How To Stop Feeling Overwhelmed All The Time

A man holding a stack of things feeling overwhelmed sticker


Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.

Paulo Coelho’s beautiful quote by perfectly captures the core struggle of life. When nothing happens, we are frustrated, disappointed, and even disillusioned, and when everything happens at once, we become drained, exhausted, and stressed out. In both scenarios, our will gets tested in some very challenging and emotionally trying ways.

These days, the problem most of us contend with is that of too much happening at once. We are constantly playing catch up with life and that of course, leaves us feeling overwhelmed. So overwhelmed that we forget to revel in life, appreciate the good that it offers and relish the challenges it throws our way.

A woman holding her head feeling overwhelmed

Don't let the overwhelm isolate you

If you are feeling overwhelmed, I would remind you that you are not the only one. You may feel lonely in your struggle but if you look closely, you’ll find that everyone is overwhelmed in some way, thanks to the insanity of this over connected, ego driven world.

Life is also unpredictable.  When you’ve one thing figured out, it comes up with something new and dumps it in your lap.

Sometimes, the overwhelm we face is not even our own. It’s brought into our life by other people, but as it’s all part of being human, we must face up to it, no matter its source. 

Nobody is immune to the chaos that is so intrinsic to life. Fortunately, we can develop skills that can help us rein in the chaos and maintain calm in our life.

Why we get overwhelmed

Before we dive into the solutions to the overwhelm, we must understand why we are feeling overwhelmed. This information can help us better navigate the situation.

  • Are you overwhelmed because you are unable to efficiently manage your time and responsibilities?
  • Is cognitive fatigue causing you to feel overwhelmed?

Perhaps you have your usual responsibilities but you find yourself unable to focus, feeling anxious, getting easily confused, forgetful, or slow – if that’s the case, you may be suffering from cognitive fatigue and may be in need of some rest and recuperation. If the cognitive issues persist, seek professional help.

  • Is your overwhelm because you are facing change?

Overwhelm can also be because you’re in a certain phase of life where you have a lot of important decisions to make. For eg, when a young graduate leaves college to join the adult world of employment gets overwhelmed which is natural and in those cases, you have to treat yourself with compassion, perhaps lean on your friends and family, and get through that phase, one step at a time.

  • Or are you overwhelmed because you are burdened with difficult emotions?

When the emotional load gets heavy like when you go through a breakup or experience a loss, we are bound to experience overwhelm. As we deal with the pain of the trauma, life continues to move forward and we are as always, forced to keep up. There is no time to feel our feelings and that exacerbates the pain and the heaviness of the situation. 

In such cases, we must seek some support. Go easy on ourselves and if possible, take time away from life.

Now, if you are overwhelmed because life has become chaotic and there’s too much going on, here's what you can do -

1. pause and prioritise

Whenever you feel the overwhelm setting in, consciously tell yourself to press pause. Stop for a few second. Take a few calming breaths, and then pick the priorities. 

So, if you’ve a long to-do list, just focus on what absolutely has to get done. Forget about the rest. Once that priority is over, move onto the next one.

Overwhelm happens because a. we obsess over the future and b. we catastrophise 

Look at how much I’ve to do, it’s never gonna get done’, etc etc. so, to keep yourself grounded in the present and to avoid obsessing over the consequences of not getting something done (which are never as bad as we make them out to be in our head), pause and prioritise.

You can do this for work and for personal demands as well. 

If I’m hurting over something and I have to go to work, put on a brave face, take calls from the family, what I’ll do is focus on getting through the next one hour, and that’s it. To get through my day at the work, I’ll send all personal calls to voicemail because I can’t afford to get emotional at work. My total focus will be placed on getting through the workday without having a breakdown.

The pause part is me shifting my focus to the next one hour and no more.

The prioritise bit is me sending the family calls to voicemail, making them wait for later when I am through my workday because the priority, is getting through the workday without having an embarrassing breakdown.

