Keeping a to-do list helps me prioritize what I have to get done each day. But like many entrepreneurs, I often spend more time focused on my business than I do myself. That works fine for a while. But week after week of long work days inevitably leaves me with no time to rest or re-energize. Soon I’m thinking less about my business and more about how to stop feeling overwhelmed.
It’s easy to know when you are feeling overwhelmed. You become more tired than usual, or irritable, or maybe a bit forgetful. You may start having trouble making good decisions. Ironically, we often think that we can pull ourselves out of these moments of stress and anxiety by doing more. The thought of stopping what we are doing and changing course terrifies us – won’t we fall even further behind? How will we ever catch up? We all have our own justifications. But they rarely work.
Pushing ourselves to work harder might seem like a great way to get back on schedule until we find ourselves falling further behind or even burning out. My experience is that doing less is more when it comes to trying to stop feeling overwhelmed. Even a small change in my schedule can help me to refocus my energy where I really want it to go.
One thing that has helped me in my journey to stop feeling overwhelmed is to seek advice from other entrepreneurs who have managed to strike the balance I want for myself. I have found that the seven steps shared in this post are good ways to get control of my feelings, instead of letting them control me and my business.
Find the Source of Your Stress
We all know that some work days are more hectic than others. Impromptu meetings and a deluge of emails can make any daily schedule fall apart. Knowing that you have a deadline to meet in the middle of all the chaos can make time management seem impossible. Soon you start to feel a little tight in your shoulders. It’s official – you are stressed.
Psychotherapists recommend naming our feelings whenever we are struggling with our emotions. Naming our feelings allows us to notice them and deal with them. Once we’ve acknowledged that they exist, we can find ways to cope. Rescheduling a staff meeting, putting off less time-sensitive emails to another day or turning on your out-of-office reply for an hour or two can all free up your schedule.
As entrepreneurs, it seems counterintuitive to say no to anything connected to our business. The last thing we want to do is alienate a colleague or a potential client. But even seemingly small tasks like catching up on email can be too much if we are in the middle of a project or trying to meet a deadline.
A good way to stop feeling overwhelmed throughout the day is by agenda-setting. Working off an agenda builds structure into your day, allowing you to compartmentalize tasks. You might want to block off time to check email instead of dropping whatever you are doing and responding when you are in the middle of something else. Or you may want to hold short morning staff meetings instead of trying to track down team members individually on deadline. Soon you will find you are able to work smarter – without working harder!
Check Your Perfectionism
The beauty of owning your own business is having control over what happens to your brand day to day. That doesn’t mean that you should agonize over every detail that comes your way. Most of what we produce at work is subjective, meaning there will always be room for improvement. Knowing when to stop and say that good is good enough will help you stop feeling overwhelmed.
Our tendency to seek perfection is often rooted in our fear of failure. Perhaps you are worried that even a small mistake will hurt your reputation as an entrepreneur. Our worst fears come out when we are overwhelmed. Bringing any worst-case scenario out in the open can help to put our fears – and our perfectionism – to rest.
Delegate to Others
Assigning an important job to someone else can feel awkward when you are an entrepreneur. No one knows your company better than you, after all. It might even seem easier to do the job yourself than rely on another person to do it. But delegating tasks is part of your job, too – and a good way to structure your workload so you can stop feeling overwhelmed.
A good place to start is to clearly state your expectations for the project you will delegate. Once that’s done, assign the job to someone with the skills and knowledge needed to best do the work. Ask that individual to check in with you at various points throughout the project so you can make sure the job is on schedule. You don’t want to micromanage, but you do want to make sure the individual feels comfortable coming to you with questions they can’t answer themselves. A good outcome will make you feel better about delegating work in the future – and may even bring your team closer in the process.
Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
If you have ever felt your neck and shoulders stiffen when you are worried or upset, you are aware the mind-body connection. The trick is to learn how to interrupt unpleasant emotions that cause you to feel stressed. Luckily you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and drive to the nearest yoga class when you want to stop feeling overwhelmed. Meditation and mindfulness can be as simple as focusing on your breathing, or feeling the weight of your body in your chair. You just need to figure out how to be present.
Focusing on your breath, or sounds, or sensations in your body helps you to be present by allowing you to focus on the now – not on what happened yesterday or might happen tomorrow. I notice that my capacity to deal with whatever comes my way has improved by meditating 20 minutes a day on a regular basis. For those 20 minutes, I am completely in the present moment. Setting aside time to be present a few minutes each day will hopefully help you, too.
Challenge Your Assumptions
We all come into business with our own internal critic. Sometimes the messages we replay in our minds help us avoid pitfalls, like a risky investment or hiring the wrong person. Then there are those limiting beliefs – verbal cues that do nothing but discourage us from moving forward. Challenging these thoughts and beliefs is important if we want to pull ourselves out of feeling overwhelmed.
Limiting beliefs are easy to identify. They are all-of-nothing thoughts and beliefs (“It can’t be done,” “We tried that and it failed,” etc.) that reappear when you become overly stressed. I challenge my limiting beliefs by reminding myself that worst-case scenarios are rare.
Keeping perspective helps pull away from these beliefs and do what it takes to stop feeling overwhelmed.
Take a Break and Go For a Walk
Something as simple as a short walk can also help you to clear your head and get a fresh perspective on a situation. Walking increases our heart rate and our breathing, which helps us get rid of extra energy that might be weighing us down. Exercise also releases endorphins into the brain, elevating our mood.
Sure, taking a walk will add a little more time to your already busy day. But the payoff will be worth it if those extra 10 or 15 minutes leave you feeling better emotionally.
A Final Word on How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed
Being an entrepreneur leaves most of us feeling overworked and overwhelmed from time to time. It doesn’t matter if you have been in business for two months or 20 years. We all have to-do lists that seem never-ending. Although we may never be free of our stress – and who is? – following the steps in this post can help us get through the hard days and stop feeling overwhelmed.
All seven of these tips are pretty sage advice on how to handle work stress. A few of them (mindfulness, challenging our assumptions, going for a walk) have brought me almost immediate relief when I am feeling overwhelmed. The goal is to relax and refocus our energy where we want it to go. Over time, we should see changes for the better – both in how we feel, and in our business.