An Antidote to Overwhelm

My inbox is overflowing with emails decrying the latest scandal or program cut, with newsletters promoting crucial stories, with action alerts urging me to write, call, sign, march, donate. I am overwhelmed with the number of issues that matter to me and the volume of urgent political fires that need extinguishing every day. I care deeply and want to do all that I can. But I simply don’t have enough time or energy to handle every crisis or concern that inundates my inbox.

Are you feeling the same way? Are you overwhelmed and wondering how to deal with the deluge of Must Do’s lurking in your inbox, generated from planning meetings, marked on your calendar and waiting on your reading list? I’d like to share some good news with you, a few reality checks, that may serve as an antidote for your overwhelm.

Here’s the first reality check in the Overwhelm Antidote. There is no way any one of us can deal with everything that is being turned upside down right now by the Trump administration and other powers in the world. We simply cannot. So I encourage you to stop putting pressure on yourself to do the impossible. You cannot fix everything no matter how much you want to or need to.

Why is that good news? You may think this sounds like giving up. It’s not. Realizing that we can’t solve every problem frees us from the burden of “doing it all” and lets us embrace the things that we can do and those things that are most important to us. I have found that I’m much more effective when get in this mindset. I’ll use my email overwhelm as an example. When I get caught up in the story that I’m super human and need to be active on every front, I flag all of the Must Do emails at the beginning of the day, with the intention of addressing all of them later in the evening. But the list becomes so daunting that I put it off and, despite guilty feelings, eventually delete the messages to make room for the next day’s onslaught. I come to dread my inbox and feel too overwhelmed to tackle any issue. Rather than doing something, I end up doing nothing except trashing emails and feeling bad.

I’m much more effective when I take a different approach. I give myself permission to focus on one or two Must Do’s a day and try to let the rest go. I’ve found for me that doing something, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing. And doing one thing I feel good about is better than dreading the long list of Must Do’s that I know I’ll never get through. When I stop beating myself up for the all the things I’m not doing, I have more emotional and physical energy to be better engaged in the things I am doing.

I must confess though, I’m making this sound easier than it is. While I do feel good about the actions I choose each day, the long list of issues I try to let go of still weighs on me. I worry about whether the few things I am doing are really making a difference when there is SO much to do. Left unchecked, that worry can easily become overwhelming too.

The second reality check in the Overwhelm Antidote is to remember that we are not alone in this mess. There are hundreds of thousands of other concerned folks in the country who are speaking up and taking action. They are people like you and me, who are carving out a little time every day to tackle a few Must Do’s. It’s the collective power of all of those small actions that will bring about change. I admit, it often feels like what I’m doing is just a drop in the bucket, a lonely “plink, plink” of ineffectiveness. But when I see myself as part of a community faucet that is dripping into that bucket every day, I realize that eventually there will be so many drops falling into that bucket that it will fill and overflow. We can’t predict who will be that drop that starts the cascade of water or when it will fall. But as long as the water keeps dripping, the water will flow. Who knows, you may be that drop of water that starts the cascade, that enables big change to happen! So, please do what you’re called to do. Do what you are able to do today and let go of the rest for a while.

Finally, give yourself permission to feel good about the things you’re able to tackle. Recognize the value of your contribution, the importance of your showing up and taking part in the healing of our world. It’s tempting to minimize the few things we do because of the enormity of the need. But that thinking strips us of our power to make a difference. I keep this quote from Mahatma Gandhi on my desk as a much-needed reminder of the third reality check in the Overwhelm Antidote:

“Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it.”

Who am I to argue with Gandhi?


photo by Carl Dwyer

Updated: January 20, 2020 — 3:54 pm

1 Comment

  1. This one hit home for me. Thanks for this!

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