When it rains, it pours, but when you’re already stressed out and feeling overwhelmed by life’s ups and downs, it can feel more like a flash flood!
Nowadays, it feels like we are piling more and more onto our plates.
There are to-do lists to finish, errands to run, appointments to make and keep, work projects to complete, grocery shopping to do, meals to plan and cook, not to mention hobbies and children’s schoolwork if you have kids — it seems endless!
So, what can you do when that overwhelmed feeling hits you like a tsunami wave?
Here are 20 helpful ideas on how to stop feeling overwhelmed and stay cool as a cucumber no matter what life throws at you.
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What does it mean to feel overwhelmed?
What is the definition of overwhelmed?
To be overwhelmed means to be overcome or overpowered by something; this can be:
- physically overwhelmed by force or through large numbers, or
- emotionally overwhelmed through thoughts or feelings.
When someone describes themselves as overwhelmed, they typically mean that they are in a stressful situation and dealing with intense circumstances and/or emotions that are impeding their ability to act, think, or function to the best of their ability.
What makes people feel overwhelmed?
There are many reasons a person may begin to feel overwhelmed, such as stress at work, traumatic life experiences (both past and present), burnout, relationship problems, etc.
MEET THE ZENS: I was an emotional hoarder who couldn’t let go; my husband grew up poor in rural China. We know all about how overwhelming life can be. Read more about us here.
20 Tips to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed
1. Banish bogus self-talk
Are you your own worst bully?
I bet you say things to yourself that you would never, ever dream of saying to another human being who was visibly stressed out and overwhelmed – so why do you feel the need to say such things to yourself?
Your inner voice is powerful, so be thoughtful with your self-talk.
If you can’t find ways to reframe your thoughts positively, even a simple “I can do this” is better than nothing.
If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.YOUR MOM
2. Go to the source
Take a close look at your life and figure out where your stress is coming from. Find the source of your stress, and then take steps to remove it from your life.
If your home is stressing you out, think about what you can do to make it more manageable.
Clutter is a shockingly common root cause of anxiety, so decluttering can help you create more breathing space.
Or, if you are too overwhelmed with extra hobbies and after-school activities, you may need to consider taking them off your plate.
3. Make the bed
Make the bed first thing in the morning to give yourself an instant sense of accomplishment and order.
This small habit at the beginning of the day can help you build momentum to do another task and then another so that by the end of the day, you are able to get more done.
4. Say no to
You’ve been lied to your entire life.
The magic word isn’t please; it’s NO!
It’s not always easy to say no, especially to our loved ones, but sometimes it can be necessary for you to maintain control of your life and health. If you have too many things on your plate, consider saying no to a commitment.
When you say no to one thing you are saying yes to something else.
Make sure that you stay true to yourself and say yes to the things that will move the needle forward in your own life and help you be less overwhelmed before you try to help someone else.
5. Done is better than perfect
Studies have shown that overwhelmed people often find themselves putting off tasks and procrastinating, which in turn causes them more stress than they need.
It might feel good in the short term to put off a task that makes you feel anxious, but in the long term, you end up making yourself more stressed out as the work gets more and more piled up!
If you’re overwhelmed, the best thing you can do is get started on something as soon as possible.
Make that phone call you’ve been dreading, return that book you borrowed, clean the toilets, pay back that money you owe – do the darn thing!
The sooner you start working on your task list, the less overwhelmed you will feel!
If you wait for the perfect time to do something, you will be waiting forever so, carpe diem!
After all, there is no right time – there’s just time and what you choose to do with it!
6. Eat the frog
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.MARK TWAIN
This goes along with tip five; not only should you not procrastinate, but you should get your most challenging tasks done right in the morning!
That thing you’ve been putting off?
Get it done as soon as possible!
After you’ve completed that unsavory task you’ve been avoiding, everything else will feel like smoother sailing afterward.
7. Write down your “Big Three”
If looking at your task list makes you feel more panicked than productive, it’s time to trim down your daily to-do list.
One of the biggest benefits of minimalism is that I’ve gotten a lot better at pinpointing what is a want versus a need in my life – and it turns out you can do the same thing with your daily expectations!
Instead of writing down everything you need to do at the start of the day, write down three essential things for you to accomplish that day.
Don’t even THINK about trying to do anything else until you get those three essential tasks checked off your list.
After that, you can either do more or take a breather.
8. Limit distractions
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by life when you’re unable to focus on the most important things, and multi-tasking can make you less efficient.
How to limit distractions:
- turn off social media notifications
- put your phone on airplane mode or silent
- focus on one thing
- set a timer
- take breaks
- turn off the TV in the background
9. Set boundaries
Setting firm boundaries can help prevent stressful situations in the future.
Here is what that might look like:
- Physical boundaries – if you work from home, set a physical boundary by letting your family know that when you are in the office with the door closed, that means you should not be disturbed.
- Time boundaries – time blocking, which is designating certain times of your day to specific tasks or saying no to picking up an extra shift for a coworker when you are already at your limit.
- Mental boundaries – taking breaks at scheduled intervals, allowing for relaxation time, and getting enough sleep to stay sharp when you are on task.
Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.JOSH BILLINGS
10. Set a timer
If you tend to lose track of time and forget to take breaks, setting a timer can help keep you on task without exhausting yourself.
Using a timer is a common productivity technique frequently used in the Pomodoro method for work and study; it’s also used by homemakers who have a limited amount of time to devote to cleaning or decluttering each day.
11. Count down from 5
This is the same concept that helps us jump into a pool that we know is full of freezing cold water.
