Too Much to Do and Other Things That Keep You Up at Night: 6 Ways to Tackle Stress, Reduce Overwhelm, and Improve Well-Being
Do you feel like you’re juggling too many balls in the air?
Life is fast-paced with many responsibilities, challenges, and struggles. Sometimes stress can have a positive impact motivating us toward peak performance and action. At other times stress and life’s juggling act – meeting deadlines, anticipating a transition, balancing childcare and/or eldercare – can interfere with how we feel, how we live our lives, and how we sleep at night.
According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2018 Stress in America survey, money and work lead the list of significant causes of stress with 64% of adults – almost two-thirds of those who responded – reporting money and work as top stressors (APA, 2018).
Yet stress and overwhelm can come from many sources. Other common culprits include relationships, health, losses, life changes, current events, the state of our country (APA, 2017), and discrimination. And on a daily basis, let’s face it, many of us are juggling too many balls in the air with all of our routine responsibilities and challenges. We can feel overwhelmed, fearing that at any moment we may lose our balance and the juggling act could come tumbling down.
6 Ways to Tackle Stress, Reduce Overwhelm, and Improve Well-Being
We can begin reducing our stress and regaining our balance with these six practices.
1 – How satisfied are you with the components of your life? Given your goals, responsibilities, and challenges, how can you shift away from overwhelm and toward greater balance, fulfillment, productivity, and well-being?
Ben Dean, Ph.D., psychologist, coach, and President of MentorCoach, LLC identifies ten pillars of a balanced life (1999). These domains include profession, finance, physical environment, spirituality, intimacy, family, social supports, fun/play, growth and learning, home/office, as well as overall life satisfaction.
Dean and Robert Biswas-Diener offer a strategy to look at these ten areas of life (2007). Explore each domain, one at a time. Consider your experience using a scale from one to 10 to identify your satisfaction level with each. Write a word or sentence summarizing your level of satisfaction in each area. Which domain calls for your attention? In which area of your life could a small change improve your sense of well-being?
If you’d like to work with the Pillars of a Balanced Life in more detail, it’s a tool I offer my coaching clients, and I’d be happy to help you learn to use it to reach your most important goals.
2 – What’s most important to you? Choose your priorities. Sometimes everything seems important and the to-do list can feel endless, containing tasks that we need to do, want to do, or should do.
I recently worked with a coaching client named Cynthia (not her real name). Cynthia’s level of satisfaction with fun/play in her life was quite low – she gave this area a 2 on her Pillars of a Balanced Life. She felt that she was either working or taking care of an elderly parent much more of the time than she liked. Cynthia decided to raise her self-assessment for fun/play to a 2.5 in the next 30 days by taking 2 hours each weekend just for herself – to do what she wanted to do – a massage, a walk at the lake, lunch with a friend. Cynthia’s action plan: On her calendar each week she created an appointment with herself called “Fun for Cynthia” – She typed it in bright green ink.
For example: Fun for Cynthia – Walk at the Lake Saturday 2:00-4:00 pm.
Have you been neglecting an important aspect of your life? What would it take to nudge this area just a bit higher? What small shift can you make in your priorities in the next 30 days to help you get there?
Here are a few questions to help filter your priorities:
- What’s the best use of my time right now?
- Which tasks will bring me closer to the outcomes I desire?
- Which tasks will help me strengthen my relationships and connections?
- If left undone, which tasks will have significant negative consequences, and which will not?
Set some priorities. Then take a few moments daily or weekly to evaluate how you’re doing and go forward from there. One reasonable step at a time.
3 – Remind yourself to have realistic expectations. Expectations that are unrealistic can cause us to feel overwhelm, stress and exhaustion, compromising our effectiveness.
As you look at your to-do lists, pause and ask yourself a few questions, such as:
- What can I realistically expect from myself given that I have 24 hours in the day?
- Will this task make a difference in a week, a month, a year?
- Given my priorities, what’s important now? What can wait? What can I delete or ask someone else to do?
- Is there a less extensive expectation or goal that would meet the need and still satisfy me?
- How can I accomplish this even if it takes a while? For example: I’ll take 15 minutes for myself 3 times per week. I’ll clean out the garage in stages. I’ll take one class each semester rather than two.
4 – Ask for help. Instead of trying to do everything yourself, ask for and accept help. You might be surprised at what people are willing to provide. Ask for help, experience the sense of relief, and share your gratitude for the assistance.
5 – Find rest in contemplative moments. Pausing to notice our intuitions, emotions, and feelings, and cultivating contemplative or spiritual practices can enrich our experience and reduce feelings of overwhelm. In a 2016 Gallup survey, 89% of respondents replied yes to a question asking if they believe in God or a universal spirit. The concept of spirituality has different meanings for each of us – and there is no “right” answer. What practices fit your sensibilities and traditions that might help you take a moment of rest, liberate your heart, or open a space for contemplation, inspiration, and greater inner peace?
Neuroscience research is showing that as we engage in new thoughts and behaviors, we are changing our brains (Hanson, R., 2018). Stress can us keep from thinking clearly and cause us to be reactive rather than planful. Taking quiet moments to get back on track – less caught up in imbalance and overwhelm – can help us learn to respond in new ways.
6 – Practice gratitude. Acknowledging the goodness in our lives helps people deal with adversity and experience more positive emotions. A daily gratitude practice can help us shift from an overwhelm mindset to a more positive worldview (Emmons, 2003; Seligman, 2005).
Try this: Think of three to five things that went well today. Reflect on what you are grateful for or what went right. It can help to write these down and be specific (Seligman, 2005; Emmons, 2003).
We always have choices and each day is a new beginning.
- American Psychological Association (2018). APA Stress in America Survey: Generation Z stresses about issues in the news but least likely to vote.
- American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: The state of our nation. Stress in America Survey.
- Biswas-Diener, R. & Dean, B. (2007). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
- Dean, B. (1999-2005). Pillars of a Balanced Life. Bethesda, MD: MentorCoach, LLC.
- Emmons, RA, et al. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 2003): Vol. 84, No. 2, pp. 377–89.
- Emmons, R.A.(2007). Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
- Gallup News (2016).: Survey “How Important would you say religion is in your life?”
- Hanson, R. with Hanson, F. (2018). Resilient: How to grow an unshakeable core of calm, strength, and happiness. New York, NY: Harmony Books.
- Seligman M.E.P., et al. “Empirical Validation of Interventions, American Psychologist (July–Aug. 2005): Vol. 60, No. 1, pp. 410–21.
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Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, PCC, CMC is an ICF Credentialed Professional Coach, Psychologist, Educator, and Speaker. Ilene helps people live their best lives by bringing mind, body, and spirit into flow with their strengths, callings and potential. She inspires clients to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons. Find Ilene online and access free resources at http://ileneberns-zare.com.
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