The systems in our brain that are meant to protect us from life-threatening danger (hungry lions, Jaws) can also keep us mentally ‘stuck’ and make much less life-threatening things very difficult (revision, speaking up in class).
It is unbelievably annoying, but it isn’t your fault, and recognising that is an important first step because 90% of that ‘noise’ in your brain is unjustified self-criticism. The brain bots try to prevent you from doing new, challenging things because they feel like they might present a danger, so they just keep firing off these STOP messages to keep you ‘stuck’ where it seems safer. And while it probably is safer to stay in that stuck state at the moment, it makes for a much more boring and less satisfying life.
It’s the same reason I don’t go into a gym, and why I never used to ask my teachers for help. It means reaching out and drawing attention to the areas you feel vulnerable, and the anxious brain says, ‘No thank you, stay at home please’. That is its default, so you have to arm yourself with lots of counter-messages to help keep it quiet.
Start a list of your wins.
Each time you do something that feels like a challenge, or that you’re proud of, write it down somewhere. It really doesn’t have to be major. I note a win when I go to the hairdresser, as I hate going to the hairdresser. I’ve been cutting my own hair for years over having a stranger washing and brushing my hair. That’s out of my comfort zone, and something else will be your challenge to face.
Anything can go on this list, and it will soon stack up. You’ll have a nice list of the times you thought you couldn’t do something, and surprised yourself, to show your anxious brain what you’re capable of. When you’re facing a new challenge and you hear the brain bots shutting it down, remind them that you can do this.
Ask for feedback.
You are definitely your own worst critic. Again, that isn’t your fault but it is in your control. I challenge you to seek feedback from the people who know you, and ask them to choose three words to describe you. I did this recently, and the results were incredible. I wouldn’t have picked the words I was given, but there were definite themes in the answers that helped me to identify my strengths.
I’ll bet lots of people will be willing to share that with you too, and you’ll be able to see how others see you. Then you can take a note of your strengths and use them when you face new challenges. Playing to your strengths and asking for help with everything else makes you much more likely to succeed.
Make it a habit to notice your gratitudes.
Every morning I write down 10 things I’m grateful for at that moment. A lot of the time it’s my morning coffee, or the animals, or even the fact that I got a good sleep the night before. Anything that has made you feel good can go on the list, and it helps your brain to start adopting a more positive attitude.
These things aren’t about you, but will also help you to notice the things that you’ve provided for yourself, and to keep the brain bots away from negativity. This really helps when you find yourself feeling ‘nothing ever goes right’, and you’ve got a list of all of the things that made you happy to counter that.
There’s more on why this works at https://greentutors.co.uk/building-confidence/.
When the overwhelm is related to the amount of work you have to do, organising is the answer. But be warned – it gets a little worse before it gets better.
You need a clear picture of everything that’s on your plate, so start with a full brain dump. It might not feel good to see everything on one page, but I promise it’ll be worth it. Write everything you’re thinking about, worrying over, spending time on, onto a big sheet of paper (or an online document) and then work through this process with each of them.
If you think of more things as you go, you can add them to the list to follow the process rather than getting distracted.
Let it go
Are there things on here that are outside of your control? They might well be things that could have an impact on your life in the future (like who will win the next election, or will we catch flu), but there’s nothing you can do about them or in response to them at the moment, so they aren’t really your concern. They can be forgotten straight away, and you should take a moment to enjoy striking them off the list.
This is easier said than done, and sometimes it takes a little reset to get them off your mind. Change your environment, change your focus, or even take a cold shower. Give yourself something else to occupy your mind until it feels better.
You’re left with things that are inside your control only then. These are the steps I then take with my worries.
Action plan steps
- Define the problem e.g. I have too many things to do and feel like I’m not in control. Important things aren’t happening and it is building up.
- Think of as many solutions as possible no matter how silly they may seem e.g. delegate/drop some responsibilities, get help with something(s), extend deadlines, don’t sleep for a week (don’t do that one)
- Consider the pros and cons of each solution. Do the benefits outweigh the consequences?
- Choose a solution to try.
- Plan how you are going to implement the chosen solution. Be specific about the action steps, and when. For help with setting these steps check out https://greentutors.co.uk/goal-setting/.
- JDI (Just Do It) actions done
- Later actions scheduled into a plan that feels comfortable. Read about managing your time to fit everything in at https://greentutors.co.uk/7-ways-to-master-time-management/.
- Carry out the solution.
- Review how it went. Were there any problems? Was it the right solution to choose? What did you learn?
It might still be a lot, but you’ll feel more in control. And you’ll be able to see where you need to ask for help, and who you can ask.If you find you’re regularly overwhelmed with GCSE prep, I have something that you will love. The Turn GCSE Stress into Exam Success Planner is an all inclusive planner and study companion for GCSE students to take control of their studies and reduce any associated stress with positive habits and a plan of action. You can be the first to get your hands on one with a special offer on the waitlist at subscribepage.io/TS2Splanner.