Overwhelmed woman with face in hands (1)

How to cope with overwhelm: 10 coping strategies for overwhelming thoughts, overwhelming feelings, and life in general

9 min read
Scott Robinson

Overwhelm is a leading cause of stress and ultimately burnout in the workplace and can lead to a disinterest in work and your personal life. When you feel overwhelmed, it may become increasingly laborious to focus on daily tasks; even simple ones. This is why learning how to cope with overwhelm can mean all the difference when it comes to better productivity and overall well-being in the workplace.

Why is it so important to cope with overwhelm? 

Some of the effects of being overwhelmed can have manifestations of behavioral, physiological, and psychological issues. Work is definitely a predominant factor in overwhelm — however, life in general can cause it too. But never fear, there are ways to control overwhelm and even potentially nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. 

10 coping strategies for overwhelm  

When it comes to coping with overwhelm, there are a number of strategies you might employ. Some are simple lifestyle changes, while others are more involved. It’s a matter of testing out these ideas to find what works for your situation/

1. Identify the stressors causing overwhelm 

As you begin to feel like life is causing you undue stress and you are sagging under the burdens of the daily grind, take a moment to try and identify some of the stressors around you. Some of the primary stressors can be things like:  

  • Major life events - Getting a new home or car. Moving to a new state, etc. 
  • Illness - Being unwell with a cold or disease, or dealing with someone close to you with either. 
  • Injury - Being recently injured or coping with past injuries. 
  • Social factors - Friendships coming and going, and the general trials and tribulations of having and gaining friendships. 
  • Workplace stress - Promotions, demotions, being shorthanded at work, concerns about employment longevity, etc. 
  • Financial matters - Managing your money, gaining or losing money, retirement, and more. 
  • Family matters - Changes in the family dynamic, relocations, or the empty nest scenario
  • iEnvironmental factors - The pandemic, politics, even the weather. 

There are, of course, many more stressors, but these are some of the major ones that can lead to overwhelm. 

2. Isolate negative thoughts & negative feelings

Rather than do what many people tend to do and try to gather multiple stressors into a big bucket and inundate yourself with everything all at once, take a one at a time approach and sort out the most stressful factors in your life first. 

Then, approach those one item at a time, if possible. This will make it far easier to get through the list than attempting to multitask and let the wave of overwhelm crash into you like a brick wall. 

Just take on one thing at a time and you can help prevent feeling conquered with having too much on your plate. 

3. Dial in your to-do list 

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Rather than randomly attacking tasks and inadvertently missing things, create a list. Jot down what needs to be done in the order which makes the most sense to you. Then you can approach each item in your own timely manner. 

This helps with overwhelm in that you now have what needs to be done, with no surprises, and you can get to each item as time permits. But be sure not to make too large of a lineup. Too big of a list can lead to thinking that you'll never complete said tasks at all. 

Put down, say, five things to complete — and once they are finished and marked off, then feel free to create a new agenda. 

4. Try deep breathing exercises & meditation   

Sometimes, taking a break from it all is the best approach. If you're at work, for instance, get up and take a brief stroll. While on your walk, breathe in through your nose, slowly, and exhale through your mouth. 

Do this slowly and methodically to prevent hyperventilation and even more undue stress. Another good thing to do, while at your desk, is to close your eyes and do the above-mentioned deep breathing exercise. 

Taking your eyes off the computer and breathing can do wonders for relaxing those racing thoughts. It also gives your eyes a rest if you're like me and stare at a computer screen all day long. 

If you have a quiet place to go and sit, meditation is also a wonderful way to relieve overwhelm. Clear your mind and breathe slowly and methodically. Take about 10 to 15 minutes for a decent meditation. 

Just relax. That's the point of it; to relax you and your thoughts. If you can't do this at work, then do it when you get home. Just remember to find a nice, quiet place where you'll not be disturbed.   

5. Moderate your intake 

If you enjoy treating yourself to a nice meal or unwinding at your third place over a few drinks, cool. Just make sure you’re doing so in moderation. While a juicy steak or cold beer might feel great in the immediate sense, continued intake could lead to other problems down the road — and more overwhelm.

6. Take time for yourself 

You might be highly sought after by one and all, but you always need to take time to do you. Whether that be reading an enjoyable book, taking in a movie, grabbing a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant, meditating, going to the batting cages for a while, or anything like that. 

Just remember that you matter, and sometimes you have to come first.

The tasks and the lists will be there when you get back. So don't worry about them. Take care of your own needs. Giving yourself some personal time will benefit you more than you know. 

7. Talk to a friend, loved one or family member 

Group of women sitting on a park bench(1)

There might be friends, partners, and most likely family members in your life that you can turn to in times of need. Don't hesitate to reach out to any of them. Communication is key here. If you are in need, don't bottle it up. You'll regret that choice sooner rather than later. 

Talk to someone if you're feeling overwhelmed. Chances are, they'll have some of the same ideas mentioned in this article. Take their advice. What else are friends for, than a companion to turn to, in times of need? 

You chose to be with your partner for many reasons. One of which is that they're there for you, as you are for them. The point is, you're not alone. Family members are typically your innermost circle and people you can usually trust implicitly. Reach out to them. 

8. Stick to a self-care routine 

Take care of yourself via a healthy diet, a workout routine, and of course good sleep. Eating healthy is critical for mental and physical wellbeing. If you continually put the wrong kind of gas in your engine, you'll soon need a mechanic. Try to stay away from processed foods, bleached flour, and sugar. 

Working out also does wonders for the mind and body. It also helps you to get a great night's slumber. You don't have to go to a bodybuilder's gym to get fit. Just a few daily exercises at home also works well too. Sit-ups, push-ups, a few jumping jacks, and a brisk walk help to clear the mind and strengthen the body. 

Sleeping, as everyone knows, is critical. Without a good night's rest, you're not going to be productive at all and you will be prone to making more mistakes and ultimately more work for yourself. Not to mention the fact that the risk of illness goes up with lack of sleep. It has been recommended that you get at least eight hours of sleep a night. But getting even close to that will benefit you immensely. 

Related: 15 self-care ideas for entrepreneurs to keep thriving in their ventures 

9. Keep tabs on your moods & feelings

If you feel like you're getting stretched to your limits and something feels "off", make a mental note of how you feel. Be cognizant of your mental and emotional state. Also, don't be afraid to take a mental health day from time to time. You need time to recharge and regroup, just like the next person. These days off are a necessity and they give you time to reflect on your own mental and physical well-being. 

Related: How to protect your mental health as an entrepreneur

10. Work with a professional   

Every now and then you may find it necessary to chat with a professional. They have amazing tools they can extend to you, they're an unbiased ear to talk to, and there are many to choose from that specialize in a variety of needs.

For some, seeing a therapist or psychiatrist might seem scary. But there is nothing to fear at all.

They are here to help you, if needed, and there is no shame attached to seeking help outside of your circle.  

Closing thoughts on coping with overhelm  

Remember that you matter! You are an amazing individual with unlimited potential. This tally is but a sampling of things to consider when it comes to your well-being. I hope that these suggestions help guide you on your path and assist in developing your coping skills for overwhelm. Till next time, stay healthy, happy, safe, and be well.