How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Take Control of Your Life

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

-Lou Holtz

My husband and I were going through a phase where our house management to-do list was longer than the Declaration of Independence. Too much to do. It was time to take control of our lives.

We had an old (beloved) car sitting in our driveway we couldn’t part with.

We had another car that needed to go to the shop for a broken heater.

Our son’s bedroom needed to be repainted for the third time because of contaminated paint.

Packages needed to be sent.

Emails needed to be written.

Flights needed to be booked.

Clutter needed to be cleared.

“Calgon take me away!”

No this wasn’t a flashback to an 80’s commercial for bubble bath, nor was it a national disaster.

It was just “little stuff.” No big deal. We should be able to handle this, right?

However, the little cracks of life were starting to make us feel as if a tidal wave was headed our way. We had too much to do and it was affecting our family.

When There’s Too Much to Do

Small stuff like running toilets, dripping faucets and burnt-out light bulbs can cause our life force or prosperity to decrease, according to the ancient tradition of Feng Shui. Research shows us that getting things done improves our emotional well-being. In a recent psychological study, learning time management skills decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression in peri-menopausal women.

The truth is, little things can subtly annoy us. Piled up together, they can make a big difference in our life. Every now and then, we reach a point where it’s time to take control of our lives again.

Taking Control of Our Lives

When we are feeling overwhelmed and like we have too much to do, the organizing guru The FLY Lady recommends designating one day a week as Procrastination Day. This is a day we set aside to check off those things that aren’t must-dos today, but all together could equal the force of an avalanche.

Facing Buried Emotions

Sometimes what is mounting an attack against us aren’t undone tasks, but more subtle things like buried emotions, negative thoughts or destructive habits. We may not realize that the real reason we feel so crabby, depressed or anxious, is that we aren’t facing or dealing with a feeling that has been bothering us for a long time.

Individually, having too much to do might not seem like a big deal, but over time, these things affect our confidence, emotions, and other people in our lives. Ignoring them can negatively change the course of our lives.

When we finally decide to take control of our lives and face what we’ve been putting off, it can feel like pulling the Invisibility Cloak off Harry Potter. There he is, plain as day.

When we create the time and space to really be present and hear our truth, we can stop the floodgates from bursting open and wreaking havoc on our lives and give ourselves the gift of a fresh start.

Five Steps to Taking Control of Your Life

Whether the leaks in your life are from real physical issues that have gone untended for too long, emotional baggage, or both, here are five steps that might help.

#1 Face What You Have to Do

Make a list of what ails you. Write them down. Don’t hold back. With a name, we can claim. We can’t address what we don’t know.

After you’ve written it all down, read it. Then, try completing these sentences:

“Yes, this is true for me, and I need….”

Writing our feelings down in a journal can help to get our worries outside of our inner realm into the outer realm of action. It can also help to share what is bothering us (whether an undone to-do, or festering emotion) with someone we trust, and allow ourselves to be witnessed.

#2: Find Personal Meaning In It

Look at your list and think about the benefits you will receive when you accomplish the tasks. Research on chronic procrastinators suggests that the key to overcoming procrastination is to find personal meaning in the tasks that we do.

How will you feel when the tasks are done?

How will accomplishing these task positively affect your confidence and energy?

Will there be any other benefits related other things you view as important?

How do the tasks relate to your values?

#3 Choose one thing to take control of

When faced with a leaky dam, we have three options. One is to continue ignoring the leaks and hope they go away by themselves. Two is to break the whole blinking dam down and start again (a.k.a. major life crisis). Option three is pulling out some putty and starting with one leak. Patch it up. Move to the next. And perhaps say a prayer or two along the way.

We can’t do everything at once. We have to choose what is bothering us most, or perhaps what seems easiest to achieve and focus on that first. It doesn’t matter as much what we choose as the fact that we are committing to action. Sometimes the only way to move is to take a baby step forward.

The one thing that never works, however, is not making time. Choose one thing. Decide when. Schedule it. Stick to it.

For some, clearing a weekend or taking a day off may be the only way we can get things done. For others of us, we need to do one thing a day, or set aside 15 minutes in the morning or at night to take care of business.

When we are dealing with emotions, we can still make a plan. We can schedule an appointment with a coach or therapist. We also might begin a daily practice like meditating, journaling or going for a walk. The key is to make the plan simple, perhaps committing to do the task at the same time each day.

# 4 Make a plan and follow through

I don’t know how many times I’ve started something with gusto, then have gotten distracted and forgotten to follow through. I think this happens to all of us now and then. Let’s face it. Life is busy. I make a phone call, send an email, and check it off my list. Not in my court anymore. Yippee! Moving on…

The problem happens when the other person doesn’t respond right away or at all. After all, we have too much to do. We move onto other things. Maybe the other person dawdles getting back to us. (After all, we all procrastinate. We are all leaky valves in someone else’s life.) When they finally return our serve, it’s taken so long that we’ve completely lost interest, or have totally forgotten our next step.

It’s important to have a system so we can return to our taking control efforts again if we get interrupted. We can leave ourselves notes, a breadcrumb trail to where we were and what our next step needs to be.

Something that has helped me get things done is sending a quick email with meeting notes and action items. I’ve even sent a follow-up email to myself that I save in a specific folder. When the project rears its head again, I can open the folder remember my next step. Notes on a phone or calendar work well too. Everyone has their own systems. Trust what works for you. Keep it simple and stick to it.

#5 Complete and repeat

Once we have finally get something done, it’s such a huge sense of relief! We can actually check it off our list.

When we finally sold our old car and the new owner happily drove away, I was surprised at how much space it opened up, not just in our driveway but also in our lives. The truth is, however, when one thing is done, we aren’t. Like a tennis game, life is continually sending us serves we need to return.

Having a regular maintenance practice to take care of things that need to get done as well as our own well-being is essential to feeling happy, healthy, and protected by the stability of our inner and outer fortresses.

photo credit: johnkworks/shutterstock

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *