This post discusses things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed in life.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you.
The sense of feeling overwhelmed in life often refers to being mentally or emotionally overloaded. This feeling can show up in your body and in your life in many ways whether it is through physical symptoms like fatigue or tension, an inability to quiet your mind, avoiding tasks, changes in appetite or sleep, or withdrawal from social activities. It is important to try to pinpoint reasons why you may be feeling this way to figure out what to do when you feel overwhelmed.
Why do I feel overwhelmed?
- Life changes: Whether they are considered “big” or “small,” life changes can trigger feelings of overwhelm. Changes like starting a new job, moving to a new city, having a baby, major changes in relationships (like divorce, break-up, or marriage), or adjustments in care-giving responsibilities (like empty-nest syndrome or caring for a sick loved-one) are all included in this one.
- Stress-Inducing Circumstances: Do you have an upcoming presentation at work? Or a busy calendar this month? Or perhaps there is a consistent source of conflict in your life? Often small, but consistent, stress-inducing circumstances can contribute to overall feelings of overwhelm.
- Low Distress Tolerance: Some people have a limited ability to tolerate discomfort or uncertainty. This lack of coping or emotion regulation skills can contribute to feelings of overwhelm in their life.
- Too Much On Your Plate: Overcommitting yourself and a lack of boundaries can cause many tasks and relationships in your life to pile high. It is important to regularly take an inventory of what is going on in your life and edit it down, if needed, to help with feeling overwhelmed.
- Trauma: Experiencing trauma can have a significant impact on your stress tolerance and contribute to feeling overwhelmed. Trauma survivors often display a hyper-vigilance to their surroundings and an activated nervous system, which makes it difficult to relax. It can also contribute to a negative self-perception that may decrease ones confidence in managing stress.
Many of those who have been long-time readers know that I am also a Canadian Certified Counsellor. I offer individual counselling services to women across Canada in all walks of life. If any of this post resonates with you and you’re looking for additional support, feel free to check out more about my offerings here.
How to Feel Less Overwhelmed:
1.) Return To Your Breath
Anchor yourself to the present moment. This mindfulness and meditation technique will help you feel more grounded and will bring you back to the present moment. Additionally, deep and intentional breathing will help to physically regulate you, as it activates your parasympathetic nervous system.
2.) Take Inventory
What tasks, responsibilities, and relationships are you holding onto right now? Take time to make a list. What are the non-negotiable responsibilities versus the flexible ones? Are there any areas where you can edit down?
A question I often ask myself when coming across a new opportunity is, “do I have capacity for this right now?” and, if so, “where in my life do I have space or can I create space for this?”
Slowing down to ask yourself these questions will keep you from overcommitting.
3.) Practice Self-Compassion
Two great resources to begin learning and practicing self-compassion: this book that is a helpful introduction to the topic; and this one is actually a workbook with practices to begin implementing more self-compassion in your life.
4.) Ask For Support
Don’t be afraid to lean on others in your life, whether its friends, family, or professional supports. I often ask myself what my response would be if a friend of mine called me and asked for help. Of course I would support where I could! Allow others to do the same for you. Are there any small or practical items on your list that you can ask for support with?
One way that I teach clients to ask others for support is with the following script – “I’m feeling really [insert feeling here], would you be willing to support me by [insert request here].” This phrasing is a beautiful way to request support in a way that is consensual and allows the other person autonomy in choosing to support you.
5.) Prioritize Your Basic Needs
Recently I shared on my counselling Instagram account a quote from @Philosophyofleisure, “The human need for unstructured play, a consistent bedtime routine, and nurturing relationships…doesn’t suddenly disappear at 18. We’ll need those foundational activities our entire lives.”
And it’s so true! Nutrition, sleep, some type of movement, sun-light, and community are all foundational needs in keeping us regulated and restoring us from feelings of overwhelm.
6.) Take Action In Any Direction
Things in motion stay in motion. What is needed right now? What is the least overwhelming and most manageable task? Start there.
When I am feeling overwhelmed, I often start at the sink. Putting on my favourite playlist and starting with the dishes often helps me set my day in motion in a manageable and simple way.
7.) Focus On What You Can Control
Reduce feelings of helplessness and stress by focussing on what is within your sphere of control and influence. This does not mean that you totally forget about what you cannot control (often simply identifying those things can help). Rather, it’s about redirecting your efforts and energy towards what you have influence over.
I’ll often have clients do the following exercise. First, draw two circles. Inside circle one, write down everything you have control of; inside of circle two, write down everything you do not have control of. Then make efforts to focus your energy on everything you identified inside of circle one.
8.) Set Boundaries Where Needed
Back in 2021 I wrote a post on setting boundaries with your family. Setting clear expectations with yourself and those in your life can make you feel less overwhelmed. Being clear about your needs while maintaining boundaries may initially feel uncomfortable but will help keeping your life from feeling overwhelming in the long run.
Remember that boundaries are about you, not others. You’re allowed to have needs, you’re allowed to notice them, and you’re allowed to communicate them. The reaction others have to your boundaries is on them and not on you. You are not responsible for the thoughts, feelings, or reactions of the other person.
In case you’re looking for more tangible information on boundaries, this book is a great resource. It discusses how to identify them in your own life and how to communicate them with kindness and clarity.
9.) Stop All Or Nothing Thinking
Stopping “all or nothing” thinking is a great step towards focussing on progress and not perfectionism. You can volunteer to help out with that event for a few hours, you’re not required to agree to the entirety of everything you’re asked to support with or show up for. You can spend a few minutes engaging meaningfully with your child, you don’t need to beat yourself up when you have to return to other responsibilities and can’t spend the full day “playing”. Quality > quantity.
This one is closely tied to self-compassion. Give yourself space to celebrate your efforts while acknowledging setbacks, limitations, and boundaries.
10.) Practice Mindfulness Or Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are skills that develop over time with practice, so be patient with yourself. Set aside a dedicated time and start with short practices. I find there are several apps or podcasts that I love that help assist me with this practice. I’ve listed a couple suggestions below.
Books Recommended In This Post
Feeling Overwhelmed In Life?
When you’re feeling overwhelmed in life, it is important to pause and identify “why” before building in short- and long-term strategies to feel less overwhelmed. I hope these suggestions provide you with some direction that will help.
This post was all about things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed in life.