How To Cope When There's Too Much To Do

by Toria Sheffield

I think it's safe to say a lot of us can feel like everything is just too much at times, and it means that having some go to ways to feel less overwhelmed in our coping arsenal can be extremely helpful for maintaining an overall sense of balance and well-being. We've all had times when work has felt unrelenting, or when we've overcommitted ourselves to too many people and projects and suddenly there just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we need to do.

On his website Zen Habits, zen author Leo Babauta said, "I think the tendency for most of us is to say 'yes' to most of the things coming into our lives. Maybe it’s that we’re too nice to say no. Maybe it’s that we are overly optimistic about how much we can get done. Maybe we don’t want to look bad by saying we can’t do something. Or maybe we’re afraid to miss out on opportunities by saying no." However, he noted that this can lead to incredible feelings of stress and feeling overwhelmed.

In addition, in an article for Psych Central, psychologist Marla W. Deibler said that feeling overwhelmed often manifests itself in a variety of unpleasant symptoms, like anxiety, anger, and irritability. It can make us extremely unpleasant to friends and loved ones, and causes us to feel worry, helplessness, and doubt.

I don't know about you, but these descriptions hit very close to home for me. I often find myself taking on more than I can comfortably handle — and all too often it's the people around me who suffer most and who have to deal with my meltdowns. If this in any way feels relatable to you as well, these seven coping strategies for times when you're feeling overwhelmed may provide some relief.

1. Take A Step Back

Babauta recommended taking a step back for a few minutes when we start feeling overwhelmed. "In order to make the decisions necessary for cutting back, you need to take a few minutes to clear your head and think. Stop whatever you’re doing (or if you can’t, then schedule 30 minutes for sometime today), and take some time to consider everything you have going on." Babauta also recommended taking a walk and getting some fresh air if you can.

2. Make A List

Babauta suggested making a list of every single thing we need to get done — even the little things, like buying cat food. "In order to make good decisions, you’ll have to see everything at once," Babauta said. This is a tip that always makes me personally feel better. Something about sitting down and actively listing what I need to do instantly makes me feel more organized and clear-headed. I can go to feeling like I'm drowning to feeling as though I have a conscious plan of action within minutes.

3. If You Can, Eliminate It

In an article for Forbes, personal and corporate efficiency expert Erika Anderson suggested questioning our assumptions about what really needs to get done, and if something isn't really necessary, eliminate it. For example, you might have "organize my desk" on your list of things to do this weekend — it's a task you've desperately wanted to get to for weeks and this was the time you were planning to do it. However, if other tasks and obligations have shifted, then simply push it back, and don't be hard on yourself about it. Anderson said to ask yourself, "Does this really need to get done?" and "What would happen if I didn’t do it?" whenever unsure if something really needs doing.

4. Learn To Say No

Anderson also stressed the importance of saying no. "Learning how to say no — diplomatically and graciously, but still no — can be a life-saver. Many of the people I coach and work with who are the most overwhelmed simply don’t know how or aren’t willing to set reasonable boundaries for themselves, and so end up committing to much more than they can reasonably accomplish," she said.

In another article for Forbes, productivity expert Frances Booth recommended simply thinking of all of the other things you'll be saying no to when you say yes to a person or request in front of you. Is it dinner with friends? That valued night in organizing your room? This can help give you the fortitude to say what you need to say in the moment.

5. Do The Quick And Simple Things First

On a piece on coping with stress on The Huffpost Blog, life coach Elyse Santilli suggested getting the simplest things on your to-do list done first. "It goes against the traditional wisdom of prioritizing the most significant things, but getting a few of the simplest tasks completed will shorten your terrifying to-do list, make you feel like you're making progress, and get you back in the flow of taking action," Santilli said.

6. Don't Multitask

Santilli also strongly urged readers not to multitask, saying that studies have shown that multitasking simply does not work well. "You may think you're writing an email while chatting on the phone and occasionally checking on dinner all at once, but in reality your brain is constantly switching from task to task and back again." Instead, Santilli recommended focusing on one task at a time, and give it your full love and attention. You will be amazed how quickly (and well) you get things done when you work in this single-focused way.

7. Adjust Your Attitude

In the same Psych Central article, Deibler said it's important to give your perspective a readjustment when you're starting to feel totally overwhelmed and acknowledge that your anxieties are actually making it more difficult to get everything done. Instead of giving into panic when you look at a long to-do list and think, "I'll never get this done," Deibler recommended asking yourself, "In what ways might this [thought] be inaccurate, unreasonable or unhelpful?” and to re-frame your thoughts into something more like, “It seems overwhelming to me right now, but if I break it down into smaller parts, it may be more doable.”

The stress and helplessness of feeling overwhelmed can truly affect our quality of life, but it's important to remember we're usually entirely capable of getting everything done. It's often about creating a plan of action, reminding ourselves to say no at times, and reframing how we think about the tasks at hand. You can do it!

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