Overloaded & overwhelmed: 4 signs “busy” is no longer productive

Credit: created from an image Pixabay.com

Growing up, I remember my mum remonstrating that there simply were not enough hours in a day! As a sometimes overloaded, over-committed single mother, professional and volunteer, I have those very same moments!

I lament, at times, that days blur into each other, as I fail to stop and smell the roses. Days when it feels like there are simply not enough hours to get it all done. And then, when I finally have the time, where did my energy and focus go?

4 signs you are overloaded:

When overwhelmed and overloaded, you stop keeping up and keeping on top of everything. There are a zillion things to get done, including the dishes from last night.

Yes — even I woke up to a cup and teaspoon in the sink this morning, from the cup of hot cocoa that I didn’t bother to wash before I went to bed!

Incomplete tasks stare at you all around the house, as well as the office.

Just plain tired

The first thing you notice when you are headed down this slippery slope is the feeling of “ I just can’t…”. Your body gets heavier and your mind ventures into “foggy”. The tiredness is all-pervasive, even after sleeping a full night.

It starts slowly — only happening occasionally, until rather than counting the days you wake up tired, you start to notice those days that you are not tired. If you carry on, without correcting, you end up in an endless fog of persistent fatigue. By 7:00 p.m. you are ready to sleep, just as you finish getting the kids off to sleep.

You are probably telling yourself you simply didn’t get a good enough sleep last night, or over the weekend. You think it’s about how deeply you managed to sleep, rather than looking overall at the lifestyle that is playing into this restlessness.

Forgetful — mental overload

When you reach the stage of “ never not tired “ — persistent fatigue — you find that the brain fog makes you dependably forgetful. Because you are no longer able to focus and concentrate, you are not fully present when you make commitments and plans. The overload means everything has to be written down! There is no way you will remember it all.

This forgetfulness is exacerbated by too many decisions that you need to make — even the smallest ones. Not to mention too many interruptions, demands, and shifts in attention. Your brain never quite gets a chance to turn off, constantly worried, anxious and stressed.

This overload — working too hard to keep all those balls in the air — means you really have to write every last thing down, or else you will forget. Failed to put milk on the shopping list? You’ll be driving back to the grocery store to pick it up when you remember! If you are lucky, you were in the middle of packing all the groceries and kids in the car when you remember!

Irritable & resentful

Once you start to feel irritable and resentful towards those “who have time”, it really is time to take a step back and look at what is going on.

No, this is not normal. It may have become your normal, but this is not how life is meant to be lived. Remember back to when you felt you had it all under control and you had time for everything. Yes, you were busy — but it didn’t feel or look like this!

It’s not just a phase that you are going through because you are overloaded at work. Something is truly out of balance. You have been suffering in silence for too long, and now it has begun to take an emotional toll on you — and it’s starting to show in the way that you are treating others.

You have been suppressing feelings, all the while trying to get caught up and not let others down.

“Go tell someone who cares”

Eventually, if you continue on this path, you will reach a place of perfect apathy. If you could call apathy “perfect”.

That place where you have now lost your motivation and become emotionally detached and numb. You have gone from overloaded and overwhelmed to a place of lost hope. “I will never get up to date”, so you have finally resigned yourself to the fact “things are never going to get better”. They simply can’t get better.

There isn’t enough sleep that could possibly make this better!

And there is no longer anything to look forward to. Hours become days, days become weeks, weeks turn into months… and it all seems to roll into a hamster wheel of existence.

Credit: created from an image in Pixabay.com

If you have experienced this, or are experiencing this at the moment — know that there is hope.

It can and does get better.

It’s possible to get back to a place where you are no longer overloaded and overwhelmed, but rather feel that you control your time. You can have energy and time — the same day!

Before I look at the solutions, I want to take a short detour into causes.

What makes us feel overwhelmed and overloaded? How do we end up emotionally and mentally drained from too much cognitive activity? Thinking! Remembering. Mental load.

