It’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by life’s demands and responsibilities. In fact, up to 70% of people report feeling overwhelmed at some point. There are many potential causes for these feelings of being overloaded, ranging from taking on too much to underlying mental health issues. The good news is there are also plenty of ways to combat overwhelm and restore a sense of control.
What causes us to feel overwhelmed?
Feelings of overwhelm can stem from various sources, including:
- Taking on too many responsibilities – Being overcommitted with work, family obligations, volunteer work, etc. can make it hard to handle everything on your plate.
- Unrealistic expectations – Putting unrealistic pressure on yourself or allowing others to impose unrealistic standards can fuel overwhelm.
- Lack of structure/routine – Without proper organization and planning, all your tasks and obligations can feel scattered and daunting.
- Health issues – Conditions like thyroid disorders, adrenal fatigue, and sleep deprivation can leave you feeling drained and overwhelmed.
- Mental health challenges – Anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health issues may contribute to feeling emotionally overloaded.
- Major life changes – Things like having a baby, starting a new job, moving, or experiencing a loss can trigger temporary feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Financial stress – Money worries, debt, and financial hardship commonly lead to overwhelm.
- Information and digital overload – Being bombarded with information from work email, social media, and the 24/7 news cycle can be mentally taxing.
In essence, overwhelm surfaces when the demands placed on us exceed our bandwidth or abilities to cope. This imbalance leaves us feeling swamped, depleted, and like things are out of control.
How can I tell if I’m truly overwhelmed?
Signs that you may be truly overwhelmed include:
- Constant feelings of anxiety and stress
- Racing thoughts you can’t turn off
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling paralyzed by all you have to do
- Neglecting self-care like eating healthy and exercising
- Avoiding people and activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling unable to keep up with daily tasks
- Falling behind and missing deadlines
- Decline in performance and productivity
- Poor decision making
- Increased irritability and moodiness
- Feeling hopeless and burnt out
If you regularly experience several of these, it’s a sign you may be more than just temporarily stressed—you are likely overwhelmed. Reaching this level of overload negatively impacts your mental health, relationships and ability to function at your best.
How do I stop feeling so overwhelmed?
When you’ve reached a tipping point with overwhelm, it’s important to take steps address it. Here are some tips:
- Identify your top stressors – Determine the people, obligations and situations causing the most strain so you can tackle them.
- Lighten your load – Offload tasks and delegate responsibilities when possible. Say no to nonessential duties.
- Take control of your schedule – Use time management tools to organize your calendar and daily to-do’s.
- Set boundaries – Don’t let others overwhelm you with their expectations. Learn to say no.
- Make self-care a priority – Don’t neglect your needs. Make time for healthy food, sleep, exercise and relaxation.
- Get organized – Declutter your space and create systems so you know what needs to be done and can find things.
- Break big tasks down – Split large, complex projects into smaller, doable steps.
- Manage your mental chatter– Quiet inner critic and get perspective through meditation, journaling and positive self-talk..
- Seek support – Talk to family, friends, coworkers, or a counselor. Don’t isolate.
- Make changes – If your current path isn’t working, adjust your priorities, job, lifestyle, or relationships.
When is it time to get professional help?
If feelings of overwhelm persist despite your best efforts, it may be time to seek outside support. Signs it’s time to get professional help include:
- Debilitating anxiety or depression
- Inability to handle daily life and responsibilities
- Feeling completely burned out
- Suicidal thoughts
- Using unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse
- Relationship problems arising from your mental state
- Ongoing physical health issues exacerbated by stress
Working with a professional counselor or therapist can help you identify the roots of your overwhelm, learn coping techniques, make lifestyle changes to build resilience, and treat any underlying mental health conditions.
What type of professional is best suited to help?
The following professionals can provide help for dealing with overwhelm:
- Therapist or counselor – Help with anxiety, burnout, life balance, and developing coping skills.
- Psychologist – Diagnose and treat mental health issues contributing to overwhelm.
- Psychiatrist – Prescribe medication if warranted for things like depression and anxiety.
- Life coach – Support with goal setting, priorities, productivity, relationships and work/life balance.
- Organizational expert – Assist with decluttering, productivity systems and time management.
Think about your top struggles and choose a professional whose expertise aligns with your needs. Most importantly, make sure you have an open, trusting connection. Also consider practicalities like availability, cost and health insurance coverage.
What treatment approaches help overcome overwhelm?
There are many effective treatment approaches professionals use to help overcome overwhelm, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – Identify harmful thought and behavior patterns surrounding stress and overwhelm and replace them with healthier ones.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) – Build mindfulness, emotional flexibility and value-based motivation to face challenges.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) – Develop skills to regulate emotions, tolerate stress and improve relationships.
- Stress management – Use techniques like mindfulness, breathing, visualization and lifestyle change to better handle stress.
- Time management training – Apply strategies to achieve greater organization, productivity, planning and prioritization.
- Decluttering/organization – Develop organizational systems, prioritize possessions, and declutter to create a more soothing environment.
- Supportive psychotherapy – Build self-understanding, self-compassion, empowerment and coping ability through a caring therapeutic relationship.
The right approach depends on your specific needs. Many benefit from a combination of counseling for the emotional aspects and concrete skill building to tackle the logistical contributors to overwhelm.
How can I develop more long-term resilience?
In addition to professional treatment, there are many lifestyle habits and mindset shifts that can bolster resilience and prevent overwhelm, including:
- Exercise – Helps manage stress and elevates mood.
- Healthy diet – Provides stable energy and supports mental health.
- Regular sleep routine – Being well rested makes challenges feel more manageable.
- Work life balance – Ensure you have downtime to recharge.
- Time in nature – Calms the mind and restores mental energy.
- Saying no – Only take on what you can reasonably handle.
- Asking for help – You don’t have to do everything yourself.
- Acceptance – Let go of perfect; good enough is ok.
- Mindfulness – Stay present focused; don’t ruminate on the past or future.
- Gratitude – Appreciate the positives, however small.
- Optimism – Maintain hope and belief you can handle challenges.
Making these practices part of your routine can significantly strengthen your ability to bounce back from life’s pressures and prevent overwhelm from taking hold. Support from loved ones also helps sustain resilience long-term.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed occasionally. But when if becomes chronic, professional help and lifestyle changes are often needed to get back on track. With the right support and shifts, you can get overwhelm under control and build greater resilience. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.