normal human beings, like you and me, and yet all experience feelings of overwhelm. It goes to show, getting overwhelmed doesn’t mean you can’t achieve great things and it certainly doesn’t have to get in your way of doing what you love. It’s a normal experience and, despite it creating feelings of panic, confusion, and despair all rolled into one, there are some simple resources to help ride the wave.
To round this off I thought it would be good to hear from two women who know a lot about the topic and regularly work to help people overcome overwhelming thoughts and feelings and create a more balanced life.
Natalie is a coach, CBT therapist, and mental health nurse. She pointed me towards a post on her Instagram account (@the_mind_pt) where she gave an interesting theory on overwhelm, and another idea for how to cope with the feeling. She suggested that feeling overwhelmed by physical clutter might contribute to feeling overwhelmed in your mind, and apparently studies have shown a link between clutter and an increase in stress hormones. Her advice: “start decluttering, organising, tidying and cleaning. As you do this your brain can start to relax at the sight of fewer options and fewer jobs, freeing up mental space to problem solve on other issues on your ‘to-do list’.”
Helen Hopkins (aka The Balance Coach) said: “I think most people will face overwhelm at some point. It could be during a project at work, launching a business, becoming a parent, juggling too much, the list is endless. The reality is that it’s an emotion we all feel, in fact in a recent study over 74% of the people taking part said they had felt overwhelmed and unable to cope at some point in the last year. The statistics are scary because stress and overwhelm has a detrimental effect on the body long term.
So, you might wonder how you can move out of overwhelm and here are a few tips.
Firstly, write down what’s worrying you. Often the spiralling thoughts in our head can feel much bigger than they really are. Writing it down or talking it through grounds the overwhelm and helps us create a plan of how to move forward.
Make time for happiness. Now this can feel uncomfortable, you might want to simply stay at home and not see anyone. But, this will only mean that you stay in this emotion for longer. So plan to do something that you know will bring your joy. See friends, go to the cinema, head out for a coffee, whatever it is to allow yourself to think of other things.
Finally, get some fresh air. Go for a walk or a bike ride, just head out, get moving and change your environment. This interrupts the thought pattern, gives you a burst of energy and often a little clarity on the situation.”
I really hope that reading so many other women’s take on overwhelm and tips on coping with the feeling, plus some expert advice, shows just how normal it is to experience and how possible it is to work through. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t have to ruin your day – following all, or even just one, of the techniques mentioned above can help, and you can feel better in time.
You might also find my previous post ‘How To Save Time In Your Business‘ helpful, if you need some practical ways to reduce your workload or be more efficient with your time.