It has been widely (and accurately) reported that we live in the most peaceful time period in modern history. But for many of us, life often feels rather unsettled, and frankly, it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed with life. Unrest seems to be the word that comes to mind — and while there are places and circumstances that seem worthy of the term, in other places it seems unnecessary.
I think this feeling of being unbalanced is due specifically to the information age and the era of instant communication. We’ve produced more information in the last few years than in the entirety of human civilization. Just look here at Plum Deluxe for an example — not only do we have free eBooks and guides, we publish recipes and stories multiple times per week, a newsletter every Sunday for over eight years now, and are even adding a podcast into the mix! And that’s just us.
No wonder that one of our readers, when I asked folks what topics they want discussed here on the blog, said they needed help with maintaining their center with the “assault of information” coming at them. Here’s my advice on what to do when you feel overwhelmed.
Step 1: Disconnect from the noise
It’s time to unplug some of these connections and obligations that are creating the sense of heaviness and feeling overwhelmed with life. If you don’t start by removing some of this overabundance of incoming information, you’ll have trouble with the next two steps.
Here is an including-but-not-limited-to list of things to evaluate:
- Turn off non-critical mobile phone notifications (that would be, uh, most if not all of them), and if you can’t resist hours and hours of scrolling mindlessly through the social feeds or news websites, delete those apps too.
- Unsubscribe from not-useful and not-uplifing email newsletters and notifications (unroll.me is a useful tool in this exercise). If you can’t figure out how to unsubscribe, just add an email filter to throw it into the trash. I have, not kidding, over 250 email filters to delete unwanted stuff.
- Newspapers and magazine subscriptions should also be cut if they aren’t a calming influence (and for those pesky catalogs or other mailers, try the app Paperkarma — it works!)
- Excuse yourself from any events, such as board meetings or volunteer groups, that don’t fill you up with thanks for giving back.
- How often are you checking your inboxes — Gmail, Facebook, etc.? Batch them. Those messages will be there when you need them.
Do you see where I’m going here? I bet if you sit down and evaluate where information overload is coming from in your life, you can give it a good pinch and reduce the incoming volume. I’m not suggesting that you become a hermit living off the grid in a van somewhere, but I’m asking you to delete the access of people/programs/organizations that are creating an energetic drag on your life.
Step 2: Get grounded
If you do even a couple of the things listed above, you’ll free up some headspace to tackle big questions (like what to do when you feel overwhelmed, which can’t be answered when you’re overwhelmed!). I’d like you to take this opportunity to get grounded, and infuse your life with some creativity and presence. This could be reading a book you have been putting off, working in the garden, doing some painting or drawing or writing a poem, meditating, turning up the music and singing (dance like nobody’s watching, we aren’t going to judge), or perhaps the best thing you need right now is just a few good sleeps in a row.
Nourish your mind, and your body, and your spirit.
Step 3: Begin to live on a “need to know” basis
Once you step back from the ledge of information overwhelm and get yourself grounded, you’ll start to see that a lot of that stuff for exactly what it is: piles of bits and data that is not useful (particularly the news cycle).
For the things that are important to you, I trust you’ll find a way to stay informed without feeling overwhelmed; that is one of the blessings of the information era, the abundance of choice in how we are connected in our global community.
If you take anything away from this piece, it is this: It’s time to live on a “need to know” basis. You don’t need to know about everything out there. Filter heavily, consume mindfully, and leave the rest behind.
And lastly, pay it forward, especially to those people in your life that you know are feeling overwhelmed with life. Don’t CC folks on emails that don’t need to be. Don’t forward, share, or tweet links that aren’t constructive and that you feel aren’t important to add to the conversation. (Hint: That means you CAN share this one. *wink*) And whenever possible, steer conversations at gatherings towards mindfulness and gratitude.