Recently, I have been struggling with, well, everything in life. Especially with feeling overwhelmed.
Sleep, working out, eating, work, anxiety, etc. and it has been really hard. I have been through this so many times I cannot even count.
However, this time was different.
This time, I used my strengths to help me, rather than neglecting them. I continued to push through and workout, go for walks, practise yoga. I didn’t really use social media or even blog for a few weeks.
This is a journey and I’m learning that these feelings are normal, especially if you have a lot going on in your life.
If you are feeling this way too, just know you are never alone. Don’t give up on yourself, because these feelings will not last forever.
To be honest – it took a while to get out of the funk, but I do believe we can keep moving forward, no matter how fast or slow, as it will really help you feel yourself again. So, I wanted to share some things I have been trying and implementing that have made a huge difference.
Disclosure: this did not work the first, second or even tenth time. I gave up on myself so many times. But everyone is different. Keep trying. You’ll get there one day. Please feel free to contact me if you want to connect.
Why are you feeling overwhelmed?
Before jumping into what you can do when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to first address why you are feeling overwhelmed.
You might be able to answer this question instantly, maybe a big project at work or something is going on with your family. Either way, take a moment to sit and really think about everything going on in your life and everything on your mind.
Sometimes it might not be the things in your life that are overwhelming, just your mind. This happens to me a lot. The burden of constant thoughts and nags from my inner critic, for example.
It is very important to identify what the problem is (or may be) so you can address this further, and with a professional if needed.
Whether you know what it is that is bringing these overwhelming feelings and anxiety, here are some things you can do to help you in your everyday life.
Reduce your workload
I have put this one first as, in today’s fast paced society, we are under a lot of pressure. Pressure from ourselves, society, friends, family, work, bosses, clients and colleagues.
The constant pressure to look and act a certain way (which is exhausting in itself) but to also work hard, stick to tight, unrealistic deadlines, earn money, be successful all while trying to provide for yourself and your family, put a roof over your head, food on the table and to do it all with a smile.
It has also been reported that over half a million workers suffer from work-related mental health conditions each year. So if you are feeling stressed, depressed, overworked and/or overwhelmed, you are not alone.
And actually, it’s a serious problem.
As hard as it is, you need to stand up for yourself and speak up for yourself, because your health comes first.
- Is there anyone at work you can confide in? Some bigger companies provide counselling. If not, there are plenty of free helplines that can you can talk to and provide advice.
- Can you take some time off work? Do you have any holiday you can use, or even sick day allowance? More recently you are allowed to use your sick day allowance to take a ‘mental health day’ to look after your wellbeing if you feel it is needed.
- Do you have any colleagues you can trust and find a way to support each other, for example, and share the workload?
- If you are self employed, can you speak with clients and push back deadlines? Can you budget this month so you can take a little break? Can you contract out some of the work?
Whether you are employed or self employed, there are always options. Do whatever you need to do to reduce the stress on yourself.
If you really have to plow on and there is no other option, the next point might be helpful….
Prioritise your tasks: Urgent vs. Important
When feeling restless and overwhelmed with life, it can be even more stressful when you have a long to-do list of things that need doing, or you want to do.
Have you ever heard of Eisenhower’s Urgent vs. Important Matrix?
I was introduced to it recently in order to help me manage my workload. I thought it was a really great model to help manage a stressful situation and prioritise work. For someone who is a people pleaser and has a fear of failure, it was good to be able to manage my work more effectively, rather than feel like a failure.
But this principle can also be applied to everyday life.
The principle helps you look at the tasks at hand and prioritise them accordingly. This splits up your workload (or personal to do list) into urgent, important and ‘it can wait’.
We give ourselves a lot to do, sometimes even too much. Especially if you are trying to improve your life, you are thinking about tasks, activities, food, working out, family, friends, work, side hustle and the other 345 projects you have taken on/want to start (I am so guilty of this!).
It is a hard reality to face, but it is merely impossible to complete all the tasks. This is where the Eisenhower principle can come in handy.
By going through and labelling your tasks like this (it might) help you to let go of some and just focus on what needs to be done now, thus, relieving some of that pressure you have been putting on yourself.
What needs to be done – do you need to pay your bills, brush your teeth and eat? Can you deliver your parcel or write that blog next week instead, and give yourself some room to breathe this week?
Writing down the things on your mind can be a great stress reliever, but seeing a never ending to-do list might spike your blood pressure through the roof!
Give yourself an emotional/mental break
Sometimes, you just need to stop. Stop everything. Turn off your phone and social media.
