Life today moves at a rapid pace. Between work, family obligations, and the constant input from technology and social media, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything competing for our attention. If you frequently feel like things are spiraling out of control and you just can’t keep up, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with feeling easily overwhelmed in our busy modern world. The good news is that with these strategies, you can start to take control when life feels too chaotic.
It's easy to view feeling overwhelmed as an entirely negative experience. But your overwhelmed emotions are actually sending your brain urgent signals that important changes may be needed.
Feeling constantly overwhelmed is your brain waving a red flag, letting you know something is off-balance. It’s informing you that your current workload and schedule may be unsustainable, that you may need help and support, or that certain tasks are lower priorities and can be dropped or delegated. Try not to ignore these overwhelmed feelings or push through them. Instead, listen closely to what your mind and body are telling you through that overwhelmed state. Tap into it as vital information to make beneficial adjustments in your life and priorities. View it as feedback to prompt you to reassess your schedule, streamline obligations, set firmer boundaries, and replenish your resources. The wisdom is there if you tune into your overwhelmed feelings rather than suppress them. Hone into the insight so you can take constructive action.
Why do I get overwhelmed so easily?
Before addressing how to combat feeling overwhelmed, try to identify the nature of your situation that is triggering this response. Some common causes include:
- Having unclear or competing priorities. When everything feels urgent, you don’t know where to start. This makes even small tasks feel monumental.
- Saying “yes” when you want to say “no” breeds resentment and overload. Set boundaries without guilt.
- Facing unexpected life challenges or crises. Sudden obstacles that derail usual coping abilities. For example: excessive workloads, relationship conflicts, health concerns, political issues, and other major life changes.
- Battling mental health issues like anxiety or depression. Conditions that amplify feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Feeling out of control in significant areas of life that ends up bleeding into everyday tasks.
- Having negative thought patterns. Catastrophizing and thinking “I’ll never get this done!”
- Lacking self-confidence. Doubting ability to handle what’s on your plate.
- Having perfectionist tendencies. Feeling everything must be done flawlessly and extensively.
Time Management Issues
- Not knowing how to prioritize or manage time effectively. When everything seems urgent, even small tasks can feel overwhelming.
- Taking on too much at once without proper planning. Overcommitting to responsibilities that exceed bandwidth.
- Struggling with procrastination. Putting things off leads to work piling up, causing stressed feelings.
Limited Coping Strategies
- Lacking support systems. Trying to handle everything solo rather than delegating or asking for help.
- Struggling with emotional regulation. Feeling emotions intensely makes everything seem harder
- Poor self-care. Not getting enough rest, healthy food, or breaks to recharge mental energy.
The key is identifying which of these potential factors are contributing most to your overwhelmed feelings. Once you know the root causes, you can deliberately counteract them with things like better time management, prioritizing, planning, delegating, self-care, cognitive restructuring, and seeking support when needed. Tackling the specific reasons you feel easily overwhelmed will help build your coping capacity.
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Feeling overwhelmed is not a character flaw or sign of weakness. Oftentimes it simply means priorities are misaligned or your plate is truly too full.
Feeling overwhelmed is a common human experience and not a sign of personal weakness. Even highly competent people can find themselves overwhelmed when demands exceed resources. We all have different capacities for handling heavy workloads and multitasking based on our personalities and thinking styles. What may overwhelm one person can feel manageable to someone else.
No need to judge yourself too harshly. When responsibilities regularly surpass your bandwidth, that overwhelmed feeling is simply your brain waving a red flag – signaling that you’re overloaded. Struggling to prioritize and set limits on commitments does not mean you are incompetent. These are skills requiring patience and practice to improve. Periods of feeling overwhelmed are often temporary, brought on by a convergence of deadlines or stressful life events.
Instead, I encourage you to approach your feelings with compassion. Try to view these overwhelmed emotions as feedback that you may need more support or revised strategies – not as a personal shortcoming.
How to deal with feeling overwhelmed
What to do when overwhelmed
Tailoring your approach based on the root causes of feeling overwhelmed will help you regain agency, control, and balance.
Step 1: Acknowledge that you are feeling overwhelmed.
Recognize the feeling without assigning a value judgment. You feel overwhelmed; it’s not a good thing, and it’s not a bad thing. No need to criticize or judge this feeling. It’s a signal your brain is giving you. Accept that it’s a normal human response to stress and not a sign of personal failure.
