July 29, 2010

Are You Feeling Overwhelmed? How to Manage Stress

Written by Rachel Eddins

middle aged woman feeling stressed

Feeling Overwhelmed & Stressed?

Do you feel that your life is out of control? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Do you find it impossible to make time for yourself? Do you need to learn how to manage stress?

When people come to therapy, they are often feeling overwhelmed by the stressors in their life.

Change is stressful even when it is beneficial.

Sources of Unnecessary Stress

  1. Attempting to do too much at one time.
  2. Setting unrealistic time estimates, or poor time management.
  3. Procrastinating on the unpleasant.
  4. Disorganization.
  5. Poor listening skills.
  6. Doing it all yourself.
  7. Unable to say “no”.
  8. Trouble letting others do their job.
  9. Impulsive, snap decisions.
  10. Not taking responsibility for the quality of your own life. Blaming others.

What to Do When You are Feeling Overwhelmed:

Try these principles for managing an overwhelmed life summarized in the book,  CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life.

Challenge yourself to implement one of these suggestions this week to stop feeling overwhelmed.

1. Accept limits.

Do you know where your time goes? Many people budget their money to the last penny.

Most don’t budget their time down the last minute. We act as if time is unlimited.

Being busy is one way to avoid taking stock in how you’re living your life. Am I doing what I really want to do? What matters most to me? Don’t let being busy take you away from that.

How you spend your time reflects your values and what you feel is important. Your thoughts and feelings may not always be aligned. If you find yourself stuck doing things that make you feel overwhelmed, perhaps you can explore your underlying fears.

Feeling a sense of constant pressure or anxiety can lead to feelings of overwhelm.

 2. Don’t spread yourself too thin:

If you don’t make time for what’s most important, you probably won’t do it or give it the attention it deserves. Focus on what you like best and what you do best.

There is not enough time to do everything in life, and certainly, no time to try to get good at what you’re bad at.

Technology has allowed us to do so much more than we used to be able to do that it is tempting to try to do everything we’ve always wanted to do. This will run you ragged. You must choose. You must prioritize.

In order to do well and be happy, you must say “no thank you” to many people and activities.

Give yourself permission to get rid of what hinders you, whether it is projects, people, or ideas (i.e., it is bad to ever say no to a friend, or it is bad to be different, or angry). This takes courage, but once you do you will have freed up a huge amount of time and positive mental energy.

Once you allow yourself to spend time with projects and people that nourish you and help you grow, you will look forward to each day, more than you do now. This does not mean that you will become selfish.

In fact, for many people, one of the best nourishing things for many people is the act of helping people.

When you feel overwhelmed, step back and track your time for a week or two. Pay attention to where your time goes and then identify what you can delete, delegate or simply say no to.

3. Create a positive emotional environment wherever you are.

Emotion is the primary key to effective mental functioning.

A positive emotional atmosphere leads to better thinking, behavior, and work performance, as well as more cooperation, delegation, and planning ability. The opposite leads to inflexibility, impatience, and a lack of creativity and humor.

People begin to feel overwhelmed.

The best way to create a positive emotional environment is to work on keeping up positive relationships with people wherever you are.

Are you in a toxic environment? What is within your control to create greater safety in your environment?

4. Know your most productive time of day.

You are in the zone when you are in the rhythm. This state of mind elevates all that you do to its highest level. What time of day are you typically in your rhythm? What are you working on? What other factors are present? Identify the characteristics of your environment that bring out your best.

5. Invest your time wisely so you get maximum return.

Try not to let time be stolen from you. It gets wasted if you’re not attentive to how you spend it.

6. Don’t waste time on screens mindlessly. 

Spending too much time on a computer or in front of the TV can seriously limit a person’s productivity and mental growth.

7. Identify and control the sources of distractions in your environment.

You have a computer glitch you could spend the next 3 hours fixing vs. doing the important work you’d like to postpone.

8. Do the important work first. Do it NOW!

Identify your most important tasks and do it now!,The more you put something off, the more it looms.

80% of results come from 20% of the effort. What is the most effective use of your time and effort?

Beware of magazines, social media, games, or other distractions.

Set a fixed time when you open your mail and stick to it.

Turn off your cell phone. Limit the time you will take calls. Decide if you truly want to be available constantly.

TV is great as long as you use it properly. Set a one-hour per day limit.

9. When you do not want to be interrupted, close your door.

10. Take a brain break.

Your brain needs a break too! You can think of your brain as a battery. When you let it run too long it can overheat.

Find time to take a brain break between projects, meetings, or when something becomes difficult or boring. Rather than abandoning your tasks, try the following:

  • Stand up do a quick bit of exercise,
  • have a glass of water,
  • meditate for 3 minutes
  • get outside and get some fresh air
  • do some deep breathing
  • stretch

Three-five minutes is enough for a brain break. After your break go back to what you were working on before.

Try not to let yourself abandon what you were doing. Guilt can drag you down.

