What To Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

What To Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

There is often a fine line between a healthy level of business and letting all the things going on in your life overwhelm you.

After all, most of us would describe ourselves as ‘busy’. Some people complain about it, others boast. Between school and work, we have to balance some form of social life, staying healthy, errands, hobbies, and ‘me time’ to avoid burnout. Life in the modern world is increasingly characterised by never-ending to do lists and a search for how to stay as productive as possible while leaving room to unwind and actually enjoy the human experience.

What to do when you're overwhelmed

Granted, I like being busy. I like having clear goals and a multidimensional schedule that raises the significance of quieter moments. But just like we often get restless from boredom, ‘overwhelm’ is also a phenomenon most of us encounter at certain points in our lives. It’s when a healthy level of bustle turns into our lives coming apart and stress levels that take a toll on our physical wellbeing.

What does overwhelm look like? Well, you may go through your days wishing to be in two places at once. You work 24/7, fuelled by four hours of sleep and countless servings of coffee. Regardless, you never manage to get anything done. Perhaps you have many projects to complete and fifty tabs open on your computer. Empty boxes desperate for a tick loom next to each item on your to-do list and your workload keeps piling up and up and up. Nothing you do brings a sense of accomplishment or enjoyment. You lie awake at night, cursing the constraints of a 24-hour day and weeks that seem to conclude before they’ve even started.

How to not feel overwhelmed

Being overwhelmed makes us susceptible to anxiety, insomnia, scenarios of failure and unmet deadlines rushing through our mind. No wonder that the risk of burning out or giving up is high. We must develop strategies to not only recognise this phenomenon, but also prevent a normal level of stress transforming into something damaging. I think the hardest part is prioritisation: identifying what genuinely requires a sense of urgency within tasks we can safely postpone or eliminate.

Overwhelmed what to do

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We can’t eliminate stress in its entirety, and trying to do so often proves counterproductive. However, it certainly doesn’t have to reach proportions beyond your control.  

1. Avoid multitasking 

Many people pick multitasking as their go-to solution to all of life’s problems. After all, why not tackle numerous items on your calendar at once? Think trying to complete a school assignment while responding to emails, writing a blog post and checking social media.

This way of work is blatantly glamourised despite the fact that it’s been shown to stifle productivity. Which makes sense: you can’t achieve focus and efficiency when switching between different ways of thinking. When things take much longer to complete, you may not feel feel the same sense of accomplishment and start to feel unmotivated. Those five incomplete projects you have floating around? It is much better to tackle them one by one and give them your full attention, instead of running back and forth.

How to not burn out

There’s nothing wrong with some forms of multitasking: for example, listening to podcasts at the same time as making breakfast or editing photos on your computer. However, when your tasks require different mindsets or a similar level of mental capacity, you’ll be much better off in terms of both productivity and stress levels by moving through them in a logical order.

2. Prioritise 

I think the reason why I survived my IB exams and uni application process is because while the goal of completing these to the best of my ability loomed overhead, I made them priority number one. I worked hard and consciously chose lower-priority areas to take a backseat. After all, we can’t do everything at once. Without prioritisation, both our performance and mental health suffer.

So, if you have deadlines or something challenging coming up, don’t feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to social occasions or spending less time in the gym. Remember: you can always reintroduce those things when life gets less hectic once again.

How to prevent being overwhelmed

To make a broader point, sometimes we must not fear letting go of certain things in their entirety. It’s good and advisable to have multiple passions, but societal pressures to be an entrepreneur, a mathematician, a writer, a pilot, a social media influencer all at once could be the underlying cause of your overwhelm. The solution? Understanding and setting long term goals that matter to you: I have a much more detailed post written about this, which you can check out HERE.

3. Talk to someone 

And no, this does not have to be a therapist. Speak to a trustworthy friend or relative. Share your emotions. If you don’t understand where you’ve gone wrong and why you struggle to get things done despite sitting down at your desk for countless hours, they may give you the fresh perspective you need. Some people are great at giving practical advice, highlighting which useless activities are soaking up valuable time, and where your prioritisation needs a bit of work. Others will simply listen.

Or, journal it out! Start a journaling practice and invest 10-15 minutes each day to declutter your mind and gain a better understanding of yourself.

