5 tips to get out from underneath overwhelm

Overloaded. Defeated. Checked out. Buried. Unable to cope. Exhausted. Stuck. Done. These are just some of the words clients have used to describe their current situation when they arrive at the start of a coaching programme - all of them indicate some kind of overwhelm.

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I feel like, when I was growing up, the idea of overwhelm seemed limited to a few specific jobs or people but today everyone is experiencing it in some form and at some point in life. Maybe that’s just because we talk and share more these days - or perhaps it’s because the world really is delivering a lot of stress right now.

From the constant barrage of stimulation via our devices to the rising cost of living, climate change, pressure at work and changing ideas about identity... It's a lot. Just writing that has taken my blood pressure up a few notches.


Small steps make a big difference

Overwhelm is a tough feeling to have because it can shut down the internal resources that you need to change the situation you’re currently struggling with. If you start looking for solutions that feel overwhelming in themselves, this can make things worse and you may end up back where you started.

So, when it comes to dealing with overwhelm, start small. Forget about the big picture - which is probably what is stressing you out the most right now - and zero in on some small steps that you can take to start changing things. Here are five of my suggestions to help you get out from underneath overwhelm.

1. Come down off the ceiling

The physical response that we have to stress often goes unnoticed because this is the moment that we’re either completely in our own heads or totally numb and checked out. One of the most powerful ways you can tackle overwhelm is to stop trying to think your way out of it. Start with your body.

Where are you feeling this the most and how could you tackle that? If your overwhelm means agitation, panic, or a monkey mind, then try box breathing (four counts in, four counts hold, four counts out, four counts hold) or a warm bath.

If it looks more like zoning out and numbness then try movement - dance, physically shake it off for five minutes or play.

You’re probably scoffing at that last one but play releases endogenous opioids that help to bring the prefrontal cortex online - the part of the mind responsible for perspective and confident decision-making, which is what you need most right now. So, get on a skateboard, or pick up a ball. Try a new solution to an age-old issue.

2. Get clear on what you’re actually dealing with

If you’re already in panic mode and your nervous system is flooded with stress hormones, everything will probably seem much more overwhelming than it actually is.

As humans, we build things up in our heads all the time and this can block us from taking action. So, take a breath and get some clarity. Rather than sitting there with sweaty palms repeating “I have a million emails to answer and not enough time!”, sit down and look at the exact number of emails - there’s likely a lot less. What do you actually need to do?

3. Break down those big tasks into small chunks

No, you may not be able to solve that whole problem right now. But what are the steps leading up to getting it done - and could you do one or two today? I realise this is so simple it’s almost patronising but we (including me) often forget that the best solutions can be the simplest.

When you break something big down like this, it will feel more achievable. When something feels more achievable, the panic and overwhelm subside. You’ll get a sense of achievement every time you work through another stage - and your confidence will start to return with each one you check off. Giving yourself more time and clarity like this means you might even find something to enjoy in it, too.

4. Do one thing at a time - with a time limit

Repeat after me: multi-tasking does not work. Sorry, but it doesn’t. And trying to make it work is one of the reasons why many of us end up feeling overwhelmed and losing confidence. Rather than dispersing your energy and focusing on three things at the same time and then wondering if you actually did a good job with any of them, start with one.

To ensure that you’re still getting it done, give yourself a time limit to complete that task. The thing about us humans is that we will usually fill whatever the time available - give yourself 30 minutes, you’ll take 30 minutes - give yourself half a day, you’ll take half a day.

5. Be gentle with yourself

Honestly, this is probably the most important of all the tips. If your confidence is low, you’re anxious, unfocused and unsure, the last thing you need is harsh treatment from the one person who should always have your back (you). Self-compassion is what allows us to try again when we fail - and to pick ourselves up when things don’t go as planned.

Yes, you can ‘beast’ yourself for a short period of time to ‘push through’ but it will probably leave you feeling depleted and numb and it’s not a solution for the long term (I used to be a City lawyer and burnout was my middle name, so you can trust me on that). Despite all the narratives out there around discipline etc, the reality is that the harsher you are with yourself, the less likely you are to make progress.


How can coaching help?

This is the kind of simple problem solving we do in resilience coaching - taking challenges like overwhelm, anxiety, low confidence or self-esteem and finding workable solutions based on boosting your internal resources to bounce back and thrive.

I offer free 10-minute intro calls where we can chat through your challenges and see where resilience coaching could offer a new way forward.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, N1
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Written by Alex Pett
London, N1

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP certified coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She helps clients build confidence and self-belief, recover from burnout, develop self-assurance, intuitive connection and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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