How to Beat Overwhelm and Take Back Control of Your Day

Maya Angelou

When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment.


Are You Feeling Somewhat Overwhelmed?

Overwhelm is a type of emotional paralysis where you feel as though you’re unable to cope with or handle your circumstances. You feel as though you’re lacking control, which leads to indecision. In fact at times, overwhelm can result from simply having too many choices or options on hand.

When you’re caught in overwhelm you will typically catch yourself saying:

  • I’ll never get this done…
  • I can’t handle this…
  • This is just too much…
  • I can’t do this myself…

This is the typical thought process of someone who is experiencing overwhelm. These thoughts are not helpful and will often trigger the feelings of worry and anxiety. You might even feel a little disempowered and somewhat rushed to make quick decisions.

All this is a result of a lack of clarity on your part. You are overwhelmed, and you therefore cannot see things clearly, which creates confusion while putting you into a vulnerable state where you feel as though things are somewhat out of your direct control or influence. As a result, your problems seem closer and bigger then they should be, and consequently you indulge in negativity, procrastination, complaining, and blaming others or your circumstances for your predicament. In the end you end up stressed and fatigued.


7 Reasons You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

There are a number of reasons why you might be feeling overwhelmed — a lot of which are within your control and influence. What this means is that you can effectively eliminate your feelings of overwhelm by making a different set of choices and decisions that will help you to better manage these areas of your life.

High Standards and Expectations

You might be feeling overwhelmed because you have very high standards and expectations of yourself. In fact, you might have expectations of perfection, which are very difficult to live up to. Your standards are simply too high, and your expectations are unrealistic. As a result you constantly feel as though you’re “over your head” and unable to reach the lofty heights you had imagined. You are constantly playing “catch-up” and this results in overwhelm — you’re unable to make decisions quick enough or work fast enough to satisfy the demands of your expectations.

Too Many Things on Your Mind

You might be feeling overwhelmed because you are trying to do more then you can physically and emotionally handle. On top of this you are trying to account for absolutely everything. You have too many things on your mind, too many responsibilities, too many commitments, and absolutely no hope in the world of doing everything yourself. Your thoughts are scattered in many different directions and it seems as though you are constantly trying to put out spot-fires in order to maintain some form of control over your life.

Your perspective is simply too wide, and as a result you are unable to handle everything successfully. A better option would be to let go of your need for control, and instead delegate things or eliminate things from your life. As a result you can hone-in your focus and concentration on smaller areas of your life that you are better able to control and influence.

No Priorities

You might be feeling overwhelmed because you haven’t taken the time to prioritize your tasks or your life in a way that will help you to get things done most productively. Without priorities you feel scattered — jumping from one thing to the next, without any sense of direction or control over your desired outcomes. This results in overwhelm because of the fact that you are mismanaging your life.

No Personal Boundaries

You might be feeling overwhelmed because you haven’t taken the time to define your personal boundaries of time and space. As a result other people are encroaching on your personal space and time and this is scattering your thoughts and efforts. As a result you’re unable to keep up with what needs to get done, which ultimately leads to the feelings of overwhelm.

The lesson here is to define your personal boundaries of time and space, and make sure that other people fully understand when, how and where you’ll be available. All other times are off limits.

Inability to Delegate

You might be feeling overwhelmed because you have the mentality of being the Lone Ranger. You have so much to do — way more than any one person can realistically handle. However, you’re the Lone Ranger. Nobody is good enough, and nobody will ever do a better job than you. You are afraid to give up control by delegating responsibility to others, and yet it’s ironic because by not giving up control you are actually losing control as a result of your inability to keep up with everything that needs to be done.

Too Much Clutter

You might be feeling overwhelmed because there is just too much clutter around you. This clutter is playing up on your mind and distracting you from getting the most important things done. It’s weighing a heavy burden on your shoulders and preventing you from seeing things clearly.

Inability to Say No

You might be feeling overwhelmed because you’re simply not willing to say no to other people’s requests. Every time someone asks you for something or requests your help in some way, you oblige them with your time and energy — fully knowing that the time and energy you give here will take away from the time and energy you have to give in other important areas of your life. As a result you never seem to get your most important work done. In fact, this work just keeps piling up and up, until it reaches a breaking point and you end up stressed and overwhelmed.