4. Declutter and organise your workspace

How much of a difference this makes always amazes me. Physical decluttering often translates into a focused, clear mind, going hand in hand with prioritisation as outlined in point 2 . Something as simple as clearing your desk can reduce anxiety, smooth out your emotions and streamline your workflow when you know exactly where everything is and what purpose it serves. Keep just what you need to finish a given task on your desk. Throw away any stationary, notebooks and resources that don’t have a tangible use. And as much as we all love hoarding interesting pens and planners, being mindful about what you buy in the first place certainly helps!

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Extra tip: given the preeminence of technology in our work, treat your digital desktop as you would you ordinary table. Come up with an efficient filing system and schedule in times to delete the items you no longer need.

5. Reduce procrastination / ‘just go for it’

Put shortly: feeling dismayed by the length of your to-do list and postponing those big, demanding tasks will not make them disappear. The more you postpone something, the more urgent and hence overwhelming it’ll become, creating a bit of a cycle that worsens with further procrastination. Pushing past the fear of getting started, do your best to work through the tasks one at a time. Break them up into manageable chance and set up a reward system for reaching new milestones. Plus, once the big tasks are over and done with, your secondary priorities should feel easy to tackle in comparison!

6. Don’t neglect sleep

I know that at times it seems we don’t have a choice but to work until three o’clock in the morning. When overwhelmed, we mess with our sleeping pattern and accept the magical 8 hours as a foregone luxury. However, stress takes a huge toll on our bodies. Sleep is medicine, and therefore should go up your list of priorities when your schedule looks more cluttered than usual. A few restless nights here and there may be inevitable (in other words, don’t make sleep another thing to worry about), but avoid turning all-nighters into a habit because exhaustion will make you sluggish and damage your ability to perform under pressure. Stick to a routine and to sleep the amount of hours that helps you stay energised throughout the whole day without unhealthy amounts of caffeine.

7. Don’t neglect exercise and the power of good nutrition

This may seem contradictory to what I said earlier in the post, but hear me out. If you’re an avid gym goer, the hours you spend on the treadmill or in the weight room may need to be scaled back, or replaced with a less time consuming form of exercise such as HIIT. However, sitting down all day is counterproductive too. There’s never a good time in life for an ‘all or nothing’ attitude. A short walk every few hours is a great way to not only get more oxygen into your system, but also keep yourself grounded and in tune with your emotions.

Reasons to eat healthy

Similarly, try to stick to a balanced diet and avoid copious amount of junk food (although, we can all agree that chocolate is the ideal vehicle to carry us through difficult times). And of course, eat whenever you’re hungry and don’t skip meals – unless you want to deal with mental fogginess and crashes on a daily basis. I’m always in awe when people say they ‘don’t have time to eat’ because well, food is a biological requirement we need to survive, let alone stay productive in busy times.

What are some things you can do to eat enough nourishing food when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day? Start a Pinterest board of quick and nutritious recipes. Prep your meals in bulk on Sunday evenings. Always keep a range of healthy snacks (such as fruit, trailmix, either homemade or store-brought energy bars) on hand. As you can tell, planning ahead is key to experiencing the full benefits of healthy, optimal nutrition!

Reasons to eat healthy

8. Change your mindset

While thoughts alone cannot influence our levels of success, they have a tangible impact on our actions and the energy with which we approach our daily pursuits. Moreover, people who are prone to overthinking are much more prone to feeling overwhelmed because the latter, more often than not, grows from out attitude to our daily commitments.

Make subtle changes in your thoughts. Replace ‘I’ll never get this done before my deadline’ with ‘as long as I prioritise and manage my hours wisely, I’ll finish this task ahead of time’. ‘I’m stressed and miserable’ sounds much better as ‘this is temporary and I’m fully in control of my life’. Instead of ‘I’m a failure and not good at anything’, think ‘are my goals and expectations realistic? Am I giving them my best efforts, eliminating distractions, retaining a good work-life balance?’

9. Tighten up your time management

Do excuse the accidental alliteration. But anyway, feeling overwhelmed may be, as the heading suggests, a signal to up the rigour of your time management. I recommend time-blocking to anyone who struggles with understanding how their days fly by so quickly to no avail. In a nutshell, you ‘time block’ by splitting your day into thirty minutes to one hour chunks and assigning the items on your to-do list to these ‘blocks’.

