man on couch stressed out

Does this sound like you?

So – it’s the end of the day, and it’s been a pretty stressful one. Or maybe it’s the end of a very stressful week. Either way, you’re getting the feeling that a HUGE wave of emotion is getting ready to crash into you and crush you to the floor.

That’s how many people describe Overwhelm. 

This is the case when you live in a frenzied state of feelings where you are overcome with intense emotions that are very difficult to manage. 

So what can be done about it? This post is all about the what and why of Overwhelm and how to overcome it. 


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The Why of Overwhelm

It seems that today you see more and more people overreacting, super fatigued, and having a difficult time staying focused on anything.

In other words, overwhelmed.

So why might you be feeling overwhelmed? The key here is to start understanding why you feel overwhelmed so you can start to take action to change things around.

So here are some possible reasons why you might be overwhelmed. 

Your expectations are too wacky

Unrealistic expectations are a major root cause of being overwhelmed. Some people make commitments and don’t want to look bad by missing them. Others feel have to get something on their lists completed. But of course, when you miss that deadline or can’t make that commitment then this adds to your feelings of being overwhelmed.

Another way of handling this is to determine how much you can realistically handle and say no to the rest. This should provide you with a feeling of satisfaction by not taking on more commitments than can be accommodated, rather than the other way around.

man with post-it nots all over his face


Social media notifications

Oh… My… LORD! Are we tied to our smartphones or what? And every time the wind blows, you get a notification telling to you that something important must have just happened. And of course we think it has and then things just spiral out of control and into Overwhelm. Pretty soon your anxiety and stress are through the roof.  If you don’t watch out, you’ve lost all semblance of control. But that’s an illusion.

You can take back control just by putting your phone away for awhile such as during meals (and for goodness sake don’t take it to bed with you either). Try to start a habit of only looking at your notifications at certain intervals, such as once an hour. Maybe even put a timer on your phone so you can be notified to look at your notifications 🙂

Your boundaries are non-existent

Sure we all want to please others but you can take this to an extreme and start making promises that you can’t keep. And when you can’t it’s a good bet that you’ll start feeling overwhelmed.

Learn the word “no”. Use it often (but with respect)

Your self care is… careless

The more you do for other, and keeping doing and doing and doing, the less time you have for you.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the things on your “to do for them” list you’re probably not attending to your needs. And you need more than just basic hygiene, ok?

So start taking things off the “to do for others” list and replace them with some “do this for me” lists. Take some time for yourself and recharge those batteries in your brain. Do it for you, not for anyone else.

man on couch worried

The What of Overwhelm

Everyone of use goes through periods in our life where we get overwhelmed from time to time. But if it’s ALL the time, then there’s something going on that needs to be addressed.

If you are overwhelmed for too long it can seriously impact your state of mind, and the state of your relationships. Your body and mind can help warn you that you’re in trouble.  And knowing what’s going on can help you start taking control of things.

Here are some ways that being overwhelmed can affect you.

Your self care suffers

As mentioned above, You can easily forget to take care of yourself. This can cause you  to neglect taking care of the things needed to have a pleasurable life. With some degree of self-neglect, one may begin to forget meals, stop taking breaks, and struggle to fall asleep at night. The longer this continues, the worse you will feel.

Rational thinking flies out the window

There is a very good chance that you’re not thinking rationally if you’re suffering from overwhelm to too long. You can make poor decisions, which you come to regret, and then of course you’re losing sleep worrying about the impact of that decision. So things can spiral out of control fast.

You cry me a river

Many people feeling overwhelmed cry suddenly and intensely. Often for what may appear to be no reason. But of course there is a reason – it’s a sing that you’re struggling with Overwhelm

Of course it’s not a bad thing to cry now and then. But if you’re crying sponteneously and uncontrollably, that’s a sure sign that something’s wrong.

You can’t explain it

Just like crying “for no reason”, you can also experience intense emotional episodes that you can’t explain. Feeling of guilt, fear, or anger and sweep over you and consume you. Medically, you experience a huge drop in your cortisol levels which is what triggers this intense feelings. It’s not called the stress hormone for nothing.


couple arguing and pointing fingers at each other

Bad relations

As you experience the intense emotional states, you can often lash out at others. A spouse, a co-worker, or even you kids. You shout over the spilt milk that your 4 years old bumped into by accident. Folks don’t want to be around you when you’re like this, but you don’t know why you’re like this. Now you do.

man sitting on couch with head in hands

The Myths of Overwhelm

You’d be surprised how many people don’t take Overwhelm seriously. Some people even believe that you must have a “character flaw” if you’re feeling overwhelmed. You might even believe that yourself.

