In a 2013 study from the American Psychological Association, 61% of adults say that managing stress is extremely or very important, but only 35% say they are doing an excellent or very good job at it.
If we all know that it is important to manage stress, why are our coping methods so ineffective? What if there was a better way of restructuring the daily tasks, repetitive thoughts, and endless to-do lists so that we are not obsessively trying to keep up?
The amount of stress most Americans face can be considered overwhelming. In an effort to maintain solid ground at work, we often work longer and harder. Throw in a sprinkling of family issues and dysfunction, poor self-care, and lack of boundaries and our lives quickly feel out of control.
For some people, being busy and stressed is a badge of honor suggesting they are successful and important. For others, it is a repetitive wound that cannot heal. Those who find stress to be overwhelming often get stuck in negative obsessive patterns about it and find it difficult to slow down their ruminating thoughts.
Overwhelm becomes obsessive when:
- We wake up and the first thing we do is begin working—monitoring email, social media, and news—and continue until it’s time to sleep.
- We cannot figure out how to “handle” all of it.
- We cannot figure out how to get through a day without caffeine, sugar, or alcohol.
- We can’t sleep because we have an endless loop of daily to-dos that didn’t get done, or need to be done tomorrow.
- We wake up and cannot fall back asleep because our minds won’t shut off.
- We have a perfectionistic tendency to do it all.
- We want a more peaceful, slower life, but aren’t willing to give up something to get it.
If we obsessively think about and try to manage how much we have to do, why not just stop? It’s not that easy. We have learned that American society prides itself on being busy because busy equals successful. We nearly compete for it. Our lives are built around doing and having it all. We add more to our daily lists without subtracting unnecessary items. In addition, most of us don’t know what a healthy boundary looks like. The thought of being less busy makes us anxious. A healthy, balanced life seems like an oddity as well; there are not many role models and representatives to teach us.
Obsessive overwhelm can be calmed with a handful of simple, yet effective, tools. The hard part is implementation and repetition.
First, get out a sheet of paper. Using a pen, draw a line down the middle vertically and a line down the middle horizontally, creating four quadrants. List each of the four quadrants with a header, such as work, children, home, and personal. Now, create mini to-do lists in each quadrant for each category. Maybe your work quadrant has 20 to-dos and your personal quadrant has only one. This exercise immediately shows you what area of your life is more overwhelming and how unbalanced your life may be. Also, keeping your to-dos in one list streamlines the mind clutter of trying to remember it all. Be aware of what areas are creating unbalance and weighing you down.
Second, it’s as simple as saying no. Say no to new tasks that do not provide peace. This is where you will learn boundaries with yourself and others. Doing for others is a wonderful quality, but not when they can do for themselves and it creates overwhelm for you. Say no if they can do it themselves.
Third, do less in a day. If your to-do list looks like a novel, stop the overscheduling overwhelm. Remove all but three items per day from each quadrant. You’ll see how removing items will allow you to get targeted items done more effectively.
Fourth, do one thing at a time. Multitasking creates overwhelm. Schedule your time so that you group items together that are similar. For instance, make phone calls from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Pay bills from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Doing one thing at a time and accomplishing each task creates peace. Do not send email, for example, while on the phone, while waiting for water to boil.
Fifth, be mindful. When you start to feel overwhelmed again, check your list. Are you overscheduled? Examine where you can eliminate or delegate so you can be mindful of your wellness and stress level.
American Psychological Association. (2014). Stress in America: Are teens adopting adults’ stress habits? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/stress-report.pdf
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.