“I am overwhelmed.” Have you told yourself this lately?

Stop right here, and know this: that the feeling of overwhelm is a state of being, not who you are.

This emotional experience of overwhelm occurs when you believe the stress you’re experiencing is too great to manage. Ask yourself: do you tend to say you’re overwhelmed as a way to check out? It isn’t always the outside world that is responsible for producing this feeling, but rather your internal emotions and thoughts.

So, what can you do about it? Here are five actionable steps you can take to remove overwhelm from your life.

1. Stop saying you are overwhelmed.

You have likely heard the phrase: your thoughts become words, your words become actions, your actions become who you are. When you say you are overwhelmed, you are inviting yourself to be just that: overwhelmed.

Your self-talk does more than affect your confidence; it may actually be rewiring your brain.

Research has found that imagining an action or belief over and over can have the same effect on your body physically, meaning that if you imagine yourself winning, you are truly more likely to win. This is why visualization and verbal affirmations are so impactful with athletes and performance. However, visualization can be a double-edged sword, because if you continually visualize bad things happening, you tend to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Practice positive self-talk, and refer to yourself in the third person. This will put you in the mindset that gives you the psychological distance to facilitate self-control and better perspective. It’s time to quit saying “I am overwhelmed” and instead talk like you are speaking about a friend, “Ashley, you are going to work through this problem, I know you can find a solution.”

2. Become more self-aware.

Your sense of overwhelm may be triggered by a recurring theme or event. Begin to notice whether there is a common thread between this feeling and what is happening around you in the moments you experience it. Perhaps it’s a specific person, environment, topic or need that triggers the sensation. Ask yourself: what is it about this person or situation that triggers my inner sense of overwhelm? You might find that your suffering is due to the unconscious choices you experience.

If you find overwhelm hits most often when you are thinking about the future, whether it’s an hour away or years ahead, shift your focus to being in the present moment. All there is is now… And now… And now.

Tune in to what your body is feeling, and what task in the present moment that you can execute on to move forward.

3. Reduce the number of options in your life.

The number of choices available to us on any given topic has become immense. In fact, I almost mentally shut down the other night at the Cheesecake Factory when I realized the menu was almost 30 pages. Options are a blessing and a source of overwhelm! This is why it’s key to reduce the number of decisions you have to make every day if you can.

Have you ever noticed that top execs and industry leaders like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and even Dr Dre always wear the same clothes? Often they’ve commented that their choice for repetition in their outfits is that they’re aware of how important their brainpower is, and how focusing on trivial things, like what colour shirt they put on, pulls away from it. A person’s productivity can suffer as a result of using energy to make irrelevant decisions.

Begin to cut out unnecessary decisions as much as possible. If things like what you eat, what you wear and where you work out each day can be made for you already, it allows your time to be spent focused on the more important things and you won’t tread into overwhelming as often.

Make a list of ongoing tasks in your life, and ask yourself how you can build in some automation or repetition to spare yourself the unnecessary decision fatigue.

4. Take action.

Being overwhelmed can feel paralyzing and leave you wanting to curl up into a ball. But once the rush has passed, you don’t have to stay that way. 

Do that one thing that helps you step away from your thoughts and be totally present in the moment. If you don’t know what that thing is for you, commit to discovering it. Come up with a list and explore. This could be playing music, painting, learning a new language or playing a sport.

5. Explore professional help.

At the end of the day, if your sense of overwhelm has begun to affect multiple aspects of your life, it may be time to turn a qualified professional. A therapist can help you understand what stressors and situations are the root cause of this uncomfortable mental state, while a career or life coach like me would focus on your goals and providing tools to release the overwhelm that keeps you from them. Different professionals will offer different techniques. It may be helpful to explore certain forms of therapy that incorporate meditation and breathwork and where they teach techniques to help you self-soothe.

Overwhelm is no joke, so be sure to ask yourself what is really at the root of yours. It’s time to stop letting the outside world impact what you control inside of yourself.

Remember, you have a choice about how you feel. Choose wisely.

Source: Forbes. Reproduced for educational purposes.