Have you ever felt there’s too much weight on your shoulders?

Maybe too many ideas in your head, too many tasks on your to-do list, with little to no time to pursue them all?

Your worries buzz and hiss and rumble in a tidal wave of overwhelming pressure. Suffocating. Paralyzing. Exhausting.

Sometimes you struggle with this for hours on end, with little to no success. You go to bed, hoping that tomorrow you’ll figure everything out.

But you can’t fall asleep. 

  • Should I write a blog post, or work on my book, or start making a course, or building an email list, or working on my social presence?
  • How can I work on my personal project when my daytime job leaves me exhausted every day?
  • What if nothing of this works at all? Is it worth the struggle?

If this sounds familiar, you’re part of the Overwhelmed Souls Club: congratulations, it sucks here! 

Here’s how to regain control when you feel overwhelmed in 4 simple steps:

  • Soothe your emotions
  • Prioritize your workflow
  • Progress in tiny steps
  • Map your path

(It’s really that simple, although not always easy.)

Photo by Austin D on Unsplash

Step 1: Soothe your emotions with grounding

I don’t know how about you, but when I’m overwhelmed I feel like a plastic bag in the wind.

I feel light and helpless, too weak to make a difference of any kind.

To make good things happen, the first step is to regain your ground and stand strong wherever you are right now.

Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I shall move the world. 

— Archimedes

Yep, even moving the world starts with a firm place to stand.

A good way of regaining yours is by practicing different grounding techniques. Their goal is to bring the racing mind back to the “here and now”, putting all the worries and problems back into the background.

Here are my 3 favorite grounding exercises to return to the present:

  • Take an ordinary object and describe it in detail. By focusing all your attention on a single and real thing, you leave less mind power to dwell on your worries and pains.
  • Make a list of all the sensations you feel in your body right now. Heart pounding, ear itching, something moving in your belly, the pressure of your shoes on your toes, the air moving in and out through your nose… Can you name 30 sensations you’re feeling right now? 
  • Name 50 words that start with a certain letter. The first 10 are easy breezy, the next 10 are alright, and then everything that comes after that really requires you to concentrate on the task at hand. Which means less focus for the overwhelming worries!

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Step 2: Establish your priorities

Anxiety = chaos.

The shortest way to inner peace is to bring order to the chaos in your mind. There are many ways of doing this, but my favorite tool is the Eisenhower matrix. Here’s how it looks like:

Picture from Duke’s Versatile Humanists

And here’s how to use it:

  1. Make a list of everything that’s on your mind. Just mindlessly dump all your tasks and worries on a piece of paper or a text file on your laptop.
  2. Sort all points by importance and urgency. For example:

  • Urgent, important (Q1): finish daytime job monthly report (due today). Q1 is for crises, deadlines, problems.
  • Not urgent, important (Q2): write a blog post for next week, start designing my book’s cover, find a new email marketing service to use. Q2 is for relationships, planning, recreation, strategic steps for long-term goals.
  • Urgent, not important (Q3): call back Eugene and see what he wanted. Q3 is for interruptions, meetings, activities, calls.
  • Not urgent, not important (Q4): check if there are Mexican restaurants in my city. Q4 is for time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.

3. Take care of the squares one by one, starting from Q1. When you’re done with Q1, move to Q2 if you feel like you have enough energy left, otherwise schedule for later (but make sure to pick a specific time).

More often than not, our anxiety is based on the fact that we don’t see the full picture. We feel like we have so MANY things to do, and EVERYTHING is urgent, when in reality just one or two tasks really are.

Take care of them first, and you’ll already feel much better than before.

Then, it’s time to follow your heart’s calling.

Photo by bady qb on Unsplash

Step 3: Progress in baby steps

As soon as you’re done with the firefighting, it’s time to take care of your passion projects and long-term goals.

For example, I’m a freelance writer: I create articles, email sequences, ads, social media posts, all kinds of texts that sell and entertain — usually in the health niche. The problem is that I’m not really interested in this topic. It’s not my passion. I just know the topic well, and I’m good at writing about it.

Every day, I write thousands of words and get paid for them: this is cool, but really exhausting. At the end of the day, I’m often left with little to no energy to write something for Medium, or Twitter, or to work on my book, or anything else of that kind.

The solution is simple: I do at least something.

Baby steps are very important in the long run. A journey of thousand miles consists of little steps, one after another, in the right direction.

  • Not enough energy and determination to write a whole new blog post? That’s okay, I can at least scribble a rough outline for it.
  • Too tired to write something for my book? I go to the Kindle store and check what’s currently trending in the categories I plan to publish in, just to grab a few ideas for future research.

You aren’t supposed to achieve great things every single day in every aspect of your life: improve just 1% daily, and soon you’ll be amazed at how far you got.

And of course, making even a tiny step in the direction of your dreams also makes you much calmer, positive, and determined inside.

There’s much more anxiety in procrastination and inaction than on the path that you really want to walk.

But do you know what path is that, exactly?

Photo by Ludovic Fremondiere on Unsplash

Step 4: Map your path

Ideally, everyone should spend most of their active time in the Q2 square of the Eisenhower matrix (not urgent, important), as this is the most effective way of working on any kind of project.

It’s challenging, but not in the “oh God how will I make it” kind of way.

It’s important, but not “I’m doomed if this doesn’t work” important.

It’s where you grow and thrive.

Sounds good?

To live in such a state, you have to craft a step-by-step plan to follow — and get back to it whenever needed. 

The goal is to always know what your next step should be.

  • It’s pointless to choose a design for your blog if you don’t have a name for it yet
  • It’s not really wise to write a book if you don’t have at least a tiny audience that could check it out

First things come first. Make a plan.

Then, whenever you feel overwhelmed by the influx of worries and tasks, you just open your big plan, see the next step, and ask yourself:

Can I make a tiny step in this direction?

Knowing where you’re headed is a huge help in preventing anxiety — and soothing its bouts whenever they strike.

Call to action

I use the 4 steps described above to deal with overwhelming episodes of any kind, no matter their immediate source: work, passion projects, relationships, routine stuff, health.

Try them out and see if they work for you!

And remember:

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength. 

— Corrie Ten Boom

Take action, follow the steps above, and put your strength to work.

Ivan is a writer who explores the links between happiness, productivity, and emotions. He believes emotions can be used as a universal fuel for explosive growth and the foundation for a better life.
Ivan is a writer who explores the links between happiness, productivity, and emotions. He believes emotions can be used as a universal fuel for explosive growth and the foundation for a better life.

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