How to Be Kind to Yourself When You're Feeling Overwhelmed
Listen to this post here: All of my posts are based on my own experience in one way or another, and this one is no exception... If you’re part of the community, you might know that I got married at the beginning of August (happy happy! :)). This was an awesome time, with a lot of laughter, a lot of love, and a lot of fun, and it was also super busy.The week before, I had one of those epiphanal conversations with a friend that totally changed the way I approached the next couple of weeks and left me deep in thought about what happens to my self-kindness when I'm feeling overwhelmed.
And it’s not just me; many of my clients say the same thing in one way or another. It’s hard to be kind to ourselves when we have big events, multiple commitments, and various demands pulling our attention and energy in different directions.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, here are a few suggestions I've found helpful:
1. Accept that you have a lot going on and adjust your expectations accordingly
I generally work better under pressure; as Parkinson’s Law states, a task will expand to fill the time we allot to it. At the same time, however, I have a part of me that I (affectionately) describe as my internal slave-driver. She expects me to do all the things right this week, regardless of what else is going on or what else I want to be doing (like spending quality time with my husband and friends).
During the aforementioned conversation, my friend said that she opened that week’s email to the Becoming Who You Are community fully expecting it to say "You won't be hearing from me for the next two weeks" and re-read it three times to make sure she hadn't just missed that part.
The thing that really struck me was this: it hadn't even occurred to me to write that; I was planning to schedule blog posts, podcasts, emails, and even a couple of videos to go out in my absence so everything would continue as normal.
As this friend lovingly pointed out, being transparent about taking two weeks off is a lot more aligned with my values and what I encourage other people to practice than trying to do everything and more beforehand and not leaving much room for self-care and enjoying the moment (as the saying goes, sometimes we teach what we most need to hear ourselves).
2. Hone in on your most important priorities
After that conversation, I went through everything that I’d committed to over the next seven days and re-evaluated. Most of it I pushed back to address after my break, some of it I threw out completely. This was not easy. It meant changing dates of webinars and that horrible “Am-I-being-flaky?” feeling that comes with deciding to skip two weeks of martial arts in a row, and tell my partner that I didn’t want to go out dancing that week. It also meant that I was less overwhelmed, far more able to enjoy what was really truly important and could stop worrying about things that, in a few years time, I'm unlikely to even remember.
During the week itself, I made a list of the most important “to do” items the night before. That meant I went into each day knowing exactly where I stood and also accepting that if I did these things, that was enough.
3. Focus on your non-negotiables
Non-negotiables seem to be one of the first things to go when we’re feeling overwhelmed. We sacrifice things like journaling, yoga, exercise, and all those other things we put on the “not so important” list, when actually these are the most important things to do during this time.
Non-negotiables (as the name suggests) are the things that keep us functioning as the healthiest, happiest versions of ourselves. When we do these things, it feels like life is working.
I didn't prioritise these things over the last month, and it made a huge difference. As soon as I recognised that I'd let my non-negotiables slide and started making time to journal, exercise, and meditate again, I immediately felt less overwhelmed and a lot more in control of my time and energy.
4. Be clear with others that you have a lot going on
People aren't mind readers, so we need to be clear with others when we have things going on that are going to affect our ability to show up and stick to commitments. Even if you think it looks obvious that you're overwhelmed, it might not be to other people.
You don't need to go into details if you’re not comfortable or it’s not appropriate, but you can still let people know that you might not be as present or attentive for a while or that you’re unable to continue with certain commitments for now.
5. Get really good at accepting help.
This might sound obvious, but I seem to need this lesson a lot so I’ll mention it here: you don’t need to do everything yourself.
I tend to think that I’ll be putting people out or annoy them if I ask for help, however like Amanda Palmer says, people often appreciate us giving them the opportunity to let them support us—especially if we’re usually a bit of a lone ranger when it comes to navigating life.
Chances are that we’ve built up enough credit in our friendship accounts to make an ask in the knowledge that we’ll gladly repay the favour one day. Another aspect to this is knowing how to accept help. Help is like a gift; if people want to give you some, it generally means they’re not going to be put out or irritated if you say yes (unless they are playing some kind of “aha, now you’re indebted to me” game, in which case steer clear).
6. Focus on what you’ve achieved rather than what you haven’t
When my internal slave-driver started rearing her head and telling me I "should" be doing X, Y, and Z, I took a few moments to remind myself of all the things I was doing. Focusing on what I achieved rather than what I didn't helped turn a sense of "I'm not doing enough" into "I'm doing just fine".
[Tweet "Remember that not everything has to happen right now."]
Yes, the carpe diem life-is-short mindset is very en vogue right now, and yes, there is certainly a time and a place for that kind of perspective, but when I'm already feeling stressed, overwhelmed and over-committed, I find it easier to remember that tomorrow is another day.
7. Be a creator, not a victim
Sometimes, life hands us one NAFGO (“not another f***ing growth opportunity”) after the other. Most of the time, we have too much going on because we made certain decisions that aren’t serving us. Whatever the case, we’re far more likely to navigate this period if we take responsibility for how we’re feeling and what we’re doing, rather than throw our hands up in the air and declare that life is just too hard, it’s all hopeless, and there’s nothing we can do anyway.
If we feel like victims, the chances are we won’t do much. We’ll continue to bemoan our bad luck, bad circumstances, and throw a “woe-is-me” pity party. We want empathy for our situation but are so stuck in victim mode we’re not actually giving ourselves any. At the same time, we give away our freedom to choose and slip into passively accepting that life is doing stuff to us, rather than recognising the role that we’ve played in creating our reality.
If we recognise that we are responsible for what happens next, we have the opportunity to take a step back and ask ourselves “how do I want to respond to this situation?” and “I wonder what I could do differently next time to prevent something like this happening again?” I find it helpful to think about a future (i.e. older, wiser, and hopefully more evolved) version of myself and question what she would think about this situation.
Remember that most of the things we worry about today won’t even be a spec on our radar in 10 years’ time.
Imagine yourself in 10 or 20 years and ask:
* How could I handle this situation in a way that would make that version of myself proud?
* What advice would that version of myself have for me today?
* Based on what is important to that version of myself in 10/20 years’ time, how would she suggest I respond to this situation right now?
Finally, remember that this isn’t a one-time deal; being kind to ourselves when we're feeling overwhelmed is a moment-by-moment process. We don’t arrive at a point where we just “are” kind; like a ship’s crew riding out a storm, we might need to keep bracing ourselves against what’s coming next.
Whenever I’ve had too much going on, the number one thing that has put me back on the path to self-kindness is acknowledging the truth of the matter: that there is a lot going on, that maybe I could have made some decisions differently, that it feels hard and maybe even a little bit painful right now, and that I’m not sure of the best path through.
Start with acceptance, and work your way up to the surface from there.
How do you show yourself kindness when you're feeling overwhelmed? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.Further reading: How to Be Kind to Yourself When You Don't Do What You Say You're Going to Do & How to Be Kind to Yourself in the Middle of Big TransitionsImages: Vee O & Adam Grabek