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System Overload: How to Deal With Feeling Overwhelmed

We live in a world riddled by choice — the first world, that is. There is so much opportunity at our fingertips, it makes decisions sometimes seem impossible. The more uncertain we are about our choices, the more our system becomes overloaded and overwhelmed.

Too many choices lead to overwhelm and indecision, which leads to self-doubt. We feel out of control, stressed, anxious, useless or worse — depressed. Most of the problems we create are out of sheer boredom. Our lives are too easy and too convenient that we end up catastrophising the smallest things, creating big, scary monsters that make us feel out of control.

How do I know if I’m making the right choice? What if I miss out on something? What if I make this decision, and it blows up in my face? We can drown ourselves in questions, but until we actually take the plunge, we will never know what’s on the other side.

Building self-awareness allows us to make hard choices and stick to them. There are no bad decisions, there are the ones we believe in and the ones we don’t — in the end, it’s all a learning experience.

Here are a few tricks to protect yourself from total system combustion:

1. Box breathe.

It seems simple, but we often forget, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed. Long, slow deep breaths. It grounds us in times of uncertainty. The breath is our anchor to presence. In through your nose for 1, 2, 3, 4. Holding for 1, 2, 3, 4 and exhaling through nose for 1,2,3,4 and holding for 1,2,3,4. It’s called box breathing and it has been used by all walks of life from yogis to firefighters to soldiers. Leave a post-it note somewhere you can see it to remind yourself to just breathe.

2. Write your thoughts down when feeling overwhelmed.

Your writing doesn’t have to be the next New York Times bestseller. It doesn’t really need to make sense. When we’re overwhelmed, we don’t think clearly and our emotions can often become erratic and all over the place. When we take those erratic emotions and throw them onto a page, we can then look at them as an outsider looking in — from a different perspective.

Thoughts take us down darker and darker rabbit holes when we keep them locked inside. In Brene Brown’s new book Rising Strong she calls this exercise an SFD — Shitty First Draft. Write down the emotions you’re feeling, how they’re manifesting in your body and what you’re thinking about. Write for about 15-20 minutes. Once you’ve cooled off, take time to reflect on what you wrote and what you can do differently next time.

3. Prioritize.

Make a list of what matters most when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Simple, yes. Effective, yes. You just have to actually do it. This can also be part of your writing therapy. It will help you decide what really needs to happen now and what can wait. We can’t do everything at once. We think that we’re really good at multitasking, when we’re just giving ourselves the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time. Read the book The One Thing by Gary Keller and you’ll understand what I mean.

4. Trust yourself.

It’s important to work on building enough courage to pick yourself up after you’ve fallen down. You’re overwhelmed because you can’t make a decision. Just make one and go with it! The circumstances don’t change, we either believe in the choices we make or we don’t. Watch this TED on How to Make Hard Choices.

5. Replace FOMO with JOMO.

Our fear of missing out has us saying YES when we should be saying NO in order to fulfil expectations we put on ourselves or the fear built around letting someone else down. This can cause you to feel overwhelmed. It’s important to be authentic and self-aware when identifying the right times to buy in or bow down.

Brene Brown said it best, “Every time we say yes because we’re afraid of missing out, we say NO to something. That something may be a big dream or a short nap. We need both.”

Replace FOMO with JOMO — The Joy of Missing Out.

6. Break your state.

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, we’re just thinking about me, me, me, me.We need to get out of our heads and over ourselves. The best way to do that is to break your state. Make a fart noise with your mouth or bark like a dog. Just do something ridiculous to get yourself out of your head.

And remember when you’re feeling overwhelmed, choice is a blessing, not a curse.

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