Updated: Oct 6
We all sometimes experience moments of being overwhelmed, and typically, these moments tend to pass relatively quickly. However, for some people, this sensation occurs more frequently. When you feel overwhelmed, you might notice that stress can develop due to these thoughts and feelings. If you're currently experiencing overwhelm, remember to take a deep breath. There are practical, actionable methods to help you stop feeling so swamped by life.
In simple terms, being overwhelmed means feeling as though you have an excessive amount to handle and not enough mental energy to tackle it. Therefore, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you're on a sinking ship, lacking mental energy, or uncertain about how to proceed, you're likely experiencing overwhelm.
Overwhelm is a Normal Part of Life
In the context of history, human emotions are a relatively recent development, thanks to the advancements in brain research during the late 19th century. This period of scientific exploration enabled neurologists to establish a connection between human emotion and the brain.
Feeling overwhelmed is a natural response when you have numerous tasks to handle simultaneously. It serves as your mind's way of suggesting that it's time to slow down for the sake of your overall well-being. Overwhelm is your body's attempt to assist you during challenging moments. What can be beneficial is altering your relationship with this emotion. Once you acknowledge it for what it is and welcome it without resistance, you can begin to collaborate with it to enhance your emotional state in a healthy manner.
You’ve Felt This Way Before
Take a moment to recall past instances in your life when you felt this overwhelmed and reflect on how you managed to overcome those situations.
Consider how often you experience being overwhelmed. How did you manage to overcome it? Ultimately, was it as dire as it initially seemed? Probably not.
Understand Why You Feel This Way
You might be under the impression that your overwhelm stems from an extensive to-do list. However, it's crucial to understand that feeling overwhelmed is a state of mind rather than a fixed condition. This sensation can manifest even when tasks are minimal, or conversely, you might experience boredom when there's an abundance of work. If your mind is racing, and you're grappling with an irresistible urge to escape or avoid responsibilities, it's likely a sign of overwhelm.
Your thoughts may jump from one exciting or distressing possibility to another, intensifying the feeling of being overwhelmed. This emotional state can significantly impact your mental well-being and hinder the effectiveness of your relaxation response.
You can take measures to alleviate overwhelming feelings. The following steps will guide you in resolving these emotions by cultivating positive thoughts when you're overwhelmed.
Define your Priorities - When you're overwhelmed, it's essential to pause and prevent yourself from becoming entirely consumed by your situation. Begin by identifying what holds the utmost importance and what the main priorities are at that time.
Consider why - A rapid method to reduce overwhelm concerning your tasks involves reflecting on the "why". When you step back and consider the underlying purpose, you often discover the strength required to navigate a challenging to-do list. Knowing the reason behind your actions makes it more manageable to carry them out. When a task seems larger than yourself, your dedication and enthusiasm for it grow. Whether your "why" is connected to your children, your work, or making a positive impact on lives, concentrate on that motivation. Keep it in mind. Remind yourself of it. By doing so, you'll discover that final surge of motivation you need to persevere.
Ask yourself, “Is It Really Necessary?” - Assess whether the task is genuinely essential. Pause for a moment and check if you're experiencing overwhelm due to deadlines or tasks you've imposed on yourself.
Take charge of your energy levels - particularly through sleep management. While many people may consider sacrificing an hour of sleep to extend working hours, it's not advisable when you're feeling overwhelmed. A consistent sense of overwhelm can have a detrimental impact on your ability to concentrate. Prioritising adequate sleep ensures that whatever you do, it will be of higher quality, and you'll be better equipped to counteract feelings of overwhelm.
Surround yourself with people who uplift your energy - If you're grappling with overwhelm at work, it's essential to have supporters of your personal growth around you. People who tend to dwell on negativity can drain your energy, and when you're overwhelmed, what you need are those who enhance your energy. Energy uplifters will boost your morale when you're facing overwhelm.
Nurture your existing hobbies and explore new ones - It's possible that you're experiencing overwhelm as you move from one obligation to the next without pause. Allocating time for leisure activities that provide relaxation and enjoyment is a vital aspect of a healthy lifestyle and can serve as a preventive measure against overwhelm.
Recognise your inherent worth - If you're experiencing overwhelm, it's possible that you haven't given yourself the opportunity to appreciate your unconditional value. If you tend to prioritise performance and link your worth to what you accomplish and how effectively you do it, this perspective can be unhealthy and lead to feelings of overwhelm and frustration.
Activate your senses - When you start sensing overwhelm creeping in, pause, and immerse yourself in your surroundings. Pay attention to what your senses are telling you. If you're feeling overwhelmed, it's possible that you've become disconnected from your sensory experiences. Engaging your senses not only counteracts the sensation of overwhelm but also helps alleviate pain and inflammation. Practicing mindfulness is a valuable technique to ground yourself when dealing with feelings of overwhelm.
