How to stop feeling overwhelmed and channel your powers for good, not evil
The bargain was this: Admit the anxiety as an essential part of yourself and in exchange that anxiety will be converted into energy, unstable but manageable. Stop with the self-flagellating and become yourself, with scars and tics.― Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety
Most humans have monkey minds from time to time; some of us have them more often than not. Monkey mind or “monkey brain” is a Buddhist term used to describe the easily distracted and incessantly moving behavior of our thoughts – jumping like a monkey from tree to tree, unsettled. It’s that voice in your head that provides the running commentary on your every movement.
Many of us who live with a barrel of monkeys upstairs have been forced to find solutions, and these strategies can be useful even for brains that just take an occasional trip to the zoo.
Here are some things that sometimes work for me when I get overwhelmed; I’d love to hear what works for you!
- Accept it and try to laugh at myself. Noticing when my thoughts are scrambled, saying to myself, yep, it’s a party in there, and just accepting it for the duration, helps a) shorten the duration and b) does not make it worse by fighting it.
- Knock off the coffee. Reducing caffeine when it hits, helps.
- Convert the energy. Sometimes being agitated can be useful if I redirect. I do the dishes. Clean out my emails. Go for a run. Call a friend. Sometimes it can be paralyzing though too, and in that case, I take a nap, or just go to bed early. Honestly, just root for midnight.
- Shrink the to-do list. I just pick 3 things I must do that day, and keep it all-inclusive (i.e. don’t pick 3 work things and 3 home things, just. three. things.). I’ve actually just started doing this regardless of my head’s condition. It does not mean I have other things to do, but just that I don’t worry about those things that day. Stop multitasking!
- Breathe. If I’m still breathing, really, it’s all good. I set a little alarm on my iPhone to remind me to stop and just breathe. If you pray (even if you don’t have any idea to what), it’s a good time to send one out. Ask for a little relief! Also see #4 here.
- Set up systems to help keep track and manage the “information.” Technology systems like taking notes on my phone, forwarding emails into a project management or CRM system (I use Highrise and Basecamp). Paper systems- I carry a notebook and pencil with me everywhere. I have a friend who uses sticky notes and puts them (and I mean hundreds) all over her wall, and another friend who uses index cards, and arranges them on his desk, throwing them away one by one as he addresses the issue on them. People systems. I am a huge fan of outsourcing things that drive me crazy. Big fan of Task Rabbit and Handybook, I’m working on hiring a virtual scheduler (recommendations welcome), and the best business decision I ever getting a bookkeeper on retainer.
And perhaps what provides the greatest relief for me, in addition to #1, are these reminders: 1) Just do my best, and my best is just what I can do in that moment, my best when I am sick or overwhelmed is different, but it’s still my best (thank you Don Miguel Ruiz!) 2) Just do the next right thing. Do what is right in front of me; sometimes I just need to do life minute-by-minute. 3) What is hurry? There is no rush. Really. Unless you need to get to the E.R.–then boogie.