Six Strategies I Used to Ride the Wave of Overwhelm


Let’s get real about overwhelm. It’s a real thing. It happens.

We’ve all been there. That feeling of having so much to do but not having a clue where to start. You want to scream or cry or run away while doing both.

I've been helping my clients who feel overwhelmed for many years. It happens when little things accumulate over time. That overwhelmed feeling can also happen when a few big things, often unexpected things, happen. We can be overwhelmed by work, by family, by friendships, by life tasks, and most often by a combination thereof. Helping people deal with overwhelm comes easily to me, but following my own strategies when I am feeling overwhelmed is a bit more challenging.

I’ve felt the overwhelm tide rising slowly over the past few weeks. It would calm down when I had the energy to talk myself through it, but then, BAM, out of nowhere something would happen that would cause the wave to crest. And then one more thing, and one more little thing, and one more little thing, until the wave crashed against the shore. Full-on overwhelm.

We took a lovely trip to the West Coast to visit our friend family. The trip was filled with sunshine, sand, nature, smiles, laughter, amazing food and drink, and love. Our plane landed back on the East Coast and the text messages began about my grandmother’s ailing health. Then the NEXT day, my husband had an extremely unexpected change in job status. THREE DAYS LATER, I hit a deer with my car…2 miles outside of Washington DC. The deer and I both escaped…shaken but unharmed. My car…not so much. So, there were calls with the insurance company, and the auto body shop, and the car rental place.

That was the crest of the wave. And then…

Add in life hassles like people not showing up to buy the stuff you are selling online…again…and again.

Add in your 7-year old son having a full-blown meltdown on Mother’s Day.

Add in traffic in the middle of the day for no apparent reason.

Add in a random piercing pain in your foot that prevents you from walking completely upright.

Add in an insanely long car trip.

Add in massively inconvenient technology fails that would not be a big deal if they weren’t piled on the crest of the wave.

Add in eating more junk than I normally do.

Add in staying up later in an attempt to deal with all of that.

And BOOM. It crashed into overwhelm.

It’s hard to see your way out of something when you are so far in it. I stumbled around for a bit until I got my bearings and did the following.

  1. I felt it. Before I dove headfirst into action, I allowed myself to feel sad and frustrated. I cried. I practiced release writing and vented to my best gal pal.

  2. I made a list of everything that I needed to do. When we can take the feeling of helpless overwhelm and make it concrete, that wave loses some of its power. I then transferred the items from my list to a place on my calendar.

  3. I delegated. There were way too many to-dos to fit on my calendar, so I asked for and accepted help. Accepting and asking for help can be really challenging because we have so much of our self-worth tied up in being able to do it all.

  4. I prioritized sleep. I know that my post-9:00PM attempts at productivity are worthless, so I got myself in bed instead of spending an hour writing a half-a$$ paragraph.

  5. I returned to the basics of self-care. I know, I know. It seems so simple, but it works. Self-care will look different to everyone, but for me, at this point in my life, it looked like:

    • Connecting. I spent time with friends going for walks outside and had dinner with my in-laws. It felt good to be around others.

    • Sauna-ing. I’ve raved about how good the sauna makes me feel. I prioritized sauna time again and soon felt the calming parasympathetic effects.

    • Petting my furry friends. My cat must have sensed my stress because she started cuddling with me rather than my husband. I soaked it up. I also played with my in-laws nearly house-trained puppy :)

  6. Laughter. I laughed at my husband’s corny jokes. I watched a comedy. I played with my son.

    These behaviors helped me to be able to think more clearly. Circumstances are neutral. The story we tell ourselves with our thoughts about those circumstances leads us to feel overwhelmed. Laughing didn’t fix my overwhelm, but it allowed me the brain space to become aware of my thoughts. I saw the ways that I was catastrophizing and have since been actively challenging those thoughts. Thinking about my situation (deer and all the rest) in a different way, helps me to feel less overwhelmed, even though those circumstances still all exist. And because I’m feeling less overwhelmed, I’m able to respond with behaviors that are more productive than spinning around my kitchen ping-ponging from from task to the next.

    This experience has reinforced one of my favorite sayings from the late, great Wayne Dyer, and that is…

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change..png

So, if you find yourself caught up in overwhelm, take a look at the thoughts you are telling yourself about the situation, and if you can’t get there, try delegating, connecting, and practicing some self-care to make room to examine your thoughts. It takes practice, but you can shift out of overwhelm. I did it, and you can too.