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How to Manage When We Feel Overwhelmed

When you experience emotional overwhelm, it can feel all-consuming. For the many people who will face this feeling at some point in their lives, it entails being completely overcome by an intense and unruly emotion that something is too challenging to manage and overcome. When confronted with being overwhelmed, it can be difficult to think and act rationally, and even function in a normal way. Needless to say, the experience of this feeling is uncomfortable and the causes and effects can span across your personal and professional life.

What Causes Emotional Overwhelm?

When a person believes the stressors are far too great to manage, they become overwhelmed — which means that any number of causes are possible.

Defining Becoming Overwhelmed

Emotional overwhelm entails more than being stressed. By definition being emotionally overwhelmed means to be completely submerged by your thoughts and emotions about all of life’s current problems, to the point where you lack efficacy and feel frozen or paralyzed. Compare the feeling of being overwhelmed to being submerged after a rough wave. It’s a scary experience, you may not know which way is up or what way to swim, you may feel stunned and unable to react. You may be unable to think or act rationally or functionally and emotional overwhelm may impact your relationships or professional life. Whether brought on by an exceptionally stressful time at work, a traumatic personal experience like losing a loved one, or another inciting factor, emotional overwhelm can occur for a short burst of time or over a much longer period. Sometimes, a series of hardships and challenges occurring in rapid succession can trigger someone to feel overcome by unwieldy emotions. Common experiences that can lead to emotional overwhelm can include:

  • Relationship issues
  • Physical or mental health illness
  • A demanding job
  • Lack of nutrition
  • Financial distress and insecurity
  • Significant life changes
  • Time constraints
  • Death of a loved one
  • Personal traumas such as abuse
  • Habitual lack of sleep

Symptoms of Overwhelm

When a person is experiencing an overwhelming feeling, it can take shape in a variety of ways. In each instance, a person is generally more likely to be overwhelmed by negative emotions — anger, fear, anxiety, or guilt — and it is often difficult to understand and verbalize the exact source of the stress. The reason a person’s physiology responds so strongly to this negative emotion is the release of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” When you begin to feel overwhelmed, cortisol surges through your body and leaves you overloaded with intense anxiety. At the same time, our serotonin stores, the chemical that helps our bodies fight off depression and anxiety, start to deplete. This combination causes the intense feeling of total despair associated with being overwhelmed. Often, overwhelm is as uncomfortable as it is uncontrollable. It rears its head as anxiety, anger, or significant irritability and worry. Doubt and helplessness also make their way into a person’s normal thought process. Physically, it can manifest when a person lashes out verbally, cries, or has a panic attack. These feelings are often paired with a quickened heartbeat, perspiration, shortness of breath, or even chest pain.

Preventing or Stopping Emotional Overwhelm

No matter the reason, if you feel the onset of overwhelm, there are some ways to help address the emotions both on your own and by leveraging outside support.

1. Accept the anxious feelings

Fighting off all-consuming emotions likely doesn’t do much to ease them in a particularly anxious moment. Try to remember that anxiety, to a certain degree, is a “normal” part of the human experience and use acceptance as a tool to work through those uncomfortable feelings (when possible).

2. Reverse your overwhelmed thought processes

Feelings of unpredictability and complete despair fuel overwhelm. Those unreasonable thoughts build up as anxiety and can cause a person significant distress. Stop those damaging thoughts before they become habitual ruminations by honestly asking yourself if that way of thinking is unreasonable or unhelpful. At the same time, try to find alternative, more positive thoughts.

3. Take some deep breaths

When you consciously breathe in deep, it triggers your body’s relaxation response and can come in handy during particularly stressful moments. Additionally, practicing yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm your body’s response to anxiety, as each exercise helps you to focus your breath.

4. Be in the moment

If your thinking is focused on what the future holds — whether in a few minutes or several years down the road — it may make you more susceptible to becoming overwhelmed. Think about one moment, task, and experience at a time, in the present moment, to help remove the possibility of uncontrollable thoughts that may or may not come about.

5. Know your resources

Besides breathing and meditation techniques to help prevent overwhelm, there is plenty of scientific research available about how stress and anxiety impact our cognitive abilities. To strengthen your ability to manage those feelings, discover what studies and recommendations resonate with you by using online search tools.

How Therapy Can Help You Manage Overwhelm

When you are not able to prevent overwhelming thoughts or feelings, therapy is a helpful way to address your response to them. In therapy, a qualified professional is able to help you sort through the issues causing your stress or anxiety and better understand its root causes. When you gain a solid understanding of what stressors and situations trigger this uncomfortable mental state, it helps cultivate a calmer frame of mind in the future. When looking for the right type of therapy to manage overwhelming experiences, there are different types of practices to consider. Certain forms of therapy incorporate meditation, hypnosis, and centering techniques to help teach people to soothe themselves during times of distress. In addition, a therapist may also recommend journal therapy or physical exercise, which are also found to help prevent emotional overwhelm. While there is no way to determine what life has in store at any given moment, there are ways to build up mental strength to better take on life’s challenges and build resiliency. When you take time to learn what triggers stress and anxious thoughts, you can better manage overwhelming experiences before they occur. With the right tools and hard work, you can help minimize the occurrence and impact of becoming overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed? These 6 Strategies May Help

Overwhelm is a 20-foot wave crashing into you. Repeatedly. Psychologist Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, described overwhelm as “feeling completely overcome in mind or emotion.” When we think a stressor is too great for us to manage, we feel overwhelmed, she said.

Feeling overwhelmed has many faces. According to Deibler, overwhelm might manifest as an intense emotion, such as anxiety, anger or irritability; maladaptive thought process, such as worry, doubt or helplessness; and behavior, such as crying, lashing out or experiencing a panic attack.

Anxiety seems to be the most common, according to L. Kevin Chapman, Ph.D, a psychologist and associate professor in clinical psychology at the University of Louisville, where he studies and treats anxiety disorders. For instance, you might experience a fast heartbeat, sweating, tingling, chest pain or shortness of breath, he said.

What causes overwhelm?

“The possibilities are endless,” said Deibler, who’s also director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, LLC. And it varies by individual, she said. Overwhelm can peak from a long to-do list we can’t seem to finish or an emotional event like a birth or death, she said.

Whatever the reason behind your overwhelm, here are six strategies to help.

Suggestions for Preventing or Stopping Overwhelm

1. Accept your anxiety.

Has fighting your feelings of overwhelm ever helped you erase them? Probably not. More likely, battling your emotions only boosted them. According to Deibler, “It’s ‘normal’ to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, or imminent.” Think of acceptance as riding out a wave, she said.

2. Change overwhelm-inducing thoughts.

Thoughts of uncontrollability or unpredictability are the backbone of overwhelm, according to Chapman. It’s the unrealistic or unreasonable thoughts that spark our stressed-out reaction. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to what we tell ourselves and learn to create helpful thoughts.

Let’s say you have a mile-long to-do list, and all you keep thinking is “I’ll never get this done.” That’s a damaging thought that can lead to distress and anxiety, Deibler said. And it paralyzes you from problem-solving and taking action, she said. But remember that you’re not a slave to your ruminations.