In the event of a breakup, if I’ve lost the partner I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with, before I try to move forward, I allow myself to process the pain. 

2. Use clarity as a tool

Clarity, in day to day life means I know what to prioritise. If I have 15 tasks on my to-do list, I know what task holds priority and delivers the most results.

When I start to get overwhelmed, I remind myself to pause, breathe, and prioritise based on the clarity I have around my personal and professional needs.

In life, clarity means I know what I want and I know how to get it. I can devise a clear plan of action. I can further break down the plan into several, smaller tasks. No overwhelm!

It also means that I am more decisive and I move faster through life.

Consider the breakup example again. If I clearly know what I want out of a relationship and from my life, if the person I am with is unable to give me those things then, I know I have to move on. Making the decision to walk away is made somewhat easier and so is  processing the pain that follows because I know that the breakup moves me in the right direction.

Get clear about the bigger goals in life and then, get clear about how those goals will be achieved. Further break things down into smaller tasks and smaller decisions and choices.

Smaller tasks also make your progress more noticeable which keeps you motivation up.

3. Learn to say no to yourself and others

So much of the overwhelm that we experience in life is because of pointless, nonsense bullshit.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, assess where all the overwhelm is coming from and if you realise that it is, in fact because of pointless stuff, just let it go. That’s it! No fancy advice, no little tips and tricks. 

Set boundaries with yourself. Learn to say ‘No’ to yourself when you create stress in your life for things that really don’t matter (caring about the opinions of people you don’t love and respect, obsessing over social image, doing things because others think you should, etc)

Of all the many things we do in life, very little of it actually helps us grow and actually makes us happy. Get clear on what does contribute to your growth and happiness and prioritise only that.

It’s also okay to just do the priorities when you have one too many things to do.

It’s also okay to say ‘No’ to others.

I say ‘no’ to a lot of people when they ask me out for lunch or shopping because I am building a business and it’s really demanding work so, no I don’t have time to do lunches.

I go to bed at 9 every day and I don’t care if there’s a guest in my house. It is important for my health that I get adequate sleep so I do what is best for me. When I can, I’ll do things differently but for now, unless it’s a priority, I am gonna say a hard, non-negotiable ‘No’.

Sometimes you just need to be selfish and take care of you. If they love you, they’ll understand.

Saying ‘no’ to yourself or to the people you care about is not easy, but it has to be done. 

If you give into every random temptation and set no boundaries with yourself and you try to please everyone in your life, your life will always be too much for you.

Start saying ‘No’ whenever it’s in your best interests. This is again helped by having clarity in life.

The ability to say no comes from strength of purpose – What do I want out of my life? What are my goals  and out of all these goals, which ones matters the most to me? So have clear goals and objectives. Have a clear plan of action to pursue those goals and have a clear idea of your priorities.

4. Count the opportunity cost

According to the dictionary, the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen, that’s opportunity cost.

In this context, it means what you give up to spend more time on one particular task.

So, if I invest more time in writing a blog post, I can’t spend that time on creating IG posts but if blog posts mean more traffic and potentially more profit to my business vs what an IG post can do, then I am making the right decision.

Estimate the opportunity cost and accordingly choose your priorities. 

Overwhelm can create a sort of decision paralysis. A simple trick to resolve that issues is to consider the opportunity cost. If perfecting that social media post means nothing but sending out a well-written newsletter can help reengage customers which may translate to paying clients then, you’re better off investing time into creating the newsletter.

It’s also a good way to avoid the perfectionism trap. If you find yourself spending too much time on one task, consider what extra benefit you get out of redoing that task. If you realise that spending more time on the project translates to no extra profit but does cost you in terms of time and energy that can be better spent in something else with more benefits, it will be easier for you to move on.

5. Create a supportive lifestyle

If you feel overwhelmed all the time, perhaps how you’re running your life is the problem. The problem is in how you’re managing your time and where you’re investing your energy and emotions.

