What To Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Avoiding overwhelm

‘Busy’ is a word many of us employ to describe our state of affairs. Some people complain about being busy, for others it is a source of pride. Between our obligations as either a worker or a student, which in themselves demand copious amounts of attention, we have to balance some form of social life, exercise, errands, the occasional bit of ‘me-time’ to prevent burnout. Life in the modern world is increasingly characterised by never-ending to do lists and a search for how to master productivity while leaving room to unwind and actually enjoy the human experience.

What to do when you're overwhelmed

Granted, I am someone who likes being busy. I like a clear goal, a multidimensional schedule that raises the significance of quieter moments. I think many of us can relate to the restlessness which goes hand in hand with unforeseen boredom. However, ‘overwhelm’ is also a phenomenon most of us are familiar with. It signifies the fine line between a healthy level of bustle, and our life coming apart into infinitesimal pieces, making us wish for the power to be in two places at once. You find yourself working 24/7, fuelled by four hours of sleep and oceans of coffee. You question: ‘why does nothing get done despite all of this effort?‘ Perhaps, you have a few projects scattered about, each half way to completion, and you spiral into the trap of trying to do them all at once. In the meantime, empty boxes desperate for a tick loom next to each item on your to-do list and your workload keeps piling up and up and up. Nothing you do delivers a sense of accomplishment or enjoyment. You lie awake at night, cursing the constraints of a 24-hour day and weeks that seem to conclude before they’ve even started.

How to not feel overwhelmed

At such moments, the risk of you burning out or voluntarily giving up is at its highest. Overwhelm is a common trigger of anxiety, insomnia, scenarios of failure and unmet deadlines rushing through your mind. Thus, I would recommend laying down a clear strategy of not only recognising spikes in your daily activity, but also preventing a normal level of stress transforming into something malicious and damaging. As I discuss later in the post, we must also acknowledge that we are susceptible to unnecessary pressure both from ourselves and society at large, learning to distinguish what genuinely requires a sense of urgency within a puddle of things the futility of which you may only recognise with the power of hindsight.

Overwhelmed what to do

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So, yours truly is here to share some of her wisdom, and a few honest tips that may help you plough through a period of overwhelm. Stress, while impossible to eliminate in its entirety (and, trying to do so is counterproductive), does not have to reach unprecedented proportions. 

1. Avoid multitasking 

Many see multitasking as the answer to all of life’s problems, the key to tackling several items on your schedule all at once. Think thirty tabs open on your computer as you try to complete a school assignment while responding to emails, writing a blog post and checking your social media. This way of work is blatantly glamourised despite the fact that it’s been shown to stifle productivity. Those five incomplete projects you have floating around? It is much better to tackle them one by one, with full intensity, giving them your undiluted attention.

How to not burn out

Some forms of multitasking are harmless: for example, listening to podcasts at the same time as making breakfast or editing photos on your computer. However, when your tasks require different mindsets but a similar level of mental capacity, you will be much better off in terms of both efficiency and stress levels by focusing on them one at a time.

2. Learn how to prioritise 

I think the reason as to why I survived my IB exams and uni application process is because while the goal of completing these to the best of my ability loomed overhead, I consciously made them my number one priority. Sure, I worked hard, but I postponed thinking about anything else and learnt that worrying about just one thing is far less taxing. We have finite capabilities and without prioritisation, both our performance and mental health will suffer. If you have exams or deadlines coming up, do not feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to social occasions or spending less time in the gym.

How to prevent being overwhelmed

To make a broader point I may discuss further in a future blog post, sometimes we must not fear letting go of certain things in their entirety. Sure, a multitude of passions can coalesce into a fulfilling existence, but societal pressures to be an entrepreneur, a mathematician, a writer, a pilot, a social media influencer all at once can also be the underlying cause of one’s grievances. Minimise activities irrelevant to your vision of an ideal future, your wellbeing and your ‘central’ passion which sidelines all the others.

