If ever there was a topic I knew a lot about, it would be overwhelm! And I know from my business owner friends, I’m not alone. Feeling overwhelmed as a business owner is extremely common.
So what can we do about it?
What is overwhelm?
Overwhelm is commonly used to describe a state where you are overcome with emotion rather than thinking logically.
It’s an example of stress, where we feel out of control and that we have too much to do. When we feel overwhelmed, we feel stressed, tense, irritable, and we can even feel that we just can’t cope.
I’m sure that you know exactly what it feels like for you. And, you’re categorically not alone!
When you feel overwhelmed, the stress hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are pumping through your body. These hormones are part of your ‘fight or flight’ survival response used by your body to keep you safe from danger (such as lions and tigers in years gone by!).
When you’re in a highly emotional state and the amygdala part of your brain has been engaged, your intelligence drops.
Stress temporarily makes you stupid! This is because the logical part of your brain switches off, and studies1 show that your memory is affected too.
If we want to work through our business challenges, it’s in our interest to calm ourselves enough to engage our logical brain again. Here are some practical strategies that I’ve personally used to calm myself down from overwhelm.
A) Immediate Strategies For Calming Yourself Down From Overwhelm
These are easy strategies that you can do right now to help you to take a mental break and reduce your feelings of overwhelm.
1) Write Everything Down
I’ve learnt this from a number of sources, but Mel Robbins explains it best.
By writing everything down, you do a ‘brain dump’ onto paper.
You move it out of your head. You then choose the 3 things that you must do today. Ignore tomorrow or any other day for now.
- Don’t create a to-do list.
- Don’t do more than 3.
- Just focus on those 3.
- Of course, you can do less.
Then do those 3 things, and nothing else for a while.
Oh, and make sure you reward yourself too!
2) Do A ‘Letting Go’ Exercise
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you simply have too much in your head. You’re spinning too many plates. Right now, you need to let go of some of the things on your mind.
In this exercise, you’re going to consciously breathe out for each thing you’re letting go of.
You can always come back to things later, but the idea is to free your mind of everything except 1 or 2 things that you’re going to focus on.
This is how it works:
- Think of something you’re going to let go of.
- Close your eyes, and take a deep breath for a count of 4 seconds
- Hold your breath for 5 seconds
- Slowly breathe out for 7 seconds, imagining that you’re letting go of this thing.
- Rinse and repeat for each thing you want to let go.
I often feel my shoulders physically feeling lighter when I do this exercise. I imagine each thing as floating on a cloud away from me as I breathe out.
3) Take A Mindful Break
Taking a break from your work is going to help you concentrate.
You can’t sprint a marathon, and the same is true of your work.
You need breaks.
The purpose of this break is to switch your mind to something else other than what you’re trying to solve. It can be anything from 10 minutes to a couple of hours. You can choose what works for you.
If you’re feeling guilty about taking a break (something to address another time), take just 10-15 minutes to rest your brain.
Some of the things that you can do:
- Go for a walk in a park or woodland, and notice every little detail, taking in deep breaths. Perhaps count trees or a particular type of flower that you see as you walk.
- Do some exercise. Either something vigorous such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to burn off your stress hormones or something like Yoga or Pilates to relax. YouTube is a great source of guided training when you want to do something immediate.
- Do something artistic, such as colouring or painting
- Crank up some cheesy music and do some singing or humming (evidence suggests that singing or humming loudly stimulates your vagus nerve to help calm your autonomic nervous system and reducing how stressed you feel. It seems to work for me)
- Play with your kids, pets, or partner†.
- Do some meditation – meditation has been repeatedly studied and shown to reduce stress and improve relaxation
- Do some cooking – I find that trying a new recipe is an excellent way to switch my mind off work. I use recipe boxes from Gousto to save time and to eat more healthily too.
- Do something kind – a random act of kindness switches focus from you to someone else. Go to the shop, buy someone a gift, and surprise them with it. Whilst you’ll feel good, you’ll probably make someone’s day as well!
(† I’ll leave this one to your imagination and interpretation. I’m keeping it clean!)
B) Medium-term Strategies For Reducing Your Overwhelm
Once you’re feeling calmer, it’s worth taking time to improve your working environment so that you have fewer triggers of overwhelm (and you feel you’re more in ‘control’).
These strategies will help you choose the right priorities and reduce your personal workload.
4) Join A Coaching Group
The right coaching group for you can help you in several ways, including:
- Solving your own problems. This is because when you help others with their problems, you gain new ideas for solving your own business problems.
- Getting valuable feedback on what you’re doing. Coaching groups can help you celebrate what you’re doing well, what you need to drop, what you need to prioritise, and more.
- Asking for help. Coaching groups usually encourage members to share problems so that others can help you solve them. Perspectives from other business owners can be incredibly helpful.
5) Get a Business Coach
A business coach is more of a 1-to-1 relationship, rather than a 1-to-many relationship that you’ll find in a coaching group. You’ll get similar benefits from a coaching group from a business coach. It’s simply up to you which you prefer.
There are some groups where you’ll get both the 1-to-1 help and the 1-to-many group elements too.
6) Hire Some Help!
You might want to hire an employee, a contractor, or an outsourced service in order to get extra resource. Hiring someone to help you is incredibly easy these days, and I highly recommend it.
You can’t do it all on your own!
Having worked out my weaknesses, I hired a Virtual Assistant (her name is Hannah). Hannah helps me to sort out telephone appointments and chase clients for me. It’s a huge time-saving and something I just don’t like doing.
If you hire a contractor, you can specify how many hours or days you need from them per week. Even if you have modest cashflow at the moment, an assistant can help free your time up so you can do your best work.
7) Price Increases
Price increases are often met with lots of resistance by business owners.
If you’ve got more clients than you need right now, simply increase your pricing.
You might lose some customers and clients, but you’ll gain more time and be better paid for the time you’re working. You can use that time to either rest or bring in new better-paid work.
If you have too many clients, keep increasing your pricing until you have the right number of clients for you.
8) ‘Sack’ Some Clients
I bet you have some clients or customers you really don’t like.
Which clients would you love to say goodbye to?
In a very simple exercise, create a spreadsheet, with 4 columns. Grade A, Grade B, Grade C and Grade D.
- Grade A – these are your best clients/customers. They pay well, respect you, and are fun to deal with.
- Grade B – these are good clients or customers, but they’re occasionally challenging.
- Grade C – these clients and customers are OK, but you have problems with them regularly.
- Grade D – these are your worst clients or customers. They pay slow, or they’re awkward, or they have unrealistic expectations. They cause you stress and hassle.
Right now, let go of the Grade D clients and customers.
Move them on to a competitor. Find them a new supplier.
Be kind, treat them well, and do right by them.
But do let them go.
Meanwhile, see if you can upgrade the Grade B and Grade C clients by understanding them better. Of course, if they downgrade to a D, let them go too.
I’ve done this exercise roughly every year I’ve been in business. It seriously helps me sleep better at night!
All of the strategies above are things I’ve personally done to reduce my own feelings of overwhelm. They genuinely work.
In a nutshell, it’s about taking a break and making your life simpler!
I challenge you to experiment with some of them, and see which ones reduce the overwhelm that you feel.
1. Dias-Ferreira, E., et al., Chronic stress causes frontostriatal reorganization and affects decision-making. Science, 2009.