Published on February 2, 2021

How To Motivate Yourself When You Are Overwhelmed in Life

How To Motivate Yourself When You Are Overwhelmed in Life

Like the majority of us, I imagine, I was very happy to wave farewell to 2020. Nothing much changed on the 1st of January, of course. The Covid pandemic rages on, businesses are still struggling, jobs are still being lost, and people are unable to see their loved ones in many corners of the world—many people feel overwhelmed in life.

That certainly didn’t change when I woke up on the first day of a brand new year. But there’s something about the first day of a new year that brings a renewed sense of focus. I’m optimistic that we will see some semblance of normality return this year, and that optimism grew as we kicked 2020 out of the door.

I’ll join millions of “resolutioners” in making promises to myself about improvements I’ll make this year. We—those who do this every year (however long we last)—are riding on that wave of new year optimism and the feeling of a “new start.”

But how do you stay motivated on anything—whether it’s resolutions, healthy eating, running a business, or getting out for a run—when the world is practically on fire around you?

I’m no psychologist, but I like to think I’ve got plenty of experience in maintaining focus and motivation regardless of what’s going on around me. I’ve spent years honing my productivity skills and tried countless tactics that both succeeded and failed at helping me stay driven when I feel overwhelmed in life.

So, let me share some of the things that I’ve found most successful to help you stay focused on what matters to you regardless of what else is happening in the world.

List What’s Overwhelming You

Lists are very powerful things. I often find that when I’m feeling overwhelmed in life, I lose sight of specifically what is causing me to feel this way. When I feel like this, I list what is making me feel overwhelmed.


The list is very often not as long as I expect it to be and often, feelings of being overwhelmed come down to just one or two things on my mind.

What Can You Control?

With a list in front of you, it’s time to take a look at what you can influence.

For example:

  • If too many pressing deadlines is something on my list, I will speak to clients and I will see if I can change some things, or perhaps I’ll stop taking work that month
  • If I’m feeling overwhelmed by non-work commitment, I work out what I can cancel and just cancel it

On the other hand, if it’s something I cannot control (like a pandemic), I grant myself the permission to sit with it—to just be ok with not being ok with it.

I go through my list and I take action to change anything I can change (even if it’s just an email to delegate a task or move a deadline). It’s something that helps me feel a little more in control, though I accept this is something that will be different for everyone.

Set Micro Goals Each Working Day

Feeling overwhelmed can really lower productivity and stop you from doing things you need or would ordinarily want to do. One way to overcome that, I’ve found, is to set very achievable micro-goals for each working day.

So, if one of my goals for the day is to complete a lengthy report, I will break it down into sections and segments that might only be 30 minutes of work as opposed to a whole day of work. I can then visibly see progress towards this goal (and I’ll be honest, I do love ticking things off a to-do list).


I’m a huge fan of micro-goals, which have consistently helped me to get through tasks quicker and break down what seems like overwhelming tasks into smaller jobs.

Prioritize Tasks and Goals

Got too many micro-goals to complete in a day? Prioritize them. Order them by the most important thing on that day and if you need to move some deadlines around or get some help, then do it.

Personally, I give everything a priority score from 1 to 3, with 1 being the highest priority and I work on my 1s first. A wider scale of priority levels might work for you or even just 2 levels.

Take Some Time for Yourself

This is the thing I always find the most counterintuitive. When you’re busy, the last thing on your mind is probably taking time to just go and do something for yourself. But I find that getting away from my desk and walking for 30 minutes clears my mind, and I return more focussed and more able to be productive.

Other tactics can help you to become more productive too but certainly, a quick walk is a useful one for me. Meditation is proven to lower stress levels.[1] It is something that can be done wherever you happen to be, guided by online help or one of the many meditation apps available.

Some people like to run. Some like to play games on their phones. Whatever your thing is—something that you enjoy and makes you feel better—take time out to enjoy it for yourself no matter what’s going on and how busy it seems you are.

Stop Multitasking



can reduce your productivity and increase feelings of being overwhelmed in life.[2] The reality for most of us is that concentrating (or trying to) on multiple things at once means we don’t really get to focus on any of them. We’re slower, more stressed, and tick less of our to-do lists. So, tackle one thing at a time.

But What If You Have to Multitask?

Based on the above, I do not like multitasking. I’d much rather focus on a single task at once. But I share that now 6 days into another lockdown where I live and thus, homeschooling.

Ever homeschooled a 5-year-old while his 3-year-old brother shoots Nerf bullets at him and his baby brother tries to destroy everything in sight? I tried that last week. And I tried to finish some 2020 performance reports over the course of the day too.

I’m not going to lie. It was a bit of a disaster. On the second day, I decided to be a little less ambitious. I’m not going to get reports done while I’m tackling the carnage that is homeschooling. But staying on top of my emails was a little easier to do.

I did it by working in time blocks, taking a little inspiration from the Pomodoro Technique. I didn’t have the full 25 minutes to do complete Pomodoro blocks. But as the baby slept, I saw my opportunity to split up the older two in separate rooms, set the younger one craft tasks, and let our eldest continue with the school tasks set for him.

I told them I needed 10 minutes. And I worked in complete silence without any distractions to clear my inbox over those ten minutes. I managed 6 such stints over the course of the day around baby naps. It was enough to keep my inbox under control.

So, even though you may be multitasking, rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time, you should try to work in blocks of as many or as few minutes as is practical for you.


Have an Accountability Buddy

A close friend of mine and I both embarked upon some health and fitness goals last year. We caught up regularly on Zoom or similar to talk progress and sent one another screenshots from our fitness apps to “report” activity.

Having an accountability buddy is very helpful in reaching goals. We encouraged one another on those days when we just weren’t feeling it. For me, it has been one of the single most important factors in me sticking with these changes 7 months on.

