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How To Deal With Overwhelm as a Creative Entrepreneur

How To Deal With Overwhelm as a Creative Entrepreneur

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This past week I found myself in a mini melt down where I felt super overwhelmed with everything going on in my art business, from having way too many tasks on my list, to trying to reach too many unrealistic deadlines, and also having anxiety for not dedicating more time to other creative passions that are dear to my heart.  In addition to these career stressors, in my personal life I was trying to maintain a new nutrition and exercise routine, and everything just seemed to be too much all at once.  It’s impossible to do it all at the same time and I finally came to that realization this past week.  It was a hard realization for me, and as a result I curled up into a ball on the couch, reached for the ice cream, and binge watched old 80’s movies because that’s how I normally cope with things (you can never watch enough Indiana Jones or Van Damme movies in my eyes).

To some respect, I think this is a great short-term solution, I do believe in unplugging, but unless you address the issue head on, you’ll keep shutting down and not maintain forward momentum towards your dreams.  This was a tough tail spin for me to get out of this past week, but I’d like to share with you 4 tips that I used to overcome my overwhelm.
1. Take a Second To Breathe
You need to realize that you’re only human and that this is something that happens, and will most likely happen again at some point in the future.  Everyone experiences moments like this and you aren’t being punished in any way.  But it’s how we react to these moments that can be the game changer.
The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that you’re experiencing overwhelm and take a minute to unplug.  My method was to reach for the ice cream and watch Jean Claude Van Damme kick butt in an action movie.  Some other ideas could be to meditate, talk a walk, take a nap, listen to music, sing, watch a TV program, journal, buy your favorite latte at Starbucks, etc.  You need to reward yourself for realizing that you’re experiencing overwhelm.  You’re listening to your mind, which is a good thing, and you’re taking care of your mental health, which is huge.

The length of time to spend on unplugging varies.  For me, it took a couple of days to unplug because I felt I had a lot on my plate, and not only that, but I haven’t taken a vacation in years.  In the past, I might have dwelled in overwhelm for sometimes a few days or even a few weeks, but as this continues to happen in my life, I’m starting to get better at the length of time I dwell on things.  For some people it might only be a few hours or a day at most to unplug and recharge, but do your best not to spend too much time on unplugging, because this isn’t how to fix the meat of the problem.  The “unplugging” is only meant to be a quick buffer before you dive into the issue.
2. Address The Issue
After you’ve taken a bit of time to unplug, now we can address the issue with a clear mind.  The first question you need to ask yourself is “Why did I become overwhelmed?”. Was it having unrealistic deadlines?  Was it overloading your daily task schedule?  Was it you lacking physical or mental energy to get through the day?  Was it due to something that someone said that triggered a sense of overwhelm?  Or maybe was it thinking of future dreams and projects that seem light years away? (this one always gets me!).  It could be one thing or multiple things that triggered your overwhelm.  Be honest with yourself, because the clearer you are with this step, the easier it will be to fix it the next time it happens.  The thing to understand is that we are trying to identify the root of what caused this so that we can prevent this same scenario from happening in the future. 
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3. Cut Out the Fluff
A lot of the times, overwhelm is from having too many things on your plate.  And also, a lot of the times all of these things are taking up too much space in your brain.  In a previous blog post, I talked about the importance of doing a “brain dump”.  A brain dump is when you empty your brain of thoughts and mental chatter onto a transferable medium like a piece of paper, a computer, a dry erase board, or a voice recorder.  This is just a way to visualize everything you have going on in your life in front of you so you can think with a clear mind and begin trimming the fat.

When I say cut out the fluff or trim the fat, I really mean for you to start removing the items off of your list that aren’t a priority or that you don’t have control over.  If you’re worrying about whether or not a client is going to like a project that you are working on for them, and this is stressing you out and overwhelming you, unfortunately their response to your work is out of your control.  You can only do the best you can do on the project and that is it.  Ultimately you can’t control other people’s responses or feelings, so this isn’t something you should stress so much over.  I know it’s easier said than done, but try to cross these feelings of not knowing off of your list.

Also, you might be overwhelmed by creative projects or ideas that you want to accomplish in the future and you’re experiencing anxiety because you’re not currently doing them right now (some people call this FOMO or the fear of missing out).  The best way to deal with this is accepting the fact that you only have so much time in the day and you need to finish the current projects you are working on now in order to make the time available for you to work on those other passion projects in the future.  It’s not that you’ll never reach those other creative projects, it’s just that you’re putting them on hold while your building other passions that are equally important.
And lastly, and probably the most common, is you literally just have too many tasks on your plate in any given day, like having to field emails, serve as customer service, do accounting and payroll, update the website, market your business, develop engaging content, post on social media, send out the newsletter, etc.  A way to cut out the fluff on this is to delegate these tasks to other people in your company.  If you’re only self employed and you don’t have other people in your company yet to help you, there are other ways of finding solutions to your overwhelm, like maybe hiring an intern to help you, having a family member or close friend doing a trade of business, or finding a software solution to help you out with your mundane tasks like accounting or email marketing.
4. Reprioritize and Keep Moving Forward
Once you’ve cut out the fluff on your list and you’ve removed certain tasks and habits that typically cloud your mind, the next step is to get laser focused on your top priorities and move towards your dreams full steam ahead.  As things begin to pile up on your plate again (because they will), remind yourself if these things are in alignment with your big ambitious goals in life, and if they are fluff or not.  If you can keep trimming the fat in real time, that’s ideal, but every so often you’ll probably get overwhelmed again and want to reach for the ice cream and the 80’s movies.  That’s ok and is to be expected.  But next time you’ll be more prepared to deal with overwhelm and will be able to tackle the beast head on.  Just quickly unplug, assess, cut out the fluff, and re prioritize.  Rinse and repeat as much as necessary and revile in the fact that now you are more organized and efficient than ever before.
To Wrap Up
What are some other tips and tricks you use to overcome overwhelm in your own life?  I’d love to hear your ideas!  To leave a comment, click on the blue “comments” link underneath the facebook and twitter buttons where you can leave a reply.  Thanks for tuning in friends!

-JJ Long
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