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Feeling Overwhelmed? How To Navigate Overwhelming Feelings

We all get overwhelmed at times, and usually it passes soon enough. But for some of us, this feeling comes more often. When you feel overwhelmed, stress can develop as a result of the overwhelming thoughts and feelings. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath. There are practical, actionable ways to stop feeling overwhelmed with life.

Know the Definition of “Overwhelmed”

What exactly is the meaning of overwhelmed? Quite simply, it’s feeling like you have too much to do and not enough mental energy to do it. So, if you feel like you are on a sinking ship, devoid of mental energy, or not sure how to move forward, you’re probably overwhelmed.

Know That Feeling Overwhelmed is Natural

In the scope of the Earth’s history, human emotions are a fairly recent development due to the rise of brain research in the late 19th century. This helped neurologists discover that human emotion is related to the brain.

It’s no wonder we haven’t learned to peacefully co-exist with them and end up fighting them on a daily basis.

It can often feel like these feelings should be easy to overcome but feeling overwhelmed is a natural response to having too many things going on at once. It’s your mind’s way of telling you that you need to slow down if you want to live a healthier life.

Recognise that overwhelm is your body’s way of trying to help you through difficult times, and what can help is shifting the relationship you have with this emotion. Once you recognise it for what it is and invite it in without fighting it, you can begin to work with it to improve your feelings in a healthy way.

You’ve Felt This Way Before

Think about the number of times you get overwhelmed. How did you overcome it? In the end, was it really as bad as you thought?

If you don’t learn from past experiences, you’ll find yourself suffering from the same problems over and over. Successful people are the ones who understand that every experience, good or bad, is valuable.

Try to remember previous times in your life you felt this way and how you overcame it.

Understand Why You Feel This Way

You might think you feel overwhelmed because you have too much on your to-do list. But, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, this is a state of mind, not a condition. You can feel overwhelmed when there’s not much to do, and you can feel bored when there is too much to do. If your mind is racing, and your thought processes are overcome with irresistible urges to run away or bury your head in the sand, chances are you feel overwhelmed.

The mind races from one exciting or troubling possibility to another, and you might begin to feel overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can have a powerful effect on your mental state and prohibit your relaxation response from providing you with relief.

You can take steps to help overcome feelings of overwhelm. The steps below will teach you how to solve problems by turning to positive thoughts when you feel overwhelmed.

Define Your Priorities

When you feel overwhelmed, it’s time to take a break. Taking a break prevents you from being overcome completely by circumstances. When you feel overwhelmed, start by identifying what matters most.

Think of Why

A quick way to feel less overwhelmed with what you have to do is to think of why. When we look at the bigger picture, we often find the strength needed to get through a particularly difficult to-do list. When we know why we do what we do, it makes it easier to actually do. When a job feels bigger than us, we put more effort into it, with greater pleasure.

Whether the reason ‘why’ is for your children, the success of your company, or to impact lives, think of that. Focus on that. Remember that. And you’ll find the last couple of drops of motivation that you needed to get through.

Ask yourself, “Is It Really Necessary?”

Evaluate whether a task is really necessary. Take a moment to see if you’re feeling overwhelmed by self-imposed deadlines or tasks.

Manage Your Energy (Sleep)

Many people are willing to work longer hours by sacrificing an hour of sleep, but if you feel overwhelmed, that is not recommended. Feeling constantly overwhelmed can affect concentration. When you get enough sleep, whatever you are able to do will be higher quality, and you’ll be better able to combat overwhelmed feelings.

Surround Yourself with Energy Builders

If you are overwhelmed at work, be sure to surround yourself with people who are supporters of your personal growth. People who focus on negativity are energy suckers, and if you’re overwhelmed, you need energy builders. Energy builders will lift your spirits when you feel overwhelmed.

Maintain Your Hobbies and Develop New Ones

You could be feeling overwhelmed from one demand to another without stopping for a breath. Making time for activities that are just for fun and relaxation is a part of a healthy lifestyle and can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

Appreciate Your Unconditional Worth

If you feel overwhelmed, chances are you haven’t taken the time to acknowledge your intrinsic value. If you are performance-oriented, you may believe your worth is tied to how much you accomplish and how well you achieve it. This unhealthy perspective will leave you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

Engage Your Senses

The moment you begin to feel overwhelmed, take a step back, ground yourself in your environment, and see what your senses have to say. If you feel overwhelmed, you might be disconnected from your senses. Not only does using your senses combat the feeling of being overwhelmed, but it also reduces pain and inflammation. The practice of mindfulness is a helpful strategy for grounding yourself against overwhelmed feelings.

Make a To-Do List

Maybe you’re overwhelmed because your mind is bogged down by the sheer act of trying to remember everything. When you write down what you need to do, you release this mental burden.

Lists are very powerful things. You often find that when you’re feeling overwhelmed in life, you lose sight of specifically what is causing you to feel this way. When you feel like this, list what is making you feel overwhelmed.