I also have similar relationships with people relating to work tasks. I’ve talked to lots of people (many of whom are freelancers) who struggle with productivity and procrastination, particularly since the start of the pandemic when we’re facing so many other challenges. So, I have two people who I regularly catch up with and talk about how much of my to-do list I’m getting through and they do with me, too.

Don’t Be Afraid to Share

Are you feeling overwhelmed in life? It’s normal and acceptable, particularly in times like these. Talk about it, share your feelings with a trusted contact and ultimately, be kind to yourself.

More To Help You Stop Feeling Overwhelmed in Life

Featured photo credit: Christian Erfurt via


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Stacey MacNaught

Small business owner, public speaker and marketing expert obsessed with working smarter.

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Last Updated on March 4, 2021

8 Things to Remember When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

8 Things to Remember When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of life. Everyone occasionally feels overwhelmed by expectations, responsibilities, and a lack of time. However, dwelling on feelings of overwhelm and letting them knock you off course can be detrimental to both your mental health and your productivity.

If you find yourself saying “I’m overwhelmed” or feeling stuck with more than you can handle, here are 8 things to keep in mind to help you get through it.

1. These Emotions Are Natural

In the scope of the Earth’s history, human emotions are a fairly recent development. It’s no wonder we haven’t learned to peacefully coexist with them and end up fighting them on a daily basis.

It can often feel like these feelings should be easy to overcome, but feeling overwhelmed is a natural response to having too many things going on at once. It’s your mind’s way of telling you that you need to slow down if you want to live a healthier life.

Recognizing that overwhelm is your body’s way of trying to help you through difficult times can help shift the relationship you have with this emotion. Once you recognize it for what it is and invite it in without fighting it, you can begin to work with it to improve your feelings in a healthy way.

2. It’s a Breakdown of Thoughts, Not of Life

Our minds are powerful things, and feeling overwhelmed can feel like the end of life as we know it. In the book, As a Man ThinkethJames Allen says:


“As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”

We have the power to manage our thoughts, and as a result, manage who we are and who we will grow to be. This involves making our mental and physical health a high priority.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your life isn’t falling apart—your thoughts are.

Take a minute to find and clean out all your self-deprecating, negative emotions and thoughts. As you do this, you will find yourself feeling refreshed and invigorated with renewed energy to take on the world.

3. Things Can Turn Around Quickly

Maybe you’re saying “I’m feeling overwhelmed” as you face a project at work and don’t think you have the energy or time to finish it. You start letting yourself play out every negative scenario resulting from a failed project.

Sitting on the couch and dwelling on these thoughts isn’t going to make anything better. In fact, it usually makes things worse.


Things seem to fall in place as you chip away at a project and come to realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought. Here’re some tips to get you to start taking action: Less Thinking, More Doing: Develop the Action Habit Today

4. You’ve Felt This Way Before

Think about the last time you felt overwhelmed. How did you overcome it? In the end, was it really as bad as you thought?

If you don’t learn from past experiences, you’ll find yourself suffering from the same problems over and over. Successful people are the ones who understand that every experience, good or bad, is valuable.

Go to a quiet place, and take as long as you need to remember previous times in your life you felt this way and how you overcame it.

5. Your Problems May Not Be as Bad as You Think

The best way to find out how good you actually have it is to take a break from worrying about your own life and do something kind for someone in a worse spot than you.

Volunteering at a homeless shelter or orphanage can help put your problems into perspective, and that tight deadline may not seem so overwhelming. Furthermore, acts of kindness can produce oxytocin, which can help you feel better all around[1]. This is vital when you’re feeling overwhelmed.


6. It’s Easy to Keep Doing Nothing

Your situation changes quickly when you start doing something, but it’s always easier to continue doing nothing. The mind generally doesn’t react well to change and will do its best to help you keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that may mean it tries to make you do nothing.

Those who overcome their struggles quickly are the ones who never give up, even when they feel that all is lost. At times, it might feel like there is nothing you can do, but that is exactly when you need to do something.

How will you ever know for sure there was nothing you could do if you didn’t try? At the very least, you will find personal confidence in knowing that you did everything you could.

Grab the Boost Your Motivation Instantly Worksheet for free now, and find out what you can do immediately to regain your lost motivation and move forward.

7. Gratitude Can Help Immensely

In a world of people obsessed with putting their best self forward, it’s easy to feel like everyone has more than you.

Get that thought out of your head, and remember what you do have. Often, the things you have right now are things you were worried about having in the past. Don’t let an insatiable desire for more blind you from seeing and appreciating everything you have right now.


Gratitude can combat feelings of overwhelm by bringing you into the present, which will combat worries of the future. Once you’re in the now, you can focus on what you need to do to get past feeling overwhelmed and overcoming the many things coming at you at once.

If you don’t know what to do you’re overwhelmed, take some deep breaths and try to start a gratitude journal: How a Gratitude Journal and Positive Affirmations Can Change Your Life

8. People Want You to Succeed

Remember there are people in your life who want you succeed. Your life touches so many others, and there are people out there rooting for you.

These people are part of your support system, and you can turn to them each time you’re feeling overwhelmed. You can call them for a quick pep talk, invite them out for coffee if you need a break, or even ask them for help with your overwhelming list of things to do.

The Bottom Line

Feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of life that comes from trying to always take on more than we should. This feeling is difficult to avoid in today’s world, but there are things you can do to reduce those feelings once they do arise. Remember the reminders above whenever you’re not sure how to move forward, and you’ll soon find yourself on the other side.

More on Overcoming Feelings of Overwhelm

Featured photo credit: nikko macaspac via


[1] Cedars Sinai: The Science of Kindness

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