“When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action.
There is a window that exists between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing it. It’s a 5-second window. And it exists for everyone.” ~ Mel Robbins
The 5-second rule is a powerful tool that can help you overcome analysis paralysis and help you take action towards your goals.
12. Ask for help
It can be scary to ask for help when you are at a dark or low point in your life.
But, if you think about it, everyone needs a little bit of support at one time or another – even those that seem like they have everything together on the outside.
You can ask your family or close friends or even consider hiring help.
Whether it’s a part-time caregiver, cleaning services, or even therapy, sometimes we need to learn to request assistance.
As a naturally frugal person, I always find it hard to spend money asking for help, but hiring a lactation consultant probably saved my life at one point as a new mother!
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13. Ration your energy
Are you more of a morning person or a night owl?
Your energy levels naturally ebb and flow throughout the day, and if you pay attention to this, you can harness your body’s rhythms to your advantage.
I am more efficient and sharp-witted in the early morning hours; I always joke that my brain shuts off after 5 pm.
Therefore, I tackle my most important tasks early in the morning to be more relaxed when my energy levels drop later in the day.
Make sure to nourish your body with proper meals or snacks; sometimes, a granola bar is just the pick-me-up you need to get through a mid-day slump!
14. Prioritize sleep
It’s essential to prioritize your sleep if you want to feel refreshed and energized.
A good night of rest will help restore your body with energy for the next day and is just as vital as a healthy meal or getting daily exercise.
If you find it tough to fall asleep, try turning off your devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime; this can help your brain be more relaxed when it’s time to turn off the lights.
15. Move your body
Humans are becoming more and more sedentary.
When you’re already overwhelmed by life, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get up and move, but exercising is one of the best ways to relieve stress after a tough day and give your brain (and muscles) a chance to recoup.
It doesn’t take much!
Even going for a walk or doing some simple stretches at your desk is better than nothing.
If you feel like moving could help but don’t know how much time you have in the day, start small – even taking a 15-minute walk will give your body and mind an energy boost!
16. Take a breath
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, it can be hard to make sense of your thoughts.
Try taking a deep breath before tackling the next task or making yourself do anything that feels difficult.
You might find when you have time to pause for just one moment with nothing but silence in your ears and peace in your heart, that everything will seem so much clearer!
There are all sorts of breathing techniques that you can use, but I use the 4-6-8 method when I need a serious breather.
Here is how to use the 4-6-8 breathing technique:
- Breathe in to the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, breathe out to the count of 4 – repeat three times
- Breathe in to the count of 6, hold for the count of 6, breathe out to the count of 6 – repeat three times
- Breathe in to the count of 8, hold for the count of 8, breathe out to the count of 8 – repeat three times
17. Do a brain dump
Do you ever get a deer-in-the-headlights frozen feeling that comes in times of stress?
If you can’t seem to gather your thoughts, let alone take action, then you might find it beneficial to do a brain dump.
Brain dumping is a technique where you write everything that’s on your mind – anything goes, but it can be helpful to start with the most stressful thoughts and work down from there if time permits.
Just get a paper and pen or pencil and allow your thoughts to flow out of you onto the page. (You can also use a diary or bullet journal.)
Don’t worry too much about what it looks like or what you are saying.
You can make lists and bullet points or go with long paragraphs in stream-of-consciousness-style ramblings.
The most important thing is to get your swirling thoughts out of your head and onto paper so you can untangle your brain!
18. Tidy up
It can be hard to concentrate in a cluttered environment.
A lot of people find it helpful to tidy up their homes when they are feeling overwhelmed.
It seems like a small thing, but cleaning and organizing can make us feel better in many ways because our mind associates order with peace and tranquility.
Remember, you don’t have to do EVERYTHING all at once.
Focus on doing one area at a time and clear at least one space to feel refreshed when you sit there; it can be your sanctuary until you can tackle more.
Popular categories to declutter and tidy:
19. Create a routine
A good routine can set you up for a great day every day.
It might sound obvious, but when you have a routine, it’s easier to know what to do next. It gives structure and predictability to your day and can help you maintain order even when things get chaotic.
Here are a few daily routines to consider establishing:
- waking up around a particular time
- eating balanced meals
- drinking enough water
- moving your body
- keeping consistent work hours
- turning off electronics 30 minutes before bedtime
- going to bed at a set time
- and more…
20. Take care of “future you”
Taking care of your future self means that you complete specific tasks and activities now in order to have an easier time in the future.
A good example would be asking a spouse to help you do the grocery shopping ahead of a business trip so that you don’t have to worry about it later when you are by yourself with the kids.
It can also look like going to bed with a tidy kitchen at the end of the day so that you wake up to a fresh and clean kitchen when it’s breakfast time.
Here are a few ways that I care for future me:
- Make double batches of food for leftover lunches and dinners (like my famous meatballs, butternut squash muffins, or any of these 365 lunch ideas)
- Prepare for rainy days by keeping a budget in good times
- Be intentional with how I communicate with my husband and kids
- Fold and put away the laundry right away instead of waiting
Final thoughts to stop the overwhelm
Hopefully, these tips will help you prevent those overwhelmed feelings from arising as often, or at least to cope when they pop up.
Remember, you don’t need to try all the tips all at once. That would be, well, overwhelming!
Try one or two things from this list and decide if you like them enough to make them into a habit or routine.
Feeling overwhelmed isn’t fun, but there are so many ways we can care for ourselves when we’re feeling overloaded.