5 things to do when you are feeling overwhelmed

I want to tell you a story about two conversations I have had this week. One with my friend who has found herself standing in the kitchen nibbling on chocolate without understanding why. The other was as part of a workshop I was delivering to a group of women returners trying to build their careers. They may seem unconnected at first but as we chatted it became clear that both come from the same feeling. They were feeling overwhelmed under their mental load.

Feeling overwhelmed

The feeling of overwhelm can strike in the strangest of places, at a time when you might not even understand it, like my friend in her kitchen. When we explored her emotional eating it came from a place of stress. She was juggling motherhood, running a business, looking after herself, working on her relationship with her partner as well as all the other things we ‘should‘ be doing.

Similarly, for the women returning to work, they were trying to balance everything in their lives and something had to give. They realised, like many of us, we cannot have it all.

How do you know if you are overwhelmed?

Feeling overwhelmed triggers our fight/flight/freeze response. So you might find yourself screaming at your children or your partner or crying over things that normally wouldn’t matter. This is a fight response. You might retreat into a glass (or four) of wine, a family-sized bar of chocolate or get lost in your phone. If you can’t run away physically, you might check out emotionally/mentally. Finally, you may not be able to do anything at all, frozen where you sit.

If any of these resonate with you then you are likely feeling overwhelmed. If you want to start changing this then try some of these:

5 things to do when you are feeling overwhelmed

Get it out of your head

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things on your to-do list or by the swirling thoughts in your brain, write them down. It doesn’t have to be neat, grammatically correct or even coherent. The purpose is to get it out of your head. It doesn’t matter if the thoughts are emotional or logistical, the important thing is that when you finish your mind feels calmer and less cluttered.

Once you have everything down you can go through and choose the important thing(s) to focus on. Ask yourself: What do I truly need to focus on for me and my family?

Focus on one thing at a time

Multitasking is a myth, the word was actually created for computers, not humans! Most of us know this to be true (even if we haven’t done the research) and yet we still try. This is never good for us, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed. So repeat after me…one. thing. at. a. time. 

Declutter and detox

I don’t know about you but I find it really hard to relax when everything around me feels cluttered and busy. So turn off the phone (or at least your notifications!) and clear a space. It doesn’t need to be the whole house, but a space that is for you, where you can feel calm. If you feel like you can then declutter more deliberately – get rid of old clothes, toys, things you never use. Create some space in your life. 

Cancel your plans

I don’t mean saying no (though that is helpful too)…I mean cancelling any plans that you might have coming up. It’s time to take a break. One of the things about trying to have it all is that we never stop. Feeling overwhelmed is often related to how busy our lives are. So choose one thing to remove from your calendar and then (and this is the essential part) leave it free. Don’t put anything else in its place and enjoy that time for doing nothing.

Remember that you are not alone

When we are feeling overwhelmed it can feel very lonely. We can spiral in our thoughts and forget that in almost every case someone else has experienced this too. I would urge you to talk to someone. Someone who has earned the right to hear your story, who will hold a safe space for you and remind you that this will pass. By talking about it, we are authentic and vulnerable and that’s how we help each other.

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