Data is being created at an unprecedented rate, a rate our brains just have not evolved to keep up with. An article by the Fast Company said that:
“We’ve created a world with 300 exabytes (300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces) of human-made information. If each of those pieces of information were written on a 3-by-5-inch index card and then spread out side by side, just one person’s share—your share of this information—would cover every square inch of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.“
It’s really important to give yourself and your brain a break, taking some ttime to collect your thoughts and feelings and process them.
- Go for a walk either silently, with your favourite music or a podcast
- Watch a movie
- Read a book
- Let it all out by writing down your thoughts and feelings
Get yourself some quality sleep
Sleep is a super important factor in all our lives, no matter how much energy you think you have. It can really effect how we feel, both mentally and physically. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious – your lack of sleep could be a factor.
For years, scientists have stressed the importance of sleep, stating it is just as important as breathing, eating and drinking. Sleeping is important for numerous brain functions, physical health and mental wellbeing.
The recommended amount of sleep varies by person, but the average is 7-9 hours.
Please also note, there is a lot of conflicting information on the internet and the sleep you need will be different for everyone. There is no way I get this much sleep! It’s difficult when working a full time job and trying to keep up with numerous projects. Everyone has different lifestyles, some of us work shifts, have children, etc so it’s not as easy to get lots of sleep!
As well as the amount of sleep you get, the quality is just as important. I think a lot of people are using smart watch devices and becoming more aware of just how disturbed their sleep can be some nights. You may not realise, but a lot can happen while the sun is down! I know personally, I am told that I talk in my sleep, sometimes I get up, too.
But the key to quality sleep starts with what you do before bed, as well as at bed time.
To help you get to sleep, here are some top tips:
- Turn of electronic devices before bed
- Reduce distractions/light
- Don’t eat a heavy meal just before you sleep
- Don’t do intense exercise before you sleep
If you struggle to go to sleep, here are some things you can try and supplement:
- Breathing exercises
- Camomile tea
- Lavender (in it’s physical form or even essential oils)
- Hot bath
Now, this doesn’t have to be full blown weight lifting 6 days a week. Just a few days a week, low or high intensity, whatever you prefer. It’s just important that you continue to move your body for your health, as well as mental health.
Regular exercise is great because:
- It can help distract you and take your mind off things
- It has many mental health benefits, as well as physical. Thus, improving your efficiency, cognitive functioning and productivity and stress levels.
- Produce endorphins
- Helps you deal with situations with a clearer mind.
Take a break from exercise
I know, contradicting myself here. But everyone is different, you know your own body. Some of us may feel overwhelmed because we are TOO active and maybe our bodies, as well as our minds, need a bit of a break. There is NOTHING wrong with that.
Know that it is okay to take a break if you need it and may actually help increase your performance when you feel ready to return.
Mindfulness is a practise to help you manage your thoughts and it takes time, patience and dedication. There are many different ways you can incorporate mindfulness into your life, including (but not limited to) breath work, yoga or walking in nature.
Regular and consistent mindfulness practise has the power to bring you into the present moment, calm you (and your anxiety) and help you manage you mind. A study from Harvard concluded that brain wave activity in those who meditate for five or more years are larger in the areas linked to emotional regulation, positively changing your brain structure.
Look after yourself
Selfcare is important. It can come in many forms, but it does not have to be going to a Spa weekend with treatments. (But it can be if you want it to!)
I believe it is like a scale. There’s basic self-care that you should be doing daily, for example, brushing your teeth, washing, eating nutritious food and moving your body. I say ‘basic’ and to some, they are. But when you’re feeling down, lost or overwhelmed, those basic tasks can be hard and seem like a real chore.
Being able to start standing up for yourself, recognising and overcoming your negative self dialogue, which tells you that you can’t and start giving yourself that basic level of self-care, can put you on a good path to dealing with feeling overwhelmed, anxious and even depressed. From my own personal experience, feeling strong enough to get myself up and complete those tasks, can be really empowering. Regardless of how of big or small they are.
Find an outlet
Find an outlet, something that you enjoy doing, something you can pour your heart into, something to distract you for an hour or two.
Is there something you love to do but don’t make time for?
You may not even know what this is yet, and that’s okay. Try experimenting with different activities. It might be something lowkey like knitting, or joining a team sport. Whatever it is, make time to do what makes you happy.
If you’re thinking, but N O T H I N G makes me happy, then go out and try until you find something. Look for local clubs or activities, things you don’t instantly shiver at the thought of and give it a go. If it’s not for you, you can cross it off your list and try another.
- Yoga/pilates classes
- Walking/running groups
- Volunteering in a care home
- Workshops in an area you enjoy (pole, Zumba, arts, crafts, photography, collections, etc)
Take one day at a time
Take one day at a time. Sounds silly sometimes, right? I used to always read things like ‘live in the now’ and ‘turn your negative into positive’ and think pfffft. If only.
