Overwhelmed, Exhausted, Burned Out, and 3 Ways You Can Take Back Control
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Full disclosure to start this post...this is not advice from some expert who has everything figured out. This is simply a look into a very difficult time in my life, some ways I dealt with anxiety, and some of the lessons I have learned from feeling overwhelmed. This is probably the most difficult blog post I have written because I am not a huge fan of public examination of my weaknesses and shortcomings.
It is one thing to focus on other people's symptoms but an entirely different thing to focus on your own and bring that into a public light. The thought of dealing with comments from voices online accusing me of A) trying to pat myself on the back for how brave I was or B) being too weak to ever offer advice to people struggling with their own feelings makes it even more difficult. But if this post helps one person manage their own challenges or better address feeling overwhelmed, it will, without a doubt, be worth it.
As my film-loving brother-in-law would say, "I'm going to go full Quentin Tarantino on you here and start at the end...and then rewind to the beginning." After months of meeting with my mental health therapist, I asked her to listen to one of my podcast episodes and tell me what she thought. Her reply at the next session was, "you sound like a confident person who has everything figured out. It was really well done." That made me feel fake. That made me feel like a fraud. I wasn't feeling confident in that moment and I certainly didn't have everything figured out. Here is the real story.
I had known for a few years that I wanted to make the leap from teacher and coach to full-time mental performance coach, but financially Carmen and I just didn't feel like it was the right decision. Then, during the summer of 2021 our family went through some major life changes that included (in no particular order):
Deciding this would be my last year as a teacher
8-month timeline to be full-time in mental performance coaching
Selling our home
Selling an investment property
Purchasing a 24-acre compound with some of my extended family
Parceling off our own 7 acres to build a house on, and deciding I would be our general contractor so we could build the house ourselves
Moving 3 families into one house while 2 new houses were built on the compound
Obtaining my real estate license and joining the Wilson Team to help not only Carmen and I work toward our own real estate goals but also to help friends and family do the same
Still coaching high school football and high school golf
My wife totaled her car with my oldest daughter in it
Finding out my wife was pregnant with our 4th child
And for about 5 months, everything was going amazingly well, and we were excited about these wonderful changes in the not-too-distant future for our family. It was difficult, but with the help of my amazing wife, we were able to navigate our way through this challenging season.
And then January hit.
To make a long story short, I left school early and went to the ER, thinking this was a medical emergency. It turned out to be high blood pressure and a panic attack, certainly not great news, but better than it could have been. I always knew there was a tie between mental and physical health, but this was different. I had reached my physical limit. My mind and body could not continue on the trajectory I was headed. I will never forget the look on the nurse's face when she asked if I was under any sort of pressure, and I began to explain my...
life. Things had to change.
It took me 2 months to get into a mental health therapist. During that time, I was able to reduce some stress, start exercising again, and got off my blood pressure meds from my trip to the ER. While I had addressed some physical symptoms, I knew there was still more that needed to be done. I had to overcome these negative feelings rolling around in my mind. I needed a way to deal with these overwhelming thoughts. I still sometimes had difficulty concentrating, even after using deep breathing exercises or other coping strategies. My psychological stress was still causing physical symptoms. While I no longer needed immediate help, I still knew I needed to make significant changes to prevent falling right back into that trap of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
I attended the Global Leadership Summit this year, where I head one of my favorite quotes about feeling overwhelmed from Craig Groeschel:
I didn't realize it at the time, but these were essentially some of the steps I needed to take.
1) You Feel Overwhelmed Because You're Doing Too Much
Looking back on it now, this is simple. But at the moment, I didn't see any issue with what I had committed to. I was so caught up in the next task that I missed the feelings of being overwhelmed, fatigued, stressed, and being ready to break. I had been slowly adding more, and more, and more, and more responsibilities and tasks onto my plate until it was so full that I reached a breaking point. I took some steps, I told people who I loved and cared about, no I can't do that right now.
Backed away from coaching golf: Still helped out my colleague and friend with the program but focused on helping them with just the mental side of the game
Put my real estate aspirations on hold until the summer: I still built relationships but didn't actively seek new clients
I quit social media: I still had my accounts but didn't spend time on them nightly
I quit the podcast: I was actually ready just to throw in the towel last January and my wife talked me into just taking some time away (glad I listened)
I quit the blog: I didn't delete it, just paused new content
I quit promoting my mental coaching program: I still met with existing clients but did not seek out new clients
I delegated some of the things that needed to be done at the house and hired contractors for work we were planning on doing ourselves: which did not save us money but saved me some stress and work
I asked for some help from friends and family: which is naturally difficult for me to do
I accepted some help and support from friends and family members: which took some humility
Something I realized after giving up those things was how much more effective I was at what was left on my plate. AND, I have still been able to come back to those things at a later time. When I wasn't constantly feeling overwhelmed, I could pick back up where I left off in a much more refreshed state. Another thing I realized was the absolute amazing power of friends and family. I don't think most of the people who helped Carmen and I during that time really knew how huge of an impact they were having on our lives.
2) You Feel Overwhelmed Because You're Not Recovering Well
Recovery takes on many different forms. Here are a few that stood out to me.
You have to get restorative sleep.