So let’s debunk come of the common myths about feeling overwhelmed. 

clock showing the time

Time is not on your side

Many people dealing with Overwhelm believe that there’s not enough time to do the things that could help you overcome it.

Even thought there are a lot of strategies and tools to help those feeling overwhelmed, you may believe that you don’t have the time to take advantage of them. Of course this starts a viscous cycle. For example:

You say “I’d love to plan a girl’s night out with my BFFs” which of course could help you with your struggle with feeling overwhelmed.

But then you say to yourself ” I just don’t have time. Too many things on my plate; too many promises that I’ve made that need to get done;” etc. “I’ll get to that when I have more time”

Then of course you never have more time. Then you start to feel bad that you’ve neglected your friends, and yourself, and now you feel even worse that before.

See that cycle? You need to reminder that you have control of your time and the priorities that you spend it on.

You can’t catch a break

When you’re overwhelmed, you begin to believe that you can’t take any breaks. You have no time for what you might perceive to be the “time-wasting” activities like day dreaming or doodling.

Actually, this is exactly want you need to to do. You need to give your brain a break and give it time to come up with solutions. So it’s ok to let your mind wander for a while. Take a walk; step away from whatever you’re doing and give yourself time to think through things. You may be surprised at what great ideas you come up with.

You’re weak

If you’re going through Overwhelm there is a good chance that you might be thinking you have a weakness. Some sort of character flaw is causing all of this stress and burnout that you’re feeling.

It’s not.

So start being more compassionate – to yourself. Increase your levels of self-care activities and start replacing those negative “I’m weak” thoughts with positive affirmations like ” I CAN get through this”

Unfriendly waters

Many people suffering from being overwhelmed will retreat into their shells. They withdraw from family and friends and don’t ask for help. Or may be they fear that they will lash out at others. Then, the viscous cycle starts again: You regret not being able to be with others and this just adds to your distress.

Instead, you must make every effort to include others in your journey to overcome overwhelm. Especially those who have the ability to help you. Reconnect with your family and friends. Admit that your are struggling. Ask for their understanding, compassion and support. The more time you spend with others (and not worrying about everything on your to do list) the better you’ll be. 

drawing of man at desk with head on his laptop

7 Things to Keep In Mind with Overwhelm

At times, everybody gets overwhelmed, yet that does not imply that there’s no hope for you. Below are seven important points to bear in mind when you begin really feeling overwhelmed.

1. It’s perfectly normal 

This feeling of overwhelm that you’re experiencing is often a natural signs from your body that it is time to slow down and re-examine what’s going on around you as well as your feelings at that moment. Don’t forget that you can control your emotions, and with that just that knowledge you may be able to de-escalate the situation.

2. It’s not the end of days

This is part of life. The bright side of all of of this is that you can stop the cycle of negative feelings and the viscous cycle of overwhelm just by recognizing it as such and taking action to reduce it’s effect or even prevent it from happening in the first place.

notebook with blank page and pen on top of it

3. When you’re down, write it down

Unleash your brain by dumping all the things you’re feeling and all the things you need to do on paper. Being overwhelmed causes your brain to become cluttered with all kinds of things. The simple act of writing down how you feel, or what things are bothering you can provide clarity and calmness. 

4. Get up and Get out

Instead of being stuck in your overwhelmed existence, break away. Go outside. Take a walk. Open a window and look outside. Phone a friend. Whatever you do, do something. Take action of some kind to help you recalibrate and recollect.

5. You CAN put your phone down 

And yes, you can even turn it OFF (*gasp!*)

Don’t be addicted to your social media notifications, otherwise your overwhelm will very likely get worse, not better. Having your phone ping you every 15 seconds is just adding to your stress and panic. Step away from your phone – for at least a while – while you sort out your feelings and better focus on your tasks at hand.

sunrise through the trees


6. Nature can Nurture 

There’s often nothing better that getting outside and letting the sun shine on your face to help break the cycle of overwhelm . So untie that emotional rope that has you tied to your desk and take walk. If it’s raining, fine – take the umbrella or just go dancing in the rain. 

7. You’ve passed this way before…

…and you’ll likely pass this way again.

There is a very good chance that you’ve felt this way before. It subsided then, and it will now. What’s different is that how you know how to better handle things so this time (and next time) the time you spend feeling overwhelmed will be less.

worried man being comforted

So You’re Feeling Overwhelmed. Now What?

Ok, so you’ve read all of this and you’re still feeling overwhelmed. What do you do now? First, you need to calm down. It’s the first and best thing you can do.