Some people prefer to take a more lenient approach to organisation and criticise this technique for its lack of flexibility. But, overwhelming times call for that extra morsel of discipline. Besides, time blocking is much less ‘over the top’ than it seems. It’s about achieving focus, getting more done in less time and being intentional with your breaks. It reduces the temptation to do many things at once, and, in light of that we have a very specific amount of time in which to complete a task, keeps procrastination at bay. Instead of wishing for a sixty hour day, we can use time blocking to put each minute to good use and recognise the true abundance of twenty four.

How to not feel overwhelmed

10. Take a break, and a step back

Okay, this may be the last action (or inaction?) you want to take, but it’s far less threatening than it sounds. I promise. After a certain point, we lose sight of our goals to such an extent that any further efforts lead to a dead end. Don’t ignore your responsibilities, but yourself permission to let go, even for a few hours. Do something enjoyable, unrelated to your obligations, and come back to your to-do list refreshed, with a clearer mind. Taking well-implemented breaks is far, far better than burning yourself out!

What to do when you're overwhelmed

What to do when you're overwhelmed

(From now on, each blog post shall feature at least one photo of my cat, but I don’t think any of you are gonna mind.)

Tailor your break strategy to your character and preferred work style. Some people like short bursts of productivity combined with frequent, 5-10 minute periods of rest. I prefer longer intervals. Through trial and error, find a rhythm that works for you and stick to it instead of thinking you can work for twelve hours in a row.

Final thoughts.

Overwhelm can feel disastrous. We finding ourselves in the middle of self-perpetuating cycle of stress that interferes with our vision and purpose like television static. But there are numerous solutions we can use to bring back productivity, focus and clarity. The hardest part may be coming to terms with that it’s not possible to do everything at once. Instead, take on your to-do list a step at a time with a realistic, yet positive attitude, while keeping both your physical and emotional health in the picture.

If you’ve found your strategy already, be sure to let me know in the comments – how do you deal with feeling overwhelmed? And are you someone who enjoys, or dislikes being busy?

What to do when you're overwhelmed - ten tips to reduce stress and boost your productivity at the same time

10 things you can do when you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed - inaccordance
How to not feel overwhelmed

Lots of love, Maria ♡

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59 Comments

  1. January 23, 2018 / 8:30 pm

    This is a relevant topic and you have thoroughly covered every aspect of it very well. I have learned to be unafraid to take it easy and take breaks in times when overwhelmed and actually would like to work at tightening my schedule and organizing time slots better when required.

  2. January 23, 2018 / 9:23 pm

    I love this post so damn much. I’m feeling unbelievably overwhelmed at the moment so this is just a fantastically timely post xx

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:16 am

      I am so glad it could be helpful! And I am sorry to hear you are feeling overwhelmed, if you ever need to chat I am always here for you xox

  3. January 23, 2018 / 10:44 pm

    I NEEDED THIS. January is always so damn stressful when you’re in uni it’s like trying to fit a house into a room. I am actually writing this while pulling an all-nighter because I procrastinate so damn much – my exam tomorrow is going to be a DISASTER lol. Hopefully I will get to use these tips for the many exams and deadlines still to come! xx

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:18 am

      Ahh I wish you all of the best for the exam – I am sure it will go much better than you think, and the rest of your time in uni will be amazing. Thank you so much for reading and I am so happy to hear you found this post helpful! Xox

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:18 am

      You are always welcome! Thank you for reading and wish you all the best xox

  4. January 23, 2018 / 11:53 pm

    This post came just in time! Between school, work, and blogging I’ve started to feel a tad overwhelmed. You are an amazing writer and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Really great tips too.

    Shann Eileen | http://www.shanneileen.com

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:19 am

      I’m very happy to hear that my post could be helpful and I wish you all the best. And thank you very much – that really does mean a lot to me! xox

  5. January 24, 2018 / 2:14 am

    Your cat is adorable!! And talk to someone is one of the best tips!!

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:20 am

      Aww thank you dear! And it really is – much better than keeping your feelings bottled up xox

  6. January 24, 2018 / 2:27 am

    Great Tips; a few of these I do, a few more I need to do much more.

    Not a clutter collector in the least bit, but am helping a few people close to me that are (it’s a work in progress).

    The best quote I’ve come across regarding clutter is “attaching emotion to inanimate objects.” Once it’s put in that light, hopefully it encourages getting rid of/donating things.