Create a to-do list - Perhaps you're experiencing overwhelm because your mind is swamped with the effort of trying to remember every task. When you jot down your tasks, you free yourself from this mental load. Lists hold significant power. There are instances when you feel overwhelmed in life, and you lose clarity on precisely what's causing this sensation. When you find yourself in this state, make a list of what's contributing to your overwhelm. Surprisingly, the list is frequently shorter than you might anticipate, and more often than not, feelings of overwhelm can be traced back to just one or two things on your mind.
What is Within and Without of Your Control? With your list right in front of you, it's time to examine the elements within your control. For instance, if you find that your list is packed with urgent deadlines, consider whether there's room to make some adjustments or if it's feasible to refrain from taking on additional work for the month. If non-work commitments are causing you to feel overwhelmed, determine what you can cancel and proceed with those cancellations. Conversely, if it's something beyond your control (such as a pandemic), grant yourself the freedom to acknowledge it and be okay with not being entirely okay about it. Review your list and take action to modify anything within your control, even if it's as simple as sending an email to delegate a task or adjust a deadline.
It's Not Your Life That's Unravelling; It's Your Thoughts - Your mind is a potent force, and the sensation of overwhelm can sometimes make it seem like life is falling apart. You possess the ability to regulate your thoughts, which in turn allows you to shape your identity and your future self. This entails giving top priority to your mental and physical well-beingWhen overwhelm strikes, it's not your life that's unravelling; it's your thoughts. Take a moment to identify and clear away any self-critical, negative emotions, and thoughts. As you undertake this process, you might discover a sense of rejuvenation and newfound energy that empowers you to confront life's challenges.
Cultivate Gratitude - In a world where people are frequently caught up in overwhelm and the constant pursuit of presenting their best selves, it's easy to believe that others have more than you. But let's shift that notion aside and take a moment to recall what you possess. Often, the very things you currently have are the things you once fretted about not having in the past. Don't allow an insatiable thirst for more to obscure your view of, and appreciation for, your current blessings. Gratitude serves as a remedy for overwhelming feelings by anchoring you in the present, which can alleviate concerns about the future. Once you're firmly rooted in the present, you can concentrate on the steps needed to overcome overwhelm and manage the multitude of challenges heading your way.
Delegate Tasks - Sometimes when you feel overwhelmed, it’s time to delegate tasks to family, friends, and co-workers. Collaboration can be a positive strategy against feeling overwhelmed.
Learn to Say No - If you find yourself overwhelmed due to an excessive workload, it's essential to become comfortable with declining certain responsibilities. Concentrating on tasks and projects that align with your specific skills and strengths can help you avoid overwhelming situations.
Stop Multitasking and Concentrate on a Single Task - The brain can't effectively multitask. Your work quality diminishes when you attempt multiple tasks simultaneously, leading to overwhelm. Focus on one task at a time for better efficiency. Feeling overwhelmed often stems from a hefty workload, but remember, you can only handle one task at a time. Multitasking involves switching between tasks, not doing multiple tasks simultaneously. Prioritise one task, and you'll boost productivity and reduce overwhelm.
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 - When overwhelmed, consider stepping back and redirecting your focus from your own concerns. Extend a helping hand to those facing more challenging circumstances than you. Engaging in volunteer work with people in need can provide valuable perspective, potentially reducing the perceived weight of your tight deadlines. Additionally, acts of kindness can trigger the release of oxytocin, contributing to an improved overall sense of well-being — an essential aspect when life feels overwhelming.
Take a Step Back - When you experience overwhelm, consider stepping back to assess the situation with objectivity. However, it's important to acknowledge that achieving objectivity might be challenging when you're overstressed or fatigued. Taking a brief nap or engaging in meditation can help clear your mind, making your life appear less muddled and bleak afterward.
Develop a Strong Support System - Seek out people who can be your pillars of support through life's various challenges. Close friends can offer assistance when you're feeling overwhelmed, and you can reciprocate when they are in need. Always remember that there are people in your life who genuinely want to see you thrive. Your existence has a significant impact on many others, and there are people out there who are genuinely rooting for your success. These people form an integral part of your support system, and you can rely on them whenever feelings of overwhelm strike. Whether it's for a quick morale boost, a casual coffee outing for respite, or assistance in tackling your overwhelming to-do list, don't hesitate to reach out.
Experiencing overwhelm is a normal part of life, often stemming from our inclination to shoulder more than we can handle. This sensation is challenging to evade in today's fast-paced world, but there are steps you can take to alleviate it when it arises. Keep these reminders in mind whenever you're uncertain about how to proceed, and you'll soon navigate through it.
With any luck, these strategies will provide you with a starting point for managing overwhelming situations. Achieving a happier and healthier life by effectively managing stress and other negative emotions is entirely attainable – all you require are the appropriate tools. Begin this journey today.
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