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Feeling overwhelmed? Here are 8 ways to help

March 11, 2018
feeling overwhelmed - image of cup of coffee and journal with notes about stress

It feels ironic that this week has involved International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day given that I’ve felt like I’m failing in pretty much every area of my life. I’ve made silly mistakes at work through rushing to get things done and I’ve felt guilty for not being fully engaged with my child because my mind is elsewhere. I haven’t had time to do half the things I wanted to and have been feeling overwhelmed.

In my case, feeling overwhelmed triggers headaches and an inability to focus properly. I start to feel anxious and can’t concentrate. My mind then struggles to switch off, leading to a lack of sleep, which affects my ability to rationalise things the following day.

I then end up in a cycle of being overwhelmed and it usually takes a while to get out of this mindset. And let’s face it, no one enjoys being in a state of panic…

Impact of being overwhelmed on the body

It’s pretty much impossible to design a life which is fully stress-free.

However, it is important to understand the impact feeling overwhelmed has on the body. Stress affects our emotions and can make us feel angry, upset amongst others. It releases the stress hormone, cortisol which longer term can lead to health issues such as high cholesterol, heart disease, low immune systems and many, many others.

Whilst being overwhelmed is usually only in the short term, it does have a longer term effect. This is why it’s important to deal with it and put some self-care practices in place.

How can you stop the overwhelm?

There will always be moments where you feel more overwhelmed than others. Stress is a fact of life and difficult situations can help us grow.

However, it helps to have some self-care strategies to hand for when overwhelm hits.

Here are some ideas.

8 ways to help when you’re feeling overwhelmed

1. Respond rather than react

Your emotions cause you to react but try instead to respond. This is something I’m learning to put in place (admittedly I did shed a few tears in the work toilets last week). It doesn’t mean you should suffer in silence, just instead take the emotion out, assess the situation and consider the best response.

2. Look at what specifically triggered your feelings of overwhelm?

Where have these feelings come from? I know conflicting deadlines and projects going awry contribute to me becoming overwhelmed. I’m not very good at ‘failure’. I then overthink things, which affects my sleep and tiredness affects my ability to act objectively.

3. Prioritise

The Guardian journalist Oliver Burkeman describes the sense of overwhelm as, “the mismatch between all the things you’d like to do, or feel you ought to do, and the far smaller capacity of things you’re actually capable of doing”.

Look at what needs to be done urgently, what can be done in a few days and what really can wait. The likelihood is not everything needs to be done straight away.

4. Be kind to yourself

Feeling like I’m not on top of things leads to a pattern of negative thinking. I find it hard not to start telling myself what a failure I am. Actually, caring about doing something well is a really positive thing. Remember, you are doing your best and practice self-compassion.

5. Done is better than perfect

Sometimes you just have to accept there aren’t enough hours in the day for perfection. You just need to get it done and move on.

6. Ask for support

Don’t suffer in silence. There is nothing wrong in asking for help or speaking out. My sister in law took my son for a walk yesterday. In that hour, I finished two pieces of work and feel like I’m going to start the week on a more positive note.

7. Practice self-care

I don’t know about you, but as soon as I get busy, healthy eating (by which I mean good nutrition) goes out of the window. I’m eating packet food and craving anything high in salt and fat. That’s quite a normal response. Stress increases our appetite and so we immediately crave food which will give us a quick burst of energy. Longer term though, it’s not really doing us any favours.

Try to take time out just for you. Run a bath, read a book, watch TV – anything to give yourself a break. Better decisions are made with a clear head.

Here are some simple self-care ideas for when life gets busy.

8. And breathe

I can feel a bit teary when things get too much. If you do feel really overwhelmed, focus on your breath and take a few minutes just breathing in and out.

It helps, I promise.

Further reading

Unsure if you’re feeling anxious? Try this short test. Please note, your results won’t give you a medical diagnosis but might give you some insight.

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