Five steps to ease the feeling of overwhelm

“I try to take one day at a time but, lately, several days have attacked me at once!”


I saw this quote the other day and, whilst it made me smile, it was also something I could immediately relate to. I have felt overwhelmed countless times, sometimes for a couple of hours and, now and then, for longer. The feeling can be serious and acute, making it difficult to see a way forward. 

In this article, I'll share my thoughts about feeling overwhelmed and some practical steps we can take to effectively manage the emotions and calm our inner voice. 

What is overwhelm?

Feeling overwhelmed is something many of us experience. For some people, it’s quite rare but, for others, it can become a recurring experience or a state they become stuck in. It's the feeling of intense emotion that something is too challenging to manage or overcome. We can’t find a way through or that we are trapped by our thoughts and emotions about a particular problem or situation.

When we feel overwhelmed it can become almost impossible to function or make decisions.

We are frozen, not knowing where to begin, everything bubbling over, or feeling out of control. It can creep up on us over time or hit us like a wave crashing down on top of us, making it difficult to think and act rationally.

The symptoms are different for everyone, so getting to know the symptoms you experience when starting to feel overwhelmed is the first step. Some people are angry, or irritable. Others feel fear or anxiety, have panic attacks or become upset more frequently. Some people find themselves procrastinating, scrolling through social media instead of completing one of the many tasks to be done.

Why do we experience overwhelm?

Just as the symptoms vary for everyone, the reasons we feel overwhelmed are also unique. Difficult relationships, job pressures, financial struggles, or significant changes in our lives, are just a few examples.

Challenges that one person shows resilience towards can be a significant contributor to feeling overwhelmed for someone else. It can be one significant event, or a build-up of smaller stressors, both of which can have the same impact on our ability to cope. 

When we feel overwhelmed, it’s a sign that our survival instincts have been triggered and we are in a fight, flight, or freeze state. This is often because we sense some form of scarcity, whether that is time, energy, or resources. 

Woman feeling overwhelmed with head on desk

Taking steps to ease the feeling of overwhelm

There are several practical things we can do to effectively reduce the feeling of overwhelm. Here are five that I find helpful.

Be aware of it. Tune in to how you feel, what changes you experience and what symptoms occur when you begin to feel overwhelmed. These might be low level but, the more you can recognise them, the earlier you can begin to take action to prevent it from becoming all-consuming.

Untangle the ball of wool in your head. Quite often, overwhelm can make it difficult to think straight as there are too many tangled thoughts. Spending time working out what is causing you to feel overwhelmed might seem like yet another thing to do, but it is incredibly helpful. Journaling is a great way to do this; simply writing down thoughts as they come to you. I am always amazed at how much comes out!

Once you have worked out what is causing you to feel overwhelmed, take a good look at what is there and categorise it:

  • Is it something I can do anything about?
  • Does something need to be done about it now, or can it wait?
  • Are there things I can stop doing that would reduce the load?
  • Could someone else support me with anything?

Then, with the ones which need to be done by you, create a realistic schedule for when you can do them. I find that taking the time to complete this step has an immediate and positive effect.

Feeling overwhelmed can often make us feel negative about ourselves and our abilities. Daily positive affirmations can really help to boost your mood and outlook about who you are and what you can achieve. 

Looking after yourself is key. I know that when there is SO much to do, the last thing I think I should be doing is stopping for lunch, taking a break to go for a run, or chatting on the phone with a friend. Taking the time to do these things has such a beneficial effect on how we are feeling and will help to make things feel better, rather than worse.

Feeling overwhelmed for a couple of hours or even days while we get ourselves back on track is manageable. If you find you are feeling overwhelmed for any length of time, it might be a sign that you need support from someone who can help you find effective ways to manage or resolve the cause of the emotions.

I work with people who are looking for this type of support and want to make positive changes in their personal or professional life to improve their overall well-being. 

I offer a free personal well-being kickstart session, enabling you to discuss the challenges you are facing, define your priorities for change and decide your next steps. Contact me to book your free personal well-being kickstart session or ask me a question. Take care.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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