Overwhelmed? Be an Air Traffic Controller

I s it just me, or have things been a little crazy lately? Have you been feeling overwhelmed? I’ve been mad busy at work, which is always the way at this time of year, but there has also been so much going on in the country that my brain has been too busy to sleep. I go to sleep easily enough, but I wake in the early hours and lose the next two with my brain charging around madly trying to make sense of everything. Then, of course, when the alarm goes off, I’m dead to the world and waking up is like trying to extract myself from a vat of treacle – not that I ever have had to do that, but you know what I mean.

I have, in the past, called this “The Snow Globe Effect”, likening my mind to a Snow Globe that is fully chaotic: thoughts whirling around with none settling long enough to deal with. Often thoughts become emotions and then I feel them in my stomach and I can feel this sense of panic that grows and builds to overwhelm you. It’s very unsettling.

During the last two years, I have been experimenting with ways to deal with “The Snow Globe Effect” and I know I am getting somewhere: recently rather than feeling overwhelmed, I likened this latest busy phase, not to a Snow Globe but more like airplanes waiting in line, in a holding pattern, with me as the Air Traffic Controller, deciding which thoughts to deal with, rather than a Snow Globe where everything is chaos.

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I know I can control my Snow Globe


I can stop the whirling and settle the snow. I can now put those thoughts in order and take control of them. I can control the overwhelm.

It’s meant a change in behaviour and at the same time, a change in values and beliefs about myself. You see, I have always considered myself to be spectacularly disorganised, someone who leaves everything to the last minute (Last Minute Lil I call myself!), is not a control freak but is spontaneous and is a procrastinating perfectionist! Where all these beliefs have come from is a long story! A lot come from my childhood – I used to do my homework late at night, as a student, my essays were always last minute. Then in later life, I saw my ex-husband as a control freak because he was so organised. I rebelled against such a practice (I am my own worst enemy at times!) and so created a vision of myself which was, ultimately, not helpful.  I have suffered a remarkable amount of stress as I have become busier and therefore, often overwhelmed because I didn’t deal with these beliefs.

But I am not the person I thought I was.

My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.
― Coco Chanel

If I examine those beliefs, I can find more evidence that contradicts them than supports them. I have shown myself that I am organised, I can meet and even beat deadlines and that I like control over my life, because if I have it, I can be spontaneous without it all falling apart. I don’t have to procrastinate because I no longer strive for perfection.

Changing my behaviour has rewritten my beliefs – but rewriting my beliefs has allowed me to change my behaviour.


This is what I do now.

I have a spreadsheet, a project plan. I put on it all the big projects I need to complete down the side and the dates across the top. I block in the deadline, then I list all the tasks that I need to do to complete the project. I can then block in when I want to do them by. I don’t connect with it daily, but I can see it in my mind because I am a very visual person and once I have updated it I can recall it quite quickly in my mind.

I write a “To Do” list. Everything goes on it for work and home. Every day I take off a manageable number of tasks from that list and put it on a daily list. I then number them in terms of priority. This prevents me from being overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I have to do. Do I always do them in that order? No. Do I always do them? No. But I am in control of them and I don’t forget them, because by writing them down, my memory stores them.

I meditate or practise some form of mindfulness every day. This helps me learn to control my mind and make it focus on one thing at a time. I don’t schedule this in, although that is my next goal, but I grab my “Pockets of Peace” whenever I can. Often before I go into work, I’ll take 5 minutes to focus on a positive statement or listen to some calming music. At lunchtime, I might just shut my door and listen to the silence. Or in the evening I might meditate.

I also focus on gratitude. I remember what I am grateful for night and morning, and if I am awake in the night. It helps me to focus on everything I have rather than the problems of the day. Your mind can really only focus on one thing at a time, so if you can redirect it, you will feel the sense of overwhelm and lack of control shift.

All this works for me and none of it is new. I have started systems in the past and then not kept up with them. This time they are working together and sticking because I am changing the beliefs I have about myself which ultimately gives these systems permission to work.

What works for you will be different.

But if, like me, you often find yourself feeling like a Snow Globe, overwhelmed and out of control, then I urge you to begin finding out what helps you take control.

I am still a work in progress, and I like investigating new Apps, or strategies that can help me further. But I know now that it is worth the effort to do these things. I cannot control the world, but I can control my response to it.  I’ve gone from a Snow Globe to an Air Traffic Controller in a couple of years. That’s quite a promotion!