Step 2: Ground yourself for a moment
Take slow, deep breaths. This can help calm your nervous system and bring you back to the present moment.
Use grounding exercises such as feeling the texture of an object, noticing your surroundings, or focusing on the sensation of your feet on the ground.
Learn more physical grounding and coping strategies here.
Step 3: Evaluate and identify the source
Based on the nature of what’s contributing to you feeling overwhelmed. Common reasons, discussed in detail above, for feeling overwhelmed include unclear priorities, unexpected stressors, unhelpful mindsets, time management issues, and limited coping strategies. Pay attention to any recurring patterns or triggers of overwhelm. Are there specific situations, times, or stressors that consistently lead to feeling overwhelmed?
Step 4: Tailor your action plan based on the source or sources of overwhelm. Oftentimes, there are multiple factors!
If you're overwhelmed by unclear priorities, here are examples of what you can do:
- Make a list of all obligations and sort by importance/deadlines
- Schedule priorities into your calendar before others
- Delegate or outsource low-priority tasks if possible
- Set boundaries and say no to additional asks when plate is full
If you're overwhelmed by external stressors, here are examples of what you can do:
- Identify and recognize the factors that are out of your control right now
- Focus energy on what you can control and make incremental progress
- Don’t hesitate to seek professional help like counseling
- Maintain self-care routines as an anchor amid chaos
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A note about external stressors:
It’s important to distinguish between aspects of these factors that are within your control and those that are outside of your control. By recognizing what you can influence, you can focus your efforts on managing these aspects and develop coping strategies for those that are beyond your control. Here are examples on how to distinguish between the two:
Workload and Deadlines:
- In Your Control: You can control how you manage your time and prioritize tasks. Setting realistic goals, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and organizing your workflow are within your control.
- Outside of Your Control: External factors, such as sudden work demands, deadlines set by others, or unexpected changes in project scope, may be beyond your control.
- In Your Control: Your lifestyle choices, like diet, exercise, and stress management, can influence your overall health. You can also make decisions about seeking medical advice and treatment.
- Outside of Your Control: Certain health issues, like genetic predispositions or accidents, are beyond your control. Additionally, the health of family members or loved ones may not be under your direct influence.
- In Your Control: You can take steps to manage your finances, create a budget, and make informed decisions about spending and saving.
- Outside of Your Control: Economic factors, job market fluctuations, and unexpected financial emergencies can be challenging to control.
- In Your Control: You can control your own actions and communication within relationships. Setting boundaries, seeking conflict resolution, and practicing active listening are strategies within your control.
- Outside of Your Control: You cannot control the actions, feelings, or decisions of other people in your relationships. External circumstances, such as distance or external conflicts, can also be outside your control.
- In Your Control: You can prepare for potential environmental challenges by taking proactive steps, like creating an emergency plan, having supplies on hand, or making eco-friendly choices.
- Outside of Your Control: Natural disasters, extreme weather events, and broader environmental issues are typically beyond individual control.
If you're overwhelmed by unhelpful mindsets, here are examples of how you can address this:
- Identify, evaluate, and challenge negative thinking patterns
- Cultivate more encouraging internal dialogues
- Celebrate and build on successes rather than dwelling on perceived failures
- Seek support and perspective from positive influences
If you're overwhelmed by time management challenges:
- Audit how you currently spend time and look for efficiency opportunities
- Create and adhere to daily task lists with priorities marked
- Use calendars, reminders, timers to stay on track with tasks
- Tackle more difficult work during optimal energy periods
If you're overwhelmed due to limited coping strategies:
- Have candid conversations on needing more support
- Research and access resources, tools, services that could help
- Build habits around self-care, stress management, emotional regulation
- Develop a go-to action plan for when feeling overwhelmed
Step 5: Assess progress. Make adjustments as needed to align with your values and current circumstances
Periodically take time to reflect on how you’ve been feeling and the changes you’ve implemented in your life to address overwhelm. Evaluate the effectiveness of the coping strategies and changes you’ve made. Which ones have been most helpful, and which may need adjustment? Be open to making adjustments as needed. Your circumstances and priorities may change, and what worked in the past may need to be adapted.
If you find that you continue to get overwhelmed easily despite your efforts, consider seeking professional guidance from a therapist. Anxiety, trauma, depression, and self-esteem, to name a few, can be underlying your feelings of overwhelm.