7 Things You Can Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed By Life

The past few weeks have been a gentle reminder that sometimes, we all find ourselves feeling overwhelmed with life. Fortunately, in my case, it wasn’t because of anything too serious. Just sick babies and a handful of sleepless nights—but I’ll be honest, it was hard.

I felt physically and emotionally exhausted. My energy levels went down the drain, and when this happened, I noticed that my mindset went right with it. I was feeling lost for a few days, but thankfully, I found my feet again. 

Of course, this doesn’t make me an expert, but I thought I’d share a few of the things that I’ve learned from the past few weeks. Much of this isn’t groundbreaking stuff—it’s the basics that we all know—but when I’m in the thick of things, it’s hard to think clearly. 

So in a sense, this blog post is for me as much as it’s for you. These are the reminders that I need next time I’m feeling completely overwhelmed by life, and hopefully, you’ll find them useful as well.

"7 Things You Can Do When You're Feeling Overwhelmed By Life" in a white box with a woman sitting on a beach watching the waves on a cloudy, dreary day in the background.

How To Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed With Life

Before I share tips for coping with overwhelm, I think it’s important to talk about prevention. 

And yes—to address the elephant in the room—I’m well aware that there are a lot of things we can’t control. Everything from sick kids to global health disasters and so much more. There are many times when we just have to give ourselves grace and roll with the punches, best we can. 

But at the same time, acknowledging what’s beyond our control doesn’t mean throwing in the towel. We should at least try our best to avoid emotional and mental overload—and the hard truth is that most of us aren’t doing this. 

Instead, we tend to max out our capacity, taking on more and more … pushing to that point where we’re just barely keeping all our balls in the air. 

Then something unexpected happens, and boom—complete and total overwhelm. 

I would love to think that I’m immune to this, but I’m not. Even though I’ve done a lot of work to simplify and create balance, the reality is that I’ve been pushing a bit too hard the past few months. I’ve been trying to meet what I now know was an unrealistic deadline, which is why I felt so overwhelmed when the kids got sick. 

So … lesson learned. Even if you think you’re managing to “do it all”, it’s still worth checking in with yourself and your priorities. Be realistic about your capabilities, and do your best to leave some breathing space in your schedule. Let go of perfection and accept that real life is messy sometimes.

What To Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

Creating balance will keep you from feeling overwhelmed all the time—but it will still happen. I think that no matter what you do to prepare, the reality is that sometimes it will all be too much. When that happens, here are some of the things that helped me feel grounded again.

The Basics—Take Care Of Yourself

First and foremost, go back to basics and start taking care of yourself. And I’m not talking about journaling or candles or books. Instead, I mean the basics: drink water, eat regularly, take your vitamins, and sleep best you can. 

Again, this tip comes from personal experience. I know that when I’m overwhelmed, my health and wellbeing is usually the first to suffer. I start mainlining coffee and eating my children’s leftovers. I know I should do better, but I struggle—unless I’m super intentional with my efforts. 

For me, this looked like writing a checklist and keeping it somewhere I could easily see it. For you, it might mean setting reminders on your phone or asking a loved one to help you. Do everything you can to restore your physical energy levels because it will be hard to climb out of the pit of overwhelm without it.

Start Saying No

The next thing to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed is to start saying no. Every non-essential request or invitation should be turned down. 

This is a must because if you’re already struggling to handle what’s on your plate, adding more will only make things worse. It’s like trying to clean a flooded bathroom while the tap is still running. You’re not going to make any progress, and more than likely, things will just keep getting worse. 

Of course, I know that saying no is hard, especially if you don’t like letting other people down, but there are ways you can lessen the blow. First of all, start with being honest. Everyone has felt overwhelmed at some time, so they’ll probably feel empathetic to your situation. 

If you don’t feel comfortable or if you’re in a professional situation, try saying something along the lines of: “I’d love to help, but unfortunately, I have too much on my plate and wouldn’t be able to give [insert task] the time or energy it needs”. It can be helpful to let them know when you might be able to help or to suggest someone else who can.

Again, I know it’s hard but just remember that you’re no good to anyone if you’re overwhelmed and overextended. This is the time to practice setting and maintaining hard boundaries.

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. - Etty Hillesum

Don’t Compare

As the saying goes, “comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s also a fast-track to overwhelm. 

Comparing your life to others may give you a sense that everyone else has it all and under control. This is especially true with social media. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t look outward. Instead, focus on yourself and find gratitude about where you are at and how much you’ve achieved.

Related Post: How to Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

Clarify Your Thoughts With Journaling

One thing I’ve learned about feeling overwhelmed is that often, it’s less about what’s on my to-do list and more about my thoughts and beliefs. 