Ask yourself “In what ways might this be inaccurate, unreasonable or unhelpful?” Deibler said. Next, consider how you can think more realistically. Here, your goal is to generate alternative thoughts that will lead to positive emotions and behavior.

For instance, to revise the above overwhelming thought, Deibler suggested these alternatives: “I may not get it all finished today, but if I work on it or if I seek assistance, I will likely get it done;” “I know I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, but if I take a break, I may feel differently about this when I return;” “It seems overwhelming to me right now, but if I break it down into smaller parts, it may be more doable.”

3. Change your multitasking mindset.

“’Multitasking’ by definition implies that we are doing too many things at once,” Chapman said. He suggested readers shift their perspective. “We have to change our expectation that everything has to be completed right now ‘or else.’”

4. Focus on right now.

When you’re consumed with what may or may not happen in several minutes or months, you can’t appreciate the here and now, Deibler said. Instead, schedule time to plan for the future, so you can breathe in the present moment, she said.

5. Take a deep breath.

Deep breathing encourages our body’s relaxation response, Deibler said. Other calming and stress-reducing activities include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, Tai chi and yoga, she said.

6. Take action.

To quell overwhelm, engage in an activity that you enjoy, such as listening to music, reading a book or taking a walk, Deibler said. And consider how you can solve the stressors that triggered your overwhelm in the first place, she said.

Overwhelmed? These 6 Strategies May Help

We’re all familiar with the sensation of being overwhelmed: a thousand thoughts and tasks circling around in your brain, and not a single one feels achievable. There’s nothing pleasant — or productive — about it.

Being overwhelmed is often characterized by depletion, exhaustion, and even a sense of futility, says Anthony P. DeMaria, PhD, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist. and associate director of adult ambulatory psychiatry at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West Hospitals in New York City.

But fatigue is far from the only physical symptom. “ take a toll on the body, and if prolonged can negatively impact physical health,” says Dr. DeMaria.

Here’s why: your body responds to stressful situations (like feeling overwhelmed) by producing more cortisol — way more. High levels of this stress hormone over an extended period can lead to an increase in your blood pressure, weight gain, immune system suppression, and a loss of muscle mass and calcium in your bones, he explains.

Your body is essentially waving a white flag of surrender. But if being overwhelmed feels so wretched, why is the sensation so common? We spoke with therapists to uncover what’s behind feeling overwhelmed and get tips for how to break free from the burnout spiral.

Why You Feel So Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed is a clue that you don’t have sufficient boundaries in place, says Dori Gatter, PsyD, LPC, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist. “There’s not enough self-care happening. You’ve piled too much on,” she says. Without boundaries, it’s easy to wind up with too many commitments in not enough time — a surefire recipe for becoming overwhelmed.

Another major factor: fear of the future. “A lot of times what accelerates our feelings of anxiety or being overwhelmed is thinking too far into the future and anticipating what’s going to happen,” says Dana Dorfman, PhD, a psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast “2 Moms on the Couch.” It’s easy to focus on our uncertainty about how things will play out and the unpredictability that lies ahead, she says.

And, there’s no discounting the role of our own response to stressors in the overwhelm build-up. Yes, some events and experiences are objectively stressful, says Dr. DeMaria (think: a move, a big work project, or planning a holiday with the in-laws). But it’s “the mental processes that take place when we are experiencing adverse events or circumstances” that he says can amplify stress and lead to feeling overwhelmed.

Paula DaniëlseGetty Images

How to Stop the Cycle

One simple way to feel better? Admit it’s happening. “Labeling sometimes gives us a sense of control,” says Dr. Dorfman. Here are six more smart strategies to help you transition from overwhelmed to plain ol’ whelmed (or avoid the feeling in the first place).

1. Anticipate it.

How can you avoid that downward spiral? Plan ahead. If you know you have a busy few months ahead, create a strategy for how to handle it beforehand, recommends Dr. DeMaria. Just make sure not to spend this anticipatory time ruminating on the many ways things can wrong, cautions Dr. DeMaria. Instead, visualize success and figure out the steps required to achieve it, he says. And don’t forget to brainstorm ideas for navigating obstacles that may arise.

You should also avoid sabotaging yourself. It’s important to maintain healthy boundaries, says Dr. DeMaria. If you’re stretched thin, don’t sign up to host a dinner party the evening before a big presentation, he says. “We need to be our own advocates, and learn to manage others’ expectations of us, to avoid being overwhelmed,” says Dr. DeMaria.

2. Take a deep breath.

Remember that surge of cortisol? It leads to your body being in a physiologically heightened state, says Dr. Dorfman. So tactics that calm your body down — like doing the above deep breathing exercise, or spending 20 minutes exercising — will lower your heart rate, leave you feeling centered and counteract the cortisol, she says.

3. Break it down.

We all have times when our to-do list is daunting: That week leading up to Thanksgiving, say, or the close of the fiscal year at the office. To gain control and feel productive instead of inundated, break each giant task into very manageable, incremental steps, suggests Dr. Dorfman. “Oftentimes, that releases the paralysis,” says Dr. Dorfman.

4. Remember the past.

Here’s a tactic Dr. Dorfman uses a lot with patients: Reflect on a time previously when you’ve felt overwhelmed and then gotten past all your anxiety. This can be really reassuring. “You can preempt spiraling when you recall those instances when you were able to master the stress,” says Dr. Dorfman.

5. Disrupt your thoughts.

Engaging in catastrophic thinking tightens that overwhelmed feeling, notes Dr. Dorfman. Get in the habit of engaging in positive self-talk. “Saying ‘we will get through this,’ provides much more comfort and relief than saying, ‘we are doomed,’” points out Dr. DeMaria. Thinking rationally (instead of fixating on bad outcomes) makes it easier to address stressors and effectively problem-solve, says Dr. Dorfman.

6. Phone a friend.

Maybe you’re under too much pressure to think of a comforting moment from the past or practice positive self-talk. If none of these other tactics work, reach out for help. Call your BFF. A friend that knows you well can remind you of other times when you’ve had these same feelings and gotten through the moment, says Dr. Dorfman. Friends can also serve as affirming cheerleaders, she adds.

What to Do When Your Life Is Overwhelming You

None By Homaira Kabir

It’s 6 a.m. and I’m still awake. Instead of feeling alive with the dawn of a new day, I feel like I’m already behind. There’s so much to do, so little time…how will I ever get through it all?! I’m experiencing the same thoughts I had as I fell asleep, and they replayed themselves in various catastrophic forms all through the night. No wonder I feel like I barely slept.

I’ve woken up feeling this way for many weeks now. Some days, it means I procrastinate on what needs to get done because it all seems too overwhelming. Other days, it means I buckle up and get through my to-do list, battling on and eventually feeling burned out. I look for a better solution but come up blank. My mind feels numb. I fall back into bed and pull the covers over myself.

It was a good thing I did. The fact that I felt incapable of facing the day freed up the mental resources to stay in the present, process what had been going on, and plan the way forward. It helped me put things into perspective and take a longer-term view of life—something we don’t get to do often enough, simply because the day-to-day always feels so urgent, so critical, and so much.

If life is overwhelming you now, or has the tendency to do so at various intervals, here’s some advice that may safeguard your sanity and physical well-being.

