Why You Feel Overwhelmed and What to Do About It

In the many conversations I have each week, at least one person shares that they feel overwhelmed. In fact, I’d say most of my coaching clients share they have felt overwhelm at one time or another.

What is “overwhelm” anyway? Let’s start with dictionary definitions:

The Cambridge dictionary definition is, “to defeat someone or something by using a lot of force.”

Merriam-Webster defines the word as, “Upset. Overthrow. To cover completely… to overpower in thought or feeling.”

Many of us live in a state of chronic stress. That’s the kind of stress that just won’t let up. The kind that makes us feel like we are drowning in one crisis after another.

When I work with coaching clients on improving their communication skills (in one way or another), I often say, “context is everything!” The same advice applies here. Just look at the context of the world in which we live.

Most people are managing a laundry list of tasks on a daily basis:

  • Running a household,
  • managing our relationships,
  • running a business or
  • being a leader within an organization,
  • caregiving for kids and/or parents,
  • financial goals,
  • not to mention personal goals of weight loss
  • increasing confidence,
  • or achievements like writing a book or starting a YouTube channel,
  • and the list goes on and on…

So many of us have high expectations for ourselves. We run ourselves ragged trying to achieve and reach some definition of “success.” We are so aimed at the horizon it’s like we are running a race to beat the clock on our own personal expiration date!

Here are a few reasons you might feel overwhelmed:


  1. Information overload – We are living in the “Information Age.” You can search a key word or phrase at any time – day or night – online and be thrown a slew of information to sift through. With a question that you search for, hours of research awaits and you may end up down one of many figurative rabbit holes! We are literally overwhelmed with answers, opinions and advice.
  2. Perfectionism – If you feel like you should be able to do something right the first time, regardless of whether or not you’ve done that certain task before, you might be a perfectionist. I never thought I was a perfectionist because I like to get things done and cross them off the list. I thought that being a perfectionist was only about getting stuck and not being able to finish, due to wanting something to be perfect. Turns out, there is more ways to look at it than that. If you’re addicted to validation from others or you have a strong desire for success but are continually avoiding failure, you might be suffering from perfectionism which could contribute to feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Urgency – Throughout my marketing career, I learned the importance of a deadline. The trouble is, so many times the client (either internal or external) says that the deadline they’d like to set for their project is “yesterday!” It reminds me of the character Veruca Salt from Charley and the Chocolate Factory, when she sings, “Don’t care how, I want it now!”
    I’m all about deadlines but setting an effective deadline requires a bit of aforethought and an appropriate set of time for the task at hand. Today, everything is urgent due to our addiction to instant gratification. The trouble is, projects, goals and tasks take some time. Don’t sabotage your success and contribute to overwhelm by cutting the deadline too short.
  4. You need a nap – You might just be exhausted. Many people have poor sleep hygiene. That is, they are up too late on the computer so their circadian rhythm is all out of whack! Listen to your body. If you don’t learn to do it now, it will catch up with you!
  5. Your nervous system is amped – Our body’s autonomic nervous system allows functions like heart beats and breathing to happen automatically. There are two phases of this system: the sympathetic response is our fight/flight response; while parasympathetic state is referred to as rest/digest response. When we go through extremely stressful events our bodies can get stuck in a fight/flight state. Physical or emotional trauma can lead to issues like chemical hypersensitivities, fibromyalgia, IBS or other survival-related emotional states. It’s no surprise that overwhelm comes with the territory when your body is in a state of fighting for survival.
  6. You’re isolated – We all have a basic fundamental human need to be seen and heard. Perhaps you’re working too much inside your own head. You’re expecting to be able to do it all alone. If you’ve read the book, Big Potential by Shawn Archor, then you know that in order to reach your full potential, you need some form of community or collaboration. Working together with others is what drives us to continually improve.

Understanding why you feel this way is just a starting point. Now, what can you do when you start to feel like you’re about to unravel into a sea of overwhelm?

Here are a few tips on how to calm your feelings of overwhelm:

  1. If you’re overloaded with information – Give yourself some credit, you already know a lot! You’ve lived. You’ve had experiences. Slow down. Trust yourself. If you must do research set a goal of how much time you’ll spend reading and note-taking before diving in. Give yourself a minimum and maximum number of sources to read or people to talk to.
  2. If you’re afraid of not being good enough – As Julia Cameron says, “In order to do something well, we must first be willing to do it badly.” The only way we learn something new is to fail at it awhile. Practice makes a professional. Be willing to fall down and get back up again.
  3. If you’re rushing – Hurrying through is a great way to sabotage your success. Ever heard of the phrase, “crap in, crap out” or “slow down to speed up”? Two clichés that hold a lot of truth. Urgency can be great when used correctly. It can help push us to accomplish something. Be sure to make it realistic enough without shooting yourself in the foot.
  4. If you have a fuzzy mind – To have a clear-thinking mind, you need sleep. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank computer screen for hours trying to work while getting nowhere. Choose to institute some healthy sleep habits such as get off devices a few hours before bed, use blue blocker glasses if you are looking at screens late, avoid eating too late so that you get good quality sleep. Doing so will contribute to brain function and that will help keep those feelings of overwhelm away.
  5. If you are moving fast and getting nowhere – Do a mental body scan. Close your eyes and tune into your inner knowing. Intuition is real and can help guide you to what you are missing. Sometimes we get so focused on work that our health suffers as an afterthought. Running yourself into the ground isn’t noble. Take some time, so when you come back to your project you can be effective.
  6. If you’re feeling lonely – Defeat the feeling of overwhelm by joining forces with someone else. That may come in the form of a collaborator, a colleague, a co-worker or coach. Brainstorming, getting feedback and sharing your own ideas can help you bust the hurdle of overwhelm and get you moving forward with progress.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to slow down and tap into your coping skills. You might not be able to stamp those feelings into nonexistence but with some time, clear goals leaning on a teammate or coach, you can overcome and achieve your heart’s desire.

And if you’re feeling overwhelmed with information you have to communicate (i.e. a rebrand, a launch of a new product or service or if you need to make training curriculm more effective) please don’t hesitate to reach out to me direct.

Coach Kery
Author: Coach Kery

For more than 15 years I worked in: -corporate -government -nonprofit and -higher education. In all of these roles, I was a writer and storyteller. I wrote corporate communications, press releases, newsletters, city communications, product copy, video scripts, PSAs, creative promotional campaign materials and many other examples. I see stories everywhere and I've researched their power to engage, connect and influence. As a communication coach and consultant I help you find the story you need to tell right now. I'm your thinking partner, strategist and creative coach to telling your story in the most compelling way possible that maps to your goals.

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