How to Recognize and Stop Overwhelm in the Moment

With everything going on in today’s world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed – especially in our jobs and home lives. It’s also surprisingly easy to go on for years living in a dominant state of overwhelm without giving it much thought, until something occurs that forces us to realize we’re been operating on autopilot.

By definition, overwhelm is more than just feeling stressed – it’s essentially being so caught up in our own thoughts and emotions that we lack efficacy in your life. Overwhelm isn’t a mental process that can be analyzed; rather, it’s a deep emotional response to countless thoughts and experiences. After time, it leads to higher stress and anxiety levels, and strips us of overall joy and satisfaction.

Many things can lead to overwhelm and sometimes it’s many things: a stressful job, an uncertain world, losing a loved one, losing a job, a health diagnosis, divorce, a big move, a break up, personal trauma, financial issues, lack of sleep/exercise/nutrition.

Some of the most common signs of overwhelm include:

  • Major reactions to small issues
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling more irritable or impatient at home or at work
  • Snapping at others and feeling frustrated
  • Lack of energy/motivation/satisfaction
  • Waking up in the morning dreading the things you need to do
  • Indecision and procrastination
  • Rushing through life
  • Avoidance and escapism
  • Never saying no
  • Perfectionistic tendencies
  • Compulsive worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling disengaged
  • Negative emotions
  • Negatively impacted job performance
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Getting sick frequently or unexplained health issues, such as dizziness, rapid heart beating, hot flashes, headaches, stomach aches, etc.

One of the biggest ways to start diminishing overwhelm is to recognize – in the moment – when we’re experiencing any of the above issues. Deliberately choosing to become more aware of our emotions and how they’re shaping our behavior is the number one thing we can do to start combating chronic overwhelm and stress. Every time we notice how we’re feeling and stop to examine the emotions, instead of just unconsciously reacting, we break down the overlying theme of constant overwhelm in our lives.

Once we become more accustomed to practicing this, the next step is to have a plan in place for when we start to feel this overwhelm, which will help keep our heads above water and get back to enjoying life. Taking a break from work, getting outside in nature, practicing deep breathing, doing a guided meditation or tapping session, or talking to a trusted confidante are all things that can help ease stress in the moment.

To proactively combat overwhelm, we can also incorporate the following four steps in our lives on a daily basis:

1) Write Down Everything You Need to Do

Sometimes overwhelm comes from trying to mentally keep track of too many things at once. Instead of struggling to remember all the things you need to do, write them down in order of importance. If something doesn’t absolutely have to get done right now, remove it from the list and save it for another day.

2) Accept Your Emotions and Change Your Perspective

We all know that what you focus on grows, so instead of thinking about all of the things you have to do, accept your stress and how you’re feeling and then take a break to count your blessings and send some gratitude out into the universe. It may sound silly or trite, but training your mind to flip the switch from panic to appreciation in moments of high stress can often mean the difference between a life of anxiety or one of peace.

3) Learn to Delegate

Can a co-worker create the spreadsheet for you? Do you really need to make a three-course meal when you get done with work? Does the laundry actually have to be done right now? Ask for help, order in dinner, and put off the laundry for another day. It’s not a big deal – learn to prioritize, give up control, and let the little things go.

4) Create Boundaries and Learn to Say No

You don’t need to agree to everything that’s thrown your way. If it’s a friend who is asking for your time, explain that you aren’t able to fit it (whatever “it” may be) into your schedule, but you appreciate the offer. If it’s your boss or a client, tell them that given your workload, the task would be difficult for you to complete at this time, but perhaps there is another way to get it done. The more you practice saying “no,” the easier it will become.