With life comes demands.
Demands for our time, demands for our skills, demands for our energy, demands for our love, our attention, our sympathy, our money. You name it, the demand is out there.
Most likely, they’re all staring you in the face. Simultaneously.
You don’t need a research study to tell you these demands create stress.
This is especially true for those in leadership and management positions, where a daily to-do list can often look like a monthly goal sheet.
You might believe there’s nothing for you to do about feeling overwhelmed, other than put off dealing with it for another day.
After all, who likes a whiner?
Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re not a “whiner” just because you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The good news doing just a few things right now can help you stop feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
How to Stop Feeling Stressed and Overwhelmed
1. Do A Brain Dump
Have you ever suffered from racing thoughts?
I know. Who hasn’t, right?
Here’s something to try the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by an onslaught of thoughts. Simply grab a pen and paper and “dump” every thought onto it.
This isn’t the same as making a to-do list, or even a list at all. What you want to do is write down every thought that’s bothering you (it doesn’t even matter if you can’t articulate it well) as quickly as you can.
Don’t think about grammar, or whether a thought “matters enough” to be written down. Dump it all on the paper.
Now breathe a sigh of relief, and decide what within this dump can be accomplished within the next hour. Focus only on that task. Repeat for the next hour (only after you’ve accomplished the first task) and so on, remaining totally in the moment with your one task until it’s done, or no more can possibly be done with it.
2. Breathe Through Your Belly
I know this sounds like a “woo-woo” strategy, but trust me, it does wonders for stress and anxiety.
Now, when I mention “breathing through the belly,” I’m actually referring to breathing fully into the diaphragm. When done correctly, this causes your belly to rise and fall as the very bottom portion of your lungs are filled with oxygen.
To get started with belly breathing, sit comfortably and focus your attention on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. However, instead of breathing into your chest, concentrate on breathing deeply into your belly (you can place a hand on your abdomen to make sure it’s expanding).
Hold your inhales for a couple seconds, then exhale fully through your mouth, feeling your belly shrink back down.
Repeat for at least 10 cycles of breaths.
3. Learn to Say No
Most of us hate saying “no,” whether in fear that we’ll be seen as a slacker or due to our desire to help and/or please someone else.
While there’s nothing wrong with being highly motivated and caring about how others perceive you, not being able to say no becomes a problem when it interferes with your mental and emotional life.
Actually, you’re better off saying no to tasks that stress you out too much, simply due to the fact that your performance will probably suffer if you agree to something you don’t feel you can handle at the moment.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should say no to everything that gives you a little stress or challenges you. We all know that a small amount of stress is healthy for motivational purposes. But, when you have multiple deadlines at work and family obligations that are already overwhelming, saying no to additional tasks isn’t a form of slacking; it’s form of a sanity-saving.
Meditation is one of the absolute best (not to mention free-of-charge) things you can do to combat stress.
Most people get hung up on the idea of meditation, however. They believe they need to drive to a sacred space, chant a special chant, contort themselves into pretzel-like yoga poses, or otherwise embody the persona of “a person who meditates” to do it effectively.
This couldn’t be further from the reality of what you need when it comes to meditation.
All you really need is something to sit on in a quiet space, plus a little patience. You don’t have to do any wild mind techniques; simply sit in a space and still your thoughts for as long as you can.
Heck, start with just five minutes of sitting quietly. Try not to think about what you’re going to do today, or replay conversations you had yesterday, or think about what you’re having for breakfast. But it’s okay if your thoughts drift off. The point is to recognize when that happens and simply bring your mind back into the now.
If it helps, visualize a relaxing scene. Perhaps imagine walking through a beautiful forest, taking in the sights and sounds, but not dwelling on them. Simply let them be as you walk along a trail.
You can visualize almost anything as long as its relaxing and not work-related. Gradually increase your meditation time, working up to 10 minutes, then 15, and so on.
5. Set Up A Filter
This one is key, because if you’re not filtering excess (and unnecessary) information, the tactics we’ve already covered will only get you so far.
Why? Usually the main cause of feeling stressed and overwhelmed is dealing with too much of everything all at once.
Ironically, most of us thought that technology would reduce stress by making everything faster and more efficient. But it has actually increased our stress levels threefold.
Think about it: you wake up and likely do a few tasks before checking your phone. And then the second you tap your screen, you’re most likely hit with an information blizzard of emails, text messages, voicemails, Facebook and Twitter updates, etc.
And this doesn’t even include your to-do lists for the day.
Even the most laid-back soul is likely to get at least a twinge of anxiety trying to absorb all of this info.
In fact, research backs up this theory.
Too Many Choices = No Action
One study, popularly know as “the Jam Study,” confirms that the more choices (aka, info) a person is presented with, the more overwhelmed they become.
Participants were presented with two jam stands, one with 24 jams to choose from and one with only 6. Both groups sampled an average of two jams.
Here’s the funny part: while more people (60 percent) were drawn to the booth with more jams, only 3 percent actually bought jam. On the other hand, out of the 40 percent of customers that went to the small jam booth, 30 percent purchased jam (2).
The takeaway? With less information comes less stress and more ability to make decisions.
This is why it’s crucial to put up at least a few filters.
What kind of filters am I talking about?
You might consider turning off your email notifications, so you’re not constantly being bombarded by notifications. Or, consider limiting how often you check social media.
Any kind of filter that keeps floods of information at bay (or at least turns them down to a trickle) is likely to dramatically lower your stress levels.
Fitness and Nutrition Info Overwhelm
This is a biggie. Most people aspire to be healthy, to start a workout regime, or even just begin eating better.
But then you get hit with an overwhelming amount of information about these topics – which makes just thinking about getting healthy “the right way” can be stressful.
This is the major reason why I created my blog – to give you a deep and relevant understanding of the most important health, fitness, and nutrition topics without a bunch of overwhelming and unstructured information.
My goal is to give you an in-depth, evidence-based understanding of how you can overcome bad eating habits and create lasting health and vitality, without the overwhelm of the latest diet or workouts fads.
Cut Stress in Half
Integrating these techniques into your day is a powerful way to cut your stress levels in half and feel less overwhelmed as a whole.
As a side effect, you’ll probably also notice your relationships and home life improving due to your more relaxed and open demeanor.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.