With all of those things on my plate, I wasn't able to sleep well. I stayed up too late working and when I did sleep I spent most of that time tossing and turning with all sorts of thoughts and plans rolling around in my mind. In his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Dr. Matthew Walker discussed some of the benefits of restorative sleep, which include:
Impacts our ability to learn
Helps us make better decisions
Recalibrates our emotions
Restocks our immune system
Regulates our appetite
Your working memory has to be cleared
This one was huge for me. I spent so much time packing my working memory full of to-do lists, problems to solve, things I was proactively trying to avoid, etc. that I couldn't use that part of my brain for what it was actually designed to do. Here were a few things I did to clear my mind in a healthy way:
Use to-do lists: this allows your working memory to move on and not try and keep its own to-do list of things you need to worry about or manage. Permitting yourself to focus on what is in front of you and not worry about 15 other things is incredibly helpful when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Have a plan: Use your support system. Lean on family members. Find healthy ways to lower your stress. What resources are around you to help you attack that to-do list? What additional resources do you need to accomplish your goals and lower stress? Stress management isn't accidental and also isn't some mystical vapor we can only grasp at. Don't just hope you can manage that to-do list. Recognize what needs to be done, break it down into manageable chunks, and get it done!
You need emotional recovery
This one was difficult for me. I didn't think that I would ever need to go to therapy. If I'm being honest, even though I told athletes who came to work with me that getting help wasn't a sign of weakness...I still struggled with that thought in my own mind. I was just feeling overwhelmed, I didn't think I had some mental health condition that needed the assistance of some mental health professional. I literally get paid by athletes to help them deal with negative emotions, feeling overwhelmed, and improve their well-being...what would it say about me if I needed that help myself.
I was dead wrong.
Speaking with someone gave me a perspective I had never had before. I had never sat in a room and talked about myself for an hour. Ever. The closest might have been growing up with a family member, but even then the conversation would have included some of their thoughts and opinions. Speaking with someone and getting help in my own mental health journey had way less to do with some "secret mental health formula" and way more to do with facilitating the time and space to look internally at what was making me feel overwhelmed and what I could do to stop feeling overwhelmed. She was amazing and not only helpful in my own journey but helped me improve my marriage along the way.
All this to say, if you don't have someone, somewhere, or some way to process through emotions and take a deeper look into what you are feeling, I would highly encourage you to make that a priority.
Control your mind and body
In my book Focus Cycle, I outline some ways to regain control of your mind and body if you are feeling overwhelmed during high-pressure situations:
Take deep breaths. Get blood to the top and front part of your brain so you can think clearly. Stop the fight or flight signals coursing through your Vagus nerve and reduce stress physically.
Focus on the present moment and things you can control - practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes each day can help you improve your ability not to get bogged down by negative feelings.
Speak positively to yourself - rather than listening to that negative voice in the back of your mind causing you to feel overwhelmed or telling you that you aren't good enough, have a plan to turn that self-talk into something that builds confidence and puts you back in control.
3) You Feel Overwhelmed. You Need To Raise Your Tolerance for Hard Work
I hesitated at first to include this in the article because part of my problem of feeling overwhelmed was that I was trying to outwork my "overwhelming symptoms" of a larger problem that I was ignoring. I thought, maybe if I just work harder, I will be able to do more and I won't feel like this. I truly believe this is where it is important to have someone to talk to. There are certainly things in life that we need to fight through and not just give up because they are difficult, but sometimes we get in too deep. Having an outside perspective can be helpful as you deal with feeling overwhelmed.
Is what you are feeling right now because life is hard and you need to toughen up? Or are you trying to do too much and you are bringing these overwhelming feelings on yourself? I don't know. But I think it is vitally important that you speak with someone who does. Someone who knows you, cares about you, understands your situations, and its someone who can offer you a perspective that you cannot see on your own.
That being said...sometimes you need to raise your tolerance for hard work. My wife sent me this clip of Kara Lawson speaking with the Duke women's basketball team that does a fantastic job addressing this topic:
The video was in an email from one of her colleagues at work talking about personal growth and dealing with hard times. The email also included these thoughts about a growth mindset I find incredibly helpful:
Building skill is a process. It takes time.
The key to growth is your level of effort, not your level of talent.
Embracing productive discomfort is part of the process.
You will make mistakes & they will teach you.
You need teammates – strive to be a great teammate!
We all need feedback & coaching.
This is admittedly a difficult one for me. I have not made my physical health enough of a priority and exercise plays a huge role in that. I have bone spurs in both of my heels that make walking, running, and jogging long distances incredibly painful. Rather than using that as an excuse, I need to find other ways to exercise. Not only can being physically active help improve overall physical health, but it can also do incredible things for our mental health and confidence to overcome difficult situations. While it may not seem to directly address overwhelming feelings of anxiety, the reality is that the physical and mental benefits are well documented and incredibly powerful. Hard work is not easy. But, sometimes, we need to raise our tolerance for hard work. Our podcast episode #66 with Matt Fitzgerald is an incredible resource for anyone trying to overcome physical barriers.
I started writing this article with the quote that my therapist said to me after listening to one of my podcast episodes, "you sound like a confident person who has everything figured out." To be clear, I do not have everything figured out and I hope that this article sheds some light on my own feelings and battle with being overwhelmed.
What I am confident in, is that no matter where you are at in your journey, there are people out there who can help. If you feel hopeless or think you may be battling depression, reach out to a licensed therapist and get some treatment immediately. If you feel overwhelmed, don't just ignore those feelings and hope they will go away. Life is too short just to accept anxiety as a mandatory way of life. If you feel overwhelmed, take action and fight back. If you are trying to manage these symptoms on your own, find a friend, mentor, or coach who can help you!
Quick review. I don't know what your situation is, but some possible reasons you may feel overwhelmed could be:
You're doing too much - delegate, say no, prioritize, accept help, figure out what is causing you to feel overwhelmed and what you can do about it or ask someone to help you
You're not recovering well - get sleep, restore your mind, recover emotionally, build your coping skills toolbox
You need to raise your tolerance for hard work - Find someone to help you with this, don't hope for things to get easier. Keep growing!
What other things have you experienced in your own journey? Share some of your own thoughts in the comments below!