Rethink Mental Health

Anything is Manageable in the Present Moment

By Bennett Crawford, MSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher

Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Sometimes, the demands on your time, attention, ability, and nerves can feel like ‘too much.’ However, when you take a breath, stay present, stay focused, prioritize, and take one step at a time, you can accomplish the task and manage the process with more ease.

Expectations—real and imagined—can leave you so stressed and overwhelmed that you become paralyzed with fear and worry. Here is a sample of some of the messages you might tell yourself: 

  • “I am so overwhelmed with the work I have to do that I don’t even know where to start!”
  • “This is too much. There is no way I can handle this!”

Can you relate? It is easy to feel overwhelmed when we are faced with multiple and competing demands and priorities. We become unable to think clearly and get stuck in a spiral of negative thinking. We worry about not completing what we set out to do.

One way to cope with being overwhelmed is to stop, take a breath, and focus on some small step to start with right now. Everything can be accomplished if it is taken one step at a time.

If the demand seems too big, make it smaller. 

The following method is very effective and can help anyone who feels overwhelmed.

  1. Stop and take some deep breaths. Whenever you notice you are getting overwhelmed and getting stuck in negative thinking, stop what you are doing and take a few breaths. You are not going to be able to think clearly if your nervous system is overstressed with worry and fear. Therefore, you need to take a ‘timeout’ and refresh your mind before you can move forward. Just tend to your breath and focus on the moment. When you do this, it helps you to let go of any thoughts of the future or the past that create stress or the feeling of being overwhelmed. Instead, you’ll connect more with your inner resources.
  2. What is the end goal? After taking the deep breaths, refocus your attention and reflect on what it is that you need to accomplish. What is the end goal? Take a few moments to make sure you are clear on this.
  3. Make a list of bite-sized tasks that will allow you to accomplish the end goal. Once you have some clarity around what the finished project will look like, take some time to break down your tasks so the project will not feel so overwhelming. This is what it means to ‘make your world smaller,’ to paraphrase Clark Kent’s mom. This step is all about making your project smaller and easier to manage.
  4. Once your list is complete, prioritize what needs to be done first. Compile a task list, and number the items based on their level of importance and urgency. As you complete each item, cross it off the list. Always focus on one item at a time, and when you get distracted, take a break and then come back to the task. It’s a little like meditation: Stay focused on the task at hand, and when you’re distracted, simply return to the task. If you need to take a break, do so and then come back to the task. It’s healthy and productive to take breaks, especially when you’re getting too distracted or overwhelmed. Once you’re refreshed, return to the task and complete the project.

If you are a manager or supervisor, you can help set your team up for success by using this same process to break big projects into smaller pieces and to give your team time to process the new projects.


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