Why We Feel Overwhelmed and How We Can Find Relief

In today’s world we seem to be moving faster and faster, while taking on more and more. There are only so many hours in the day, and we’re expected to do a lot in those hours.

  • Errands
  • Work a job
  • Care for kids
  • Attend to relationships
  • Clean the house
  • Socialize
  • Self-care

What Can Lead to Feelings of Being Overwhelmed

It’s a list that doesn’t seem to stop, which makes us feel overwhelmed. Even self-care can become a part of the overwhelm, because you know you need it, but where the heck are you going to put it!?

Overwhelm. It’s enough to take the brightest and the best of us down.

But overwhelm doesn’t have to win.

Overwhelm is your brain feeling so overloaded that it can’t figure out where to start.

Perfectionism and Being Overwhelmed

The number one trigger for overwhelm is actually perfectionism. Perfectionism doesn’t just apply to hyper-organized people. We think of perfectionists as being those with perfect homes, and perfect systems to run their perfect lives.

In truth, perfectionism will halt you in your steps so that you can’t attend to your home, you have no systems, and nothing ever seems to ever get done.

Even if you never seem to have a hold on your life, you may be a perfectionist, too.

Do you ever do any of the following when you are feeling overwhelmed?

  • Not start something because you don’t know the “right” place to start?
  • Feel like you’re failing because you can’t get everything done?
  • Take on more than you can handle then criticize yourself for not being good enough?
  • Avoid tasks you don’t think you’ll be able to finish in one go?

And finally, do you ever:

Feel totally overwhelmed and refuse to give yourself a little grace?

What can you do when you feel overwhelmed?

First, accept that you’re as human as the rest of us who aren’t doing anything perfectly either.

Second, break it down.

It sounds simple because it is.

The only thing standing in your way is your refusal to slow down and take the time to chunk up your tasks.

How to Chunk

Be willing to break it all into more manageable chunks. Accept the idea that some things have to happen in stages.

  1. Identify one thing you want to get done out of all of the things you could do.
  2. Write that project down at the top of a piece of paper.
  3. Starting from the bottom of the page write in all the sub-tasks that need to happen to get to your goal, starting with the first and working your way up.

person hand-washing dishes in the sink

For example:

Goal: Do the Dishes

5. Put hand-washed dishes on the dish drying rack.

4. Hand wash remaining dishes.

3. Fill sink with soapy water to wash remaining dishes.

2. Move the dirty dishes from the sink to the dish washer.

1. Empty the dishwasher.

Step by step you’ve completed one task. Now, on to the next one.

Why Be So Detailed?

Clients ask all the time why they have to write this down, and why they have to be so detailed. The task of chunking out your tasks can sound like just another thing to overwhelm you.

It isn’t. You’ll have to trust me on this and give it a go. Run the experiment.

If you’re stuck and aren’t getting anything done because of overwhelm, it’s better to take time to think a single task out and get it done, than continue spinning your wheels. After a while you won’t need to write it down, but you’ll come back to this method when you’re stuck again.

The great thing is, once you get one thing done, the next one often flows more easily behind it, because you have forward momentum. Seeing progress can be a strong motivator to keep going.

positive affirmation post-it notes on car steering wheel

Trusting Yourself

If you believe you can’t be trusted to follow through on things or to finish what you started, you’ll keep doing things (or not doing them) to prove your belief correct.

But when you follow through on something, even the smallest of tasks, you get evidence that your limiting belief isn’t true.

When you chunk something out from the crowd to take on first, choose something that’s easily attainable so you get more rapid gratification.

If you choose too large of a task, one that isn’t attainable, or will take days to accomplish, you’ll continue to feel overwhelmed. But if you’re determined that this big task needs to get done, chunk it down to smaller tasks.

When you see what you’re capable of you’ll start to believe in yourself, and feel in control of your life again.

Finding Motivation when Feeling Overwhelmed

If the existence of a task to complete was all it took for us to become motivated to do things, everything would get done!

We are motivated by our desire for an outcome. If you really don’t care about the state of the fridge, you’re not going to clean it.

Here’s the tricky part: even if you want a clean fridge, you still might not clean it because something else is more important. That something else might be cooking dinner, reading a book, going to bed, or getting your daughter to softball. It could even be more important to you to not have to face the task, or how you feel about it.

You will have to decide cleaning that refrigerator is a priority.

You will have to decide it is worth your time. You will have to give yourself the chance to prove to yourself you can do it. You will have to decide you deserve a clean fridge, or that you are looking forward to how good it will feel once it’s cleaned.

You Can Do This! You can Win out over Overwhelm

In the end, overwhelm is a state of mind. Changing your mindset and doing things to show yourself that the thing that’s overwhelming you isn’t actually dangerous, will get you moving.

That’s what the overwhelming fear is that freezes you in your seat: that you are somehow in danger from all of this stuff.

When you take control by using these steps you will see that you’re the one in charge, and that never-ending list of things to do can’t hurt you.

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