Nothing is particularly hard if you break it down into small jobs. – Henry Ford
When a friend of mine had her first child, she felt completely overwhelmed by the concept of taking care of another human being for the next eighteen years. She was surprised by this feeling, since she had been such a planner in regard to having children. She read every baby book, went dutifully to her birthing classes and took her prenatal vitamins. She had a terrific husband who felt like a true partner in this major life change. Her parents even came to stay while they painted the nursery and set up the baby furniture. Even with all the preparation and support, when she was alone with the baby she would feel overwhelmed by the prospect that the next two decades of her life were tied to a tiny helpless person.
When I started my own practice, I was overwhelmed not only by the prospect of the unknown, but also by the amount of work I had to do. I had to send out a million emails, set up a web site, get two kinds of insurance, tackle several computer issues, buy office supplies, set up bank accounts, set up and attend many meetings, draw up a business plan and begin marketing. The first two months were a blur. There were not enough hours in the day to do everything I needed to do. It seemed that once I accomplished one thing, I would think of two more tasks to add to the list.
We can feel disoriented and knocked off center when faced with an overwhelming event, project or problem. Our reaction may be panic, anxiety or the extreme desire to fight – or flee. None of these reactions will help us, however and they usually make things worse.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. When you are feeling overwhelmed, take one small step to move in the right direction.
Break It Down
The best response to feeling overwhelmed is to take a deep breath and break the problem down into small pieces. Instead of focusing on the next eighteen years and tackling an entire childhood in one thought, my friend needed only to focus on the next day or two. She needed to change diapers, feed and burp the baby and then get the baby to sleep. She needed to repeat that a few times over the next couple of days. That she could handle. Worrying about the teen years would have to wait.
To set up my practice, I made up a list of priorities. I decided what I could accomplish in one day and what would be done later in the week. Writing out this list made me see what could get done realistically, what I could delegate to others and what would have to wait. That allowed me to calm down and take a breath.
A common method to dealing with debt, for instance, is to write down a list of all your creditors along with the corresponding amounts. Use any available money to pay off the smallest creditor first. This gives the debtor a feeling of taking control by reducing the number of creditors who need to be satisfied. Once one creditor is paid off, the monthly amount applied against that debt can be applied to the next creditor on the list in the next month. Now the debtor is on the way to be financially free – one small step at a time.
Ask For Help
Asking for help is also a vital element to feeling less overwhelmed. Reach out to others for support. They might help you brainstorm about the next step or they may provide you with emotional support so you don’t feel alone. Support groups are a great idea for those making their way through a major life change because it is helpful to see all the different way others have made it through the same change. When setting up my practice, I scheduled coffee with several other self-employed attorneys, so I felt I had resources to call upon when I hit a snag. The realization that I did not have to do everything myself takes away the feeling of being overwhelmed.
Focusing on self-care is an important component to feeling less overwhelmed, as well. When starting my practice, I had to force myself to stop working at the end of the day instead of continuing to work well into the evening. When I took care of myself and allowed myself to rest, I would start the next day feeling fresh and full of energy. If I had worked the evening before, I could not think as clearly or work as efficiently the next day.
When my friend had her first child, she had expected to be sleep-deprived but did not realize that she had forgotten to eat, drink enough water, get some fresh air daily and maintain a calm living space. When I visited her, I would make her drink a glass of water and eat a sandwich. Then, I cleaned up the living room and opened the blinds to let in the sun and open the windows to let in fresh air. These things seem so insignificant, and yet, forgetting the basics of self-care can make us susceptible to stress, anxiety and depression, adding to our feelings of being overwhelmed.
What is overwhelming right now? Take a breath. Before taking any action, break the problem down into small pieces. Make a list of each small step that will move you toward your goal. Ask for help. Treat yourself with a lot of self-care. Then, and only then, take the very first small step forward.