Feeling overwhelmed is something that all of us experience – in our personal and professional lives.  There are times when being overwhelmed is a good thing – experiencing something extraordinarily beautiful or gracious.  Today, though, we’ll be talking about the uncomfortable type of overwhelm that most of us wish we could avoid.  Let’s look at some ways we might reframe this idea of overwhelm in order to better manage or even prevent it in the future.

Overwhelm is often described as having more to do than you think you can effectively handle (an assessment on your part).  Often it is a function of being overcommitted.  You find that you have made specific ‘promises’ to yourself or others, that you aren’t going to be able to deliver on, at least not in the way you had planned. 

I’d like to add two additional considerations to the overwhelm equation.  The first is expectations.  Are you in a state of overwhelm because you perceive that others are ‘expecting’ something of you that you cannot produce, or you are expecting something of yourself that is unattainable? 

Or, is the sense of being overwhelmed actually a problem with energy management?  All projects, efforts, initiatives have a flow of energy to them.  How we manage that flow is directly connected to our ability to fulfill our commitment, or not.

How do you respond when you feel overwhelmed?  Most of us will immediately move into the “Do More” strategy.  “Maybe if I get up an hour earlier, or stay at work longer, or do this at the same time I am doing that…”

 The DO MORE strategy is the most primitive and often looks like this

            Work hard -> Work harder ->burnout

Not pretty… and you don’t get passion, innovation, satisfaction or learning from this!  This is an expense to you, your family and friends and to your organization.

Often we are unaware that we are in a state of overwhelm until things get ugly.  What cues show up for you that let you know you are headed there?  Are there specific emotions that arise when you are feeling overwhelmed? Anxiety, fear, anger, are common, and none are conditions that promote excellence or well being.

Have you ever done a check in to see what happens when your body goes into a state of overwhelm?  For many of us, there is a feeling of

–         Contraction

–         Heaviness

–         Orientation downward

–         Losing  your vision

–         Not being open

Or maybe it is a mood that you recognize?  In your house or workplace, do any of these moods arise?

            Heroic – “I’m going to put in the extra effort!”

            Hopeful –“I don’t know if I can get it done, but I hope so”

            Fantasy – “No problem, everything’s fine.”

            Resignation – “No matter how hard I work, this just isn’t going to happen.”

            Cynical – “It won’t matter what I do anyway…”

            Resentful – “I should never have been put in this position to begin with!”

I’d like to close with some practices for you to consider when overwhelm is overcoming you:

If Commitment Management is the issue

–         Declare a breakdown!

–         Delegate

–         Renegotiate

–         Defer

–         Clarify promises

If Expectations Management is the issue

–         Check in with yourself and others.  Is this expectation grounded?  If More is your story, what is ‘enough’.  What will you be satisfied with?

If Energy Management is the issue 

–         Get help

–         Request resources

–         Build skills – develop strategies that help you focus

–         Reorganize

–         Make a commitment to renewal

–         At the end of a project, let go of what needs to be let go of in order to let inspiration in


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