Feeling Overwhelmed? Strategies To Cope And Survive
By: Michael Puskar
Updated May 11, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW
We all get overwhelmed at times, and usually it passes soon enough. However, for many, that feeling of the world crushing down on you can be persistent and cause chronic stress, which leads to health problems. This article will provide you with the definition of overwhelm along with useful tips to help you cope with feeling overwhelmed and minimize the amount of stress in your life.
Before diving into these tips, we'll explore what it means to be overwhelmed.
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The definitions for overwhelm (overwhelm, verb) center around the emotions or senses being overcome by superior force or great force. In other words when it comes to being overwhelmed, overwhelming circumstances can overpower the thoughts, emotions, and sensibilities of someone who is experiencing this powerful emotion.
You're probably most familiar with hearing the term: "overwhelmed with grief." This is one of the physical examples of overwhelm that are easy to identify. It's easy for the outside world to notice that you're feeling overwhelmed when symptoms of stress and anxiety present themselves in the form of an anxiety attack. When life's challenges present themselves at an inopportune time - intense anxiety can develop as a result of the overwhelming thoughts that are now causing you to physically stop what you're doing and take deep breaths.
What makes today's world the perfect place for overwhelmed feelings? Despite early 20th century predictions to the contrary, technology has made life more complicated and hectic. Sure, the design of the washing machine means that nobody has to churn and squeegee their filthy shirts for three hours a day. But the invention of the Internet and the proliferation of networked devices allow you to be more connected than ever.
But what is happening to your body post navigation - when all of your devices are powered down?
More connection means more demands on your time. Instead of reading a book at night, you steel yourself as you read a stressful email message from your boss. That's right-your boss's influence extends all the way to your bedroom! But 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"
Congratulations. You've already accomplished half the battle; you're reading this article because you identified that you're feeling overwhelmed. Taking the time to recognize that you're experiencing stress and anxiety is difficult, but rewarding-because once you identify them, you can address them directly.
But what exactly is the meaning of overwhelmed? Quite simply, it's having too much to do -- and not enough mental strength or mental energy to do it. Inundated and submerged are common feelings related to anxious thoughts when you're feeling overwhelmed. So if you feel like you are on a sinking ship, devoid of mental energy, and experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety, you're probably overwhelmed.
Understand Why You Feel Overwhelmed
You might think you feel overwhelmed because you have too much on your to-do list. But you're 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.
Why would your mind race in the first place? Think about the experience of the human mind throughout history. Prior to the industrial revolution, much of our time was spent laboring to manage all our daily tasks. But now technology has transformed our lives, changing the way we manage household chores, transportation, and work, giving us more free time but also many more options and activities that beg for our attention. In short, the human brain is not accustomed to the infinite number of things to do.
It races from one exciting or troubling possibility to another, and you begin to feel overwhelmed. Feelings of intense anxiety can have a powerful effect on your mental state and prohibit your relaxation response from providing you with relief.
This article will now cover steps you can take to help overcome feelings of being overwhelmed and teach you how to solve problems by turning to positive thoughts (when negative thoughts and emotions are trying to take over.) There are personal growth steps outlined below; read through and identify 2-3 that resonate with you, and make you feel as though you can accomplish them.
(The opinions expressed in this post are our own and not intended to replace licensed mental health treatment.)
1. Define Your Priorities
When circumstances begin to overmaster, overpower and overwhelm you, it's time to take a break. Taking a break prevents you from being overcome completely life's circumstances or other people in your life. Understanding that your time and energy are not limitless means choosing how to use that time and energy.
When you feel you have too much to do, start by identifying what matters most. Many people who consciously think about it choose to prioritize family and health. The problem is that too many people don't consciously prioritize tasks, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration. Picture constantly checking and responding to social media notifications here.
2. Manage Your Energy (Sleep)
Many people in the United States try to accomplish one last thing by sacrificing an hour of sleep, but if you feel overwhelmed, that is the last thing you should do. Even losing one hour of sleep decreases cognitive performance significantly. Being in a constant state of over-whelm can affect perfusion or concentration of energy. When you get enough sleep, you may do less, but you will accomplish more. Whatever you are able to do will be much higher quality. When you're well-rested, you are more effective and efficient.
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3. Surround Yourself with Energy Builders
If you are overwhelmed at work, be sure to surround yourself with Positive Patties instead of Negative Nancies that 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 focus on the delicious pizza rather than the spilled pop, the upcoming holiday rather than the weekend workday, and the boss's stylish tie rather than his critical demeanor.
When you hang out with energy builders, their infectious optimism will envelop you, and you will feel pretty good as you become an energy builder yourself. When you feel optimistic you are more likely to see the opportunities instead of the obstacles.
4. Maintain Your Hobbies and Develop New Ones
Don't get caught in the trap of moving from one demand to another without stopping for a breath. If you want to live a complete life, keep your hobbies and develop new ones. Sure, you may not get paid for them, but you'll approach work with a fresh perspective and maybe even get a promotion because of it. Making time for activities that are just for fun and relaxation is a part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
5. Appreciate Your Unconditional Worth
If you feel overwhelmed, chances are you haven't taken the time to acknowledge your intrinsic value. You have worth regardless of what you do. If you are performance oriented, you 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. Whether you become overwhelmed by performance frustrations or other issues that cause you to feel negatively about yourself, an online counselor can help you understand and work to improve your self-worth.
6. Take Strides to Overcome the Feeling of Stress Quickly
When you're overwhelmed, your stress response is likely activated and stress hormones are coursing through your veins. Short-term (acute) stress actually boosts your immune system and overall well being. But long-term (chronic) stress leads to chronic inflammation, and eventually, disease. For this reason, it's important to face stress head on to manage it effectively instead of trying to cover over or bury symptoms of overwhelm.
