On Feeling Overwhelmed

As we enter a new season, one where school started again, the holidays are around the corner, and things are up and running, life may feel overwhelming. What does it mean to feel overwhelmed? The Oxford definition is to be buried or drowned beneath a huge mass. That is a pretty staggering and informative explanation as the word is a familiar response used to describe how people feel. 

It can be helpful to notice behaviors associated with feeling overwhelmed, such as isolating or avoiding activities that bring you joy and peace, the moments that refill your cup. Do you feel like you cannot respond to text messages, that you do not have time to read or go on a walk, or partake in your favorite hobby? When experiencing the weight of a to-do list, life day in and day out, complex relational dynamics, managing careers, life can feel like a prolonged cycle of just trying to keep your head above water.

Practical ways to respond to being over informed and feeling overwhelmed:

1. Check-in With Yourself

STOP for a minute. Take a breath. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? What am I thinking? How does my body feel? What is informing me right now? Do I need anything? Proceed.

The simple act of stopping allows us to recognize that what is happening in our body, mind, and spirit. We spend so much time running through the day that we do not even stop to check if our shoelaces are tied.

2. Practice Being Present

Practice noticing with your five senses what is happening around you. Notice what it is like to make breakfast, attend a meeting, or go grocery shopping. Amid mundane activities, it can be beneficial to focus on what is right in front rather than the next thing on your list. It is natural for the mind to wander, so practice coming back to present moments.

3. Avoid the Word “Should”

“Should” contributes to feelings of guilt. The word often comes with a lot of power that you have not done enough or need to do more, and that you are not good enough because you did not complete something or lack the energy and motivation. Those are untruths about you and your ability. Try using phrases like, “I would like to…” or “I want to…” to begin the practice of reframing priorities and reducing the weight of responsibilities tied to identity.

4. Priorities 

As an emotion, overwhelmed falls under the core emotion of fear, right after the next emotion of anxiety. If we think about the connection of how emotions are signals, what could feeling overwhelmed be telling you? It may be telling you that you have too much on your plate and may need to re-evaluate what is realistic to complete. Maybe it is telling you that your body needs more rest or to re-examine your priorities. Do you consider yourself a priority? When you make a to-do list, do you add doing something for yourself?  Identify the first things to go on your list. Are they the things that benefit your emotional, relational, and physical health? Remember, you are a priority.

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to-do list” – Michelle Obama

Written by: Chardyce Kott, LSW