Change Your Perspective on Time

There’s no doubt that the pace of life has increased dramatically. Most of us simply cannot afford to sit back and listen to the birds chirp, or watch the clouds drift away. But many of us still spend an unreasonable amount of time hooked in to our devices that disconnect us from the wonders of the real world. Living in the moment changes our relationship with life, because as we begin to see with new eyes, time slows down and life begins to fall in place.

Lesson: Change the “I’m too busy” narrative.

Change Your Attitude Toward Stress

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s research on stress shows that it’s not always a bad thing. What makes it so is our attitude toward it. When I would wake up feeling there was too much to do, I would also subconsciously be telling myself that I won’t be able to get through it all. But when I began to consciously tell myself that this was something I was excited about, I could welcome the discomfort and the adrenaline that came with it.

Lesson: See problems as projects.

Change Your Perception of Your Tasks

Unless you’re super-disciplined, it’s only natural to end up with tasks that are both important and not so important. So it’s essential to do a spring cleaning every once in a while to stay focused on the meaningful projects. Divide everything you do into Do, Delegate, Defer, or Drop—then take action. Reflecting back on life in one’s final days, I don’t believe anyone has ever regretted not getting through their daily to-do list. But not staying true to what’s important is the biggest regret people carry.

Lesson: Simplify and prioritize.

Change Your Approach to Your Day

This one had the biggest impact on me—and science backs it up! When I began my day with a quiet 2-minute gratitude practice, I could calm the frustrations of the emotional mind that forever seeks better and more, and be grateful for what I already had. We’re all wired with a negativity bias that makes it difficult to appreciate what’s already working and what’s already there—unless we intentionally do so.

Lesson: Regularly reset your mental clock with gratitude.

Change Your Relationship with Yourself

We’ve gotten used to thinking of our bodies as machines that perform the tasks that get us through the day. However, the body is also a source of guidance and wisdom, and the protector of our souls. When we don’t look after it, we can get disconnected from our values and the larger meaning of our lives. This is especially important in times of stress, because not even a machine can function well when it’s not taken care of.

Lesson: Listen to your body’s needs throughout the day.

None of us can stay constantly revved up in the long-term. Like the seasons, our internal clock needs to go underground to prepare itself for the challenges we face and the opportunities that lie ahead. And unless we respect its need for rest and renewal, life will overwhelm us, because we’ll have little to give back to it.

Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach and cognitive behavioral therapist. She offers courses and coaching to help women develop the self-confidence and inner strength to identify and achieve their biggest and boldest goals. You can take her free quiz on learning to grow authentic self-worth at her website.

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10 Things to Do When You’re Overwhelmed

Life can be challenging. With all the demands put upon you by work, family, relationships, external circumstances, and even yourself, it often feels as if you are Atlas, supporting the entire world upon your shoulders. The modern world is moving faster than ever, and it seems as if you will never catch up to all the competing priorities and challenges for your time. This experience can be best summed up in one word: overwhelm. Treading water in an endlessly uncompassionate sea of concerns eats away at your time, health, and happiness, robbing you of a fulfilling life.

If you feel this way, understand that you are not alone. The experience of moderate to extreme overwhelm is in no way uncommon. More importantly, however, is the understanding that in all likelihood, it’s not your fault. Feeling overwhelmed with life is essentially systemic in society—in other words, it’s a built-in given of modern life. This is because the fast-paced, technologically driven, high-achievement society has created what in Ayurveda is considered an environment of Vata derangement.

Vata is the principle of movement, activity, change, and transition. And while this concept is an essential component of life, when taken to its extreme, too much Vata creates a state of hyperactivity and imbalance. This atmosphere rattles your nerves, agitates your mind, and makes stability elusive. Understanding this is an important first step in coping with overwhelm; when you sense that the odds are stacked against you, you can have more self-compassion as you explore the following strategies to find calm in the chaos.

Here are 10 tools to manage feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

1. Prioritize Self-Care

When the signs of overwhelm begin to show up in your life, an important first step is to recognize the need to put self-care high on your list of priorities. Don’t wait until your ship has begun to sink before taking concerted action to see to your well-being. At the first hint that your boat has sprung a leak and you’re starting to feel a little swamped in workload, family, or personal concerns, you need to pause, assess the situation, and make a commitment to finding coping skills that will help you remain balanced and centered.

2. Shift Your Perspective

It’s important to remember that the stress of overwhelm begins with a perception. Perceptions are subjective interpretations of situations and events. How you perceive things determines how the situation will affect you.

When you feel overwhelmed, try to focus on reframing the experience and see it from a different angle. Considering different interpretations of the situation often helps you take things less seriously. Also, recall the wise saying, “This too shall pass.” Everything on the material level of existence has a beginning, middle, and ending. Your thoughts and feelings of being emotionally overwhelmed by life—no matter how exhausting—have an expiration date, and one day it too will pass.

3. Breathe Deeply

The feeling of overwhelm and Vata-induced anxiety by their nature get you “amped up”, and in so doing, rattle the cage of your body’s stress response. This increases your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, stress hormones, muscle tension, and a host of other physiologically damaging effects to your mind-body system.

One of the best ways to counteract this sensation is to take slow deep breaths. Known as Pranayama in Yoga and Ayurveda, these breathing techniques help you to regulate your body’s energy levels and can profoundly sooth your mind and body when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Two techniques in particular, Ujjayi Breath (the Success Breath) and Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) can have a deeply soothing effect on your system when you’re feeling overwhelmed by life.

4. Meditate

Meditation has countless benefits when it comes to countering the effects of overwhelm. First, similar to Pranayama, it is a powerful antidote to the body’s stress response. Second, in addition to slowing your breathing, it also calms the overactivity of your mind and emotions that are so common during periods of overwhelm. As your mind becomes increasingly calm, your body eavesdrops on that stillness, creating a feedback loop of tranquility and balance that lasts long after the meditation itself. Third, as you become more of an observer of your thoughts rather than being owned by them, your perspective shifts away from being a victim of your overwhelm to being the witness of it.

5. Slow Down and Manage Your Time

By its nature, being emotionally overwhelmed often feels as if you are running out of time. Therefore, managing your time wisely is a very practical step to staying ahead of the anxiety and turmoil caused by too many competing priorities. Make a commitment to create a clear and efficient to-do list of tasks ranked by importance and tackle each one in a clear and methodical manner.

In addition, as counterintuitive as it sounds, try to slow down whenever possible. Rushing frantically only stirs up more activity, which degrades the quality of your work and relationships. Act deliberately and with awareness, and you’ll find that you are controlling your perceptions of time, rather than feeling like time is controlling you.

6. Move Mindfully

Another way to both lower the feeling of overwhelm and shift your perception of time is to practice mindful movement. Activities such as Qi Gong or Yoga can shift your awareness and your emotions into a much more settled and grounded state. This grounding works directly to counteract the “swirly” energy of displaced Vata and help you feel rooted in your body and the earth. The conscious movements of these similar practices also help to create the experience of “time dilation” in which you feel like you have more time due to the deepened quality of your awareness.

7. Unplug–Go On a Digital Fast

The modern world has become increasingly technologically dependent. Information is everywhere. Unfortunately, the digital age with all its devices, screens, social medial, and 24-hour accessibility is only driving more activity into your already overwhelmed minds. The high-information diet you keep yourself on can often starve you of the stability and balance you truly need.

