Many of us linger on the things we wish we could do better, more frequently, or at all. Sometimes, we find ourselves feeling “stuck” and unable to move forward—or in any direction. Delving into what keeps us in this state, paradoxically, feels like it may only fan the flames. When this occurs, we might notice we are frightened, nervous, anxious, or confused. More often than not, there is a sense of overwhelm in this condition. The overwhelming feelings then cause us to feel even more paralyzed and we find ourselves more and more rooted in the sense of inability to take action toward the things we look to build in our lives.
This process raises the question: How do we stop procrastinating? Each of us may have experienced an occasional bout of discomfort with intermittent procrastination, yet some find themselves continuously battling the cycle of overwhelm and procrastination with most of their goals and deadlines. With repetition, not only can this become exhausting, but it can feel almost threatening to strive for goals as well as take on projects—even if they are required of us.
An important thing to keep in mind is procrastination is representative of a bigger underlying factor. In order to address procrastination, it becomes imperative to look at the underlying issue. Often, feeling overwhelmed presents as procrastination. In other words, if we are feeling engulfed by what might be required of us, it may feel impossible to take any action toward those tasks. To facilitate circumventing procrastination, we need strategies for keeping overwhelm at bay.
One reason we may feel overwhelmed by our tasks and goals may be that we are intimidated by carrying out the task or what it might entail. We may find ourselves thinking the task is too complex or that the stakes are too high. This can lead us into a numbed state or hiding from the activity. At times, we might even find ourselves fixated on it, even becoming irritable, and yet unable to take any action. From this point, as the deadline approaches, we may find ourselves becoming even more and more rooted in fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and inaction.
The antidote is to break the task down into much smaller chunks. As we become overwhelmed, it can become more and more difficult to take notice of the smaller pieces of a task or activity. Overwhelm tends to come from stacking too many parts of the same task together. It can be invaluable to break tasks down to the point of noticing the obvious things you can do that are in front of you. Making use of coping skills and mindfulness tools can help us find an aspect of the task to break down in this way. In doing so, we begin to tip the mind-set scale away from the shut-down and paralyzed state that the overwhelmed feelings brought on. Furthermore, we begin to show ourselves that we can make progress—even if we are not quite done, we have started.
Feelings of overwhelm can lead to a state of paralysis. This, in turn, can compound the stress and anxiety we might experience in response to challenging tasks.
This leads us to an additional strategy for overcoming overwhelming, paralyzing feelings: getting started in the smallest increments possible. We often find ourselves believing we must devote big blocks of time to effectively complete our tasks. Yet, this approach can preclude us getting started and increase our anxiety, stress, and sense of feeling overwhelmed. Getting started with a restricted 5-minute block of time can allow us to begin making a dent in the task in a less pressured way, allowing us to even perform better than we otherwise might have.
Another consideration as we navigate our tasks when we are overwhelmed is where to start. Many of us convince ourselves that we must start with the first step. Yet, this first step may feel elusive to us or perhaps we are just unsure of what it is or how to do it. It may help to start with aspects of the task we do know how to accomplish. As a result, we find ourselves having begun, which alleviates some of the pressure, stress, anxiety, and difficult feelings. At the same time, we begin to see progress and our confidence in our ability to keep moving forward may increase.
In the same vein, if we find ourselves making mistakes along the way, it can be helpful to keep moving forward and correct our mistakes as quickly as possible. Doing so begins to train our mind that forward movement and correction are the way we respond to errors rather than with defeated inaction. Hence, we come away with a mentality that mistakes are not what ultimately matter, but rather, our reaction to the mistakes.
In sum, feelings of overwhelm can lead to a state of paralysis. This, in turn, can compound the stress and anxiety we might experience in response to challenging tasks. With this in mind, we can take steps to ensure overwhelmed states are mitigated so we can continue to build on what we value in our lives.
If you need help managing stress and overwhelm, consider working with a therapist who can teach you the skills you need to stop procrastinating and start moving forward.
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