Overcoming Overwhelm

Overcoming Overwhelm

Practical Tips to Regain Focus in the Midst of Chaos

By: Kirk Hadden | Creativity
You’re overwhelmed right now. You feel the pull of a hundred questions, worries, fears and uncertainties. You also feel the responsibility. To your family, to the organizations and people you serve. To the church. To the world.

But right now, you can’t even concentrate. I want to help with that.

This isn’t an inspirational sermon. Those are awesome, and we need those right now more than ever. But today I want to give you the super practical tips and tools that I have used throughout my life and career to overcome overwhelm.

Step 1: Breathe.

Good. You’re already doing it. Now let’s take one step further, 2:1 Breathing. This is the fastest way to calm your nervous system. It’s super simple, you can do it at any time. Count to 4 as you breathe in, hold your breath for 4, and then breathe out for 8. You’re activating your parasympathetic nervous system, bringing down your heart rate, blood pressure, and your anxiety.

Step 2: Make a to-don’t list.

Make a list of stuff you don’t need to do or to worry about right now. Let me put a few on that list for you: you don’t need to check the news every hour. You don’t need to stare at your phone, scrolling the feeds. You don’t need to stay “plugged in” to everything happening in the world. In fact, even without everything going on right now, research shows that people are consistently happier when they are not near their phones.

Let’s make that step 3:Put the phone down.

If you are not actively, intentionally using it, put it down and put it out of arm’s reach. Put somewhere where you would have to intentionally go get it. Be present where you are. To go along with that, if you’re on your computer, close down your email, your Slack, your messaging, social media pages. You can come back and check on them later, just not all the time. Not right now.

Rescue Time

If you’re like me, sometimes you find yourself back there before your conscious mind even knew you were doing it. Check out an app for your computer called Rescue Time. It’s a fantastic little app that tracks how you spend your time on the computer. And, not only that, but you can turn on ‘Focus Time” which will block distracting apps and websites. Sometimes I need that extra help.

Ok. Awesome. We’re starting to clear out some of the noise in our heads. That’s a good start. Sometimes it’s not enough.


Enter brain.fm. Here’s the science: your brain waves operate at different frequencies corresponding to different types of ‘modes’ that your brain is in. Relaxation, sleep, focus, meditation: each of these modes has its own brainwave frequency. And scientists have found that you can help stimulate those different modes by using lights or sounds that also have those frequencies. Brain.fm offers instrumental music with different underlying frequencies to help move your brain into the right mode. Right now, they’re offering a free month to help all the people working from home for the first time.

Narrow the List

Now we’re going somewhere. It’s time to answer one of the questions that always trips me up when I’m overwhelmed: what’s the most important thing for me to do right now? That can be a really hard question to answer, so let’s break it down. Let’s start by listing out a bunch of things that are already rolling around in your head as things you could do right now. If it comes to mind, write it down. Get it all out of your head.

Awesome. Now you can see it. It’s amazing how much clarity comes from simply seeing it on paper. You’re going to be able to cross off several right away. With those that are left, you can start to evaluate which ones actually add the most value right now.

Now, here’s the thing: you don’t have to find the best option. You just need to find a good option. Find a thing that you can push forward with and add value. Once you make your choice, dive into it. Don’t reevaluate for at least a couple hours. Give your brain a task that it can dive into. That’s how you build some momentum.

The Panacea

Awesome. But maybe you’re still fighting. My panacea for overwhelm is a good run or walk outside in nature. This does so many things for you at once. Movement is good for you. It clears the brain. It’s scientifically proven to make you calmer, smarter, and more creative. Fresh air is good for you. Sunlight is good for you, stimulating vitamin D production and mitochondrial energy production. Nature is good for you, and spending time in nature is associated with better health, higher creativity, and longer life spans.


Ok, one more thing. Meditation. Some of you have been doing this, some of you still aren’t sure about it. I’ll tell you what I do. I model my meditation from the Lord’s Prayer. I start with God, and remember who he is. Then I remember that he loves me. He loves my wife. My son. My neighbor. My Team, my city, my nation, and every last person in the world. And I am thankful. For the breath in my lungs and the coffee that I drink and the sun that is shining and anything else I can think of. I give him all my fears. All my anger. All my guilt. I forgive. I give him my future. I give him today. I give Him this moment, breathing in, and breathing out. In this moment, He cares for me. He loves me, and I am His.

God is with you, creative. You’re not alone. You may feel overwhelmed, but God is not overwhelmed. It’s not your job to solve all the problems. Your job is to trust, and within that trust to move forward, one simple, trusting step at a time.