5 Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed

April 15, 2020 Updated: April 15, 2020

Feeling overwhelmed is something that almost anyone can relate to. It happens when we think that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. It makes it hard to get started, stay focused, and function effectively. If you are feeling overwhelmed, here is what you can do.

Start by Getting Organized

A huge part of feeling overwhelmed comes from trying to remember everything you need to do and trying to figure out what order to do it in. Your brain is working overtime trying to remember and problem solve in the background while you do things. This is not a recipe for success.

I once heard of an experiment where people were divided into two groups. One group was told to memorize a two-digit number and walk into a room down the hall, while another group was given a seven-digit number with the same instructions. When the people got to the room they could choose to eat chocolate cake or fruit salad. The people trying to memorize the seven-digit number were nearly twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake. In other words, trying to remember things uses mental resources and even affects our decision-making and willpower. Get the extra mental clutter out of your head and onto paper, a calendar, or whatever system you use to organize yourself.

Prioritize Your List

You might resist taking the extra time but it’s worth it to make a clear list and label your items in order of priority. This way you won’t have to use additional mental resources trying to figure out what to do next. Just go to the next item on your list. A simple method for prioritizing your list is to score each item on it, based on how important and timely it is, on a scale of 1 through 10, while noting if anything has a specific due date. Then rewrite your list in order of priority.

Do One Thing at a Time

Many people think that multitasking is efficient but it is a much slower way to work than focusing on one thing at a time. When your attention is divided, your focus is weak. Whatever you are doing is likely to take longer and you are more likely to make mistakes, which will cost you even more time. You will also feel more stressed out trying to manage more than one thing at a time.

There are some exceptions, such as listening to audiobooks while doing the dishes, or talking on the phone while you walk on a treadmill. This is doing a physical activity alongside a mental one. Be careful not to split your mental attention. Remember, multitasking usually involves shifting your focus rapidly between two tasks, not actually doing both of them at once.

Expect Roadblocks and Adapt Quickly

Feeling stressed can easily explode into full-blown panic when obstacles come up. However, if you think about it carefully, unexpected things come up all the time. Murphy’s Law does not take vacations or go easy on you because you are busy. When is the last time you heard yourself say, “That was much easier than I thought it would be”? Mr. Murphy only relents when you accept him gracefully and move on quickly from your expectations.

Find the flow in your day and follow it. You may just have to accept that some things will take longer or have to be put off until later. If something stops you from doing what you want to do, get your list out and create a separate section for things that are on hold or where you need to wait on someone or something. Write down your on-hold items and move on to your next priority task.

Schedule In Breaks

Trying to push through one task after another might not ultimately be the fastest way from point A to point B. If you find yourself tired, hungry, or having a hard time focusing, get something to eat, take a rest, take a walk, or do some meditation. Relaxation and focus are the keys to efficiency, high performance, and stress reduction. While rushing may make you feel like you are getting more done, generally the performance of your work suffers and you will have to deal with more tension and stress. Take breaks, take care of yourself, and set realistic expectations for what you can do in a day.

Michael Courter is a therapist and counselor who believes in the power of personal growth, repairing relationships, and following your dreams. His website is CourterCounsel.com 

Do you have questions about relationships or personal growth that you would like Michael to address? Send them to mc@CourterCounsel.com.