Therefore, commit to a few hours, a day, week, or even longer of cutting the digital cord. Since you are probably so deeply plugged in, it may feel challenging at the start. But with time, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how much more settled your awareness is when it’s not bombarded daylong with unnecessary information.

8. Get Plenty of Sleep

Overwhelm can be mentally and physically exhausting. The inefficient use of mind-body energy brought about by prolonged chronic stress leaves you feeling wiped out; therefore, be sure to get plenty of quality sleep to restore and heal. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is generally recommended for adults, but when you feel overwhelmed, longer periods may be needed.

In addition to regular meditation, consider adding a 20-minute midafternoon nap into your routine. Also, be sure to set the stage for restful sleep by creating a routine that helps your mind and body to get optimum benefit from your time in bed.

9. Know When to Walk Away

Sometimes the most nourishing choice for body, mind, and soul is to simply walk away. You cannot be everything to all people, and it’s important to know when you have reached your limit.

Be willing to draw a clear line for yourself and know when to say no. Doing so can sometimes be a defining and courageous moment in which you assert your need to no longer feel victimized by external circumstances and situations. In doing so, you reclaim your power to manage your life and awareness in a way that is nourishing and supportive for you, without the need to defend nor explain yourself to others. Or as Richard Bach lightheartedly puts it in Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah: “The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, ‘I’ve got responsibilities.”

10. Surrender

Lastly, be willing to surrender the situation completely. This doesn’t mean giving up, but rather detaching from any particular outcome and turning everything over to universal intelligence, God, the nonlocal mind, or your higher self.

Surrendering is an act of humility in that you’re willing to turn things over to a power greater than yourself. You recognize that you don’t have to do everything and sometimes the greatest act of strength is the willingness to let go of your need to control all the things.

In Yoga, this is known as Ishwara Pranidhana or surrender to the divine. In this surrendering, you are stepping into the unknown and trusting that everything will be all right, because as A Course in Miracles reminds us, “There is no order of difficulty in miracles. One is not ‘harder’ or ‘bigger’ than another. They are all the same. All expressions of love are maximal.”

Feeling overwhelmed with life is normal. These tips are meant to help manage and overcome the thoughts and feelings so that you can focus on living a happy, healthy, and positive lifestyle.

Are you ready to experience the healthiest version of yourself? There exists in you a place that is free from disease, never feels pain, is ageless, and never dies. This place is called Perfect Health. Journey there with Oprah and Deepak as they reveal the secrets to lifelong wellbeing. Register for free.

12 Things to Remember When You are Feeling Overwhelmed

Even on a good day, life can be overwhelming. Buzzing phones, work obligations, family needs, to-do lists, email overload, expectations, illness, invitations and the list goes on for the things that occupy our time. On top of that we have food choices, clothing choices, money worries, and mental and physical health issues that can weigh us down.

So what do we do? How can move through life with less stress and overwhelm? How can we enjoy our lives in the midst of the chaos? I discovered after years of experimenting and eliminating things like clutter, debt, and busyness that it is possible to create a more peaceful environment.

It does take time to change your environment though. It’s worth doing no matter how long it takes, but for some immediate relief when you are feeling overwhelmed, stop and consider these reminders (whichever ones are helpful for your situation).

1.

Worry never works. Let your worry go. It won’t be easy, but do it anyway. Write it down, walk it off, shift your thoughts and keep letting it go. And then do that again and again and again.

2.

If you honor every request with a yes, you will compromise your health, family, peace of mind, and the joy of living your life.

3.

Instead of downplaying or dismissing your feelings when things are heavy or you are overwhelmed, trust them. {Quote from @theminimalists}

4.

Please stop apologizing for who you are. You deserve better and we desperately need you to be unapologetically you. If you are feeling overwhelmed because the people around you don’t support you and lift you up, find new people.

5.

Holding the weight of other people’s expectations is overwhelming but it’s not your responsibility. Isn’t it time to live the life you dreamed about instead of the one others expect of you?

6.

Take care of you. Your health comes first. {Quote from @thehumblepoet}

7.

It’s always a good time to be grateful and that means expressing thanks even when you aren’t feeling your best, or when you are feeling overwhelmed. Even in the dark times, there are things to be thankful for. It may be more challenging to feel or express your gratitude, but then it’s even more important to do it. Join the 30-day Bring Gratitude Challenge for more fun and accountability.

8.

What if you stopped keeping score? Imagine the heart space you could create if you stopped holding on to who emptied the dishwasher or took out the trash last? Maybe it doesn’t matter who called who last. Call if you want to connect. And think about how much more you’d enjoy spending time with your friends if you didn’t have to remember who paid for coffee or lunch last time? Things don’t have to be even to be good.

9.

Unplug. Back Off. Let go. Refresh. Restore. {Quote from @annelamott}

10.

What people think of you has nothing to do with you. If they tell you something you that isn’t helpful, simply smile and say, “thanks so much for your feedback.” and move on.

I always say no to ignoring my heart. She knows things.

12.

Be picky about what gets your energy and attention. When everything is important, nothing is.

Pay attention to how you are feeling.

Feeling overwhelmed is a sign. It’s a signal to shift something from your mindset to your schedule. You have the power to cancel something or to say no thank you. You are brave enough to make a small change that will ease your overwhelm. You have the option of deciding what matters to you and making room for whatever that is.

I know it’s not easy (the good stuff usually isn’t), but it’s worth it. Notice when you are feeling overwhelmed and choose to pause and remind yourself that you can turn things around — inch by inch, step by step, and thought by thought.

Now, it’s your turn…

Before you go, let us know:

  • Which “reminder” above resonates with you the most right now and why?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for the free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.

How to stop feeling overwhelmed: Pro tips for dealing with anxiety

So you want to know how to stop feeling overwhelmed…

Well, are you tired of people blowing smoke up our generation’s asses and not telling us the truth?

  • LIE #1: Parents telling their kids that they can be anything they want (even kids who never built the discipline to finish their homework)

  • LIE #2: TV “experts” — and even the government! — telling us that buying a house is the best investment

  • LIE #3: Our friends telling us to “be yourself” and people will be attracted to you — totally neglecting the part about improving yourself so you’re attracting the right people.

Your Surrogate Asian Father will never lie to you. You might not like what I have to say, and I might make you uncomfortable enough to unsubscribe (which is fine with me). But I’ll always tell you the truth.

Yesterday, I got over 1,000 emails from people who wanted to ask me about their deepest problems during Ramit’s Therapy Week. You know what’s interesting?

A lot of people told me about their anxiety and how they were dealing with it — ‘I can’t follow through, I don’t know how to deal with my unsupportive family, I think I’m incapable of starting something new since I’m so afraid of failure’ — and I answered a lot of them by email.

But a lot of people CLEARLY knew what their problem was. They obviously think about it every day, and they’re quite adept at knowing exactly what’s holding them back. So I wrote back with 8 words:

“So what? What are you going to do?”

90% of them never wrote back.

