Stressed and Overwhelmed? How to Triage Your Stress and Get Clarity

This article is the first of a series of three articles on how to overcome stress, ditch the anxiety and get into action.  Part 2 will deal with getting into action when you are stuck. Part 3 is all about with resetting stress.

Busy, stressed out and running around trying to keep up with life, work and everything else? It doesn’t take much to come along and upset the apple cart, does it?  You can't be productive if the adrenaline is pumping and you are a stress monster!

If you overwhelmed and are finding it difficult to move forward, there is hope.  But, only if you have the time to stop and read this article. You do, don’t you?

If you don't do something...

The problem is the overwhelm leads to anxiety, which leads to stress, which leads to more overwhelm. It is a vicious cycle that in the short term makes it hard to get stuff done and not feel like you are falling apart.

Longer-term exposure can have many negative effects. It can cause poor sleep, poor diet, impacts on the immune and nervous system…and eventually, has huge impacts on health.

What you need is CLARITY

When we are stressed, we can’t see the wood for the trees, we focus on the wrong thing or we don’t know where to focus at all.  A bit like drinking from the hosepipe, it all seems…well, overwhelming. The bigger issue is that we can feel powerless.

What you need is CLARITY - here and now - to get a handle on the situation. Clarity requires you to get perspective and flex those decision-making muscles.

That sounds great but when you are overwhelmed, how do you do that?

How to triage your overwhelm

Here are some ideas to get started on the road to clarity:


You are not going to help yourself unless you take a moment to breathe and stop the madness.

If you are stressed, your body will be running adrenaline which shuts down the higher reasoning centres in your brain. Not a recipe for good decision making...and that is precisely what is needed right now. So, stop doing, shift gears and give yourself the opportunity to think.

Get it out of your head

Stress and overwhelm aren’t helped when it is all swimming around in your head. So go analog by getting some paper and a pen and dump all the stuff that in your head down on paper.

This might be all the things that you have to do or an issue or problem that is perplexing you.  Using pen and paper will slow your mind, give you perspective and thinking space.

What’s the ONE THING?

Author Gary Keller asks the question What’s the ONE Thing you can DO such that by doing it everything else will be EASIER or unnecessary?”. What is the one thing that you could do right now the would make everything else easier or unnecessary?

What’s the next right thing to do?

That last question can actually be a very big question and maybe too much if you are already super stress-y. So an easier question to ask is simply “What is the NEXT right thing to do?”.

This question focuses you on just the next step without having to focus on all the other stuff. Ask the question and trust your instincts. Then take action.

Chunk it down into baby steps

Even if you know the next step, it might seem overwhelming. How can you break down the task in front of you into tiny, easy-peasy pieces? What is the first, tiniest, smallest action you could take?

The smaller it is, the easier it is to do…and when you do it, you in action and start to build that sense of achievement of getting something done. How can you make that first step even smaller and easier?

The one-day mindset

A principle from 12-step addiction programmes is “keep it in the day”. Don’t worry about tomorrow and only focus on this day, this 24 hours.

When you look at your to-do list, what can you realistically get done in TODAY? To do this you need to be ruthless and kick to the curb all those things that really can wait until tomorrow.

Does it really need to get done?

Not all the things that you need to do are equal…but when we are overwhelmed, it isn’t always easy to see this.

So ask yourself for each and every task “does this really need to get done?” and “what happens if it doesn’t get done?”. The second question is key because you might find that the consequences of not doing something are not as big as you might have thought. If so, dump it off the list.

Only do what YOU can do

Like keeping it in the day, a more helpful mindset when you are overwhelmed is understanding that you might not be the only person or even the best person to do something.

Asking yourself “am I the only person who can do this?” and “should I be the person doing this?” are great ways to get clarity. If not, then who? If other people are better equipped to do it, pass it on.

Is this really the best use of my time?

In my coaching practice, I am amazed at how many business leaders are still pulled into the detail of the jobs they used to do because they are incredible specialists at what they used to do.

I had one client who was the Managing Director of a creative agency who had an incredible eye for detail and proofreading. He got asked to proofread almost every piece of copy that went out of the agency. Not only was he overwhelmed but was a bottleneck for the business.

I got him to start asking “Is this really the best use of my time?” as a mantra. When compared to the many strategic, high-value tasks he could focus on, the obvious answer was no.

After perspective, action!

As you can see, most of these steps are about cutting through the adrenaline/anxiety/despair.  This gives you the space and perspective to make some decisions.

That by itself is not enough…and the next article in this series deals with how to get into action when you are stuck.

Leave a comment below and tell us what tactics you use to triage overwhelm and get clarity!