“I can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel stressed out.” This was the story of my life, as I used to feel overwhelmed all the time. This stopped when I learned to take back control.
Learning to not feel overwhelmed is not a grand one-time event. It’s a lifelong process where you wake up each day and make a choice to find calm amidst the storm. And mastering the art of not being overwhelmed can help you thrive no matter what your circumstances may be.
If you’re ready to take cover underneath your personal power umbrella in the middle of life’s storms, then this article will show you the way to peace in spite of the chaos.
Why do we get overwhelmed?
Psychologists have determined that we start to feel overwhelmed or stressed when the external pressure we need to satisfy exceeds our personal resources.
Sometimes this reaction happens to major life changes. And other times we get this reaction to what would otherwise be seemingly small events in our lives.
Researchers have found that what overwhelms one person is not necessarily the same thing that will stress out the next person. Because the cause of overwhelm is not universal, the solution to beating overwhelming feelings often needs to be personalized to your individual needs.
I always remember one of my classmates in grad school who never got stressed out. He could be on the brink of failing a class and not be phased. Meanwhile, I would miss one question on a quiz and stress about it for days.
While we know generally what causes overwhelm, it’s important to identify triggers that put you into a state of overwhelm in order for you to best overcome it.
Why you need to ditch overwhelming feelings
No one is going to argue that it would be nice to not feel overwhelmed. Inherently, we all feel happier when we keep our cool.
But beyond just feeling better, learning to manage your sense of overwhelm could literally save your life.
A study in 2005 found that individuals who focused on stress reduction had decreased risk of mortality relative to people who did not engage in stress-reducing behavior.
The research also indicates that living in a state of overwhelm can negatively influence your memory and learning performance.
As someone who hopes to live a long healthy life, it appears that learning to not feel overwhelmed is well worth my time.
5 ways to not feel totally overwhelmed
If you’re ready to ground yourself, then let’s not waste any time getting into the steps you can take to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
1. Stop resisting what is
So much of our stress in life is caused by trying to resist reality instead of realizing that we have a choice in how we view reality.
Nothing in and of itself is inherently stressful. It is our choice to view something as overwhelming or stressful.
I have spent so much energy being stressed out about work tasks that I have to accomplish. What’s more helpful than devoting hours of time towards stressing out about the tasks is realizing that the tasks have to get done. So why am I choosing to see them as stressful?
Resisting and stressing out about reality doesn’t make the “stressor” go away. Instead, you have to flip how you view the stressor. And by accepting what is, you are actually alleviating so much of your pent-up stress in the process.
This frees up energy to be more productive and actually start enjoying your day-to-day life.
2. Chunk it down
A classic method for reducing overwhelm is to break down the overwhelming thing into little bits. Just saying little bits should make you feel less overwhelmed.
When I have a bucket load of documentation that has to be submitted at work, I like to make myself mini checklists of a few things that need to be done.
Instead of seeing this huge task that seems unsurmountable, I see a few things that I need to accomplish that day.
This can also apply to non-task-related things in life. If you are feeling overwhelmed because you don’t know what you’re doing in life, chunk it down to just doing your best one day at a time.
It turns out they meant it when they said Rome wasn’t built in a day. Stop expecting yourself to build the next great empire in your life without needing to break it down into digestible chunks.
3. Carve out "you time"
The first thing to go out the window when we are overwhelmed is typically self-care. It’s ironic because when we’re overwhelmed is when we need self-care the most.
Devoting at least 1 hour to doing something that fills up your own bucket on days where you are super stressed out is one of the best ways I have found to show overwhelming feelings who’s boss.
I will literally write in my planner “me time” when I feel myself getting overwhelmed. This way it becomes something I have to do.
It’s funny how just an hour of reading my favorite book or going for a walk in the sunshine can take my overwhelming feelings from 100 to 0.
4. Clean up your schedule
If you’re feeling on edge in life, sometimes it’s a sign to get rid of the excess in your schedule.
We are only human. We are not designed to go full force all the time.
By prioritizing the things that matter most to you and saying no to the rest, you can reduce your sense of feeling overwhelmed. This allows you to show up as your best self to the stuff that is important.
Many times I have had to get rid of non-necessary obligations to free up time to let myself rest. As someone who has a hard time saying no, this didn’t come naturally to me.
But when my calendar starts to look like a scribbled mess, that’s typically my cue. I’ve learned that I need to start saying no to some things so I can start saying yes to taking care of myself.
5. Be okay with imperfection
One of the reasons we commonly get overwhelmed is because we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves. And these unrealistic expectations build up our stress to levels that are not helpful.
I remember I had this expectation of myself that I should be able to know the ins and outs of every single diagnosis I came across in my clinical practice. I expected myself to be a walking version of WebMD.
Of course, this is totally unrealistic and led to copious amounts of stress when I didn’t know something. My mentor told me I was insane and that no one knows everything about every diagnosis they encounter in the clinic.
Thankfully this woke me up and consequently my overwhelm levels dropped with this awakening.
Wake yourself up from your unrealistic standards and cut yourself some slack. You are doing just fine.
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Feeling overwhelmed should never be your “normal”. I don’t have it all figured out, but I can assure you that if you make a concerted effort to not feel overwhelmed, you will experience greater peace. And with any luck, soon you won’t remember the last time you were stressed out.
Do you feel overwhelmed right now? What's a tip that has helped you feel less overwhelmed lately? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!