Read My Mind

When Overwhelmed: Do The Next Indicated Thing

by Roger Nix, NMMNG Certified Life Coach on Oct 15th, 2013.     3 comments

one-small-thingOne of the most common experiences of people who suffer anxiety is feeling overwhelmed. I remember the same feeling – and fear – whenever a term paper or taxes were due or in any situation that seemed too big to tackle.

The feeling that I had to have the whole operation “figured out” before I could even begin paralyzed me. I’d be so overwhelmed that it would trigger the fight-or-flight response, and I usually chose flight.

For years I’d wait until the last minute to face these tasks, then block out all other endeavors and, with an exhausting effort, just make the deadline.

In the end I’d opt to fight and force myself, through fear and emotional violence, to just get it over with. I could finally set my perfectionism aside, because it had become more important just to get the damn thing done than salvage my ego’s desire to do an exceptional job.

I’d then usually get the job done but be completely out of balance. I wouldn’t have eaten or slept well, so I’d be prone to getting sick. Both fear-driven avoiding and taking action would flood my body with adrenalin and then its counter, cortisol, robbing my immune system and other biological functions.

I now understand that this tendency signals a person who might have ADD, with which I have since been diagnosed. It is also common to those who have high sensitivity to anxiety and believe imperfection is not acceptable – both of which drive procrastination.

You may relate to the panic and feeling overwhelmed when faced with a task you’re not confident about. It may be something new, such as starting a business or learning a new software program critical to advancing at work. It may be something at which you’ve failed in the past, such as changing a bad habit or dating.

You may tend to compare yourself to others and notice they seem to do with ease things you can’t, so you conclude something’s wrong with you. You may want to make sure you won’t fail, so you avoid the pain of potential failure.

You may have many reasons to put off a “dread” project, but they all stem from the same place: your fear that overwhelms your senses and ability to act. You freeze, which is also part of the fight-or-flight response.
There is a simple way to interrupt this painful cycle, so simple you might discount its power. And it’s as powerful as it is simple.

Here’s its three-step process:

  • Slow down and breathe. Relax the tension in your body and mind for just a few minutes.

  • Commit to spending just a few minutes to an hour on the project, no matter if what you do is good enough or even useful. Just commit a small amount of time, just for today.

  • Ask yourself what’s the next thing you need to do to advance the project. An outline? Reading and researching? Buying a tool? What is the very next thing? Then do It.

That "next thing" is all you have to deal with at this time – and at all times. Just do that one thing, because, truly, that’s all you can do anyway. You don’t have to solve the whole problem; just take one small step. You may not even complete that next step in the short time you’ve allotted, but that’s ok. Finish it now if you’re on a roll, or do it tomorrow, repeating these three simple steps.

Do this every day, giving yourself an occasional day off, and soon you’ll be feeling in control, even excited to get to work.

Simple small steps relieve anxiety as you realize that all you have to do is the next indicated thing. This way, you’re doing your best, and that will offer its own reward.

For more tips on how to deal with anxiety, consider taking my class “Fierce Relaxation.” It will teach you a gentle but powerful approach to transforming fear, panic, paralysis, and frustration into knowing that you can handle whatever comes your way.

Topics: Anxiety Consciousness Facing Fear Living in The Now Self-Soothing


Meowbie says ...
Thanks for raising this topic. It's something I have struggled with forever! I don't know if attention deficit is involved, although I'm willing to explore that angle. For me, it's like you described: getting overwhelmed by the big-picture view. Classic INFP vulnerability.

Re your "next thing" approach: I first landed on this idea via GTD (Getting Things Done), but I still found myself getting stuck. More recently, I found inspiration in BJ Fogg's "Three Tiny Habits" program, which encourages micro-actions as building blocks of sustainable habits (e.g. flossing one tooth). I now give myself permission to break down my task steps even further (e.g. open Word doc, type 5 words) ... whatever gets me through my inertia. A little journaling beforehand also helps.

I want to get more comfortable being "down in the weeds". I feel a certain sense of anxiety at times when I don't stay present to the small task at hand. A part of my mind habitually wants to ruminate about the big overall task. I think your relaxation step will be useful to remember for me.
Abrazos says ...
Good stuff!
Thank you Roger Nix.
This is very helpful.
Now to apply and grow into it.
Igor says ...
I´m really stuck at my tasks right now, most because of the huge anxiety I feel when I approach them. Thanks for the tips!