3. Talk to someone 

And no, this does not have to be a therapist. Speak to a trustworthy friend or relative, pouring our your innermost emotions. If you don’t understand where you’ve gone wrong and why you struggle to get things done despite sitting down at your desk for countless hours, a fresh perspective may come in handy. Some people have an aptitude in offering practical advise, highlighting which useless activities are soaking up valuable time, and where your priorities have become skewed. Others will simply listen. Or, if talking to a physical human being isn’t an option, start a journal! Invest 10-15 in writing to clear you head, which could be enough to give you a fresh start and a healthier attitude.

4. Declutter and organise your workspace

Physical decluttering creates a focused and tranquil mental space. Something as ‘trivial’ as clearing your desk of unwanted obstructions before each study session can have an enormous impact on the emotions with which you approach your work. Know where everything is, throwing away objects, notebooks and stationary that no longer carry a purpose. This will go hand in hand with the internal decluttering outlined in point 2.

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Extra tip: given the preeminence of technology in our work, treat your digital desktop as you would you ordinary table. Delete any useless files and reshuffle everything into folders. Little changes like this can go a long way.

5. Reduce procrastination / ‘just go for it’

I have written a much more extensive post about procrastination (linked above), but to summarise: feeling dismayed by the length of your to-do list and postponing its most monumental tasks will not make them disappear. The more you postpone something, the more urgent and hence overwhelming it is destined to become. If procrastination is something you struggle with, give my post a read (totally shameless self promo, I know) and just do your best to tackle your tasks one at a time, pushing past the fear of getting started. Trial and error is far superior to avoidance.

6. Do not neglect sleep

I know how tempting it may be to mess with your sleeping pattern and accept the magical 8 hours as a foregone luxury. However, stressful times should see sleep go up your list of priorities. A few restless nights here and there may be inevitable (in other words, don’t make sleep another thing to worry about), but avoid turning all-nighters into a habit because exhaustion will make you sluggish and damage your ability to perform under pressure. Go to bed at a reasonable time – ideally before 10:30 – and awaken feeling refreshed, more resilient to stress.

7. Do not neglect exercise and the power of good nutrition

This may seem contradictory to a point I made earlier in this post, but hear me out. If you’re an avid gym goer, the hours you spend on the treadmill or in the weight room may need to be scaled back, or replaced with a less time consuming form of exercise such as HIIT. However, eliminating exercise from your routine is counterproductive: there is never a good time in life for an ‘all or nothing attitude’. A short walk every few hours is a great way to not only get more oxygen into your system, but also keep yourself grounded and in tune with your emotions.

Reasons to eat healthy

Similarly, do not fall back on copious amount of junk food (although, we can all agree that chocolate is the ideal vehicle to carry us through difficult times) or even worse, skipping meals. Unless you want to deal with mental fogginess and crashes on a daily basis. I am always in awe when people say they ‘don’t have time to eat’ because well, food is a biological requirement we need to survive, let alone function on an everyday basis. Try prepping your meals in bulk on a Sunday evening. Keep a Pinterest board of quick and nutritious recipes. You, dear reader, deserve much better than a growling stomach when you’re trying to finish an essay worth 25% of your grade.

Reasons to eat healthy

8. Change your mindset

While thoughts alone cannot influence our levels of success, they have a tangible impact on our actions and the energy with which we approach our daily pursuits. Moreover, people who are prone to overthinking are much more prone to feeling overwhelmed because the latter is a product of how we view our daily commitments. Replace ‘I will never get this done on time’ with ‘as long as I prioritise and manage my time wisely, this task rests within the real of possibility’. ‘I am stressed and miserable’ sounds much better as ‘this is temporary and I am fully in control of my life’. Instead of ‘I am a good-for-nothing failure’, think ‘are my goals and expectations realistic? Am I giving them my best efforts, eliminating distractions, retaining a good work-life balance?’