    Well I was becoming a little too attached the book collection, but a few months ago I got rid of five boxes or so, and as I paged through them it was a little challenging, but once they’re gone I didn’t even think twice. Seeing some of them at Goodwill a month later made me happy someone else could benefit from them!

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:21 am

      Thank you! And I know what you mean about decluttering – I used to own so many objects that I thought had value just because they evoked some form of nostalgia/an emotional response, but didn’t actually serve a purpose. And just like you said, they are much better off helping those in need!

  7. January 24, 2018 / 2:56 am

    Very happy to hear you’ll be featuring your kitty in each post! I really got an awesome read out of this (: I don’t seem to get a lot done whenever I work part of the day, but getting a day off means I’m doing it all at once which can be overwhelming haha

    • January 24, 2018 / 7:25 am

      Haha the more cats the better! And thank you:) And I know what you mean about working part of the day can seem insufficient, but I think that spacing out my tasks evenly with breaks in between instead of doing one day on/one day off has helped a lot!

  8. January 24, 2018 / 12:40 pm

    Ummm why are you so cute, I love that outfit! I always find your posts so calming to read, and I definitely needed to hear this today – I also love the photography! xxx

    • January 24, 2018 / 1:41 pm

      Ahh you are always so kind – thank you! And I am glad you liked reading it, and found it calming. Hope you are having a good week xox

    • January 24, 2018 / 11:19 pm

      Haha glad you like it!! Thank you for reading 😊💙

  9. January 24, 2018 / 8:12 pm

    These tips are so so helpful and definitely what I need to read today! Also your cat is super cute xx

    • January 24, 2018 / 11:20 pm

      Thank you very much – I’m so glad you found them useful 😊 and she is such a sweetheart!

  10. January 24, 2018 / 9:49 pm

    Great inspiring post. Btw your cat is lovely

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:40 pm

      Thank you!! She is the cutest 🙂

  11. January 25, 2018 / 1:07 am

    This post was so helpful! I have learned how to prioritize in a way that works for me. I always hear people saying that working out needs to be made a priority, and while staying active is extremely important, I agree that there should be no guilt if you need to skip the gym one day! Good nutrition and plenty of sleep is essential!

    Mia | http://www.verymuchmia.com

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:41 pm

      I know exactly what you mean – not going to the gym at all makes me less productive/more sluggish but sometimes it’s just necessary to scale it back a tiny bit. It’s all about maintaining a good balance 🙂 Thank you very much for reading xox

  12. Beauty & Colour
    January 25, 2018 / 1:18 am

    Your writing is so on point and relevant! It’s so difficult sometimes to sort through the mess in your head and actually get productive but these are all things that are easy to implement!

    Beauty & Colour | Vegan Lifestyle Blog

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:43 pm

      Wow that means a lot to me! I think stepping back and reflecting is crucial, before introducing changes as to how you live and organise your life. Thank you very much for your lovely comment 🙂

  13. January 25, 2018 / 2:23 am

    You’re such a wonderful writer! I’m definitely on the same page of liking to be busy with a multi-faceted schedule, but it’s definitely a fine line of being pleasantly busy and overwhelmed with way too many commitments. Really great read overall 🙂

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:45 pm

      Thank you – that’s very kind of you! And that’s exactly what I mean, I don’t like idly sitting around but having too much to worry about is never too pleasant either. Thank you very much for reading!

  14. January 25, 2018 / 8:01 am

    Great tips! Whenever I feel overwhelmed I’d prioritise my tasks into important, important but the deadline is still far, and not so important and it really helps ease my burden a lot.

    Sometimes, things get so hard that I decided to just ‘fuck this shit I’m out’ and take a nice break lol.

    x Rasya

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:46 pm

      Prioritisation really is key, especially when you’re trying to work on several things at once! And of course, a good break is sometimes the way to go :’) Thank you for reading xox

  15. January 25, 2018 / 9:29 am

    I definitely don’t mind photos of your cat, I wish there would be even more, I love cats so much. Very helpful post, you always give great advices. xx

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:47 pm

      There will be plenty more to come in the future! Cats are seriously amazing and tbh mine helps me with stress a lot :’) Thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comment xox

  16. January 25, 2018 / 4:48 pm

    I needed this! I totally have a problem with number 1 and 2 and 9. Great tips!

