Your heart is racing. You can’t breathe.You have DO SOMETHING. So you try to focus, but everything swims and gets blurry.
No, I’m not talking about the American political situation.
I’m talking about your To-Do list, which seems to have spiraled out of control and gone on a bender and stolen a car and caught on fire. Oh wait, is that just MY To-Do list?
Sometimes we need a little help to snap out of overwhelm and get ourselves moving again.
Yep, even I, the Queen of the Queen Sweep systems, sometimes end up in this terrible state of panicked paralysis.
A combination of travel, snafus, and just plain LIFE tipped me right up to the brink the other day. I was staring at my daily compass (my version of a To-Do list) in total terror, feeling the minutes tick by, each one leaving me further and further behind because I JUST KEPT LOOKING AT IT.
There was SO MUCH to do that I couldn’t figure out WHAT to do first. It was tempting to flush my phone down the toilet, put on an episode of Nashville, and hide from the kids– just for a decade or so, you know?
But instead I pulled up my big-girl panties, took a breath, and did the three things that I knew would help.
Even though I didn’t feel like it.
Because I NEVER feel like it.
(But I’ve learned to do them anyway, ESPECIALLY when I don’t feel like it, because they WORK.)
SNAP OUT OF OVERWHELM, STEP 1: Get it all out of your mind and onto paper.
I know, you don’t POSSIBLY have time to do that. Dammit.
I understand, I do, because if you had time for self-indulgent luxurious things like journaling you wouldn’t be reading this damn article to begin with and you have WAY too shit on your plate to——. I get it. I do. I do.
HOWEVER. Do it anyway please.
Your clarity is your most potent superpower, and you can’t think clearly ABOUT things when your mind is also SWIMMING WITH those things. You are all crowded claustrophobic zoo aquarium instead of wild and free and zooming across the ocean.
So write it all down: everything from those big huge nauseating things that you should have done six months ago to that one specific email that you HAVE to remember to send today before you do anything else. Jot down that thing you keep forgetting at the grocery store and the fact that you really need to get your roots and your nails done. And little tiny goals like SOCIAL JUSTICE and SAVING THE ENVIRONMENT, get those down too. Get it allllll down.
I’m not going to lie, this is going to feel just terrible. You will keep pulling sticky strands out of your own mind only to discover that there are whole swamps of molasses trees with big sticky root systems in there. It will feel impossible, and you’ll feel a growing panic at how many MORE things there were lurking in your mind than you even KNEW and now there is even more to do and ohmygodohmygodohmygod– but listen, honey, just stick with it and keep breathing and get it all down until ten minutes have gone by or your vision clears. Whichever happens first.
SNAP OUT OF OVERWHELM, STEP 2: Get some perspective.
Hold that terrifying swampy piece of paper in your hand and look at it. Feel your feet. Notice that they are still on the ground. Look around the room. Is anything actually, physically on fire? If so, put it out. If not, notice that that’s pretty good news.
Are your children actually starving? Are you trying to find a place to sleep tonight? Is anyone in the emergency room or intensive care? If not, that’s downright FANTASTIC news.
If so, notice that somehow you seem to be carrying on anyway, which is also exceptionally good news.
Yeah, there are probably some things on that list that require your attention in the next 3 – 24 hours. But I bet there isn’t an actual tiger chewing on your foot right now. We’re going to explain this nicely to your brain, who is confused about the difference between those things.
You can do this by taking deep breaths, softening your gaze to take in all the room instead of focusing intently on one spot, and finding your own heartbeat (yep literally, I mean finding your own pulse). These send powerful signals to your sweet terrified mind that you’re not in any physical danger and you’d like your neocortex back, please.
IMPORTANT ALERT: This step is mandatory. You MUST take a moment to calm your nervous system down before you can think clearly. it’s not indulgent or a waste of time; it actually brings the smart part of your brain back online.
SNAP OUT OF OVERWHELM, STEP 3: Remember who you truly are. Then be ruthless.
When we’re in an overwhelmed panic we’re focusing on all the things OUT THERE that need us.
We’re tuned in to what our boss needs, that email from a client, the paperwork the government wants, the hopes and fears and dreams and needs of a whole clamoring world outside us.
Just for a moment, pull all your antennae right back in.
(It’s okay, I promise, they’ll still be there in three minutes.) Instead of paying attention to all those things outside you, reorient yourself back inside yourself. This may feel strange; many of us live outside our bodies.
Imagine that you are coming to roost right inside your own magnificent head, right inside that spot between your eyes, and then drop down into the center of your own chest, and then drop down even further, into your gut, and then right down into that sacred power spot between your legs. Close your eyes for a second. Feel what it’s like to be right there, inside yourself.
Then open your eyes and see the world from YOUR own perspective. Keep breathing.
Now ask yourself, who are you, really?
You are a soul, a spirit, a dancer, a fire, a dragon, a being. You are a writer, a breather, a prayer, a heartbeat. You are spirit incarnate. You are beauty in motion. You are all those endless, beautiful, powerful things. Also you’re a total epic fucking badass.
And you get to decide what is MOST important to you in this life.
Look at your list again. Circle the three things that matter MOST to you.
I know, it ALL matters. Of course it does, or it wouldn’t be there to begin with. But if you HAD to prioritize them, even if you had to prioritize them imperfectly, which 3 would be at the top? If you’re agonized with indecision, just pick three at random. I’m so serious. Then, cross anything off that really doesn’t matter quite so much in the larger scheme of things.
Honor your own clarity. When you come from the core of yourself, you aren’t heartless– you are FULL of heart.
So from that state of clarity, I beg you, BE RUTHLESS. If it’s not truly important, let it go. Push it to next month. Start a list in your phone titled “Good things I might want to do someday but just make me feel overwhelmed and guilty right now.”
And now, beauteous one, now that you’ve remembered that you’re an epic fucking badass, go do those three things. Don’t even look at anything else on your list until those three are done.
Then, tomorrow, do 3 more.
It sounds simple, but it’s actually profound.
On a personal note, I’ll do the same, okay? And Monday I’ll have something new for you. Something delicious. Hint: Writing this missive, sending one important email, and finishing that thing I have for you on Monday were my 3 most important things today. And next up is going and luxuriating in watching Anne of Green Gables with my kiddos. Because I’m remembering who I am and what’s truly important. I hope you will do the same today.