HEY YOU WEIRDOS. ADMITTING YOUR PROBLEM IS NOT ENOUGH. THAT’S THE EASY PART. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

You sitting there and saying, “I’m really afraid and anxious about life” isn’t shit. Anyone can admit their problem. That’s the BEGINNING of the process. It takes real work to actually start fixing it.

For example, notice this: You’ll never hear a top performer say they’re “overwhelmed”.

Someone using that word is effectively raising their hand and saying “I’m not a top performer and I’m probably not going to do the thing I’m complaining about.”

Like anyone, top performers get overwhelmed. But if you listen closely to how they describe their challenges, they always add something to the end of their sentence: “Yeah, I’m swamped right now, and it’s overwhelming… but I started waking up 30 minutes earlier so I can answer emails before my family wakes up.”

In other words, IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO JUST ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR PROBLEM. You have to DO something about it.

The good news is, you can change the way you think about yourself. If you’re a chronic “non-finisher,” I can show you how to change that. Just imagine how it would feel to stop calling yourself “lazy” or “unmotivated” and to know that when you say you’re going to do something, you’ll actually do it.

Today is Day 3 of Therapy Week with your Unemotional, Gruff, Yet Secretly Caring Surrogate Asian Father, Ramit.

“I get super passionate about something… and then after a couple of days I don’t really care anymore”

If too many to-dos and too many options are giving you anxiety attacks, follow Ramit’s Rules of Letting Go:

Let go of “should do”s that you don’t actually care about:

In the scheme of all the things you want to do, do you really care about this? When I went to my cousin’s wedding in India a few years ago, I saw one of my friends order his food in fluent Hindi, and I thought, “Hmm…I should take Hindi lessons.” But when I got back to NYC, I put it on my to-do list, only to skip over it for months. The truth is, I really didn’t care enough to do anything. It wasn’t important enough. When I acknowledged I wasn’t going to do it and crossed it off my list, I could focus on doing the things I wanted to do.

Let go of feeling guilty:

STOP LYING TO YOURSELF! Do you really care about learning how to kiteboard? Or is it just because that random guy you met told you how fun it was, and you said, “Yeah, I need to do that”? Life is short. It’s OK to use this exact script: “That sounds really interesting, but I’ve decided not to tackle that right now so I can focus on a couple other things I want to do this year.” Nobody is making you feel guilty except YOU. We realistically have the time to learn maybe three new major things per year. Do you really want this to be one of them?

Let go of waiting for inspiration to strike:

Inspiration is for amateurs. I wake up every morning, rain or shine, feeling great or sore, and I get to work. Not because I’m a machine, or a better person than anyone, but because I have systems that I depend on — not willpower or inspiration.

The emailer above, Cristina, says she wants to find a new job. Really? Let’s see how she describes her job hunt: “I was in ‘I hate my job’ mood, so I applied…”

Her own language betrays her. Depending on a “mood” or “inspiration” is what dilettantes, unemployed Brooklyn writers, and unprofitable life coaches (redundant?) do.

Waiting for inspiration to strike is a quick way to randomly pursue something, then give up, only to yo-yo back a couple weeks later, eventually leading you to hate yourself. Trust me, I have enough hate for all of you. I really don’t need you to hate yourself.

Instead of depending on fleeting motivation, build a SYSTEM. This means you work through the steps of finding a new job, add it to your calendar every week, and make sure you have the time and mental energy (which are much easier once you know what to do). If Cristina were serious, she would know that I cover all of this in my Dream Job program.

Here’s an example of a system:

Look at this one:

This is a random to-do that I would normally put in the back of my head…and it would never get done. Instead, I added it to my calendar so it always gets done. Advanced tip: You can set up weekly, monthly, and quarterly “to-dos” for things like reviewing your systems, planning an annual negotiation, or even checking in on your relationship.

These are some of the tactics you can use to conquer anxiety, overwhelm, laziness and procrastination. But they barely scratch the surface of the full arsenal of tools I use. If you want more please check out my FREE Ultimate Guide to Habits.

* * *

P.S. You know how I normally ask you to comment with your response to a question? I don’t want you to comment today.

I want you to sit quietly for 30 seconds and think about what it would mean to actually FINISH what you start. To know that you could commit to things and TRUST yourself to follow through. How would it feel? What would it mean to your life? Think about it — and then sign up for the Insider’s List above and I’ll add you to the Finisher’s Formula waitlist. You’ll be the first to hear about it when I open the course for enrollment in the future.

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6 Strategies for When You Feel Overwhelmed at Work

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Here are some strategies for when you’re feeling overwhelmed by work. These are aimed at helping you feel more confident and settled, so that you’re able to concentrate and focus better.

These strategies can help in situations in which your motivation is too high (you feel mentally scattered because there is so much you want to be doing) or your motivation is too low (everything feels pointless, or you feel hopeless about achieving anything meaningful.)

None of these strategies will be right for every situation, but by developing a toolkit of strategies, you’ll always have at least one suitable strategy on hand. By having a variety of tools at your disposable, you’re more likely to have one that both feels doable and is likely to work in any given situation.

1. Finish something you started but didn’t complete.

If I need to settle myself down or get my confidence back, I’ll look for a task I started but didn’t finish that I could get completed in under 30 minutes. If I’m feeling really exhausted, I’ll look for something I can complete in 15 minutes.

How this helps: It will give you a feeling of being in control.

2. Give your mind a chance to wander.

Sometimes, to re-charge your creativity, you need to give your mind a chance to wander and free-associate.

When you do this, problems that seemed difficult can instantly become clearer. I like this strategy when I’m having trouble figuring out what should truly be my highest priority or when I’m overcomplicating solutions to problems.

Since I mostly work from home, I can run a personal errand or take a shower during the workday. Driving to the outlet mall or grocery store can really help me clear my head.

If you’re in a corporate job, or a situation in which you don’t have the flexibility to leave the premises, you can always pick an alternative, like finding a reason to wander to the other side of your campus, or doing a mindless but necessary task like photocopying a bunch of documents.

Tip: When using this strategy, I’ll often listen to a podcast to help break the cycle of ruminating about work. If you like psychology topics, then the Happier podcast by Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft is a good one.

How this helps: It makes it easier to see the big picture and the easiest path forward, whereas continuing to bang away thinking about issues often doesn’t achieve that.

3. Do some work-related continuing education.

Sometimes, we need to refill our mental and emotional tanks rather than keep producing output. If I’m feeling a bit scattered, I often like to do some work-related reading. I’m typically not very goal-directed in how I do this. I’ll do things like scan through the table of contents of psychology journals and read some abstracts, or I’ll check Google Scholar and look up the latest work from researchers I like. Yesterday, I read a few chapters of a colleague’s book in bed.

By not being too goal-directed, I allow more and different types of connections to arise between what I’m working on and whatever I’m reading.

How this helps: It can help you feel like your mental ATM is getting deposits as well as withdrawals.

4. Make a brief list of what you’re not going to work on.

When you have a lot of ideas, it’s easy to feel guilty and anxious that you’re not working on all of them. Sometimes, you need to explicitly make a list of all the projects you’re not going to start or work on while you’re concentrating on your current highest priority.

How this helps: It makes it easier to focus and relieves guilt.