Remind yourself that you are doing what you can and it is the best you can do.

11. OHIO “only handle it once”.

Clutter is one of the forces that have to be managed so it does not distract or overwhelm you. Whatever it is, file it, hand it off, use it, respond to it, or throw it away.

12. Watch out for toxic worry

When you’re feeling overwhelmed

  • Talk to someone – never worry alone, connect.
  • Get the facts – toxic worry usually arises from lack of information or wrong information.
  • Make a plan. Even if your plan doesn’t work, you will feel more in control because you have a plan. Feeling in control reduces worry and if the plan doesn’t work, you can revise it. Don’t let office politics and domestic squabbles run your day. Set a time and place to discuss what needs to be discussed. Once you know there is a time and place to voice your concerns, it will become less distracting to you day in and day out.

13. Delegate what you aren’t good at or don’t enjoy doing.

Delegate what you don’t like to do or are not good at if you can. Do what you like or are good at if you can, in order to be effectively interdependent. Your goal is to be interdependent, not independent.

No one can do it all alone.

If you have a hard time letting go, ask yourself what you are afraid of? What would it mean to give up some control? If you find that you can’t trust others, set clear expectations and find ways to hold others accoutable.

14. Slow down:

The many opportunities and obligations most of us juggle have induced an almost reflexive internal impatience. Our resting state doesn’t rest rendering us impatient even when we don’t need to be.

We tap the steering wheel when waiting at a red light even when we’re early. The time for anything grows shorter every day as we try to get more done.

The average American is working 160 hours more now than in 1960 – that is one more month of 40hour work weeks.

We are working harder and longer to maintain our standard of living, even though we are at the highest in the world.

However, happiness ratings puts us at in the middle. If we want to be as happy as can be we will do so by thinking harder and feeling more deeply.

Slow down, what’s the hurry? Why hurry?

15. Don’t multitask ineffectively.

Multi-tasking is an ineffective use of your time. Block off time in your schedule to give one task your full attention. When you do, you’ll also find that you’ll do it better. Over time it may even become more automatic, taking less effort on your part.

16. Play

Imaginatively engage in what you are doing. This will naturally bring to bear the best part of your mind.

You will not waste time. You will improve whatever it is you are doing. And you will discover new ways of doing it and improve on old ones. You will not be as distracted as easily.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, try these C principles to help you cope with overwhelm, stress, and feeling out of control:

1. Connect:

By connecting with the people and projects that matter most to you, you create a positive emotional atmosphere at home, and at work. Connecting with others also helps reduce worry. It is fine to worry, just try to never worry alone.

2. Control:

Control your technology, don’t let it control you. Develop a system that works for you: when you take calls, prioritize emails, etc.

3. Cancel:

People and organizations add activities, but they rarely subtract. Cancel what doesn’t really matter, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how much more energy you really have. Try to think of at least one activity, meeting, or event you can cancel right now. Focus on the aspects of your life (and time) that truly matter.

4. Create

Create structures and systems in your life to help you get organized. This might be a new filing system, a personal assistant you hire for 5 hours a week, a part of the evening you set aside to talk with your spouse, or a time you schedule for exercise.

5. Care

Decide what you care most about. You do not have time for everything you care about. You must prioritize.

6. Comfort

Identify self-care activities that truly comfort you, calm you or help you feel grounded and more relaxed.

When You are Feeling Overwhelmed with Life

It’s one thing to live a crazy busy, overstressed life. But feeling overwhelmed with life itself can be a signal of a bigger problem. Over time, stress and exhaustion can lead to depression. Depression is a mental health condition.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with life, including the things that used to bring you joy, you may be depressed.

Depression is treatable, but it’s different than managing your stress. These strategies for reducing overwhelm will certainly help. However, one of the characteristics of depression is a lack of motivation or energy to make changes. For some people, a combination of talk therapy and medication or therapy alone can help you get out of depression.

What if You Feel Constantly Overwhelmed?

Is feeling overwhelmed your baseline state? This may be an indication that you are struggling with an anxiety disorder.

Different types of anxiety can lead us to take longer to complete tasks, get stuck in overwhelming thoughts, feel unable to get thoughts out of our head at night, experience physical symptoms of anxiety and have difficulty sleeping.

Then the cumulative effects of lack of sleep and physical symptoms compound the problem further. If you suspect you are struggling with stress and anxiety, take our screening test below. Talking to a therapist can help you stop feeling overwhelmed and be in control of your anxiety.

How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed: Get Help for Stress Management

Try to implement one idea from this list and see if it helps you feel more in control of your life. Good luck!

Talk to a therapist about stress management counseling services.

To get started contact us in Houston and give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Too overwhelmed to get to an appointment? Try online therapy! 

Recommended Reading:

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook

Each chapter features a different method for relaxation and stress reduction, explains why the method works and provides on-the-spot exercises you can do to apply that method when you feel stressed.


the anxiety and phobia workbookThe Anxiety and Phobia Workbook


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