As part of my recovery from depression, I was advised to build a routine with fixed time for sleep, food, exercise, play, and work. I was to add in rituals that brought me peace so I chose prayer, meditation, and journaling. At 4am everyday, I would get out of bed and start my morning. The first two hours consisted of a long, slow walk with no music followed by prayer, yoga, meditation, and journaling.

It took two weeks for the routine to take effect and soon the silence of the morning started to permeate my very soul. I felt connected to the divine. My thoughts were no longer as chaotic or as disturbed by anxiety. The calm of the morning grounded me and helped me keep my energy clean and pleasant.

As I continued to follow the routine for the rest of the day, 
I was able to avoid decision fatigue and chaos

The calm carried on to the rest of my day and amplified. It gradually became a part of me.

It was what helped me steer clear of dark, depressive thoughts which was huge, considering how deep in depression I was at the time.

Over the last few years, the routine has continued to be a part of my life with certain adjustments based on the current demands of my life.

Develop a system that allows you to get work done but that also allows you to take care of yourself.

Keep your mornings toxicity and fatigue free so no Checking your phone or social media. When you wake up, your subconscious mind is at its most receptive so make sure to feed it ideas that serve you. What’s more important is that you avoid all negativity during this time. As we are waking up, our brain continues to be in theta state which is also a very good time to ruminate and problem solve. – consider this self-care that requires no extra time. Keeping your emotional and mental space toxicity free will also help with managing the overwhelm.

Avoid decision fatigue and procrastination by launching into a routine as soon as you wake up. If you can move from one task to another without giving it much thought, you’ll get more done, there will be less decision fatigue, and you may even be able to reach a state of flow which will be good for your productivity.

There are a lot of self-care and self-love narratives out there and perhaps they all have something to offer, but in my experience, structure and systems are true purveyors of self-care.

6. Establish supportive beliefs

Sometimes, the overwhelm we experience is because of the assumptions and beliefs we hold.

Missing a deadline is not a life and death situation but sometimes, that’s exactly how we behave.

We talked about learning to say no to people, we don’t do that because of things we assume and believe like, they won’t understand why I’m saying no. I won’t have any friends left. Maybe it’s true, but maybe it’s really not.

Maybe you need to talk to your friends and explain to them why you’re saying no and once you do that, maybe they’ll understand.

The assumption that if something doesn’t get done, you’ll suffer a setback and never recover from it – that is a massive exaggeration. Such assumptions and beliefs create the kind of stress and pressure that no human being can or should have to deal with.

If they’re operating in your life, start dragging them out in the open, question them, and then reframe them to be more positive and supportive.

7. Adapt solutions to your needs

Pick methods and strategies that works for YOU.

Check in with your energy and emotions, as you do it. These 7 tips (especially the first five) have been life savers for me but they may not be as effective for you. 

Start with these tips, see what works and what doesn’t. If something does work, develop it further to be more supportive. If it doesn’t, pivot.

Life really SHOULD NOT be a struggle. We don’t need to fill our days with work or even fun. We don’t HAVE TO do anything. Yes, we should make the most of the potential we have, we should contribute positively to the world, but how we go about it, that’s up to us.

You choose the roles you play. You choose how you play those roles, and you choose how much of yourself you give to the world. Only thing important is that you make your contribution positive and helpful and you won’t be able to do that if your own emotional and mental space are overwhelmed and stressed out.

So, above all, take  better care of yourself.

Shownotes -

00:03:40 – Loneliness of overwhelm

00:05:08 – Understanding why we get overwhelmed

00:08:25 – Step away from the struggle

00:11:00 – Pause and Prioritise

00:15:00 – Clarity to avoid overwhelm

00:16:50 – Maintain inner motivation

00:17:35 – Boundaries with self and others

00:21:20 – Consider the opportunity cost

00:25:00 – A lifestyle that supports your needs

00:29:30 – Check your assumptions and beliefs

00:30:48 – Customise your solutions to your needs

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