How to stop feeling overwhelmed

bridge We were recently driving around Los Angeles for the first time when up ahead of us we saw one of the many massive highway junctions that we had only seen in movies growing up. Even though we knew what was coming, it still felt overwhelming to be presented with so many roads, leading to so many different places!

When you make life change you might find yourself looking at the large crossroads before you and feel crushing indecision, fear, anxiety, or even the desire just to stand still. Whether it's starting a diet, changing degrees, relaunching your career or pursuing any number of your dreams, the options are truly endless and these possibilities can quickly change from feeling like opportunities to obstacles.

Start with what you know

When you begin, the things you don't know often outnumber what you do. Start with what you know.

  • What do you want?
  • What does success look like for you?
  • What don't you like about where you are right now?
  • What are wanting to change? Why are you wanting to change it?

As you answer these questions, you will create a baseline for where you are starting, like a bright red "You are here" on a map.

Examine the options you know of

When you're looking up at that giant crossroads of intersections, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. We have to remember that each road does actually lead somewhere, and roads can be harder to turn off of than others. Begin looking at your options and take the time to work through where they lead will take you if you follow them. The more you examine, the more some options will naturally drop out.

If you're in Nashville wanting to head West but the road that heads directly west is closed for construction, it’s pretty obvious that this path isn’t the best place to begin your journey. And if you are in Kansas and want to see the Grand Canyon, you probably won’t want the road that leads North, unless, of course, that one takes you north for a while and then takes you west even faster. Also consider what you will learn on a slower path. Sometimes going back for an education seems like the longest route to our goal, but it will help us achieve our ultimate destination with greater success.

As the undesirable routes begin to drop out, the options automatically get narrowed down. Now you can look at the remaining options and ask the following questions:

  • Which route gets me there the quickest?
  • Which one has the least obstacles?
  • Which one do I have the qualifications or abilities for?
  • Which option looks like it offers the greatest payoff long-term?
  • Which one will I enjoy the most?

Start with 2-3 steps

Even seasoned travelers like myself can get overwhelmed with a long trip. The more connections there are, the more stressed out I can get. So when you start to feel this way, don't worry about the last 100 steps, but focus on the first 2-3. Waze doesn't list out all of the twists and turns and all of the potential obstacles before you even leave the driveway. They simply give you the next step....and you proceed on your journey one turn, merge, and obstacle at a time. This approach can easily be applied to life change. Here are a few questions to help with this process:

  • What is the most important thing that needs to be done?
  • What can I accomplish today?
  • What are the resources that I need?
  • Is there a chain of acquisition (for example: BA, MA then PHD)? Where am I in the process?

The journey of change is crazy and can go from exhilarating to exhausting within moments. We need to keep at it and keep moving forward. When we come up on these crossroads it's easy to suddenly be filled with doubt, fear, stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. The more clearly we have defined where we are heading and what we want out of the journey the more clearly and confidently we can continue on the journey. Safe travels!