Reasons You Feel Overwhelmed


How to Begin Managing Feeling of Overwhelm

Here is a seven step process you can work through that will help you to manage your feelings of overwhelm on a day-to-day basis. This process will hopefully put you in a position to make better choices and decisions moving forward:

Step 1: Recognize You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Your first step is to recognize the emotion of overwhelm and the circumstances that are triggering your feelings.

Remember that overwhelm is an emotion that results from a lack of control and an inability to handle circumstances. Under normal conditions you wouldn’t have any problems, however because you are dealing with one too many things, this creates havoc and results in overwhelm.

Step 2: Remove Yourself from the Situation

Your next step is to immediately remove yourself from the overwhelming situation. There’s no point indulging in overwhelm. The more you indulge in it, the more life you give it. It’s like quicksand. The more you struggle against the feeling of overwhelm, the deeper you will sink into the sand. Instead, you need to immediately get out of the quicksand and separate yourself from the overwhelming situation.

It’s important that you separate yourself physically as well as emotionally from your situation. You can do this by taking a walk outside for a few moments. While there take time to breathe deeply and get your bearings back.

Alternatively you might want to just step into another room and meditate quietly for a few moments. Clear your mind of all your thoughts and responsibilities and just be there in the moment. While you’re there, you can even undertake some visualization exercises by thinking of a tranquil place with waterfalls, beaches and beautiful forests. Look around this place, take-in your environment, and potentially search for the answers to your feelings of overwhelm within your imagination.

Step 3: Identify Potential Triggers

Having separated yourself from your overwhelming situation, it’s now time to identify the potential triggers and sources for your overwhelm. Ask yourself:

What specifically triggered my feelings of overwhelm?

What was I doing that made me feel this way?

Are these feelings a result of something I did, failed to do, or are they simply based on my perspective?

Were other people involved? How?

Did environmental factors influence my feelings? How?

How did all of this come about?

What was the underlying cause the created this chain reaction?

While moving through these questions keep in mind that there could be a variety of layers to your overwhelm. Don’t just consider the surface layers, but rather dig a little deeper into the original causes and the role that you, other people, and your environment played in triggering these feelings of overwhelm.

Step 4: Detach Yourself Emotionally

It’s now time for you to detach yourself emotionally from your experience. The best way to do this is to view your situation from a third person’s perspective. See things as an observer would, looking-in on your experience. Then ask yourself:

What am I seeing looking at this situation from an observer’s perspective?

How has my perspective of this situation shifted?

How am I beginning to think differently about this?

What potential solutions come to mind?

Now consider how you dealt with overwhelm in the past. Ask yourself:

What kind of situations have overwhelmed me in the past?

How did I handle and manage these situations and feelings?

Was I successful? How?

If I was unsuccessful, then what could I potentially learn from the experience?

Having gained more clarity about things, it’s now time for you to decide one of three things moving forward:

  1. I will change my perspective of the situation.
  2. I will learn to cope with the situation.
  3. I will leave the situation.

Maybe you’re simply seeing things in an unhelpful and overwhelming way. Shifting your perspective about the situation and seeing things in a different light, might be all you need to move forward. However, if this is not possible then you will need to learn to cope with the situation far more effectively. In such instances it’s important to work through the remaining steps of this process.

At times there’s just no point spending time coping with the situation. Instead decide that you will leave things as they are and do something else. You can either leave them for a later time, delegate or outsource the work, or give up on these things all together. Maybe in the end it’s just not worth pursuing. However, that decision is yours to make.

Step 5: Take a Personal Inventory

If you chose to learn to cope with the situation in Step Four, then your next task is to take a personal inventory. This is where you clarify the necessary skills, knowledge, support, tools and other resources you might need moving forward that will help you to better cope with your situation. Ask yourself:

What skills might I need to help me handle this situation more effectively to overcome my feelings of overwhelm?

What support might I potentially need from others?

What tools could help me to work more productively and get the job done?

What knowledge could be of value to help me gain more control over this aspect of my life?