It’s a mental struggle and hopeless thoughts (such as “I’ll never get caught up!”) only serve to keep me stuck. I can’t think logically or make plans when I’m in this mindset. Instead, I sit on the sofa and watch Netflix, all the while complaining about how much I need to do. Or I go in the complete opposite direction and stay busy with non-urgent tasks, like cleaning out the hall closet and organising the silverware drawer. 

Either way, I’m procrastinating and avoiding my problems … and this is where I found myself last week. I just wanted to stick my head in the sand—but fortunately, I turned to my journaling habit instead. 

Journaling can be helpful as a relaxation strategy, plus it can help improve your mindset. This is because getting your thoughts out of your mind and onto paper can give you space to think; it can also help you ‘see’ your thoughts objectively. It’s easier to see how you’re getting in your own way.

Ultimately, I needed to realise what I could or couldn’t control. This helped me with acceptance in the short-term (the kids are sick, you just need to ride this out) and helped me make a realistic plan to get back on track once everyone was recovered.

This list of mindful journaling prompts are my go-to whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Write A Step-By-Step Plan

OK, speaking of plans, I find that I need to break everything down step-by-step when I’m overwhelmed. This applies to big work-related projects as well as smaller, everyday household tasks.

Getting everything that I need to do out of my head and onto a simple to-do list eased my mental strain and worry. When it was time to take action, I didn’t have to think—I just followed the plan. 

Note that for this to work, you need to list super-specific baby steps. For example, I wouldn’t write down, make dinner.  Instead, I’d start with, take the beef out of the freezer or chop onions. Write down everything you need to do, so your brain can relax while you execute the list.

A woman sitting on a beach watching the waves on a cloudy, dreary day.

Declutter

If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that I believe in the healing power of decluttering. Owning less means less to worry about—it’s as simple as that. 

Of course, I understand that when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s not the best time to start big projects, so don’t plan to declutter your closet or finally clean out the garage. Instead, I recommend that you pay attention to the clutter that comes to the surface during stressful times. When you’re not on top of everything, what pops up? 

I know this is random but for me, it was some spare throw blankets. It turns out that when I wasn’t continually folding and arranging them on the sofa, they spent most of their lives on the floor. After a few days of watching them collect dust, I was over it. 

It’s a small thing but honestly, when you’re overwhelmed, the little things matter. The little wins—anything you can do to reclaim your time and energy—it all adds up, especially when you’re struggling to keep your head above water.

Want to learn more about decluttering? You can get a free copy of my Mindful Decluttering guide by subscribing below—learn the step-by-step method that helped me declutter over 80% of my belongings.

Reach Out

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out when you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’m no mental health expert, but I know enough to say that if you’re struggling to cope, then you should ask for help. Talk to your loved ones or schedule an appointment with a professional if this is an ongoing problem. 

Sometimes, you just need to chat with someone who understands, or you need a fresh perspective. Regardless, it never hurts to feel less alone. Great things can happen when you share the load.

More Support For When You’re Overwhelmed and Stressed

If you’re struggling right now, here are a few more blog posts that you might find helpful:

And remember, if your consistently feeling overwhelmed by everything, then you might want to talk to a professional.

What helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed by life? Let us know in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “7 Things You Can Do When You’re Feeling Overwhelmed By Life”

  1. As always you use your personal experience to turn a tough time into a positive, helping others is a great way to feel better yourself. The timing of this article is particularly good for me. Im sure I am not alone in feeling pandemic fatique and overwhelm. I hope your little family is back feeling well, you’re right sometimes when we are overwhelmed and exhausted, thinking straight is really difficult and just taking one small step can get us unstuck. I also find connecting with nature a great re-set button. The last two days I have pushed myself to get out the door for a walk right away. I know that if I don’t just pull some clothes on and head out the door, I won’t do it. The knock on effect is my sleep is affected. I also try and list mentally, all the things I am grateful for.

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  2. Great post! I loved your point about how even with so much out of our control, there is always at least a tiny part of it that is in our control. We have to do what we can to prevent and improve, while also rolling with the punches when they (surely) come.

    For me, finding an outlet for any stress has always been important. Writing is part of that, especially as a mental release. But I’ve always needed that physical outlet as well. Exercise and sports have always helped.

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  3. Thanks for being open and honest. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this one in particular resonated with me. As a mom of 3, I’ve beaten myself up in the past for not ticking off all those boxes on my checklist. Ironically, what’s been working lately for me is planning for ME time. I never liked making plans but when your time is spread out really thin, you really have to, even if it’s just a few minutes. Take good care.

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  4. Thank you for your always transparent, gentle article. You are my favorite :). I always feel encouraged and uplifted after reading your posts or working through one of your programs. “Don’t grow weary in doing good” is a quote that helps me keep putting one foot in front of the other during difficult times – which for me is usually parenting related.

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