It’s 6 a.m. and I’m still awake. Instead of feeling alive with the dawn of a new day, I feel like I’m already behind. There’s so much to do, so little time…how will I ever get through it all?! I’m experiencing the same thoughts I had as I fell asleep, and they replayed themselves in various catastrophic forms all through the night. No wonder I feel like I barely slept.
I’ve woken up feeling this way for many weeks now. Some days, it means I procrastinate on what needs to get done because it all seems too overwhelming. Other days, it means I buckle up and get through my to-do list, battling on and eventually feeling burned out. I look for a better solution but come up blank. My mind feels numb. I fall back into bed and pull the covers over myself.
It was a good thing I did. The fact that I felt incapable of facing the day freed up the mental resources to stay in the present, process what had been going on, and plan the way forward. It helped me put things into perspective and take a longer-term view of life—something we don’t get to do often enough, simply because the day-to-day always feels so urgent, so critical, and so much.
If life is overwhelming you now, or has the tendency to do so at various intervals, here’s some advice that may safeguard your sanity and physical well-being.
Change Your Perspective on Time
There’s no doubt that the pace of life has increased dramatically. Most of us simply cannot afford to sit back and listen to the birds chirp, or watch the clouds drift away. But many of us still spend an unreasonable amount of time hooked in to our devices that disconnect us from the wonders of the real world. Living in the moment changes our relationship with life, because as we begin to see with new eyes, time slows down and life begins to fall in place.
Lesson: Change the “I’m too busy” narrative.
Change Your Attitude Toward Stress
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s research on stress shows that it’s not always a bad thing. What makes it so is our attitude toward it. When I would wake up feeling there was too much to do, I would also subconsciously be telling myself that I won’t be able to get through it all. But when I began to consciously tell myself that this was something I was excited about, I could welcome the discomfort and the adrenaline that came with it.
Lesson: See problems as projects.
Change Your Perception of Your Tasks
Unless you’re super-disciplined, it’s only natural to end up with tasks that are both important and not so important. So it’s essential to do a spring cleaning every once in a while to stay focused on the meaningful projects. Divide everything you do into Do, Delegate, Defer, or Drop—then take action.
Reflecting back on life in one’s final days, I don’t think anyone has ever regretted not getting through their daily to-do list. But not staying true to what’s important is the biggest regret people carry.
Lesson: Simplify and prioritize.
Change Your Approach to Your Day
This one had the biggest impact on me—and science backs it up! When I began my day with a quiet 2-minute gratitude practice, I could calm the frustrations of the emotional mind that forever seeks better and more, and be grateful for what I already had. We’re all wired with a negativity bias that makes it difficult to appreciate what’s already working and what’s already there—unless we intentionally do so.
Lesson: Regularly reset your mental clock with gratitude.
Change Your Relationship with Yourself
We’ve gotten used to thinking of our bodies as machines that perform the tasks that get us through the day. However, the body is also a source of guidance and wisdom, and the protector of our souls. When we don’t look after it, we can get disconnected from our values and the larger meaning of our lives. This is especially important in times of stress, because not even a machine can function well when it’s not taken care of.
Lesson: Listen to your body’s needs throughout the day.
None of us can stay constantly revved up in the long-term. Like the seasons, our internal clock needs to go underground to prepare itself for the challenges we face and the opportunities that lie ahead. And unless we respect its need for rest and renewal, life will overwhelm us, because we’ll have little to give back to it.