There are many methods of managing stress and overwhelm. Here are six steps you can take to quickly calm yourself when feeling overwhelmed.

woman on yoga mat meditating

1. Breathe – Deeply

You may not realize it, but when you’re feeling overwhelmed your breathing starts getting faster. Then if it continues, your breathing becomes shallow. That’s why many people hyperventilate.

To break this cycle you need to learn to first STOP everything, and start focusing on your breathing. Make an effort to purposely breath deeply.

Take several deep breaths, and then start to hold your breath when you breath in for just a couple of seconds. Then slowly exhale. That’s one of many breathing techniques available to you. Find one that works best for you and pull that out of your toolkit the next time you start feeling overwhelmed.

2. Tune out and tune in

Music soothes the savage… well, you. Turn on one of your favorite songs and listen for a while. If the wave of Overwhelm is going to crash over you anyway, it’s better if you’re chilling to your best tune while you ride it out.

3. Jot it down to stay up

When you’re in the middle of an overwhelming event, take out some paper and write down how you’re feeling. You can even use this method to stay focused on your tasks at hand by writing down the important things that need to get done.

This is great way to use journaling to help you figure out what’s causing you to feel the way you feel, and even to identify the triggers that overwhelm you. Keep a small notebook, journal or pad of paper always nearby jot things down when you’re overwhelmed. Just the act of putting pen to paper will calm you and help you regain control. 

two women sitting at at table talking


4. Phone a Friend

There’s nothing like hearing a clam voice on the other end of the line to help you regain your focus and decrease your stress. Identify those in your contacts list that do the best job of this and add them to your phone’s speed dial.


5. Take a bit out of stress

Head over to the fridge or your work break area and grab a snack. Preferably and healthy one, but in this case anything that you can eat slowly would work. If you can’t find anything then grab a drink and take slow sips.

Try to focus on how you’re eating or drinking, rather than whatever is triggering your overwhelm. Take very slow bites, and savor every one. This will help you regain your composure and focus.

man running outside


6. Break out

Walk way from your workplace or wherever you might be when feeling overwhelmed. Try to get outside and take a short stroll. Or at least take some long looks out the window and the clouds or trees and flowers.

The mission here is to change your view and switch your brain off for a second or two, so that you can refocus. One preventative action you can take is the set a timer on your phone or computer to alert to get up and move around every 15 minutes or so.

worried woman with hands over ears

Stop Overwhelm Before It Starts

An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure, and that’s certainly true when it comes to feeling overwhelmed. So how can you avoid this in the first place? Are there things you can do to help cut your feelings of being overwhelmed off at the knees so that you stay focused?

Yes, you can. Here are some ways to prevent yourself from starting that viscous spiral down the dark tunnel of Overwhelm.

1. Plan Ahead

In the heat of the moment, things can sideswipe you emotionally because you’re unprepared. Your brain had no clue how to recognize exactly what is taking place or what to do about it. So before you do that specific task ask yourself if it’s important. Does it really need to get done now? Where does it fit the your essential task list for the day?

When you take moment and consider things, it helps your brain to put things in the right framing. This will help avoid the “hair on fire” effect that happens from becoming overwhelmed.

2. Focus on the top 10

Or maybe even just your top three.

Take a few minutes to be strategic about your to do list. What tasks are the most important to take care of? Which one will add more value to your life, or your work or your business? These are the ones you must pay attention to and the ones you need to accomplish first. And don’t let perfection the enemy of good. 

3. The one thing that rules them all

We’ve all heard of multi-tasking. Not a good idea if you’re trying to avoid becoming overwhelmed. You should focus on single-tasking. Take the one thing that you’re working on and do that one thing. Nothing more, nothing less. If you try to do three things at one none of them will be done well. Or at all.

Keep that one thing that you’re working on in front of mind and stay with that one thing until it’s done. Then move on to the next. You’ll get more things done and with less stress. 

4. Wander is Wonderful

While you’re working on that one thing, don’t forget that you can’t always being in the on position. Turn off every now and then and allow yourself time to do nothing, or just a mindless activity. Give your brain a break and it will pay you back with solutions to issues coming out of nowhere.

5. Keep your friends close, but your calendar closer

Don’t let anyone touch your calendar. You get to choose what goes on your calendar and what stays off of it. Before making any commitments on the spot, make a habit of saying “I’ll get back to you” and then consider if it’s worth adding to your schedule.

And learn the art of saying no respectfully.

the words you got this written in chalk on a street


All of us sometime struggle with feeling overwhelmed. It come come from having a major assignment to work on, or trying to help when our children are struggling with schoolwork (who remembers algebra, for goodness sakes!)

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may be on your way to what experts call “burnout,” but you don’t have to find yourself there. It is possible to reduce overwhelm and even avoid it.

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Living with stress all of the time means that you cannot be truly happy in your life.

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