9. Tighten up your time management

Do excuse the accidental alliteration. But anyway, feeling overwhelmed may be, as the heading suggests, a signal to up the rigour of your time management. Micromanagement is a technique I exercise whenever demanded by my schedule. While revising for the aforementioned IB exams, I broke my day into thirty minute chunks and decided exactly when each task on my to-do list was going to be accomplished. On a regular basis, I would encourage much more flexibility, and understand that some people prefer to take lenient approach to organisation. But, overwhelming times call for that extra morsel of discipline. Write out your day in time blocks of your choice, think realistically about how long each task will take to complete and assign said task to the blocks in order of priority. This will reduce your propensity to multitask while the time limits will push you to work with greater urgency. To put it shortly, instead of wishing for a sixty hour day, realise the true abundance of 24 hours by putting each minute to good use.

How to not feel overwhelmed

10. Take a break, and a step back

This is far less threatening than it sounds, I promise. After a certain point of slaving away, we begin to lose focus and any further efforts become counterproductive. Give yourself permission to let go, even for a brief period. Do something enjoyable, unrelated to your obligations, and you’ll see why the power of a sensibly-implemented break should never be underestimated.

What to do when you're overwhelmed

What to do when you're overwhelmed

(From now on, each blog post shall feature at least one photo of my cat – I hope you don’t mind;))

Tailor your break strategy to your character and preferred work style. Some people like short bursts of productivity combined with frequent, 5-10 minute periods of rest. I prefer longer intervals. Through trial and error, find a rhythm that works for you and stick to it religiously under a demanding timetable.

I think overwhelm can feel disastrous because finding ourselves in the middle of self-perpetuating cycle of stress interferes with our vision and purpose, kinda like television static. However, all of us are capable of evening out such a problem. Take a deep breath, and as I said a second ago, find your grand strategy. And of course, if you’ve found it already, be sure to let me know in the comments – how do you deal with feeling overwhelmed? Are you someone who enjoys, or dislikes being busy?

How to not feel overwhelmed

Lots of love, Maria ♡

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56 thoughts on “What To Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed”

  1. This is a relevant topic and you have thoroughly covered every aspect of it very well. I have learned to be unafraid to take it easy and take breaks in times when overwhelmed and actually would like to work at tightening my schedule and organizing time slots better when required.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I NEEDED THIS. January is always so damn stressful when you’re in uni it’s like trying to fit a house into a room. I am actually writing this while pulling an all-nighter because I procrastinate so damn much – my exam tomorrow is going to be a DISASTER lol. Hopefully I will get to use these tips for the many exams and deadlines still to come! xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ahh I wish you all of the best for the exam – I am sure it will go much better than you think, and the rest of your time in uni will be amazing. Thank you so much for reading and I am so happy to hear you found this post helpful! Xox

      Like

  3. Great Tips; a few of these I do, a few more I need to do much more.

    Not a clutter collector in the least bit, but am helping a few people close to me that are (it’s a work in progress).

    The best quote I’ve come across regarding clutter is “attaching emotion to inanimate objects.” Once it’s put in that light, hopefully it encourages getting rid of/donating things.

    Well I was becoming a little too attached the book collection, but a few months ago I got rid of five boxes or so, and as I paged through them it was a little challenging, but once they’re gone I didn’t even think twice. Seeing some of them at Goodwill a month later made me happy someone else could benefit from them!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you! And I know what you mean about decluttering – I used to own so many objects that I thought had value just because they evoked some form of nostalgia/an emotional response, but didn’t actually serve a purpose. And just like you said, they are much better off helping those in need!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very happy to hear you’ll be featuring your kitty in each post! I really got an awesome read out of this (: I don’t seem to get a lot done whenever I work part of the day, but getting a day off means I’m doing it all at once which can be overwhelming haha

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha the more cats the better! And thank you:) And I know what you mean about working part of the day can seem insufficient, but I think that spacing out my tasks evenly with breaks in between instead of doing one day on/one day off has helped a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This post was so helpful! I have learned how to prioritize in a way that works for me. I always hear people saying that working out needs to be made a priority, and while staying active is extremely important, I agree that there should be no guilt if you need to skip the gym one day! Good nutrition and plenty of sleep is essential!