What other resources might I need?

How will I acquire all these resources?

Keep in mind that sometimes the simplest of things can provide you with the highest value. Therefore don’t think that you suddenly need to get a University degree to get through this moment of your life. Instead look for simple solutions and tools that can help you get through this period of your life without the overwhelm.

Step 6: Shift Your Perspective

Let’s now look at the situation you’re in from a wide variety of angles, while also considering possible solutions moving forward.

Gain some further clarity about your predicament by asking:

Is this the best use of my time right now?

Is now the best time to do this?

Do I have all the necessary resources I need to get this done?

What can potentially wait till tomorrow?

How can I manage all this more effectively?

How could I potentially tackle this in pieces?

What is the real value of this activity?

Am I the best person to do this?

What are the consequences of doing this now?

What are the consequences of not doing this now?

On the surface these seem like random questions. In a way, they are random questions. And it’s important that they are random because it helps you to view your situation from a variety of angles and perspectives.

Of course, not all these questions may be relevant to your situation, however some of them will be, and these are the questions you must focus on.

What these questions do very well is help you shift your attention onto things that you might not have previously considered. And this “shift of attention” will also help shift your perspective. The moment you begin seeing things in a new light, is the moment you will find the answers you are searching for that will help you break-free from overwhelm and gain control of your life and circumstances.

Step 7:  Take Action to Gain Back Control

The final step of this process is to take action by gaining back control of your life and circumstances. And even if after all this, there is still some element that you can’t control, then you can at the very least take control of the choices you make…

  • Even if I can’t do it all, I can at least do…

You always have a choice and a path to move forward. You will of course not always make the right choice, however making a choice is better than giving-in to your feelings of overwhelm. At least with a choice you are maintaining control of your circumstances instead of allowing them to control you.

A Process for Overcoming Overwhelm


7 Ideas to Help You Begin Beating Overwhelm

Beating overwhelm essentially boils down to the choices you make on a daily basis. What you choose to do, when you choose to do it, how you choose to do it, and how you choose to respond to circumstances will determine the level of overwhelm you will experience throughout the day.

Here are some suggestions that will hopefully encourage you make better choices throughout the day to help you beat overwhelm:

Focus on the Right Things

First of all, focus on what you want and on what you can control. Often you will become overwhelmed when you are focusing on the things that you don’t want and the things you have absolutely no control over. It’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed if you’re focusing on uncontrollable circumstances.

Focus on setting priorities for your activities. Without priorities you have very little sense of direction. You’ll get caught up focusing on the urgent things instead of on the most important things. And by ignoring the important things, they will eventually become urgent and important in the future, and that is when overwhelm will set-in.

Focus on chunking things down. Tasks and activities can get overwhelming if you are trying to bite off more than you can chew. Just like with eating food, you don’t want to be uncontrollably stuffing another spoon into your mouth before you have swallowed the previous spoon. This can quickly become exhausting and it will hurt your digestion. In the same way, don’t try and do everything at once. Instead, break things down into smaller chunks and work on completing one chunk at a time before moving onto the next chunk.

Focus on single tasks and objectives. Forget about multi-tasking. Multi-tasking can quickly get overwhelming. It’s impossible to multi-task and give your full effort and attention to everything at once. Instead focus on doing one thing at a time for a set period of time before moving onto something else.

Focus on dividing your day into manageable blocks of time. For instance you might want to respond to all your emails within a certain block of time, make all your phone calls within another block, run errands within a third block, and so on. By dividing your day into blocks of time to undertake certain activities will help you to get out of the habit of trying to put out “spot-fires” throughout the day. You are in control of your time. Don’t allow your time to control you.

Focus on the 80/20 Rule. This rule states that 80 percent of your activities will result in 20 percent of your outcomes. Likewise, 20 percent of your activities will lead to 80 percent of your outcomes. You must focus on the most important and highest value 20 percent of activities that will get you 80 percent of your desired outcomes throughout the day.

Ideas for Overcoming Overwhelm

Always Plan Ahead

It’s easy to get caught up in overwhelm if you fail to take the time to plan ahead. Without a plan there is little direction, and with little direction there are a lot of things that could potentially take you off track. And when you’re taken off track you lose sight of what’s most important and that’s when overwhelm can get the better of you.

