How to Fight Overwhelm

The enemy.

The enemy.

If my job was to pick up acorns off the forest floor and put them in a basket, I would manage to get overwhelmed. I would worry about running out of acorns, or about having too many to fill the basket. I would worry that the squirrels were looking a little grabby, and their front teeth looking a little sharp. Am I gathering the acorns fast enough? Am I bending and reaching toward the forest floor in an ergonomic way that won’t permanently damage my back and acorn-picking muscles?

My point is that, regardless of time management skills and what responsibilities we have, getting overwhelmed is a habit for many of us.

We’re actually taught to be overwhelmed. In school, we learn to juggle wild amounts of classwork during the day, and then a small mountain of homework during the evening. This teaches us that free time is wasted time.

All this conditioning means we attach a kind of glory to having a lot to do, and not having much time to do it in. If you’re not juggling kids and a job and a marriage and another job and night school and coaching a kid’s sports team and maintaining meaningful friendships and cooking easy n’ elegant meals you saw on Pinterest–by God, what are you doing with your life?


If you get a full eight hours of sleep a night, you have no right to complain about anything ever.

We humans are creatures of habit. You know what happens if you have a drink after work for three days? You’re probably going to want a drink after work on the fourth day. And the fifth day. And so on and so forth.

You know what happens when you overwork, wringing every drop of productivity out of every hour in the day, or scheduling yourself so tight that you don’t have an hour to yourself? You get used to doing all that work. To having a booked schedule. To not having a single hour to yourself. Your body and your mind adapt, and it starts to feel normal. Even if you only do it for a few days.

If we do this, guess what happens when we do get a little free time? It feels wrong. We feel like Lame Lazybones.


"What do you mean I can sleep for eight hours? Am I not doing enough work?" Image by Mike Burns at Flickr Commons.

“What do you mean I can sleep for eight hours? Am I not doing enough work?” Image by Mike Burns at Flickr Commons.


Many of us are conditioned to being overwhelmed. We say we want time off, but the truth is, we don’t know how to handle that. We don’t know how to get it, or what to do with it when we have it. We can’t silence that voice in our minds reminding us of what we should be doing while we’re “relaxing.”

We need to unlearn that. We need to teach ourselves to relax.

The good news is that we’re creatures of habit. Yeah, I know that sounded like the bad news before, but it’s all in the way you look at it. If we can condition ourselves to overwork, we can condition ourselves to relax.

Here’s an idea–don’t do any of these three things at the same time: working, eating, or driving. Those should all happen at different times. I saw a lady eating a salad with both hands driving on the expressway. Don’t do that. Teach yourself that you have time to eat. And when you drive, nothing is more important than paying attention, okay?

Geez. Some of us really do need to teach ourselves that we have time to eat. I’m guilty as charged.

Here’s another idea–try blocking off a half hour every day, and taking it seriously. Don’t think of it as “me time.” “Me time” is for Lame Lazybones and people in McDonald’s commercials who enjoy their iced coffees a little too much.

Think of it as setting aside a half hour to tone your productivity muscles. Write “kickass productivity muscles” on your schedule. Read a book or play with a yo-yo during that time. (Don’t watch TV.) Then cross it off your to-do list when the half hour’s over.

If you can condition yourself to expect (and enjoy) that half hour of free time, you can eventually expand it to a full hour. If you can teach yourself that you really do have time to eat, you can learn that you really do have time to do everything important in life. You get the idea.


L. Marrick is a historical fantasy writer and freelance copywriter. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. She eats too much chocolate and still doesn’t believe downward dog is supposed to be a restful yoga pose. You can connect with her at either of her websites.

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