5. Do whatever is important but anxiety-provoking, and then allow yourself to take a break.

It’s easy to say that we should all work smarter rather than harder. Sometimes, to break a cycle of non-smart overworking, you need to do one thing that feels very hard and then let yourself take a break.

For me, this will often be a task that’s psychologically hard but not objectively hard or time-consuming. For example, making a request I feel anxious about.

Tip: Sometimes, just getting the ball rolling on an anxiety-provoking task is enough to help you feel less overwhelmed. You don’t necessarily need to complete the task. You can always do the first step and leave it at that for today.

How this helps: It gets you into the mode of working smarter rather than harder and relieves nagging anxiety about tasks you haven’t done.

6. Do the minimum necessary to get a task done.

There are all sorts of occasions where I make tasks more complicated or difficult than they need to be. For example, I’ll sit down to write an article and attempt to hit ten points when actually five points—or even three—is fine.

One of the biggest self-sabotaging thinking habits for anxious perfectionists is over-complicating solutions to problems. You imagine that what’s necessary to move forward is something more complicated or difficult than what it is in reality. Look for the simplest solution and take that road.

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Feeling Overwhelmed is a Common Anxiety Symptom

One of the hardest parts about living a life of anxiety is the way that it always tends to be present in your life. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or how much you need to focus. That feeling of anxiety is often there, and the knowledge that you have anxiety and reminders of its presence are common.

That’s because anxiety is a naturally overwhelming condition, and in some cases it can become so overwhelming that your mind and body suffer as a result.

Both Physically and Mentally Overwhelming

Anxiety is not a single condition. It is a host of different conditions, and it can be both physically and mentally overwhelming.

Feeling overwhelmed is perhaps the most common symptom of anxiety, and it can actually affect you on a very base level.

How Anxiety Overwhelms the Mind

We’ll get into the actual feelings of being overwhelmed in a moment, but what’s perhaps most telling about anxiety is that it actually overwhelms the brain in ways you may not even realize.

Your brain has limited resources – chemicals that it uses to send messages from one part of the brain to the other. During periods of intense anxiety, the brain is so overwhelmed that it moves those resources to the areas of the body that it thinks need it most. For example, one of the reasons that some people need to urinate when they are scared is because the chemicals in your brain move away from the part of the mind that controls urination and towards other parts of the brain that control fight or flight.

At its most chemical level, anxiety even affects the way neurotransmitters and hormones are produced, possibly leading to changes in the way you think and feel. When we talk about anxiety feeling overwhelming, it should be remembered that it’s not just the way you feel. Anxiety really does have many overwhelming qualities, and can genuinely overwhelm your mind in many ways.

Feeling Overwhelmed From Anxiety: Mentally

Of course, when most people talk about feeling overwhelmed, they’re talking about the way anxiety tends to cause severe stress that affects all of their thoughts. That’s what anxiety does: it makes it very hard to focus on anything other than your anxiety, and the more you focus on that anxiety, the more anxiety you seem to feel.

People talk about anxiety as if it makes it difficult to focus. But that’s not entirely true. Anxiety often makes it easy to focus, but only on your anxiety. Some people experience such a feeling of emotional distress that they may start to cry or feel like they’re about to cry, while others may experience a complete lack of hope as if their anxiety is never going to be treatable.

Those with panic attacks may have other symptoms as well. During panic attacks, that feeling of being overwhelmed may actually be less about the actual overwhelming nature of anxiety and more about a feeling of doom that seems to affect those that are struggling with the attack. This feeling of doom can make you feel like you’re about to suffer from something terrible, and it can cause your entire body to become completely on edge.

Feeling Overwhelmed From Anxiety: Physically

Which brings us to another issue that many people find overwhelming: physical symptoms. Indeed, even though anxiety can essentially take over the mind, often the physical symptoms are the issues that seem the most overwhelming. Severe anxiety is fraught with physical symptoms, and – especially during anxiety attacks – those symptoms start to become more and more intense until they’re the only thing your mind and body can focus on. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pains
  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness

These symptoms seem to be felt in every area of your body, and they also tend to cause severe anxiety on their own and ultimately lead to an anxiety attack. Anxiety genuinely is very physically overwhelming, especially if you’re prone to panic attacks.

How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

It is possible to control this feeling, although it comes in parts. Ideally, the best way to stop feeling overwhelmed from anxiety is to control your anxiety. But in the interim, here are several tips for overcoming these strong physical and mental symptoms:

  • Find Distractions Obviously for something to feel overwhelming, distracting yourself is difficult. But there are some strategies that can still be effective. One that many people find beneficial is to simply call someone on your cell phone. Talking on a phone is hard for the mind to do while still focusing on your anxiety, thus reducing your anxiety from getting too out of control.
  • Go For a Walk Like talking on the phone, walking itself can make it harder for your mind and body to be as overwhelmed. When you walk, you take in lots of new information. You see things, you feel things, and you smell things with each step that you take. Walking also helps move blood around your body and is a good tool for controlling your breathing and heart rate.
  • Controlled Breathing The reason controlling your breathing is important is because anxiety symptoms can actually create new anxiety symptoms. A great example of this is hyperventilation, a common anxiety symptom that occurs during anxiety attacks. Hyperventilation occurs when you don’t allow your body to create enough carbon dioxide because you breathe it out too quickly, resulting in feelings of faint, chest pains, and lightheadedness. Hyperventilation also makes it feel as though you need to take deeper breaths which ultimately make it worse. So controlled breathing (breathing in very slowly, breathing out very slowly) is a great way to control this experience.
  • Journaling When your thoughts are too overwhelming, another effective thing to try is journaling. Writing out your thoughts in a permanent place has been shown to have a powerful effect on your mind. It’s as though your mind relaxes about the thoughts because they’re on paper. So if thoughts are overwhelming, write them down more to experience some relief.
  • Exercise Exercise is also a powerful tool to combat feeling overwhelmed for two reasons. First, it tires out your muscles and improves your breathing so that your symptoms are not as severe. Secondly, it floods relaxing neurotransmitters into your brain and tires your mind so that you can’t have as many overwhelming thoughts. Exercise is not just for your physical health, and can be a powerful tool to combat anxiety.

Once you have your anxiety more under control, you can also start trying various anxiety reduction strategies.

A little stress is actually good for you—but when you become overwhelmed, it’s time to try these tips.

The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control.

If you follow my work, you’ve read some startling research summaries that explore the havoc stress can wreak on one’s physical and mental health (such as the Yale study, which found that prolonged stress causes degeneration in the area of the brain responsible for self-control). The tricky thing about stress (and the anxiety that comes with it) is that it’s an absolutely necessary emotion. Our brains are wired such that it’s difficult to take action until we feel at least some level of this emotional state. In fact, performance peaks under the heightened activation that comes with moderate levels of stress. As long as the stress isn’t prolonged, it’s harmless.

Research from the University of California, Berkeley, reveals an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress. But it also reinforces how important it is to keep stress under control. The study, led by post-doctoral fellow Elizabeth Kirby, found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory. However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.

“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert,” Kirby says. For animals, intermittent stress is the bulk of what they experience, in the form of physical threats in their immediate environment. Long ago, this was also the case for humans. As the human brain evolved and increased in complexity, we’ve developed the ability to worry and perseverate on events, which creates frequent experiences of prolonged stress.

