man who is overwhelmed - tips to cope

Does your breakfast usually consist of a coffee to go and something strongly resembling cardboard that is scarfed down on the way to work? Are you ready to collapse by lunchtime? Does your “free time” consist of the commute to and from work? Do you feel like a hamster on a wheel with no way off?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are good that you are feeling overwhelmed. We live in a high-demand, and frankly unbalanced, society where we are pulled in more directions than a bloomin’onion.

We try to get more done by multitasking, but that’s not the way the human brain is wired.

In fact, several studies have shown that multitasking slows you down, causes you to make more mistakes, and temporarily changes the way your brain works. Research by the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) found that people typically use the right and left sides of their prefrontal cortex when focusing on one task. When working on two tasks, the cortex divides in half with the left side focused on one goal and the right side focused on the other. When a third task was added, researchers found that participants routinely forgot one of the three tasks. Additionally, the participants made three times as many mistakes than they had when given only two tasks.

What are some signs that you may be overwhelmed? Some good indicators include feeling intensely emotional, anxious, irritable, helpless, worried, or panicked. Regardless of the reason, feeling overwhelmed for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on your mind and body.  Here are some things you can do to stop overwhelm:

Change your thought process.

When you focus on the lack of control or predictability you have over a situation, it causes you to feel overwhelmed, which triggers a  stress reaction. Negative thoughts like “I’ll never get all of this done” will only hinder your ability to problem-solve and get things done. Capture and replace those thoughts with something more positive like “I can do this, and here is where I’ll start.

Take breaks.

It seems counterintuitive, but taking a break from the endless list of demands gives your mind time to relax and refocus, and can help you return with renewed energy and purpose.


We live in an on-demand world, so it is natural that we want to get everything done NOW. But this isn’t always necessary (or possible). To manage what needs to be done, make a to-do list and prioritize the list by what needs to be done today and what can be finished tomorrow or later in the week. Check off items as you go—it’s amazing how good it feels to cross things off of a to-do list! At the end of each day, create your list for the next day, carrying over the tasks  you weren’t able to get to that day.

Accept your feelings of anxiety.

It is normal to feel anxious when you have a lot going on, especially if you are dealing with things that aren’t familiar or predictable. Instead of fighting these feelings or dwelling on them, accept anxiety as a natural part of life. This will help you put your feelings into perspective so you can ride out particularly overwhelming times in your life.

Don’t worry about the future.

There is likely plenty to worry about right now—save tomorrow’s worry for tomorrow! Fretting about what might happen later will distract you from focusing on what you need to do now.

Say goodbye to multitasking.

Of course, it is still okay to eat your lunch, surf the web, and listen to the radio simultaneously during your lunch break.  But when you are getting down to the important tasks, focus on one at a time when possible. You’ll find that it will get done more quickly and with less chance of error.

Breathe deeply.

It may seem silly or trivial, but deep breathing actually triggers a relaxation response in your body.

Find an outlet.

Life can be overwhelming, especially if you are dealing with something more serious or long-term than the day-to-day stressors that life can throw at us. Find a hobby or activity that you enjoy and make time for it on a regular basis.

By implementing these steps, you will be able to take all of the things life throws your way in stride. If you find that you can’t seem to quell your feelings of overwhelm, talk with a professional for additional support and strategies for handling your feelings. If you are simply struggling with daily demands, life coaching is a great option to help you find a life balance that you are comfortable with. Leadership Excellence provides expert life coaching services to give you the support, guidance, and tools needed to achieve personal goals and strike that balance. For information on our personal coaching services, click here.

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