5 Steps to Beating that "Drowning" Feeling

“I feel like I’m drowning”
“I’m so overwhelmed”
“I don’t even know where to start.”

Not only have I been hearing this from other artists, but I’ve been feeling it myself! I've been doing some decluttering at home, dealing family needs, and then fitting my art business in the spare moments. These feelings and thoughts ebb and flow with the circumstances that come up, but I think this is a pretty common feeling no matter your profession or family situation. These thoughts and feelings can paralyze you, depress you, cause anger, frustration, etc. Not a great place to be, right?

How do you get through these seasons? Here’s what I’m doing to keep my head above water and find a calm rhythm and strategy for moving through the waters of life to where I want to be.

Change the Mindset– One of the first steps to dealing with the feelings of overwhelm and drowning is to address the thoughts that are making you feel this way. Write down or verbalize the thoughts you have about your current work load or situation. This takes the power of the thought away and makes it very clear what is going on. You can also journal about why you are thinking a certain thought. Keep asking yourself why until you get to the bottom of the issue. Here’s an example from my own life when I consider my current workload, family situation and needs.
“It’s too much, I can’t do this” why do I think this?
“Because I don’t have enough hours in the day to complete the things I need to do” why do I think this?
“Because I think I have to do all the things on my own or I’ll let people down.”
This process helps to dig down to the root issues that are causing the feelings of overwhelm. For me, it becomes clear that a couple things are going on: I am afraid to ask for help with the things on my list. My plate is very full, but does it have to be? I think I need to do all of this work in my own ability and strength.

Once I start seeing this, I can journal about it, pray about it, and talk with trusted friends and family about it. This allows for a clear mind to start the next process without exacerbating the feelings of overwhelm.


Brain Dump– Take some time to write everything down that you need to accomplish for your family, your business, volunteer positions, friendships, community, etc. You can create categories if that’s easier, but get it all down. Everything you can think of. The purpose of this is to declutter your mind just like I’m decluttering my closet right now. You pull it all out so you can see what's there and THEN you can figure out what should go back into your life and what needs to go. It is important during this step to be in a calm head space and to do this process objectively rather than emotionally. All you’re doing is downloading. The goal is not solving the problem (yet), but data collection.

Prioritize–Once you get it all out of that glorious brain of yours, it’s time to start organizing and deciding what is going to stay on your list of “to-dos” and what can be trashed and what can be delegated. There is also the option of creating a “future list” Only do this if you are able to truthfully put it aside for a future time and not have it clutter your current priorities. You can highlight things on your list that are MUSTS. Highlight in another color what can be given to someone else to do. And ruthlessly cross out the things that really don’t matter. Sure, they are nice, but they are NOT essential.


Assign Time– Now take a look at your MUSTS. Give each task an estimated time for completion. If it’s a pretty broad task like “update my website”...break it into measurable tasks like “upload new work,” “revise my home page.” These more specific tasks are easier to measure. Based on those time amounts, you can see how much time your MUSTS are going to take. Is it more than is humanly possible with your current job schedule, kid activities that are also staying on your schedule? Go back and ruthlessly delegate and eliminate more. When you have your MUSTS to an amount that you can look at and say “I can do that.” head to the next step.

Create a Space–Grab your digital or paper planner and start assigning your tasks some time in your life. This is critical. When you don’t schedule and create space, you won’t get to it and guess what….all that great work you JUST did isn’t going to mean anything. I like to create a MUSTS for the week and only schedule my tasks a week at a time. This is more manageable for my rapidly changing schedule and it also allows me to adjust my time amounts as needed.

These steps are something I use each week, each month and each day. I regularly have to revisit my mindset and rehearse what I know to be true. I regularly have to revisit my list of MUSTS, prioritization and scheduling. Life is dynamic, not static and we shouldn’t expect anything different.
As a bonus, I have one last step that has been very helpful for me. A daily Eval. Just a couple of pointed questions that help me take stock of how the day went and what I learned. You can download that 
right here.