How to Step Back When You are Overloaded

accountability mental health mindfulness Feb 13, 2023

Have you ever felt like you had way too much going on? Maybe you offered to help with a couple of volunteer projects that have become way more work than you thought, or you offered to help a friend with something that has gotten a little complicated. Whatever the case, you feel like between class or work, your personal life and your sport, there’s just too much to juggle.

It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed when you have a lot going on in your life. When so many people are counting on you to get things done, it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Not to mention, it can make you feel pressured to sacrifice the things YOU need and want to do to make sure that you please those around you. 

It’s important to acknowledge when you reach this point in your life. You will likely experience this more than once, especially if you enjoy getting involved with projects and supporting people with various situations. When you realize you are overwhelmed, it’s important to give yourself time to pause and step back.

Take time to prioritize what matters. The easiest way to evaluate what matters to you is to start with making a list of everything you have going on. Volunteer projects, helping friends, school, work, sports, social life and self-care time - however big or small, write it down. This helps you see how much you are doing and recognize how overloaded you really are.

Review your list - and be sure to take stock of what YOU need. If that's not already in your list of priorities, add it to that list!! You need to make sure that the space, time and effort you need to be your best is accounted for in that priority list. 

Next, read through the list and evaluate each item. Think about WHY you are doing those things. What is the reason behind it? Is it because you want to do these things and it will be helpful for you? Or, is it because you feel like you owe someone something or don't want to let someone down? Without understanding WHY you are doing something and how it serves you, it can be easy to just continue down the path without changing anything. 

After you evaluate each item and why you are doing it, circle the top 3 things that matter most to you. These are your priorities. It may be that your top three priorities are your sport, school and self-care. This helps you figure out what to take on in the future. Also, be sure to note what you are doing ONLY to please others. Are there things on that list you don’t want to do but feel obligated to do? Those are the things we want to work on stepping back from. 

Now that you have your top three priorities and what you know you should step back from, you can start to take things off your plate. It’s easier to say no to things that don’t apply to your priorities. It’s not about being rude or letting others down. It’s giving yourself the space to better show up for what matters. 

So how do you get out of what's not a priority? Here are some suggestions. 

  • Talk to the person you are working with and let them know that you are overwhelmed. Ask them if there is anyone else that they can lean on for this work. 
  • Bring in someone who can help you. Maybe a teammate, a classmate, or a co-worker who can jump in with you to help you achieve the objective. 
  • Give a deadline. Reach out to the person you’re working with, letting them know you’ll need to take a step back, and give them a timeline. Ie. ‘I’m happy to help until X date and then I have to step back.’
  • Be authentic. Don't lie and don't make excuses. Just tell them the truth - you’re overwhelmed and won't be able to give your best efforts right now. 
  • Most importantly, be KIND. You don't want to quit on people the day before a big deadline or deliverables. You don't want to make a big deal about how much harder this opportunity was than you thought. Be honest and kind. 

At the end of the day, it's easy to overcommit yourself. But if you don't take a moment to remember what matters and where you want to spend your time, you can easily find yourself burned out and unable to meet the commitments that matter. So don't be afraid to re-prioritize, reach out to people and be upfront about what YOU need.

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