How To Deal With Overwhelm: 8 Practical Tips

That feeling of overwhelm — we’ve all experienced it — where the to-do list seems unmanageable, and it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time in the day to get it all done. 

When you have that level of stress, it’s hard to know what to do to get yourself out of it AND still get it all done. Overwhelm consumes your thoughts and actions, making things even worse.

Here’s 8 simple tips to help you deal with the inevitable overwhelming moments you’ll have as you make your way through this life. 

how to deal with overwhelm

What is Overwhelm?

Overwhelm could be described as feeling completely overcome in mind or emotion. When your stress feels too hard to manage, or your emotions are getting the best of you, we’re in a state of overwhelm.

When you’re in a state of overwhelm, it’s often because your attention on the unknown of the future: “If I don’t do this, then this might happen.” You’re playing out the worst-case scenario in your head—how much time it’s going to take, what’s going to happen when it doesn’t get done—and take all of it to be 100% the truth. Hello, stress.

What Causes Overwhelm?

Here are just a few of the things that can start us spiraling into a state of overwhelm:

  • An unexpected life event
  • A change in life; something new you’re not used to managing
  • A long to-do list
  • An unachievable goal
  • An unprocessed emotion or event 
  • Too many ideas (even good ones!)
  • Trying to do everything yourself; refusing to ask for help
  • Perfectionism
  • Procrastination

What Does Overwhelm Look/Feel Like?

  • Intense stress
  • Other intense emotions – anger, sadness, irritability, etc 
  • Anxiety
  • Worry or doubt
  • It may come out in our behavior too, such as lashing out, uncontrollable crying, panic attacks, or complacency.

8 Tips To Deal With Overwhelm

It’s time! Let’s break out of the cycle of overwhelm by learning how to properly manage it.

1. Feel it to deal with it

Start by acknowledging that you’re feeling overwhelmed, that it’s causing these other unwanted emotions, and that you’re acting differently because of it. So much overwhelm is caused by pushing away or ignoring unwanted emotions for them to only magnify and explode. So feel the overwhelm, and also, feel the emotions behind it.

Don’t forget to also consider what has caused your overwhelm? Give yourself the space and time you need to feel it and openly express it. 

2. Investigate your thoughts

What are the thoughts that come along with the overwhelm?

Some examples…

  • “Ugh, I have so much to do; I’ll never get this all done.”
  • “I don’t have time for this.”
  • “This is going to take forever.”
  • “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
  • “How am I ever going to get this right?”
  • “I can’t be in two places at once.”

Well, that’s not helpful! Those thoughts are contributing to your overwhelm, likely without you even realizing it. You have ALL the power in the world to change what you think. You don’t HAVE to have those thoughts. And you can absolutely choose to think differently about the situation.

Some examples…

  • “I may not get it all done today, but I’ll get it done.”
  • “I think I’ll ask for assistance on this.”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. I’ll take a break and come back to this when I have a clearer head.”

3. Breathe

Deep breathing guides your nervous system from a sympathetic stress response to parasympathetic relaxed response. Close your eyes and take at least 5 deep breaths (count of 5 in, hold for 5, count of 5 exhale).

4. Chunk it up

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the things you have on your to-do list, break the list down further. Create a new list with the things that HAVE to get done. Put everything else on another list. If you get to that, great. If you don’t, great. We all know that the dishes can go unclean for one day and the laundry doesn’t all have to get done. This also provides a great change of perspective to see that what you’re stressing about really isn’t that important, and can wait another day or two.

5. Create a rating system

If an abundance of ideas is at the heart of what’s overwhelming you, rate your ideas based on your excitement level for each. Only go after the ones that are a 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, and save the rest for another time.

6. Quit multi-tasking

Doing everything at once to try to get it all done faster doesn’t work! Close all of your computer tabs (literally and figuratively—your mind’s open tabs), turn off your phone, delete unnecessary apps, and focus on one thing at a time.

7. Do something else entirely

The hardest thing to do when we have a lot on our plate is to not do any of it, but it is a sure-fire way to get your flow back! What calms you? Meditation, nature, exercise? Choose something you enjoy, and use it to clear your head. You will come back to your list with a fresh perspective.

8. Stay present

This is so important. To keep your stress levels down, be in the moment. Ask yourself, “what will I do in this moment?” Then answer, “In this moment, I am doing this.” Keeping your mind in the right place is key to help you deal with overwhelm.

Homework

Go through your to-do list right now and rank items in two ways.

  • NEED to get done scale: What absolutely cannot wait?
  • EXCITEMENT scale: What gets you the most excited when you think about it?

Do the ones that are high on both lists now, and chunk up the rest for later.

READY FOR MORE?

Listen to this Unstuck Podcast episode, How to Handle Overwhelm.

Take the Vibe Quiz to find out where you’re vibe-in’!

Get yourself out of autopilot-mode with this FREE 5-Day Challenge!

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