7. Engage Your Senses
You're not a robot. You have the ability to fully integrate and appreciate your five 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. One translation of overwhelm can be disconnect - as in disconnected from your self by way of your five 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 in the present moment.
8. 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. As an added bonus, you'll feel accomplished as you cross off tasks one by one upon completion.
9. Cultivate Gratitude
If you think you have too much to do, appreciate the fact that your life feels full. Feeling overwhelmed can be an indication of blessings in your life like a family and a job. Take time each day to write down what you're grateful for. In the future, you can review this gratitude journal to fully appreciate the positive aspects of your life.
A cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind. There's a logical reason why some people clean when they're overwhelmed; they are clearing their minds as well as their surroundings. If you take a few minutes to clean, you'll be more productive when you resume work.
11. Delegate Tasks
As humans, we don't want to wave the white flag of surrender. We don't want to delegate tasks to others for fear they won't do them correctly. But when you feel overwhelmed, chances are it's time to release your tight grip on life and delegate tasks to family, friends, and coworkers. Collaboration can be rewarding.
12. Learn to Say No
If you have too much to do, learn to say no. Saying no is not mean, it's simply an acknowledgment that you have limited time and energy. Focus on tasks and projects that are uniquely designed for your capabilities. Don't waste time on things outside of your areas of expertise. Unless, of course, you're cultivating a new skill or hobby-then it's perfectly okay to try new things. But when you want to get the most done in the least amount of time, say no to anything others could do better.
13. Stop Multitasking
It turns out the brain can't really multitask. That's right, we've all fooled ourselves. When you talk on the phone and drive, you're either primarily driving the car or focusing on talking on the phone (scary). The quality of your work will greatly decrease if you try to do two things at once. Don't divide your focus. You'll be much more efficient and effective if you focus on one task at a time.
14. Be Mindful
If your mind is racing, learn to slow it down through practicing mindfulness. Instead of fretting about the future or ruminating about the past, spend time being fully present in the moment. The art of mindfulness is a powerful tool for focusing on the most important moment, and that is the present moment.
15. Ask yourself, "Is It Really Necessary?"
Evaluate whether a task is really necessary. Often we self-impose deadlines and tasks when others don't have these expectations of us. Nobody has ordered you onto that exhausting hamster wheel! Get off as soon as you can.
16. 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 overstressed or overtired. After a quick nap or meditation, your life will seem less hazy and doomed.
17. 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. Having a strong support system leads to better mental and physical health.
BetterHelp Can Help
Remember that feeling overwhelmed is a state of mind, not a real condition. You can choose to combat the feeling with targeted strategies like the ones above. An online counselor can help you identify specific causes behind why you feel overwhelmed, and help you address them, one-by-one. With a little effort and the help of a professional counselor, you can regain a sense of calm control over your life. Below are reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Working with Jerry has been helpful to realize that some of what I'm trying to do or change feels really overwhelming, and that feeling can be normal but also that it can be dealt with. He has a good balance of reflecting back what I've said in challenging ways, but also giving me suggestions on how to adjust my thinking to be healthier."
"I am very pleased with Natasha's help - she is insightful, smart and a good listener. She gave me very useful advice and listened with empathy, making me feel empowered to make some changes in a time when I was feeling overwhelmed."
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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What does it mean to feel overwhelmed?
It's easy to feel that life has gotten too heavy. When you have lots to do and not enough energy to do everything, you can start to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and unsure about what to do next. If you're feeling overwhelmed, the best thing to do is to stop and take a deep breath to assess the situation and decide on the next best course of action to take.
How do you know if you're overwhelmed?
When it seems like every task or responsibility is to large or complicated for you, this can be a sign of being overwhelmed. If you feel anxious or afraid of starting or completing important tasks, this can be a sign of being overwhelemed or another serious mental health issue. Talking to a counselor or therapist can help you sort through your emotions and learn how to restore your energy.
What causes you to feel overwhelmed?
Having too much to do without a clear objective on how to get it done, being too connected to social media, television, and work. All of these things can cause us to feel overwhelmed as we try to find ourselves and what we need amongst the clutter. Most of the time feeling overwhelmed is simply a result of having too many things to do. Can you afford to cut back?
What happens when you are overworked?
When people become overworked, they may look like they're doing more -- when they're actually doing less. Overwork can send your mind and body into a tailspin that you can't seem to pull out of. Working long hours and burning the candle at both ends is a recipe for mental and physical disaster long-term. Step back and assess your life to see where you can make adjustments to your schedule.
Can exhaustion cause anxiety?
Absolutely. If you're starting to feel exhausted on a regular basis, this can trigger worry. You may begin to wonder if this exhaustion is going to last forever or if the exhaustion is a result of a bigger issue that you may not want to face. The constant merry-go-round of thoughts regarding exhaustion can lead to chronic and severe anxiety.
What are the symptoms of burnout?
The symptoms of burnout can mirror those of other mental disorders like depression. People who are experiencing burnout often appear to be exhausted and disinterested in their everyday lives. They may lose interest in going to work, school, or interacting with family. In reality, this disinterest is overwhelm or burnout and they simply have no energy left to get things done.
How do I stop being overwhelmed?
If you're starting to feel overwhelmed (more often than not) it's time to take a step back and see where your priorities are. Are there things and activities in your life that you can remove or cut back on to give yourself more time to mentally recover from everything you have to do? If you need help sorting out the priorities in your life, a licensed therapist can help.
How do I cope with too much work?
The best way to cope with too much work is to stop and assess your workload. Identify areas where you can cut back and things in your work routine that aren't absolutely essential. If you've been feeling overworked for a long period of time, talking with a mental health professional can help you gain a new perspective.