The Swiss Army Knife for Getting Overwhelmed Less

Jul 25 2020
They can’t kill you and they can’t eat you. - Brad Feld 

This is an ongoing collection of actionable tactics you can use, the next time you feel overwhelmed. It is a map of techniques that have worked for many others. Your mileage may vary. Choose what resonates with you, ignore what doesn't work well.

Chances are, much of the content here is what you already know. But in the heat of moment, it can be hard to keep a cool head and do what's most effective. This post is designed to be a tool-kit you can quickly reach for, with ideas that you can act on right away.

This is not intended to be a rigorous or clinical approach. But rather a pragmatic one. If you continue to experience mental health issues, consider seeking professional help.

I plan to continually update this , so it can serve as a quick reference for the community. If you have any suggestions/additions, tweet at me .

Life isn't easy. I'm rooting for you!

Identifying the sensations

Most of time when you get overwhelmed, it is not a from a single event or trigger. Rather, it is a confluence of a range of sensations. The more jumbled up your sensations are, the harder it is to pinpoint and address the issue.

Instead of dealing with an overwhelming medley of sensations, divide and conquer . Tease apart your feelings, into components that you can examine individually.

Enumerate the sensations you are feeling.

As each sensation arises, write it down. Or talk through it. Often the mere act of putting a powerful sensation into words deflates it. And when the same sensation arises in the future, you will be more familiar with it.

This list of emotions by psychologist Paul Ekman, and the interactive tool , may help.

Notice and acknowledge your sensations. Step out of the frame.

Instead of attaching your identity to your sensation, experience yourself in third person. Some may call this mindfulness.

Resources that can help with this: Waking Up by Sam Harris, Headspace 

Emotional anchors

Our brains are great at making associations. Use this property to bring yourself back to the more favorable states that you have experienced.

Mementos that bring you back to fond moments in the past.

I have playlists and photos that can transport me to particular moments in the past. Living abroad. Travelling with family. Fooling around with friends. It usually leaves me with a deep sense of gratitude that dwarfs the issues I am facing.

Remind yourself of your vision of the future. Look forward.

Maybe it was a vision of the future that motivated you to start doing what you are doing. Tap into that version of the world that moves you. Revisit that projection of what things could become.

Look around you. Be present.

What do you notice in your surroundings? A desk. A laptop. Trees. People drinking coffee. You are here. You are safe.

On good days, write down your story.

The story you tell yourself, about who you are, where you are going. This can help counteract the doubts and negative thoughts, and not lose sight of matters to you.

Review your inspirations

You likely have a few influencers in your life whose messages really speak to you. Their narratives resonate with your mission and inspire you. Replay these moments of inspiration. It can be a podcast episode featuring someone you look up to, notes from a mentor, quotes from your hero.

Do something else

Call a friend.

We human beings are social creatures after all. Talking with someone about how you feel can take your mind off of it. And who knows? Maybe light bulbs will go off in the process.

Reach out to your communities.

Sometimes it can feel like you are by yourself, and no one understands you. But with the internet, there is a community of like-minded people doing whatever it is you are doing. It is hard to do things alone. But you don't have to.

Feed your brain: Read a book. Watch an educational video.

Stimulate your mind with different forms of enriching content. Feed your curiosity. Expose yourself to serendipitous learnings.

Work on an unrelated project.

Creativity is about connecting otherwise unrelated concepts together. Working on something else might just spark new ideas for your current project.

Just take a break and do nothing.

Don't feel guilty about it. Play the long game.

Changing your physiological state

You know how you feel totally different when your body is doing different things? Well, use that to your advantage when you're feeling overwhelmed. Get your body to do different things.

Take a nap.

Even 15-minute nap at your desk can sometimes work really well.

Exercise when you're feeling overwhelmed.

A few sets of push ups. A short jog. Get movin'

Take a hot / cold shower or bath.

Hot baths are common across multiple cultures. It can be an effective way to destress and comfort yourself.

Cold showers tend to shock you right out of your current state. Some say they give a boost in energy as well.

Eat some healthy snacks.

Good food makes everyone feel good.

Go on a walk.

Feel the sun (or rain). Look at some trees. Notice the world around you that isn't your work.

Drink a bit of coffee (or other forms of caffeine).

For some people, being caffeinated at the right level gives them the feeling of being able to take on any challenge.

Don't drink so much coffee.

It may be challenging to tune out the noise when you are jittery and hyper-sensitive.

Feeling lost?

Sometimes we can feel stuck. It can feel like nothing we do now matters. We don't see a clear path forward in our line of sight, to go from where you are now to where you want to be.

No one can predict the future. You don't need to figure it all out - just what to do next. Then you can learn and reorient.

You may be able to see the mountain top, but the path to get there is a winding one.

Your headlights let you see just 200 feet ahead, but you still get to your destination.

Taking care of yourself

This section is as obvious as it gets. But I'm leaving it here as a reminder.

One-off tactics can be useful. Though it is also important to care for yourself in an ongoing process. Your brain too is an organ in your body. Living a healthy lifestyle can be more effective than any nootropics or biohacks you consume.

Eat well. 

Drink enough water.

Exercise regularly.

Are you getting enough sleep?

Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep in a day. Here are a few ways to improve sleep from academic sources .

I have deliberately left out productivity tips in this post, and focused more on the approaches that make one feel better . There are tons of resources on the internet on how to delegate, organize, and be more effective with your time.

Keep moving. You've got this! 💪

Hope you enjoyed this post. Let's stay in touch.