My client Amy recently asked for help because whenever she got overwhelmed at work, she’d freeze as if her brain had blown a fuse. She’d find herself mindlessly clicking a retractable pen for minutes at a time, or frantically scrolling through documents without even seeing them. Her brain’s power grid was overloaded, so the result was like summer in the city when everyone’s running an air conditioner: the lights flicker, and then go out.
Sound familiar? When we’re overwhelmed, we can’t function. It may seem silly: why do we let our brains be hijacked by a to-do list? You brain doesn’t just see a to-do list; it sees a threat. It sees the threat of scarcity: not enough time, not enough energy, not enough magical ability to fit everything into twenty-four hours. Or it sees the threat of failing, the threat of disappointing others, the threat of feeling incapable.
And guess what? Our bodies react to threat the same way: fight, flight, or freeze, whether the threat is a bus hurtling towards us or a to-do list that makes us feel like we can’t breathe. Usually, we land somewhere between freeze, like Amy, and flight, which manifests as procrastination.
But not all procrastination looks the same: it can take more or less productive forms, from catching up on the latest Carpool Karaoke to doing tasks that don’t really matter, like buying stuff online or checking email. Again.
So what to do if you’re overwhelmed, paralyzed, or procrastinating? After you’ve worked your way through the classic trifecta of go-for-a-walk, breathe-deeply, approach-the-mess-with-gratitude, try these 7 tips.