In the chaotic whirlwind that life is currently, we’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t experienced moments of feeling completely overwhelmed. Maybe it’s the result of juggling multiple responsibilities, meeting tight deadlines, or even just navigating the complexities of ‘doing it all’ that being a career-centered, family-focused, do-it-yourself type of person. Yikes!
When we’re overwhelmed, it’s almost autonomic to seek solutions, and one of the most common responses is to create yet another checklist. However, as an Internal Family Systems (IFS) -informed therapist, I’m here to break it to you gently:
Adding more lists might not be the cure-all you’re looking for.
In this article, we’ll explore why creating another checklist isn’t always the best approach to address overwhelm from an IFS-informed perspective.
Understanding the Overwhelm
Before diving into why adding more lists isn’t the answer, it’s essential to understand what overwhelm actually is and when it shows up. Overwhelm is a state of emotional and mental distress characterized by feeling unable to cope with/manage the demands of a situation. It usually involves a sense of being flooded with stress, anxiety, and, ultimately, a loss of control. So many things can contribute to overwhelm, but a short list might include:
- Undying work pressures to perform at 100% everyday all day
- Family responsibilities like childrearing, cleaning/maintaining a home, and pressures to ‘eat right’ or ‘eat clean’
- Relationship issues like a floundering partnership or marriage
- Unexpected life events that you’re unsure how to handle, such as a death in your family, loss of a job, or experiencing an accident/injury
The Allure of Checklists
When we feel overwhelmed, it’s natural to seek a sense of order and control. This is usually where the allure of checklists comes into play. Checklists offer a structured way to organize tasks and responsibilities, providing a visual representation of what needs to be done. They can be a helpful tool for managing day-to-day activities and ensuring important tasks are not forgotten.
The 3 Pitfalls of The Checklist
While I love a good checklist and can appreciate their value in some situations, relying too heavily on them to combat overwhelm can lead to to some serious pitfalls:
- Escaping Emotions: Creating a checklist can serve as a way to escape or avoid the emotions associated with overwhelm. It’s a distraction from the uncomfortable feelings, but it doesn’t address their root causes.
- Masking the Underlying Issues: Overwhelm often arises from deeper emotional and psychological factors, such as perfectionism, fear of failure, or unresolved past experiences. A checklist doesn’t delve into these underlying issues.
- Temporary Relief: Checking off items on a list can provide a temporary sense of accomplishment and relief, but it’s short-lived. The overwhelming feelings tend to return once the checklist is complete, and new tasks pile up.
The IFS Perspective
Internal Family Systems therapy, developed by Richard Schwartz, offers a unique perspective on managing overwhelm. It views the mind as consisting of different “parts,” each with its own role, emotions, and desires. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s often because various parts within us are in conflict or trying to protect us from something that is perceived as a threat. IFS-informed therapy draws on these concepts to address the roots of overwhelm by working with your body and minds’ innate wisdom, rather than attempting to just “train your brain to think differently”.
Why Adding Another Checklist Isn’t the Solution
From an IFS-informed perspective, adding another checklist to your already overflowing plate isn’t the answer for several reasons:
Parts of who you are are in conflict.Overwhelm often arises from parts of you that are in conflict. For example, one part might push you to accomplish more tasks, while another part is screaming for rest and self-care. Creating a checklist doesn’t address this internal conflict; it merely adds to it.
You’re avoiding Core Emotions.Overwhelm is often a signal that certain emotions need acknowledgment and attention. It’s not uncommon for parts of us to use busyness, like creating lists, as a way to avoid facing these emotions directly.
You might be perpetuating the cycle.Relying on checklists can perpetuate the cycle of overwhelm. You complete one list, and there’s another waiting for you just as you cross the finish line. It’s like the race that never ends, and holy cats are you tired of constantly running with no end in sight.
5 Steps to Addressing Overwhelm Effectively
So, if creating another checklist isn’t the solution, what can you do to address overwhelm effectively from an IFS-informed perspective?
- Create and use internal dialogue. Take time to engage in an internal dialogue with the different parts that make up who you are. Listen to what they have to say about the overwhelm. What are they trying to protect you from? What do they think you need in the face of overwhelm?
- Build emotional awareness. Pay attention to the emotions that accompany overwhelm. Is it anxiety, fear, frustration, or something else? (1) Acknowledging and (2) processing these emotions is a crucial step in finding relief.
- Practice self-compassion, baby! Understand that overwhelm is a human experience, and it’s okay to ask for help or take a break when needed. Treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer to a friend in distress.
- Master the art of prioritization and simplification. Instead of creating more lists, prioritize your tasks and simplify your to-do list by focusing on what truly matters to you. Sometimes, doing less can lead to feeling more in control.
- Seek Support. If overwhelm persists and feels unmanageable, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor. Professional guidance can help you explore the underlying causes of your overwhelm and develop ways to handle this that works for your individual situation. No shame in the needing-support game!
In the journey to conquer overwhelm, it’s crucial to realize that merely creating another checklist isn’t a universal remedy. From an IFS-informed perspective, effectively addressing overwhelm requires delving into the inner workings of your mind, embracing your emotions, and fostering self-compassion. While checklists absolutely play a role in task organization, they work best as part of a holistic approach to well-being…rather than as a standalone solution.
If you’re finding that overwhelm persists well past its welcome and you’re not sure what to do next, remember that you don’t have to navigate this path alone. Seeking assistance from a trained professional can provide valuable insights and strategies tailored to your unique needs. Your well-being matters, and reaching out is the first step towards finding a greater sense of inner peace and balance in your life.