How to overcome overwhelm in life and work

Overcoming overwhelm and burnout

Learning to overcome feeling overwhelmed by life is one of the most important life skills to have in your personal growth arsenal. Here are 10 tips to keep your head above water and avoid burnout.

You may have noticed that stress and anxiety is a global epidemic. Millions of people are in a constant state of overwhelm as they face the many ups and downs associated with living in modern society. 

If you are one of many who struggle to feel cool, calm and collected with the way life ebbs and flows, then this 10-step guide on how to manage overwhelm is for you.

What is overwhelm?

Overwhelm is a perpetual feeling of pressure that stems from negative thoughts and expectations about some aspect of your life. This typically happens when you are inundated with too much physical or mental clutter

Overwhelm is the aftermath of thinking you have to have or do everything, all at once.

This do more and do better attitude is a form of perfectionism that can immobilize you if you don’t create space and give yourself a break. It often leads to you feeling stuck, giving up and, in some cases, succumbing to apathy.

Perfectionism is really just fear rooted in unrealistic expectations about yourself. In the midst of worrying about achieving overly idealistic goals, you may forget to leave room for joy. A life absent of joy is not a rewarding life and this void can eventually lead to affects on your mental health such as depression.  

1. Breathe Better

Learning how to breathe properly is the first step in overcoming feeling overwhelmed. People often constrict their breathing when in a state of fear, frustration or anxiety. This often exasperates the emotional pressure and can lead to physical health conditions as well. 

Using simple techniques to increase the flow of oxygen throughout the body can instantly work wonders for your emotional state.

First it will relax your body then it will relax your mind, making it easy for you to get a handle on the challenges you are experiencing and chart a path forward.

Benefits of practicing proper breathing techniques include a reduced feelings of stress and anxiety, an increase of energy throughout the body and mind, as well as a host of physical health benefits.

2. Be Mindful

Just like you can only take one breath at a time, it’s important to focus on one thing at a time especially when you are feeling overwhelmed.

Mindfulness is the practice of training yourself to be present and alert to what is going on right now

One contributor to overwhelm is having too many thoughts, ideas, decisions and actions going on at the same time that overload your mental and emotional processing.

Creating a simple self-care routine that is centered around mindfulness is key to the awareness, clarity and focus you need to stay stable during tough times. 

Overcoming overwhelm and burnout is a skill that everyone needs

3. Make Checklists

Writing your thoughts down in a journal or planner, or whatever tool you find suitable, is a great way to reduce feeling overwhelmed. As mentioned, too many thoughts and ideas are the culprit. So it is getting them our of your head is a great way to detangle yourself. 

Start a practice of writing checklists of things that are on your mind and use a framework, such as the Eisenhower box. This will prioritize what’s important and urgent versus what isn’t. 

This easy productivity technique not only organizes your thoughts but helps you focus on what actually matters and eliminate the rest. Check out our planning resources such as the Gratitude Journal, the Minimalist Planner, and the Productivity Planner.

4. Lighten Up

Taking yourself too seriously (which stems from perfectionism) significantly contributes to feelings of overwhelm.  Sometimes stopping to ask yourself “How can I make this more fun?” is a wonderful way to reduce the pressure around decisions and activities. 

A well-lived life incorporates laughter and playfulness.

These are not only mood-boosters they help train your brain to reframe situations in a more positive light and build up tenacity so you can weather the storms with a smile on your face. 

5. Start Small

One effective way to manage overwhelm is to learn how to take small steps that lead to continuous improvement. A powerful Japanese philosophy to consider is Kaizen. Kaizen teaches you the art of asking small questions, solving small problems and celebrating small wins. 

In addition to having too many things to focus on, overwhelm is often induced when things seem too big to tackle.

However, adopting a Kaizen approach means breaking things down small enough to become easy to handle. And, of course, over time a lot of small steps yield significant results. 

6. Be Empathetic

In the midst of overwhelm, it’s easy to listen to an inner narrative about your shortcomings. However, it is most important during times of emotional challenge that you practice self-empathy and self-kindness. 

First, be aware of any negative self-talk and gently shift your thoughts to positive self-inquiry where you focus the mind on useful questions that inspire you to find a way through. 

7. Lower Expectations

Lowering your expectations doesn’t mean you need to have low standards or set petty goals for yourself. It simply means that adopt the Stoic philosophy of understanding what is actually within your control and focusing your energy on that.

Instead of feeling good enough you constantly feel less than and put a lot of pressure on yourself when you don’t reach your unrealistic goals. 

8. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

Another factor that can help if you are feeing overwhelmed with life is improving your sleep hygiene. Sleep is an integral part of a great self care routine and affect:

  • Health: sleeping disorders can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and hormonal stress. As well as, an array of other physical and mental health conditions.
  • Mood: what you feel like whether it be overwhelmed, anxious, worry, and other negative feelings.
  • Mind: sleep is critical to your brain’s ability to learn and process information and feelings. Sleep also affects the ability to complete a simple task such as running a quick errand to meeting a deadline at work or whatever else you may take on during your life.

It could be very helpful to create an adequate sleep schedule to cope with going through overwhelming times. It can also improve other personal issues you may be experiencing/ are unable to resolve. Practicing good sleep hygiene can help begin to feel “normal” again, focused, and in the proper head space. This way you can take on tasks and other things that may seem impossible when you are are feeling overwhelmed by life.

9. Support System

Fostering great relationships with friends and family can be extremely helpful when feeling overwhelmed with life. According to Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), social isolation and loneliness are as damaging to someone’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Developing social relationships that are genuine and meaningful can be transformative on one’s mental state and life.

Take time to connect with your loved ones, develop pre-existing friendships and make new ones to bolster your support system. These connections will be there for you through the best times in your life when you feel happy and free. As well as during those stressful times, moments anxiety, a sticky situation, and other times when you feel overwhelmed. So call up a friend and get to building a genuine connection.

10. Mental Health

Mental health has been touched on throughout the article. This is because of the significant effect it has on contributing to feeling overwhelmed. It’s important to put your personal needs and take care of yourself before anyone or anything else. If you can, a great place to begin is to talk to a professional. They can help see what other resources are available to you to help address your needs.

When you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck in a rut, it’s important to have a process you can employ to work your way through your challenges. Using any of these ten steps, or different strategies of your choosing, will empower you to confront your obstacles instead of being swamped by them.

This guide to managing overwhelm was written by Katja Hunter, a Denmark-based Kaizen-Muse creative coach whose services help overwhelmed creatives and entrepreneurs find clarity and structure in their life and work. Images by Hadis Safari.

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