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Besides increasing your risk of heart disease, depression, and obesity, stress decreases your cognitive performance. Fortunately, though, unless a lion is chasing you, the bulk of your stress is subjective and under your control. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ under stressful circumstances. This lowers their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment, ensuring that the stress they experience is intermittent and not prolonged.

While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that smart people employ when faced with stress, what follows are ten of the best. Some of these strategies may seem obvious, but the real challenge lies in recognizing when you need to use them and having the wherewithal to actually do so in spite of your stress.

They Appreciate What They Have

Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the “right” thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical well-being. It’s likely that lower levels of cortisol played a major role in this.

They Avoid Asking “What If?”

“What if?” statements throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Things can go in a million different directions, and the more time you spend worrying about the possibilities, the less time you’ll spend focusing on taking action that will calm you down and keep your stress under control. Calm people know that asking “what if? will only take them to a place they don’t want—or need—to go.

They Stay Positive

Positive thoughts help make stress intermittent by focusing your brain’s attention onto something that is completely stress-free. You have to give your wandering brain a little help by consciously selecting something positive to think about. Any positive thought will do to refocus your attention. When things are going well, and your mood is good, this is relatively easy. When things are going poorly, and your mind is flooded with negative thoughts, this can be a challenge. In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps you’re looking forward to an exciting event that you can focus your attention on. The point here is that you must have something positive that you’re ready to shift your attention to when your thoughts turn negative.

They Disconnect

Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even—gulp!—turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress. Studies have shown that something as simple as an email break can lower stress levels.

Technology enables constant communication and the expectation that you should be available 24/7. It is extremely difficult to enjoy a stress-free moment outside of work when an email that will change your train of thought and get you thinking (read: stressing) about work can drop onto your phone at any moment. If detaching yourself from work-related communication on weekday evenings is too big a challenge, then how about the weekend? Choose blocks of time where you cut the cord and go offline. You’ll be amazed at how refreshing these breaks are and how they reduce stress by putting a mental recharge into your weekly schedule. If you’re worried about the negative repercussions of taking this step, first try doing it at times when you’re unlikely to be contacted—maybe Sunday morning. As you grow more comfortable with it, and as your coworkers begin to accept the time you spend offline, gradually expand the amount of time you spend away from technology.

They Limit Their Caffeine Intake

Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight-or-flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyperaroused state of stress, your emotions overrun your behavior. The stress that caffeine creates is far from intermittent, as its long half-life ensures that it takes its sweet time working its way out of your body.

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They Sleep

I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. Stressful projects often make you feel as if you have no time to sleep, but taking the time to get a decent night’s sleep is often the one thing keeping you from getting things under control.

They Squash Negative Self-Talk

A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.

You can bet that your statements aren’t true any time you use words like “never,” “worst,” “ever,” etc. If your statements still look like facts once they’re on paper, take them to a friend or colleague you trust and see if he or she agrees with you. Then the truth will surely come out. When it feels like something always or never happens, this is just your brain’s natural threat tendency inflating the perceived frequency or severity of an event. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.

They Reframe Their Perspective

Stress and worry are fueled by our own skewed perception of events. It’s easy to think that unrealistic deadlines, unforgiving bosses, and out-of-control traffic are the reasons we’re so stressed all the time. You can’t control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them. So before you spend too much time dwelling on something, take a minute to put the situation in perspective. If you aren’t sure when you need to do this, try looking for clues that your anxiety may not be proportional to the stressor. If you’re thinking in broad, sweeping statements such as “Everything is going wrong” or “Nothing will work out,” then you need to reframe the situation. A great way to correct this unproductive thought pattern is to list the specific things that actually are going wrong or not working out. Most likely you will come up with just some things—not everything—and the scope of these stressors will look much more limited than it initially appeared.

They Breathe

The easiest way to make stress intermittent lies in something that you have to do everyday anyway: breathing. The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back. When you’re feeling stressed, take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing. Close the door, put away all other distractions, and just sit in a chair and breathe. The goal is to spend the entire time focused only on your breathing, which will prevent your mind from wandering. Think about how it feels to breathe in and out. This sounds simple, but it’s hard to do for more than a minute or two. It’s all right if you get sidetracked by another thought; this is sure to happen at the beginning, and you just need to bring your focus back to your breathing. If staying focused on your breathing proves to be a real struggle, try counting each breath in and out until you get to 20, and then start again from 1. Don’t worry if you lose count; you can always just start over.

This task may seem too easy or even a little silly, but you’ll be surprised by how calm you feel afterward and how much easier it is to let go of distracting thoughts that otherwise seem to have lodged permanently inside your brain.

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They Use Their Support System

It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To be calm and productive, you need to recognize your weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. This means tapping into your support system when a situation is challenging enough for you to feel overwhelmed. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as talking about your worries will provide an outlet for your anxiety and stress and supply you with a new perspective on the situation. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation. Asking for help will mitigate your stress and strengthen your relationships with those you rely upon.

Bringing It All Together

Overwhelming anxiety and empowerment are mutually exclusive. Any time you are overcome with enough stress/anxiety to limit your performance, just follow the steps above to empower yourself and regain control.

This post was originally published by Dr. Travis Bradberry on LinkedIn.

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5 Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Workload

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Do your to-do lists stretch on and on — and on? Do you dread checking email on Friday afternoons, worried about seeing messages piling up when you’re just trying to get out the door? Or maybe you’ve noticed that anxiety is preventing you from concentrating on whatever you’re currently doing. You might feel anxious that you’re not working during times that are incompatible with working, like when you’re buckling your child into their car seat or you’re stuck in traffic. You may even feel anxious about the project you’re not working on when you’re busy plugging away on something else.

If you have moments of feeling overwhelmed by your workload, here are some suggestions to try. Not all of these will be right for everyone, so pick what you think will help you. But always, always start with taking slow breaths (it’s better to focus on slow rather than deep breathing). Slow breathing helps you stop panicking and take a more long-term focus as it activates the brain’s prepare-and-plan mindset. If you focus on breathing out like you’re blowing up a balloon slowly, your breath in with naturally regulate itself.

Practice your acceptance skills with healthy self-talk

The best self-talk helps you feel calmer and in control. It combines self-compassion and appropriate responsibility-taking (not too much, not too little). Feeling excessively responsible is associated with a vulnerability to worry. Experiment with different types of self-talk and see what works best for you. As a kickoff, you might try:

  • “Even though I have many things to do, I can only focus on the one thing I’m doing right now. I’ll feel better if I do that.”
  • “I would prefer to be able to get more done in a day, but I’m going to accept what I’m realistically able to do.” (This phrase utilizes a common cognitive-behavioral therapy technique where it’s recommended people swap out their “shoulds” for “prefer” or “could” in order to relieve anxiety and feel more empowered).
  • I like the mantra “What’s the best action to take right now?” to remind me that ruminating about the past or worrying about the future interferes with optimal focusing and prioritizing.
  • “I enjoy my work so I like to be busy. It’s natural that I’m going to feel overwhelmed sometimes. I can handle those emotions and make adjustments as needed.”

