5 tips to cope with overwhelm

Overwhelm (a fast track to burnout) seems to be ubiquitous these days, be it from zoom calls, inbox count, family responsibilities, or figuring out how to make more money in less time and survive inflation.

So…if not curling up into a ball and binging Netflix in a dark room, how else can we deal with overwhelm?

Here are a few quick steps to navigate overwhelm, get out from under the things you carry, and generate momentum quickly.

  1. Choose better stories.

“All fear comes from picturing the future. Putting things off increases that fear. Soon we are nothing but heavy minds weighing down on weary brains. Too much future will do that.”

Steve Chandler, Time Warrior

Notice any fears or catastrophizing. Thoughts like “I’ll never get free of this, I can’t catch up, I’m not working hard enough, I’m trapped by these things. I don’t know how or where to start.” Fear and shame are powerful motivators, but they can also be equally debilitating.

Your wholeness, your value, is not rooted in your productivity. Whatever you have or haven’t done up until now does not define you. You are ok. You are safe. You are whole. And you decide what’s next.

Choose a new story for yourself, even if it doesn’t feel true yet. Something like, “I’m kickass and taking charge of these things. I’m resourceful, I’m asking for help, I’m forging a way forward.”

Don’t wait for it to feel true. Rather, decide it’s true, and then act from this belief. Action generates believability.

  1. Make decisions.

Sitting on the fence is how you get splinters in your a**.”

– a wise friend + mentor

The sooner we create clarity, the sooner we create freedom. Much anxiety comes from the unknown and from avoiding finding out. Rather than perseverating on a to do list, make a decision, collect data, and then you can course correct. Choose something. Something to start with, something to pass off. Be willing to get it wrong and fix it later.

What can you ask for help with? Who can you renegotiate a timeline with instead of hiding (energy draining) and hoping they don’t notice you haven’t finished the thing yet?

Own where you’re at and get on top of it through clear requests and commitments.

  1. Start with one thing. The thing in front of you.

“In a simple life in which you only do what’s in front of you, there can be no overwhelm, ever. That life is yours to create. And it never arrives, it must be created.” – Steve Chandler

Beyond fight or flight, there is a third stress response to perceived threats: freeze. Freeze is a common autonomic response to believing we have to do everything all at once and forecasting how it will all go wrong. Perhaps you’ve experienced your heart rate increasing, your breath becoming labored, or your hands feeling clammy. Explore tapping, breathwork, or other grounding exercises to soothe the parasympathetic nervous system, and then focus on just one thing to start with. It doesn’t even have to be the right thing, the highest priority thing, or the most important thing. So long as you choose and get started.

  1. End procrastination.

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain

Eat the Frog, meaning, tackle the least attractive thing (the thing you’re most likely to avoid and let fester) first in the day to get out from under it and create energy and freedom for the rest of the day.

“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  1. Celebrate.

Celebration is a muscle that requires frequent exercise. Big celebrations are fun, but small, frequent celebrations are even better. Energy out, energy in. Do a thing, celebrate it. Otherwise life begins to feel like Sisyphus and the stone, and what’s the point? Honor each step forward rather than holding out for some “grander” benchmark. Celebration might be a coffee break, a hit of IG reel scrolling, a few minutes with a pet or loved one, or diving into a book you love. Build neural pathways that equate getting stuff done with celebration rather than with an endless stream of even more things yet to do.

Bonus: Review the system
Notice if there is a pattern or system that is creating greater opportunity for overwhelm. Are there recurring things you can pass off? Have you outgrown work you used to do and there are higher level items for you to prioritize? Where are you allowing overwhelm into your life? Where can you say no, renegotiate timelines, or add energy-giving activities (exercise, active rest, time with friends/family)?

This may mean becoming more discerning of what and who you give your time to. Be intentional with your generosity of time and energy.

Rooting for you,