The reasons and causes of overwhelm are vast and unique to everyone. What may toss someone in a state of chaos and shutdown may play out as no big deal to someone else!

How to Handle Overwhelm When You Don’t Know Where to Start

Brain fog, tension, and anxiety are among the clever inroads “overwhelm” works itself into our personal space. Always an unwanted guest.


If you have a heartbeat you’ve likely dealt with overwhelm at some point in your life. Some of us encounter overwhelm amidst a season in our lives while others of us struggle with overwhelm what seems constantly. 


The reasons and causes of overwhelm are vast and unique to everyone. What may toss someone in a state of chaos and shutdown may play out as no big deal to someone else! 


Some common causes of overwhelm: 

 -Relationship problems

 -Career demands

 -Physical clutter 

 – Financial issues

 – Life transitions

 – Death of a loved one

 – Sleep issues

 – Poor diet

 – Past trauma

 – Lack of time to complete tasks or projects


Psychologist Marla W. Deibler, PsyD (Director of The Center for Emotional Health of greater Philadelphia LLC), describes overwhelming as “feeling completely overcome in mind or emotion.” “When we think a stressor is too great for us to manage, we feel overwhelmed”, she said. 

According to Deibler, overwhelm might manifest as an intense emotion such as anxiety, anger or irritability; and behavior such as crying, lashing out or experiencing a panic attack.


When you feel overwhelmed arrive in your psyche and body due to a circumstance or season in life know you do have the ability to unlearn old habit patterns and learn new life affirming ways.


Tips to handle overwhelm:


Get back to the present moment with calm. 

Truth be told all you really have is the present moment.  Do you sometimes feel your daily obligations and current life situation are stacked against you? (which is most of us at some point or another)… give yourself permission to pause. Be both silent and still.  Next take at least 3-10 complete full inhales and exhales. Inhale from deep in your abdomen traveling the breath up through the top of your head and softly exhale back down to the belly. This small breathing exercise resets your emotional center so you can gain clarity about what is really going on and from here use reason and logic as guidance not “feelings.”


Practice self-kindness.

 When you are in a season of overwhelming negative self-talk seems to show up out of nowhere stealing you away from getting things done and worse yet living fully in the day at hand. 

Acknowledge your current situation with self-compassion while using positive affirming self-talk. Dialogue  (in your own words)..such as “ I am a work in process.” I can take this one step at a time.” “This is just a moment right now… not the rest of my life.”

Do kind things for yourself that feel good, are comforting, positive, healthy and uplifting. These things help to calm the nervous system and get you out of “fight or flight” mode helping you to handle things from a much calmer clearer space.


Admitting you can’t do it all.  This can be a tough one to handle for some who love achieving and taking the reins of control. However… we are not meant to be the “go to” for all of life in our lives and everyone else’s.  Taking to heart this fact alone should help alleviate overwhelm by coming to terms with your humanity. We can’t be all things to everyone. What we have at our fingertips – skills, talents, abilities is ours to use and share. Let people help and support you… doing so serves the greater good for all!


Set up personal and work priorities and goals. This golden goal list whether personal or professional keeps you aligned on a course you’ve set placing overwhelm on the back burner. 


Get rid of clutter. When physical/digital clutter is present at home or office overwhelm has fertile soil to grow. When there are too many things in your visual field it is hard for our brains to focus and concentrate and for traction to take hold. Sort through mail daily, file and recycle papers, delete or file past emails. Keep your workspace and personal spaces tidy so you can easily find what you need. Calm and order will replace clutter overwhelm! 


Make a doable list of three or fewer tasks a day for completion.  Choose three or fewer tasks to complete each day versus skipping from task to task without completion. Priority “tasking” creates confidence and closure. 


What are your thoughts and suggestions for how to deal with overwhelm and move forward with greater ease?