And I still do think that, especially on the bad days.
But to some extent, there is some wisdom to it. When you put things into perspective, all we really do have is right now – so why would you not want to make the most of it? Maybe on a good day this is a bit easier to do. On a bad, not so much.
But it helps me to remember:
- Take one day at a time, tomorrow is a new day.
- Bad days don’t last forever (even though it feels like it).
- Don’t worry about tomorrow yet (too much). You never know how you will feel when you wake up, or what tomorrow will bring.
- Embrace this sadness, feel it, talk about it or even write it down. Don’t bottle it up.
Move at your own pace
It is soooo easy to compare yourself to others and question why you are not at the same stage as them, especially with Social Media., but just remember:
- Everyone is unique. You will never, ever move at the same pace as someone else, no matter how similar your age and lifestyle.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. Literally.
If social media is that toxic to you (you find you cannot stop scrolling, comparing and criticising, feeling anxious or annoyed when using it) then maybe think about taking a break.
It’s important not to look back/forward, just focus on where you are now. It’s also important to not look sideways and compare with people around you. If you find yourself comparing, acknowledge this and try and change your thoughts. Be happy and inspired, or, like me, put your phone down and distract yourself.
Let go of the past
As mentioned above, it’s important not to look back too much.
There are two sides to this, and a good balance is key. It’s because of who you were and your journey that you are here today and it’s good to look back and reflect on that. How far you have come, how far you have grown, lessons learnt, experiences to share, memories to look back on.
Then there is the toxic side of looking back. Sometimes – we don’t like where we have come from, or who we used to be. That’s also okay.
But to sit and dwell on it, get upset about what you did or didn’t do is not going to help you now. I strongly advise to not bottle up these feelings. Speaking to someone about what you are going through and what is bothering you can be really beneficial.
Learning to accept the past and let go is difficult – it’s something we are no longer in control of and can cling to our minds, producing feelings of guilt, shame and anger. If you ever feel like this, try asking yourself:
Is it helping me now?
Will it help me get to where I need/want to go?
How is it making me feel?
Can I change the past?
Go outside and get some fresh air
When feeling overwhelmed, one of the simplest, quickest, easiest and most effective ways to bring me back down to myself again is to go outside!
Walk and breathe in that fresh air. Sit on the floor and look at the sky, the sun, the clouds or even the moon and the stars.
If you have time, or even the energy to push yourself, go somewhere like the beach, or the woods, or a field and just walk. Or take a book, a journal or you headphones and a blanket.
I don’t have anything else to say accept try it for yourself and see. It really helps clear my mind, provide clarity and there are many studies out there saying how it can boost productivity, etc.
And if you don’t have one, I really recommend it!
Another really effective way I help myself when feeling overwhelmed is to get my journal and some coloured pens out and:
- Doodle (I am NO artist whatsoever!)
- Write what/how I am feeling. Then I try and write a solution
- Make myself some journal prompts and answer the questions
- Look for some inspirational words/quotes and write up the meaning in my own words, applying it to my scenario
Now this depends on your personality. I used to think I had to have every single thing planned out, down to the minute. I am finding more and more that doesn’t work for me, but I know it works for others.
I personally recommend, depending on what is best for you and how you best cope with things:
- Write out a list of things you want to do, things you are thinking about and let it all out, sometimes I find this helps my head when I am feeling overwhelmed. I can then look at them and organise them accordingly (applying the Eisenhower principle)
- Keep my list nice and brief, as not to put too much pressure on myself. I can then interpret that how I wish on the day, depending on how I feel and my energy levels.
- Don’t plan a thing, see how you feel and take each day as it comes.
Sometimes I find writing lists helps, because I can map and track my progress, set myself little goals and feel good when I can tick them off my list. It also ensures I complete a couple of my goals rather than just sitting on my bum and doing nothing with my spare time. You know what you need, and if you don’t, try different things until you do. Bullet journals, planners, colouring books – there are so many different options out there.
Be strong and say no
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is say no. It’s really hard at first, especially if you are a people pleaser and have always said yes to things you don’t necessarily want to do. When you start standing up for yourself, it gets easier. It can also take a lot of pressure off your shoulders, especially when you are already feeling overwhelmed.
This could be at work, or with your friends and family. Saying no to tasks you don’t want to do and if you’re tired and need a rest. A lot of people, your true friends, will be more understanding than you may think.
Do what you need to do. It’s time you start putting yourself first.
Feeling stuck, anxious and overwhelmed is difficult. It’s good to find the route cause (if there is one) and speak to a professional to help you with any problems you may be facing with yourself. There are also a lot of things you can be doing in your day to day life to help reduce those feelings.
What’s your experience with feeling overwhelmed? Do you have any tips you can share?