In emotionally charged moments, there can be a strong urge to react immediately, let the anger/frustration/stress out and be done with it. Of course it never turns out that way. If we let loose with anger and frustration in the heat of the moment, most of the time it makes the situation worse or blows the triggering issue way out of proportion.
I’ve noticed the same with overwhelm. Sometimes during the workday, when my to-do list is already quite ambitious, and as the day progresses the pings keep adding up, the calls for my attention or intervention are piling on, my brain starts to explode. Or perhaps implode is more accurate? In any case, the feeling of overwhelm sets in and I’m momentarily frozen in my seat, slightly panic stricken, and I think the only way out is to address every single issue at the exact same time which means clicking around madly and getting absolutely nothing accomplished.
Thankfully, I’ve come to learn a much more advantageous approach which initially may sound counterproductive, yet consistently proves to be the solution.
We all know this to be true when it comes to heated conversations with loved ones (whether or not we follow it is another matter entirely). Don’t react in the moment. Give yourself some breathing room, get out of your lizard brain and come back to the conversation when you feel calm and grounded.
The same is true with overwhelm. When the stress kicks in, you might find yourself in flight, fight, or freeze mode, none of which are ideal for making progress. I have another suggestion. Step away and do something completely different to shift your energy.
But wait, isn’t that the same as fleeing or avoidance?
Nope. The difference is you’re doing it with intention. The opposite would be mindless scrolling through instagram. Stepping away from your screen serves as mental recalibration. You’re giving your overheated brain a simple and calming task to focus on that allows you to reset and see the landscape more clearly. It’s very similar to when you’re in a heated argument and choose to step away – you’ll like see things from a new perspective. Except in this case, the heated argument is internal, and rather than explode or implode, you’re shifting gears and taking a new route.
Here are some of my go-to step away activities:
- Wash the dishes.
- Brush my teeth.
- Do jumping jacks, pushups, and twists.
- Walk my dog around the block.
- Put in a load of laundry.
- Vacuum one of my rooms.
You’ll see all of the above involve some form of physical activity and do not require a screen or any degree of intellectual fortitude. The inevitable result is that panic mode dissipates, I’m able to identify my immediate priorities, and as a bonus, I often solve a nagging problem. Magic!
It’s not magic actually, it’s physiology, but the shift certainly feels magical. You can either be a victim of your stress response or you can use it as an indicator that it’s time to shift.
I invite you in those moments of overwhelm, when you stop being productive, to practice the art of stepping away. A mere 5-10 minutes away from your screen can completely shift your attention and your day. What may have taken you three hours to slog through, you could come back to and plow through in 30 minutes.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes. Also let me know in the comments what your go-to moves are for shifting out of overwhelm.
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