The list is very often not as long as you would expect it to be and often, feelings of being overwhelmed come down to just one or two things on your mind.

What Can You Control?

With a list in front of you, it’s time to take a look at what you can influence. For example, if too many pressing deadlines are things on your list, assess if you can change some things, or perhaps stop taking on extra work that month.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by non-work commitments, work out what you can cancel and cancel it. On the other hand, if it’s something you cannot control (like a pandemic), grant yourself the permission to sit with it — to just be ok with not being ok with it.

Go through your list and take action to change anything you can change, even if it’s just an email to delegate a task or move a deadline.

It’s a Breakdown of Thoughts, Not of Life

Our minds are powerful things and feeling overwhelmed can feel like the end of life as we know it.

We have the power to manage our thoughts, and as a result, manage who we are and who we will grow to be. This involves making our mental and physical health a high priority.

When you feel overwhelmed, your life isn’t falling apart – your thoughts are. Take a minute to find and clean out all your self-deprecating, negative emotions and thoughts. As you do this, you may find yourself feeling refreshed and invigorated with renewed energy to take on the world.

Cultivate Gratitude

In a world of people who are constantly overwhelmed and obsessed with putting their best self forward, it’s easy to feel like everyone has more than you.

Get that thought out of your head and remember what you do have. Often, the things you have right now are things you were worried about having in the past. Don’t let an insatiable desire for more blind you from seeing and appreciating everything you have right now.

Gratitude can combat feelings of overwhelm by bringing you into the present, which will help eliminate worries of the future. Once you’re in the now, you can focus on what you need to do to get past feeling overwhelmed and overcoming the many things coming at you at once.

If you don’t know what to do you’re overwhelmed, take some deep breaths and try to start a gratitude journal.

Delegate Tasks

Sometimes when you feel overwhelmed, it’s time to delegate tasks to family, friends, and co-workers. Collaboration can be a rewarding tool against feeling overwhelmed.

Learn to Say No

If you feel overwhelmed from having too much to do, learn to say no. Focusing on tasks and projects that are uniquely designed for your capabilities can prevent you from getting overwhelmed.

Stop Multitasking - Pick One Thing

It turns out the brain can’t really multitask. The quality of your work will greatly decrease if you try to do two or more things at once, and you can become overwhelmed. Don’t divide your focus - you’ll be much more efficient and effective if you focus on one task at a time.

Feeling overwhelmed often happens when you feel you have too much to do. But here’s the thing: regardless of how much you have to do, you can only do one thing at a time, period.

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not doing more than one thing at a time, but rather stopping one thing and doing another, repeatedly. No matter what, you can only do ONE thing at a time. So pick that one thing and focus on it.

The idea of only doing one thing at a time may seem stressful because it will feel like you’re ignoring important projects that need to get done. But give it a try!

Pick one thing out of your to-do list and tell yourself: I will only focus on this right now until I finish (or until I reach a certain point). Act as if finishing this one thing, and not your entire to-do list at once, is your immediate priority. You will find this raises your productivity because you’ll be able to focus without feeling overwhelmed about everything else you need to do.

Be Mindful

If your mind is racing, learn to slow it down through practicing mindfulness.

Your Problems May Not Be as Bad as You Think

What to do when you feel overwhelmed? The best way to deal with this feeling is to take a break from worrying about your own life and do something kind for someone in a worse spot than you.

Volunteering with people in need can help put your problems into perspective, and that tight deadline may not seem so overwhelming. Furthermore, acts of kindness can produce oxytocin, which can help you feel better all around. This is vital when you’re feeling overwhelmed by life.

Take a Step Back

If you feel overwhelmed, it can help to take a step back and objectively examine the situation. But objectivity may not be possible when you’re over-stressed or over-tired. After a quick nap or meditation, your life will seem less hazy and doomed.

Focus on Right Now

Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

Once you know what you want to do, write out the steps you need to take to carry out this action.

Develop a Strong Support System

Last, but certainly not least, find people whom you can turn to through life’s ups and downs. Close friends will help you when you’re overwhelmed and vice versa.

Remember there are people in your life who want you to succeed. Your life touches so many others, and there are people out there rooting for you.

These people are part of your support system, and you can turn to them each time you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can call them for a quick pep talk, invite them out for coffee if you need a break, or even ask them for help with your overwhelming list of things to do.

Sometimes talking to an in-person or online counsellor can help give us the emotional support needed to deal with being overwhelmed.

The Bottom Line

Feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of life that comes from trying to always take on more than we should. This feeling is difficult to avoid in today’s world, but there are things you can do to reduce those feelings once they do arise. Remember the reminders above whenever you’re not sure how to move forward, and you’ll soon find yourself on the other side.

Hopefully, these strategies will give you the starting point you need to cope with any overwhelming situation that comes your way. Living happier and healthier by keeping stress and other negative emotions at bay is possible – all you need are the right tools. Take the first step today.

Adapted from:


Sally Edwards Counselling

I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent

I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems.

I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley

Face-to-face in person or online counselling

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