Raise your hand if you have ever felt overwhelmed!?!
It is the worst.
You feel like your brain is all tangled up. Your thoughts are all over the place. You keep writing to-do lists…in four different places. You complain to others that you “have so much to do” and that you “can’t even!” Your chest is TIGHT AS HECK! You feel like you cannot catch enough air.
It is NOT fun.
I definitely felt this as I prepared to go back to my teaching job this week. For me? Overwhelm was caused by the fear of the unknown. Each year I get new students, new challenges arise, and there are always new policies to follow.
Who likes the unknown? I know that it freakkkkkkks me out.
But, what exactly is the stem of overwhelm?
Why is this feeling so universal and how can people work to rid of this feeling?
I am going to explain to you what causes overwhelm, warning signs, and actionable ways that you can retrain your brain to experience less overwhelm and find more peace in your life.
WHAT IS OVERWHELM?
When you feel overwhelmed it means that your brain is convinced that you have too much of something. Usually, it has to do with tasks that we have to accomplish or problems that we have yet to solve. Unfortunately, feeling overwhelmed is something that most of us cannot turn on and off at our leisure.
Overwhelm is an unwelcome guest that arrives at your house and says they need to stay for one night. But, unfortunately that can turn into days, or even weeks, if not addressed directly.
>>Related: 7 Ways to Deal with Stress & Anxiety
WHAT CAUSES OVERWHELM?
Psychotherapist Peter Michaelson explains that overwhelm is driven by inner passivity. Meaning, we look at all the tasks we have at hand or choices we have to make. Then, instead of actually DOING something about it, there is not an active response. It is like spinning your tires in place. He calls this a “helplessness trap” that we create in our minds.
“Minds” is a keyword when trying to understand why we feel overwhelm. Overwhelm is not directly caused by having too much to do, being too busy, or having too many decisions to make. Overwhelm is when we unconsciously choose to simply think about how much [insert thought here] there is instead of taking actionable steps to solve problems or tasks at hand.
>>Related: Mindfulness for Beginners
WHY DOES OVERWHELM BUILD?
Once we have the tire-spinning thoughts of overwhelm, we tell ourselves on a loop that there is too much to resolve at one time. In turn, the overwhelm builds and builds until it is a giant snowball. The bigger it gets the harder it is to manage. So, we might as well just stand still and let time pass. Right? It’ll melt away. I know that sounds ridiculous. But, think of the last time you felt REALLY overwhelmed for a day or more at a time.
Did you take action right away…the second overwhelm crept into your body? I doubt it.
It is as if we get addicted to feeling all the horrible feels. We think that by repeating to ourselves and others, “Omgggg I am so busy. I have so much to do. My schedule is so tight. Blah blah blah,” will actually help or solve anything. NEWS FLASH! It doesn’t do a darn thing. Just makes us feel more crappy.
Psychotherapist Peter Michaelson explains it perfectly, “[Overwhelm] happens because we are compelled to recycle and replay whatever is unresolved in our psyche. Inner passivity is an unresolved negative emotion that we’ll continue to experience in ways that are self-defeating unless or until we make the process conscious.” Staying in place—inner passivity— does nothing but intensify all of the icky feelings and negative inner talk that takes over your life.
THE WARNING SIGNS OF OVERWHELM
One of the keys that has helped me battle overwhelm is to clearly understand my thoughts and feelings before the overwhelm snowball begins to build into something unnecessary.
Here are some signs to look for in order to identify if you are experiencing overwhelm:
- Difficulties focusing on one task at a time.
- Worrying often about things out of your control.
- Eating too much or not enough compared to your normal diet.
- Constant feelings of being tired and/or lack of sleep.
- Random moody behavior with friends and family.
- Trouble making decisions—even simple ones.
- Difficulties settling your mind while trying to fall asleep.
- Overly sensitive to comments, questions, and critiques.
- Instead of actually taking steps, you procrastinate most tasks.
- Repeating “I’m so busy” or “I have so much to do” on a loop.
*Note: I am not a doctor. Please see a licensed physician to confirm if this is something more serious.
>>Related: 5 Reasons to Stop Worrying About the Future
ACTIONABLE STEPS TO TAKE
Ok… so you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Also, after reading that list above, now you’re feeling even more overwhelmed!
Don’t fret. Remember, overwhelm is controlled by YOU alone and the thoughts you are having every day. So, it is all about your mindset. Easier said then done… right?
Many problems in life can be solved by taking small steps, one at a time. The same goes for feelings of overwhelm. Here are a few ways that you can take control of your thoughts in order to start cultivating more peace and wellness in your life.
- Journal about your feelings so your thoughts have somewhere to go.
- Make a priority list to see what tasks need attention first.
- Practice time blocking so one task at a time has your attention.
- Begin to delegate tasks you really don’t need to do yourself to others.
- Actually say “yes” when people offer a helping hand.
- Reevaluate the 5 people you spend the most time around (you become them).
- Start saying “no” to things that aren’t important to you.
- Phone your most laid back friend and ask for their advice.
- Set time aside to freak out (maybe 5-10 min) and then take one step forward.
- Go to or create a space that is peaceful for you to relax and center yourself.
- Begin to practice being grateful often, whether through thoughts or writing.
- Put positive quotes in obvious places to help keep you inspired and positive.
- Do a difficult exercise routine or run to give your mind something else to focus on.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! It’ll give you more energy throughout the day.
- Read a chapter of a self-help book to learn some strategies.
- Clean the areas that surround your overwhelm (i.e. your house, car, workspace).
- Schedule self-care on your calendar or to-do list EVERY DAY.
- Schedule specific time to be on social media (not every 20 min).
- Understand that B+ work is absolutely acceptable sometimes.
- Create and practice positive mantras to use at any moment of the day.
So, are you ready to take some of these steps? Infusing these into your daily schedule will not only help you slowly rid of your overwhelming thoughts. But, it can also help pave the path for more mental awareness and peace in the future.
QUOTES TO RELIEVE OVERWHELM
Need some more inspiration? Here are some powerful quotes that help me through days where I am feeling overwhelm:
“Action is the antidote to despair.” —Joan Baez
“You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside”.—Wayne Dyer
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”—William James
“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.”—Timber Hawkeye
“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.”—Andrew J. Bernstein
“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started.”—David Allen
“Even if you’re on the right track…if you just sit there, you’ll still get hit.”—Will Rogers
“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”—Sydney J. Harris
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What strategies do you use when you are feeling overwhelmed?
Let me know in the comments below!