Can you detect when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Natasha was a busy wife and mother. She thought everything was going well in her life until the day she found herself walking out in the middle of a work meeting. She explains, “It was like I suddenly couldn’t take in one more thing and my brain was desperately crying out for a break.”
Natasha called her husband in tears and explained that she felt like she had become a passenger in her own life, that decisions felt hard to make, and each day seemed to be more of the same.
After working with a therapist for a few weeks, Natasha realized she was overwhelmed. She had recently become the primary caregiver for her aging parent and the new added stress was contributing to her feeling of overwhelm.
Unfortunately, many people are like Natasha. They don’t realize they’re overwhelmed until they hit a breaking point where they do something outside of their ordinary behavior. Here are a few super sneaky signs you might be overwhelmed too…
Sign #1: You Feel Like a Passenger
During brief bouts of stress, it’s normal to feel like you’re just keeping your head above water. You’ve entered survival mode and you’re doing your best to hold everything together all at once.
But when that experience is prolonged over weeks, months, or even years, you can start to feel like a passenger in your own life. Instead of being in the driver’s seat and confidently charting your path, you spend your days and nights responding to each new crisis.
The result is that you’re always stuck in “fight or flight” mode. Your adrenaline is constantly flowing, and you continually feel like you’re fighting a new (or the same) threat. If you stay in this place, you will eventually begin to experience symptoms of burnout or depression.
Sign #2: Decisions Are Hard
Some decisions can be difficult because they’re big and life-changing. For example, trying to decide whether you should change jobs or move to a different city. These choices certainly deserve some serious reflection and shouldn’t be done on a whim.
But those aren’t the kind of decisions that seem difficult when you’re overwhelmed. Everyday ones like choosing what to wear or what to cook for dinner suddenly feel like just too much.
You find yourself defaulting to the easiest solution by pulling the clothes you wore yesterday out of the dryer or hitting up your favorite fast-food restaurant on the way home from work.
Everyone has days and moments when they’re too tired to make these decisions, and that’s not usually a cause for concern. But if you’re experiencing this frequently and regularly feel too exhausted to make simple choices, it’s usually a sign that you’re experiencing overwhelm in some part of your life.
Sign #3: You Can’t Remember Anything
You had a dental cleaning last week that you missed because you forgot about it. Your daughter needs a costume for the school play today because you didn’t remember that her performance is tonight. You said you would go grocery shopping after work but didn’t stop at the store like you meant to.
These little blips can happen to anyone and they’re not a cause for guilt. You don’t have to heap shame on yourself or berate yourself for what you didn’t do. If anything, try giving yourself a break. Why? Because failing to remember things is a key component of feeling overwhelmed.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your brain shuts out any external information that it doesn’t feel is vital right this second. That’s why when you’re in the middle of a work meeting, you can completely forget about your upcoming dental cleaning or your daughter’s performance. In an effort to protect you, your brain labeled both sets of information as unessential for the task at hand.
Some people who are overwhelmed cope with this experience by keeping a meticulous to-do list, agenda, or planner for each day. One overwhelmed parent explained, “If it’s not on the family calendar, it doesn’t happen!”
Sign #4: Everything Is Drudgery
You used to look forward to going out on Saturday nights with the girls and blowing off some steam. Your favorite part of the week was getting to meet your book club and talk about your latest spicy read. You loved going bowling with your kids once a month, and you eagerly anticipated your regular date nights with your significant other.
But things are different now. Doing activities you once enjoyed feels like drudgery. You might force yourself to go through the motions, but you’re secretly wishing you could be anywhere else. You sometimes even find yourself canceling once beloved activities so you can stay home and do nothing.
While it can be rejuvenating to take a step back from your usual routine every so often, the truth is that dread is a signal something is wrong. Often dreading once enjoyable activities is a sign that you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Sign #5: You Develop a Bleak Outlook
You would think this one would be obvious. But for many people that are overwhelmed, it’s actually quite subtle. It starts slowly. Maybe you find yourself thinking that all politicians are the same or that each day of your life will be just like the last. Perhaps you can only see yourself stuck in the same dead-end job day after day.
A key insight that you’re experiencing a bleak outlook is that you begin applying absolutes to every situation. You tell yourself that you’ll always be unhappy or that you’ll never be able to achieve your goals. You say that all people just want to use you or that you’ll forever be alone.
Statements that include words like always, never, all, or forever can be warning signs. They point the way to the fact that your outlook has changed, and this is often a direct result of feeling overwhelmed.