    Mia | http://www.verymuchmia.com

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know exactly what you mean – not going to the gym at all makes me less productive/more sluggish but sometimes it’s just necessary to scale it back a tiny bit. It’s all about maintaining a good balance 🙂 Thank you very much for reading xox

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    1. Wow that means a lot to me! I think stepping back and reflecting is crucial, before introducing changes as to how you live and organise your life. Thank you very much for your lovely comment 🙂

      Like

  6. You’re such a wonderful writer! I’m definitely on the same page of liking to be busy with a multi-faceted schedule, but it’s definitely a fine line of being pleasantly busy and overwhelmed with way too many commitments. Really great read overall 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Great tips! Whenever I feel overwhelmed I’d prioritise my tasks into important, important but the deadline is still far, and not so important and it really helps ease my burden a lot.

    Sometimes, things get so hard that I decided to just ‘fuck this shit I’m out’ and take a nice break lol.

    x Rasya

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Prioritisation really is key, especially when you’re trying to work on several things at once! And of course, a good break is sometimes the way to go :’) Thank you for reading xox

      Like

  8. Amazing post. Maria! I always enjoy how wonderfully and clearly put together your insights are making them so much more relatable and applicable!! I have slipped into a period of overwhelm as you mentioned above. I always find journalling, organizing and re-priortising to aid in me finding my groove again and also being the most productive with my time. Super love this and your cat is an added bonus! P.s.- can you teach me how to (beautifully) cut a kiwi fruit like you?! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words – that really does mean a lot to me. I’m sorry to hear that you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment and hope you manage to overcome it soon. All of those things can make a tremendous difference to one’s emotional state. And the kiwi is surprisingly easy, if you type ‘how to carve a kiwi into a flower’ into YouTube, the first video is a really good guide 🙂 xox

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve been learning about the myth of multi-tasking lately and it’s such a hard habit for me to break, but thank you for the reminder that I’m not being superwoman, just sending my brain into a sputtering disaster that only leads to less than ideal results. I really, really needed this reminder! Having less than 8 tabs open at a time is a good day for me. I’ll work on bringing that number down 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be honest, I sometimes fall into the trap of multitasking myself and end up getting very little done – which always serves as a reminder to take tasks one at a time in the future. Thank you very much for reading and I am glad you found this helpful, wishing you all the best! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I totally agree how harmful multitasking can be in some aspects, especially for those who generally stress and worry a lot (me being of them haha!)
    While I had my finals going on, which I was very stressed about I thought about continuing to write blogposts, promoting them through social media while studying for finals.
    I soon realized the stress of this type of of multitasking was not okay and just concentrated on my finals and honestly i way less flustered and anxious focusing on one thing only!
    Great post! 💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it will make you more productive, when in fact the effect is often the opposite! I’m sorry to hear about the stress you had to go through, and well done for being able to overcome the temptation to do too many things at once 🙂 thank you so much for reading and for your comment xox

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Haha I certaintly don’t mind a photo of your cat here and there 🙂 I loved this post so much because I feel as if you’re speaking directly to me. Especially when you mentioned that we feel this urgency to be great at so many things. and endless loom of unchecked boxes in my to do list… But, I guess I need to find out what I really want in my life. Thank you for sharing.

    Natalie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha there will be plenty to come for sure! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing such stresses and glad that this post was helpful to read. Keep your head high because you are very talented and definitely do not need to put pressure on yourself because with time, you will find exactly the direction you are searching for. Thank you so much for reading xox

      Like

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