Track your time to give yourself an accurate baseline

There’s some evidence from research comparing time tracking data to self-reports that people who say they work very long hours are generally overestimating. Large-scale research indicates that the proportion of people working over 60 hours per week is quite small, at around 6%. If you’re saying to yourself “I work 70 hours a week” your brain will react as if that were true, even if it’s an exaggeration.

How does this thinking error arise? Sometimes our brains jump to conclusions based on our emotions. When you feel anxious about work, your brain will overestimate how much you’re working, which in turn makes you feel more anxious and sets up a self-perpetuating cycle. When your perception of your workload is dramatically overblown, the situation feels hopeless, which will likely leave you feeling depressed as well as anxious and you’ll become avoidant. You won’t take the practical steps you could to address your situation. If you’re making this estimation error, don’t take it too personally. This is a pervasive general pattern and not a personal flaw.

Try tracking your time for a single week. There are online tools for this, but you can also use a spreadsheet or just a notebook. Track your time without actively attempting to change your behavior. Your behavior will naturally shift in positive directions due to monitoring, so there’s no need to force it, at least initially. (Laura Vanderkam gives great tips of how to go about doing this and how to categorize your data in her book, 168 Hours.)

Limit brief work-related activities during non-work time, like checking your phone or firing off a quick email. Objectively these activities may only take a few minutes, but this pattern can feel like it consumes more time than it actually does, so curb these behaviors.

The flip side is that small bursts of meaningful non-work activities can help your life feel more balanced. For example, if I crouch down and look my two-year old in the eye when we’re having a moment together, those seconds give me a sense I’m doing more quality parenting, even though it’s a few minutes here and there. Five minutes of uninterrupted conversation feels more meaningful than 10 minutes of scattered attention.

Check your assumptions about other people’s expectations

We often self-generate rules we expect ourselves to follow. For example, “I need to reply to Sandra more quickly than she generally replies to me.” Or, “I need to reply to any email within the day.” Consider that when people take a while to respond, it sends the signal that they’re busy and prioritizing, and may lead to other people respecting their time to a greater extent.

One of my pet peeves is receiving “to do” emails on Friday afternoons — my fear is that if I don’t complete whatever is needed over the weekend, the early part of the following week will fill up and the person who emailed me will be left waiting for me to finish whatever it is I need to do. However, it’s worth considering that whoever contacted you as they were running out the door from work might not want a response during the weekend. Replying immediately to after-hours emails contributes to the always-on cycle for everyone.

  • Practice not responding to messages outside of business hours. Most people will get the message, and may appreciate you helping them with their own boundaries. When you limit your replies to business hours you’re more likely to consider where replying fits into your overall priorities than if your pattern is to jump to attention at any hour of the day upon receiving emails.
  • Clarify expectations with others. Instead of assuming that your boss needs something done immediately, why not ask her when she needs it by?
  • Let people know when you’ll get back to them. If something will realistically take you two weeks to get to, just say so.

Examine your assumptions about what success requires

On a similar theme, you might also be self-generating faulty thoughts about what it takes to be successful in your field. Perfectionistic assumptions like, “To succeed I need to work harder than everyone else” become especially problematic when you’re rising through the ranks in a competitive industry and you’re in a group of other overachievers. Here’s the tricky part about identifying your problem thoughts: our assumptions and self-generated rules are often implicit. When you’re feeling miserable or blocked, that’s a great time to hunt down any hidden assumptions that are contributing to that.

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Stress


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    Steps to Take When You’re Starting to Feel Burned Out
    • Monique Valcour

Look out for assumptions that cause unnecessary stress, especially if these also contribute to procrastination and paralysis. For example, to get unstuck with writing I sometimes need to remind myself that whatever I’m working on only needs to be a useful resource and doesn’t need to include everything there is to say about a topic (which would be impossible and unwieldy).

Write out your problem assumptions and a more realistic alternative. Your realistic alternative thought could be something like “Given that my workgroup is comprised of high achievers, there is a good chance that most of us in this group will be successful. Therefore I don’t need to perform at the very top of the group in order to achieve success.” Constructing more realistic alternative assumptions is part science and part art. Experiment with different types of thinking to see what feels most true and most helpful to you personally.

Start taking time off now instead of waiting for the “right” time

When you take an evening or weekend day off and the sky doesn’t fall in, you learn experientially that you can be less anxious about your workload. If you want to feel more relaxed about work, act more relaxed about it.

You can operationalize this however you want. Ask yourself “If I were more relaxed about my workload, how would I act?” and identify 3-5 specific ways.

A classic catch-22 in psychology is that people wait for their emotions to change before changing their behavior. However, changing your behavior is probably the best and fastest way to change your emotions (and thoughts). When you start tuning into it, you will probably notice the pattern cropping up again and again. For example, try flipping “When I’m less busy, I’ll create some better systems” into “When I create better systems, I’ll feel less busy.” This approach will help you combat the pervasive self-sabotaging pattern of being too busy chasing cows to build a fence.

13 Questions to Ask Yourself If You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

You skipped breakfast, your boss moved your deadline to the end of the day and you forgot to wear deodorant (again!). What do you do when it all feels like too much? Start by taking a deep breath and asking yourself a few of these questions. Why Am I Overwhelmed?
“Overwhelm” is increasingly common as demands on human attention increase exponentially. The human brain just wasn’t designed to handle the environment we inhabit. For the vast majority of world history, human life—both culture and biology—was shaped by scarcity. Food, clothing, shelter, tools and pretty much everything else had to be farmed or fabricated, at a very high cost in time and energy. Knowledge was power, and it was hard to come by; for centuries, books had to be copied by hand and were rare and precious. Even people were scarce: Friends and relatives died young (as late as 1900, life expectancy in the United States was approximately 49 years). This kind of scarcity still rules the world’s poorest regions. But in the developed world, hundreds of millions of us now face the bizarre problem of surfeit. Yet our brains, instincts and socialized behavior are still geared to an environment of lack. The result? Overwhelm—on an unprecedented scale. –Martha Beck
Keep Reading: How to keep your head above water
Am I Really Busy or Does It Just Feel This Way?
Most of us judge how busy we are by how much we have to do. When there are too many things to do, we think we’re busy, and when there isn’t much to do, it feels like we’re not busy at all. But in fact, we can feel busy when there isn’t that much to do, and we can feel relaxed even when there’s a lot going on. The states of “busy” and “not busy” aren’t defined by how many things there are to do. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as multitasking; the brain can tend to only one thing at a time. Being too busy or not being busy is an interpretation of our activity. Busy-ness is a state of mind, not a fact. No matter how much or how little we’re doing, we’re always just doing what we’re doing, simply living this one moment of our lives. –Norman Fischer
Keep Reading: Simple (yet astounding) ways to calm down
Next Question: What’s the real priority?

Feeling Overwhelmed? Strategies To Cope And Survive

By Michael Puskar

Updated November 07, 2019

Reviewer 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.

Don’t Let Feeling Overwhelmed Keep You From Living Your Life Get Connected With A Licensed Online Therapist Today

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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 wellbeing. 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.

Don’t Let Feeling Overwhelmed Keep You From Living Your Life Get Connected With A Licensed Online Therapist Today

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10. Clean

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.

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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.

Counselor Reviews

“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.”

Conclusion

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.

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