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:48 pm

      Thank you very much for reading and I’m glad you found it helpful. All the best! Xox

  17. January 25, 2018 / 8:10 pm

    These tips rock!!! Seriously, tidying up can turn your whole day around, it is like a productivity snow ball!

    • January 25, 2018 / 8:51 pm

      Thank you!! And I know what you mean – sometimes if I can’t figure out why I’m stressed, it’s because my room is messier than usual :’)

  18. January 25, 2018 / 9:49 pm

    I love this! decluttering is one of my faves, so relaxing to clear all the junk out. I’m such a procrastinator 🙈 also LOL def include your cat in every post.

    • January 26, 2018 / 4:34 pm

      Thank you so much! And exactly – it seems to refresh my mind so much 🙂 and of course I will, the more cats the better!

  19. January 25, 2018 / 11:19 pm

    Amazing post. Maria! I always enjoy how wonderfully and clearly put together your insights are making them so much more relatable and applicable!! I have slipped into a period of overwhelm as you mentioned above. I always find journalling, organizing and re-priortising to aid in me finding my groove again and also being the most productive with my time. Super love this and your cat is an added bonus! P.s.- can you teach me how to (beautifully) cut a kiwi fruit like you?! xx

    • January 26, 2018 / 5:51 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words – that really does mean a lot to me. I’m sorry to hear that you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment and hope you manage to overcome it soon. All of those things can make a tremendous difference to one’s emotional state. And the kiwi is surprisingly easy, if you type ‘how to carve a kiwi into a flower’ into YouTube, the first video is a really good guide 🙂 xox

  20. January 26, 2018 / 4:48 am

    I’ve been learning about the myth of multi-tasking lately and it’s such a hard habit for me to break, but thank you for the reminder that I’m not being superwoman, just sending my brain into a sputtering disaster that only leads to less than ideal results. I really, really needed this reminder! Having less than 8 tabs open at a time is a good day for me. I’ll work on bringing that number down 🙂

    • January 26, 2018 / 5:54 pm

      To be honest, I sometimes fall into the trap of multitasking myself and end up getting very little done – which always serves as a reminder to take tasks one at a time in the future. Thank you very much for reading and I am glad you found this helpful, wishing you all the best! 🙂

  21. January 26, 2018 / 8:06 am

    It’s a great post and the personal touch makes it even more relatable and soft. I really enjoyed it.

    • January 26, 2018 / 5:55 pm

      Thank you so much! I always try to add a personal touch to connect with whoever may be reading 🙂 I’m very glad you liked the post!

      • January 28, 2018 / 9:52 am

        🙂

    • January 26, 2018 / 9:12 pm

      So happy you think so! 🙂

    • January 27, 2018 / 9:11 pm

      I’m so happy to hear that – thank you 🙂

  22. January 30, 2018 / 4:07 pm

    I totally agree how harmful multitasking can be in some aspects, especially for those who generally stress and worry a lot (me being of them haha!)
    While I had my finals going on, which I was very stressed about I thought about continuing to write blogposts, promoting them through social media while studying for finals.
    I soon realized the stress of this type of of multitasking was not okay and just concentrated on my finals and honestly i way less flustered and anxious focusing on one thing only!
    Great post! 💗

    • January 30, 2018 / 4:46 pm

      It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it will make you more productive, when in fact the effect is often the opposite! I’m sorry to hear about the stress you had to go through, and well done for being able to overcome the temptation to do too many things at once 🙂 thank you so much for reading and for your comment xox

  23. February 1, 2018 / 10:09 pm

    Great post and some very good tips. It’s always easier than done. I can be a bit of a queen at procrastinating but having set goals towards being proactive is a real boost! Thanks for sharing.

  24. February 3, 2018 / 1:43 am

    Haha I certaintly don’t mind a photo of your cat here and there 🙂 I loved this post so much because I feel as if you’re speaking directly to me. Especially when you mentioned that we feel this urgency to be great at so many things. and endless loom of unchecked boxes in my to do list… But, I guess I need to find out what I really want in my life. Thank you for sharing.

    Natalie

    • February 3, 2018 / 1:16 pm

      Haha there will be plenty to come for sure! I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing such stresses and glad that this post was helpful to read. Keep your head high because you are very talented and definitely do not need to put pressure on yourself because with time, you will find exactly the direction you are searching for. Thank you so much for reading xox

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