For these reasons it’s important that you lay out a daily plan of action and gain some clarity about the tasks and activities you will be focusing on to help you attain your desired outcomes. One way to do this is to reverse engineer your tasks. Visualize your task as completed in your mind. Now reverse engineer backwards from the end, step-by-step, to the beginning of the task, seeing every element of the task come together in your mind. This process will provide you with the clarity you need to make better decisions about how you plan to move forward with your tasks throughout the day.

Finally, part of the planning process involves knowing and understanding your values and life’s purpose. Your values provide you with insight into your highest priorities. These are the priorities you must build upon on a daily basis, because these are the areas of your life that will provide you with the greatest fulfillment long-term. Moreover, your values are interconnected with your life’s purpose, which is your vision for what you would like to do, the kind of person you would like to become, and how you want to live your life. Everything must be intertwined, and it all starts with how you plan your day.

Don’t Over-Commit

It’s easy to become overwhelmed very quickly if you over-commit yourself to things that you simply should not be committing to in the first place. Don’t make promises you can’t realistically keep. You are not only hurting yourself, but also hurting the other person and hurting your relationship with them by not fulfilling your obligations. If you commit to something but you’re unreliable, then the other person will feel let down and you will lose respect in their eyes. They won’t care whether or not you’re overwhelmed. You let them down, and that’s all that matters.

Avoid Perfection

Perfection is not your friend. Perfection is a form of self-sabotage. It’s an imaginary game you play with yourself that originates from a set of unrealistic expectations you have about things.

Perfection will force you to spend much more time then is required to get things done. This means that you won’t be able to get a lot done, which means that things will pile up and you will eventually end up in a state of overwhelm.

You must understand that nothing will ever be perfect. It’s just not possible. Perfection is not possible. There will always be a flaw. Often 80 percent perfect is better than the extra time it will take you to get things to 90 percent perfect and beyond — especially when you have time constraints.

Begin Working Smarter

Working smarter means simplifying your life so that you can boost your levels of productivity throughout the day. It means finding ways to spend less time on things by creating systems, by utilizing new technologies, by eliminating clutter and distractions. Working smarter also means knowing how to leverage your time by delegating and potentially outsourcing your work. The less you have on your plate, the less overwhelming things will be.

Working smarter may require you learn more about time management, productivity principles, project management, and about how to keep yourself and your environment more organized. It may also require that you set time limits for activities so that you don’t get caught within the cycle of perfectionism. In the end it ultimately comes down to the choices you make. You can either choose to work smarter, or you can choose to indulge in the feelings of overwhelm.

Guidelines for Overcoming Overwhelm

Take Your Time

Don’t always be in a rush. Take your time to relax, to get some exercise, to take regular breaks from your work, or to just chill-out and gain some needed clarification. It’s when you’re working at a breakneck speed that you are prone to get caught-up in overwhelm. However, if you balance your time and take baby steps along the way, you will always feel in control, and with control will come a sense of satisfaction that you can get things done without the need to rush. Patience is the key.

Of course this strategy might seem a little flawed if you have plenty to do and very little time to do it. In such instances, you need to re-prioritize and focus on what’s most important. Isn’t your health important? If it is, then make it your priority by looking after yourself, instead of indulging in overwhelm.

Make Things Fun and Easy

Sometimes you experience overwhelm because you take things too seriously. You’re so intense and on the edge. However, what if things weren’t as serious as you make them out to be? What if things were actually a little bit more light-hearted and fun? What then?

When caught up in overwhelm, ask yourself whether you’re taking things a little too seriously. And if you are, then make a decision right there and then that you will make things a little more fun and enjoyable. When you enjoy something, and when you’re having fun, it’s very difficult to experience overwhelm.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

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Here’s some DOODLEspiration…

Below you will find a little doodle that we’ve prepared for you to help keep some of the ideas discussed within this article at the forefront of your mind. Use it as a desktop background or download and share some DOODLEspiration with your family and friends. 🙂

Six Steps for Feeling Less Overwhelmed

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam’s story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.