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It’s the Season of Overwhelm. Here’s How to Get Through It (Without Breaking Down).

September 12, 2023 Jennifer McCollum
The Season of Overwhelm

As summer winds down, many of us are returning from vacation feeling not so much rejuvenated as stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. When we step back into the office, we’re greeted with an overflowing inbox, a lineup of emergencies to field, and a rapidly multiplying to-do list. The fact that we’re heading into the final quarter of the year only adds to the pressure.

I hear this story from a lot of women. Believe me, I get it. Right now, I’m staring down a daunting lineup of trips, keynotes, and other activities surrounding the launch of my new book, In Her Own Voice. Do I feel daunted? Well…maybe a little.

The great news is I love my job. I am fortunate to do this work with an amazing group of people. I also have a very supportive partner who takes on a very fair share of our house and family management duties. That reality will carry me through this stressful period and allow me to emerge stronger on the other side. Still, at times like this, I do need to manage my fear, purposely shift my mindset, and zero in on what it will take to move productively through the overwhelm.

I sat down and asked myself a few questions. Maybe they can help you the way they help me.

  1. Have I gotten through tough times before? Is this one much different? Think of challenging projects you’ve accomplished in the past and “impossible” deadlines that you did in fact meet. If you succeeded then, you can succeed this time too.
  2. Is this a way of life for me now, or is it a short-term problem? When we lack perspective, it can be easier to fall apart rather than embrace the challenge. Chances are, this hectic period is short-term. (If you do feel overwhelmed 24/7, that’s a different story. Sometimes we do have to reinvent ourselves…and we can.)
  3. Can I see the progress I’m making? Be diligent about working on your to-do list. It is vital psychologically to have a visual record of what’s done and crossed off. Seeing what you can— and do—achieve creates momentum and keeps you going.
  4. What could I delegate? You might think you’ve delegated all you can, but go through your list again. Maybe there’s something else you can move off your plate.
  5. Am I wired for this level of activity, mentally and physically? If not, how can I rewire myself? Get yourself strong and healthy. Eat foods that keep you energetic and clear-minded, not sluggish. Drink plenty of water. Prioritize your sleep. Make time for exercise (at least a brisk 20-minute walk every day). You might think you can’t afford to take the time for self-care…but now is exactly when you can’t afford not to.
  6. Am I focusing on today or obsessing about the future? I heard a story where a Navy SEAL was asked, “Is there a way to predict who will make it through the grueling training and who won’t?” The SEAL responded that, while people think it has to do with a superior fitness level (both mental and physical), that’s not really it. Those who make it are the ones who focus only on what’s right in front of them and block out the future. You spend a lot of your time in the water, and you are cold and uncomfortable. They pull you out, warm you up, and you go right back in! Those who think, I can’t do this for six months! are the ones who fail. Those who think, I just need to get through the next hour, tend to prevail. Don’t process all you have to do at one time. Laser-focus on the present, jump in, and start knocking things out.
  7. Am I grateful? What I said earlier about feeling fortunate to be where I am? That’s important. Gratitude is a source of energy and joy. Every day, reflect on all that you’re thankful for, write it
    down if you need to, and trust (and be grateful) that you have what you need to get it done. It’s so important for us to realize, on a heart and soul level, that this is our life. There is joy to be
    found and savored, even in the challenging moments. We have all suffered from the “push through” principle, believing that life will be easier, better, more satisfying when this period ends. Here’s the challenge with that: It doesn’t end. Instead, if we’re not aware, we can end up wishing our life away, chasing elusive satisfaction.

This is the week, project, school year, stage that we have. What is life giving you that you need to learn? Can you embrace it?

As The Byrds noted, there is a season for everything. Vacation season is over, for now. It will come back around soon. Now is the season to lean in, get the work done, and enjoy the journey you’ve been preparing for all along.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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