Sign #6: Loved Ones or Friends Voice Concerns
It’s easy to brush off the concerns of loved ones or friends, especially if you’re deep in denial about your overwhelm. Maybe you tell your spouse that you’ll quit working such long hours when you get that promotion because you don’t want him to know how bad the financial situation really is. Perhaps you tell your friends that you’ll get back to normal as soon as you get through this rough patch.
But it’s always a good idea to slow down and listen when loved ones or friends are worried about you. Many times, those around you can see you better than you can see yourself. They may recognize that you’re in over your head and they want to help you get back on solid ground.
Sign #7: You Criticize Yourself
Everyone battles self-criticism at some point. But if you find yourself doing it more than usual, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing overwhelm. This is common because during times of overwhelm, your fuse is shorter.
You’re more likely to react from an emotional place and blame yourself. If you have a strong history of self-blame or self-criticism, don’t be surprised if you fall back into this pattern.
The important thing is to recognize that you’re overwhelmed and practice self-compassion. Forgive yourself if you’ve made mistakes or forgotten something due to the overwhelm. Remember that you deserve self-care and love too even when you mess up.
Stop Feeling Overwhelmed On Workdays
Everyone has moments where they feel overwhelmed. Perhaps you’ve been working from home while dealing with feelings of uncertainty. All these new responsibilities can feel overwhelming.
What was once a moment of annoyance is now a constant menace. Trying to handle overwhelming emotions daily is hard work. And simply pushing through despite everything can lead to burnout.
So, what can you do to feel better and stop feeling overwhelmed at work? These tips can help.
Perform Tasks That Are Familiar To You.
Find an activity that you find satisfying and familiar on your to-do list. Ensure that the job is not taxing.
- For example, instead of knocking off tons of items on your to-do list, choose one task, like writing an email. Then do the work. Why is this effective? Because you get a mental boost from completing familiar tasks.
- The more energy you have going into your day, the less likely it is that you’ll feel overwhelmed.
Work On Unfamiliar Tasks You’ve Been Avoiding.
If you’re struggling with your workload or something is threatening to derail you, take it one small step at a time. Don’t take on too much at once.
- Tackling too much can feel overwhelming. This tip might appear to go against the previous point. But it isn’t. There are some tasks that you can’t justify adding to your to-do list. However, you might still struggle to complete them.
- Those are the types of tasks to accomplish here. When you clear a job you’ve put on hold, you tend to feel like you’ve accomplished something. That can help you feel like you’re getting things done and relieve you of your feelings of overwhelm.
Perform Half of Your Tasks.
Splitting up duties can ignite you, which can help you conquer your day. Instead of tackling your entire to-do list in one shot, focus on one task at a time. Then, move on to the next.
- Review what you accomplished, and strategically plan another job for tomorrow. Also, when you’re down and feeling overwhelmed, it’s almost impossible to stay productive.
- Trying to push through and perform at the same level of productivity can lead you to burn yourself out. So instead of playing it safe, take a break when the situation calls for it. This shift can help you recharge mentally, and you can return to work with a fresh mindset.
Get Some Rest.
Getting enough sleep is not only good for your overall health, but it’s also vital for your productivity. When you’re well-rested and ready to tackle a difficult task, you tend to be much more effective.
- Take long breaks throughout the day and shorter ones between functions. Varying your rest periods this way reduces your feelings of overwhelm and keeps you more focused.
- It also prevents you from getting burned out and going crazy to work throughout the day more efficiently. Getting some rest when you feel overwhelmed can help you think clearly.
Prioritize Your Tasks.
Adjusting your workflow to include more delegating and less time handling activities yourself can help you feel less overwhelmed.
- If you constantly handle your jobs, you’ll burn out pretty fast, and it’ll take a lot longer for you to feel focused and productive. Let other people handle some of your tasks — if possible — so you can focus more on the rest.
- This approach will make everybody at work feel happier and more productive.
Overwhelm Doesn’t Have to Stay
Everyone feels overwhelmed from time to time. It’s one of those things that comes with the territory, at least for a while. What matters most is how you manage these feelings and approach them.
Also, be sure to schedule some fun and productive time during the day, whether it’s a quick break or coffee with a friend.
The key to maintaining productivity is feeling hopeful that what you’re doing is working and knowing that you have the tools to succeed.
For some people, overwhelm becomes a permanent part of their lives because they don’t realize they can live differently. But I want you to experience the freedom that comes from taking back your life and ending overwhelm. That’s why I’ve written a short workbook to help you work through this very topic. Click here to download it today!
More Reading: Feeling Overwhelmed: Symptoms, Causes, and Coping