Sources: Where is this coming from?

Overloaded — too much to do, not enough time

Created from an image on Pixabay.com

Although this is now a topic that is regularly discussed, we still live in cultures where we are overcommitted. We are busy multi-tasking — spending time with our children, while we work. Bringing our work home with us.

We say “yes” to more things that what we can realistically handle well. These commitments come from:

  1. work
  2. social responsibility through work
  3. home and the nuclear family
  4. extended family expectations
  5. community involvement and charity work
  6. and, if you’re lucky, building and leaving your legacy.

Unfortunately, most of us want to excel in all these areas — at the same time.

If you are struggling because you don’t want to let others down — you may be digging a hole for yourself, where you let everyone down.

While you create stress for yourself through procrastination, causing over-whelm and stress through avoidance, there’s more to this. There is a constant inner battle — over-thinking — down-playing your thoughts and the inner critic that says “you’re not doing enough”. This leads to emotional overload, and finally to physical exhaustion.

Of course, you are probably over-compensating while you are doing all of this — wearing a mask to hide how tired you are! You keep telling yourself (and others) “it’s okay”. Nonetheless, you’re living with the constant low-grade stress, while not asking for help.

Keep repeating your mantra: “ I’ve got this “.

If the stress were higher, you would do something to change the situation. But the persistent low-grade stress is what eventually beats you.

The “Mental Load” of women

For many women, both professional or stay at home, they are responsible for all the thinking, planning and remembering of the home. It’s known as the “third shift”.

  • Shift one = your day job.
  • Shift two = getting home, taking care of the house and the kids.
  • But don’t forget shift three = organising everything and everyone.
Created from an image on Pixabay.com

If you think about a manager in a company — when you are a manager, you are typically no longer responsible for the hands-on execution of tasks. You “manage”, rather than execute and do. Unfortunately, in the home, women are often the “manager” AND “the help”, meaning that they are organising and taking note of everything that needs to be done — and then doing it!

Even when a woman is the breadwinner of the family, they are still three times more likely to also carry the mental load of the house than a man. This is often summed up by “well, you should have asked” — when women are expected to ask for help from their husbands or partners in the home, organising what they will do. This is orchestration and project management. It’s organising who will stay home to look after a sick child or the childcare for the school holidays.

This is part of the overload and overwhelm. Too much cognitive activity — thinking.

Unrealistic expectations: over-committed

Finally, you might suffer, like I do, of unrealistic expectations of how much you can do in a day or in a week. While it’s true that we underestimate what we can achieve in a decade, most of us have unrealistic expectations of how much we can finish in a day!

This will be particularly true if you struggle to say no or accept work that is not ideal for you and your skillset. When you are clear on your personal strengths and weaknesses, you can play to those easily — but if things start getting hazy, you may be saying “yes” — because it’s easier and quicker than saying “no” and having to say why you are not available.

Overall, however, you are just creating for yourself bigger challenges.

Creating solutions:

To help you out, I’ve created a small “clock” that I regularly use to verify where I am spending my time. Knowing where I am spending my time is the first part of making changes.

Awareness is what allows us to see where changes can be made.

So, I invite you to have a look at the worksheet of “ where does the time go “. Print off 7 copies of the image (or make your own) — and complete it every day for a week.

See where the time really goes.

How many hours are you sleeping? Spending in the car? On social media or watching TV? Spending with your children or family members?

How many hours are you really working — focused work or business meetings? Where does the rest of the time go?

After you’ve completed this, then I invite you to have a look at the 2nd post in this series, that looks at Clearing the Clutter when we feel overloaded and overwhelmed.

Resources for getting a better handle on your time:

#1 — Journalling — why not have a look at these 9 questions leaders ask themselves when they are overwhelmed.

Originally published at https://bethgray.coach on August 26, 2019.

blogger, coach, and international law consultant. Writing about faith, growth, transformation & change.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store