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, know that you’re not alone. Here are 12 things to keep in mind to help you get through it.
1. Know That Feeling Overwhelmed is Natural
In the scope of the Earth’s history, human emotions are a fairly recent development due to the rise of brain research in the late 19th century. This helped neurologists discover that human emotion is related to the brain. 
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, and what can help is shifting 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. 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 are things 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 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.
3. 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 Thinketh, James 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 feel 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.
4. 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
5. You’ve Felt This Way Before
Think about the number of times you get 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.
6. Your Problems May Not Be as Bad as You Think
What to do when you feel overwhelmed? The best way to deal with this feeling 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 . This is vital when you’re feeling overwhelmed by life.
7. 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 in life, 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.
8. Gratitude Can Help Immensely
In a world of people who are constantly overwhelmed and 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.
Try reading this: How a Gratitude Journal and Positive Affirmations Can Change Your Life
9. People Want You to Succeed
Remember there are people in your life who want you to 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.
10. Pick One Thing
Feeling overwhelmed often happens when you feel you have too much to do. But here’s the thing: Regardless of how much you have to do, you can only do one thing at a time, period.
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is not doing more than one thing at a time, but rather stopping one thing and doing another, repeatedly. No matter what, you can only do ONE thing at a time. So pick that one thing and focus on that.
The idea of only doing one thing at a time may seem stressful because it will feel like you’re ignoring important projects that need to get done. But give it a try!
Pick one thing out of your to-do list and tell yourself: I will only focus on this right now until I finish (or until I reach a certain point). Act as if finishing this one thing, and not your entire to-do list at once, is your immediate priority. You will find this raises your productivity because you’ll be able to focus without feeling overwhelmed about everything else you need to do.
11. Think of Why
A quick way to feel less overwhelmed with what you have to do is to think of why. When we look at the bigger picture, we often find the strength needed to get through a particularly difficult to-do list. When we know why we do what we do, it makes it easier to actually do. When a job feels bigger than us, we put more effort into it, with greater pleasure.
Whether the reason ‘why’ is for your children, the success of your company, or to impact lives, think of that. Focus on that. Remember that. And you’ll find the last couple of drops of motivation that you needed to get through.
12. Focus on Right Now
Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.
Once you know what you want to do, write out the steps you need to take to carry out this action.
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.
Featured photo credit: nikko macaspac via unsplash.com